US-Cuba Relations Why it matters to all of us, by Stephen Balkaran

The recent death of Fidel Castro, Cuba’s long-serving dictator, has been met with great optimism and skepticism as diplomatic relations continue to unfold. His legacy that spanned some 6o years and 11 American presidents now remains in the history books. Arguably one of the most important political figure to emerge in Latin America, his ideas of socialism and one-party Communist rule became the core of his regime and the obstacle of many American presidents and their policies. How we approach the new Cuba minus the leadership of Fidel remains to be seen, but like many of our foreign policies, it must be done in a humane and philosophical way that represents the true America. 

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The evolving diplomatic relationship between the United States and Cuba not only has the potential to redefine America’s socio-economic, cultural and political landscape, but it also greatly affects our Latin American patriots.  As America addresses issues including the erasure of trade embargoes, the lifting of travel restrictions and the improvement of relations with the Caribbean island and the rest of Latin America, we must be conscious of the effects on society.  Despite positive diplomatic protocol, the implications of how these relationships will affect ever-evolving Cuba, Latin America, its impact on American political process and our society as a whole—remain pertinent and indicative of our foreign policy.

Prior to President John F. Kennedy’s administration, the United States’ shared a volatile relationship with Latin America.  Before Fidel Castro’s rise in Cuba, presidential administrations supported military dictators that promoted outright human rights abuses in many Latin American countries.  In fact, Vice President Richard Nixon once praised Cuba’s dictator Batista—a leader that denied much of Cuba’s population democracy, human rights and economic prosperity—as “Cuba’s Abraham Lincoln.” Our policies before, during and after Fidel Castro’s time leading Cuba helped define our Cold War foreign policy with Latin America and the rest of the world and also played an important role of defining who we are as Americans. As a result of America’s Cold War isolation policies, much of Latin America, especially those nations that sided with the Cuba’s socialist philosophy, remained alienated from the United States and its economic opportunities. 

President John F. Kennedy’s foreign policy with Latin America, often termed the “Alliance for Progress,” aimed at promoting economic needs, human rights and democracy in Latin America.  President Kennedy himself referred to this policy as “Latin America’s Marshall Plan.” Kennedy’s plan resulted in economic backlash, though.  Cuba, along with many Latin American countries that sided with Castro’s anti-American imperialism policies, found themselves politically, economically and culturally isolated from the famed fallout that took place in 1961. Relations further deteriorated with Cuba and Latin America after Kennedy’s failed policies in the Bay of Pigs invasion and the Cuban Missile Crisis. These political events not only undermined the trust of Kennedy’s administration in Cuba and Latin America, but they also catalyzed the new anti-American imperialism philosophy that many Latin American countries embraced.  The United States’ political and military involvement in Cuba and several Latin American countries has been met with hatred, distrust and vengeance.  These feelings were further exacerbated during the 1980’s when America’s foreign policy in Cuba and Latin American involved overthrowing democratically elected governments. Not only did the United States install military dictatorship puppets in countries like Guatemala, Brazil and Chile, but we also supported civil wars in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Dominican Republic, Grenada and other Latin American nations.  Such policies strained U.S.-Latin American relations, and animosity continued to escalate as multiple United States presidents could not deal with Fidel Castro’s Cuba in a rational and sensitive way.  

Fast forward 60 years to 2017, and new U.S.-Cuba relations not only mean ease of trade and travel, but also that the United States can improve its much needed relationships with Latin American compatriots.  Cuba is now the gateway for America’s foreign policy in Latin America, and this new relationship dictates how we promote democracy, human rights and freedom to our compatriots south of the border. 

Our foreign policy with Cuba and Latin America must be enacted in a cautions, sensitive way as we seek to embrace a philosophical ideology as a world super power. This new relationship will allow us to reinforce the famed Monroe Doctrine of 1823 and secure an ally that for decades did not support or endorse our philosophy of democracy.

What do the new U.S.-Cuba relations mean for many of us who live in this great country? Well, this new relationship is beyond removing much of the failed trade embargo policies that formerly defined our relationship with the Caribbean nation and much of Latin America. The 21st century has brought immense changes in America, none more important than the “Browning of America” and the continuous reshaping of America through Latin American immigration. In fact, according to the Census Bureau almost one out of every five people in the United States in 2015 straddled the ethnicity of Latin/Hispanic.  The Bureau also concluded that the majority of Hispanics in the United States are native born and that of the 55 million people in 2014 who identified themselves as of Hispanic or Latino origin 35 percent are immigrants from Latin America. Thus, what does that entail for a nation that will slowly but surely be Hispanicized in the next 30 years?

