The Cuban embargo dates back to the Cold War
In 1960, the United States commenced an embargo on its neighbor just 90 miles off the coast of the Florida. This prohibition of commerce and trade applied to most American exports, and in 1962 this was further extended to cover food, medicine, and almost all other goods. In a slew of anti-communist moves, Eisenhower began cutting off the archipelago, followed by the disaster known as the Bay of Pigs executed by President Kennedy. These two presidents, and for the most part the eight that followed, solidified the icy relationship between the two countries.
US-Cuba relations are about more than Cold War politics
A well-versed AS I student or alum may remember pre-Civil War anti-abolitionists wanting to annex Cuba in order to gain another slave-holding property. This wasn’t the only time Cuba was tossed around as something to be possessed. In fact, the tense relations were due not only to the Cold War struggle, but also to Castro’s anti-imperialist sentiments against the US.
Latin America was the first victim of American expansion, and Cuba was hit particularly hard. Invasions in 1906 and 1912 as well as other imperialist moves hardened Cuba’s relationship with America, and the Cold War only made matters worse. (cnn.com)
The diplomatic rapprochement was long overdue
It’s no secret the Cuban embargo has outlasted the end of the Cold War, and has been less successful in its outcome. Obama’s efforts to restore relations with Cuba were not caused by Castro’s abdication of power or by a sudden shift to democracy, but rather by an abandonment of our own stubbornness.
This extension was made possible for political reasons. Presidential candidates would commit electoral-college suicide if they didn’t speak out against Cuba during campaign stops in Florida, and this policy tended to carry through in office.
This will change a lot in Cuba
As it stands, only five percent of Cubans have access to the Internet, less than American Internet penetration pre-1990’s-dot-com-burst (nytimes.com). This is due not only to the inaccessibility of telecommunications services, but also to the physical technology itself. Loosened economic restrictions will remedy the latter issue by allowing the iPhone, Android, and other American products to invade.
It’s even possible that the rapprochement may mean a shift toward democracy in the communist-led nation. The Capitalist Bug Theory, explored in Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine, postulates that when communist society is shocked by trade with capitalist and/or democratic nations, the country in question will succumb to capitalism itself (see: Poland).
This (probably) won’t change much for you
Granted, there are a few exceptions to this one. If you have relatives in Cuba you can now visit them more freely and exchange both mail and money (nytimes.com). The ever-popular Cuban cigars will indubitably be making a comeback, costing only a few dollars and your respiratory health. Travel, however is still limited. Under current regulations, a citizen can visit to see family or for business purposes, but Congress has yet to approve tourist travel (nytimes.com). You may be seeing more “Made in Cuba” stickers, but it’s unlikely that your next family vacation will be in Havana.