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How Fidel Castro's Shunning of US and Looking East Led to US Embargoes

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Retired Harvard professor Jorge Dominguez served as the Antonio Madero Professor for the Study of Mexico at Harvard University. A widely published expert on US foreign policy in Latin America, Jorge Dominguez has written extensively on US-Cuba relations.

The US and Cuba have had a long and tumultuous relationship. While this tension dates as far back as 1898, when the Spanish-American War ended, embargoes were not issued until 1960. In 1959, revolutionaries overthrew then Cuban President General Fulgencio Batista; Fidel Castro seized power for himself. The United States initially recognized the new regime. Three months later, Castro traveled to the United States and met with Vice President Richard Nixon.

However, Castro revealed very distinct communist tendencies. By 1960, he nationalized hundreds of companies, including US subsidiary corporations in Cuba. He had also grabbed private land and increased taxes on American imports. US President Eisenhower responded by slapping Cuba with trade restrictions. Castro decried “Yankee imperialism” and increased trade and political engagements with the Soviet Union, the United States’ Cold War nemesis. Diplomatic relations between the US and Cuba went sour. As the Cold War continued, successive US regimes maintained and/or strengthened embargoes on the now communist Cuba. It wasn’t until President Barrack Obama in 2014 that the US sought to normalize relations with Cuba.

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