Many of us fail to understand that America has always been Latin.  Mainstream America fails to realize that Latin Americans play a crucial role in America’s political development—in every avenue of American life since the inception of our great country.  Often lost in textbooks is the importance of Spain’s, Cuba’s, Mexico’s and Puerto Rico’s military troops, all who fought valiantly against British troops in the American Revolutionary War of 1776.  Latin Americans not only helped define our early political history, but they also played key roles in our country’s socio-economic, political and cultural development. Hence, debates now surround the question: what would America be like without the Latin American presence and influence? Would our country’s history be different?

Our foreign relations are dilapidated with the rest of the world.  The new U.S.-Cuba relations, though, allow us to solidify ourselves as a world supreme power, something that has been lost in recent decades.  Our current status as a geo-political power will only increase as improved trade relations help ease much of our tainted history and distrust with Cuba and Latin America.  As China and Russia scramble for world dominance and our presence in Latin America remains in an infantile stage, securing our world hegemony becomes imperative.  Our foreign policy with Cuba and Latin America must be enacted in a cautions, sensitive way as we seek to embrace a philosophical ideology as a world super power. This new relationship will allow us to reinforce the famed Monroe Doctrine of 1823 and secure an ally that for decades did not support or endorse our philosophy of democracy. 

Beyond the importance of American foreign policy, U.S.-Cuba relations will enhance domestic relationships with Latinos that have been neglected throughout much of our nations’ history.  President Obama’s shifting foreign policy with Cuba has more implications on America’s future than the mere importation of famed Cuban cigars and rum as our country becomes a new cosmopolitan-ethnic society—a society where Latin Americans are the new political, social-economic and cultural power house.  These new relations enable us to have a more comprehensive understanding of the new Americans, their culture, heritage, political clout and the continued importance they will play in redefining the new 21st century America. Yet this policy must ultimately define and embrace much of the Latin American culture that has already left their imprints on America and its culture. This new relationship between the U.S. and Cuba and Latin America enables us to understand the rich, vibrant culture that will ultimately define America.  Currently, our political debacle focuses on debates on immigration and the reshaping of the new America.  The current influx of Latin American immigrants has left us to grapple with the notion of being an immigrant nation.  This debate has left the country divided about the best of what we are: a nation of immigrants.  As our current flow of immigrants is overwhelmingly Latin American, not only will the new U.S.-Cuba relations allow us to secure our borders, it will, at the same time, allows us to address the current immigration debate in a more humane and sensitive way.  Immigration reform has more implications for America’s future than any of us can foresee—not only socially, culturally and economically, for the Latin political presence is already re-shaping and defining a new America. The new relationship will allow us to have a more comprehensive knowledge of our immigration policies and the importance they present.  Enhancing our rich, diverse culture with what Latin Americans bring to our country is the true American ideology of a melting pot.

The idea of democracy, which has been negated in many Latin Americans countries due to our Cold War policies, will receive a much needed jolt in many nations as they express their desire to control their own destiny without American influence. The new U.S.-Cuba relations will also enhance new economic opportunities, allowing us to cultivate a sleeping giant that has awoken.  This relationship will redefine the American economic landscape in ways that no other immigrant group may have to power to do.  The U.S.-Cuba gateway means a much improved relationship with Latin America’s economic powerhouse, Brazil. Not only does Brazil represent the new Latin America, its economic opportunities were often alienated from America. Capturing this economic pie now rests solely upon correcting past estranged relationships and ensuring Brazil’s biggest economic ally, Cuba, is bestowed the dignity and respect they deserve. 

In spite of the unquestioned greatness of new U.S.-Cuba relations, America has more to gain than meets the average eye.  It would be impossible to conceive what America, Cuba and Latin America would be without our mutual friendship.  What would our nation be without their cultural, historical and economic contributions?  This new relationship is beyond the importation of the famed Cuban cigars and rum; the relations will ultimately build more bridges than walls, define our domestic and foreign policies with our compatriots, and enable us to understand the new ethnic America. 


Stephen Balkaran is currently an Instructor of Philosophy at Central Connecticut State University.