This Day in History… October 19, 1960

U.S. Places Embargo on Cuban Goods 

U.S. #CU221 – U.S. #279 stamp overprinted for use in Cuba.

U.S. #CU221 – U.S. #279 stamp overprinted for use in Cuba.

On October 19, 1960, President Dwight D. Eisenhower established the first embargo on Cuba.

The U.S. and Cuba have had a long and tumultuous shared history. The Spanish first settled Cuba in 1511. Colonists grew sugar cane and tobacco on large plantations, relying on the forced labor of native peoples.

Cuba’s Spanish settlers became increasingly dissatisfied with Spain’s rule and many revolutionary groups were formed. By the mid-1800s, many Cubans and Americans favored making Cuba part of the United States. The U.S. government made several attempts to buy Cuba from Spain, but Spain refused them.

The Cubans eventually took up arms against the Spanish due to a lack of political power and rising taxes. By the late 1800s, many Americans wanted to intervene in the conflict. Following the explosion of the American battleship Maine in Havana Harbor, the U.S. officially declared war on Spain. By August 1898, the Spanish surrendered. The U.S. emerged as a world power and gained the territories of Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Philippine Islands.

U.S. #CU225 – U.S. #281 stamp overprinted for use in Cuba.

U.S. #CU225 – U.S. #281 stamp overprinted for use in Cuba.

After the Spanish-American War, the U.S. established a military government in Cuba. Cuba adopted a constitution in 1901. The constitution contained provisions called the Platt Amendment, which allowed the U.S. to intervene in Cuban affairs. It also allowed the U.S. to buy or lease land for naval bases in Cuba. In 1903, the U.S. received a permanent lease to build a naval base on Guantánamo Bay.

Over the next 50 years, Cuba was in a state of unrest, with new governments forming and frequent revolts by and against Fulgencio Batista. Among those opposed to Batista’s dictatorship was Fidel Castro. Castro circulated a petition calling for deposing the illegal Batista government. This proved ineffective.

On July 26, 1953, Castro attempted to start a revolution by leading an attack on the Moncada Army Barracks in Santiago de Cuba. This proved disastrous. Castro and many of his followers were imprisoned. Castro was released from prison in 1955. He formed the 26th of July Movement, a revolutionary group named after the date of his first revolt. Castro took his group to Mexico, where they could organize safely.

U.S. #CU227 – The first stamp designed and printed by the B.E.P. for Cuba pictures a statue of Columbus, who visited the islands in 1492.

U.S. #CU227 – The first stamp designed and printed by the B.E.P. for Cuba pictures a statue of Columbus, who visited the islands in 1492.

In December 1956, Castro’s forces landed in eastern Cuba. Most of Castro’s rebels were quickly killed – but Castro and 11 others managed to escape into the Sierra Maestra Mountains. From the mountains they waged a guerrilla war against the Batista government.

Batista’s increasingly unpopular dictatorship provided fertile ground for Castro’s 26th of July Movement. The dictator’s attempts to neutralize Castro and his men made the rebels more popular with the people. By mid-1958, public support for Batista was crumbling. On January 1, 1959, Batista fled Cuba.

Castro’s forces quickly took control of the country. The old government was dismantled – many former political officials and military officers were executed. By mid-February, Castro was sworn in as prime minister. The U.S. supported Castro’s government… until American-owned properties in Cuba were seized. Relations declined sharply.

In the spring of 1960, President Dwight D. Eisenhower approved a plan to embargo sugar, oil and guns. Then in June, U.S. oil companies refused to refine oil in Cuba that had been delivered by the Soviet Union. Eisenhower then cut the Cuban sugar quota by 95 percent. None of this deterred Castro, who continued to nationalize American business and commercial properties. As a result, President Eisenhower enacted a trade embargo against Cuba on October 19, 1960.

U.S. #CU228 pictures a group of Royal Palms, Cuba’s national tree.

U.S. #CU228 pictures a group of Royal Palms, Cuba’s national tree.

Eisenhower’s embargo outlawed all U.S. exports to Cuba except medicine and some food. President Kennedy later expanded the embargo to include all U.S. imports from Cuba.

On April 16, 1961, Castro declared Cuba a socialist state. A one-party Communist system was established. Castro pursued a close relationship with the Soviet Union and enacted many Soviet-styled, state-controlled agricultural and industrial “reforms.” The Soviet Union contributed a great deal of financial aid to Cuba – the nation’s economy grew very dependent upon this assistance.

As “the revolution” grew more radical, large numbers of Cubans fled their country. Once exiled in America, many of these exiles worked to undermine Castro’s regime. In 1959, a group of anti-Castro exiles even hired U.S. planes and flew over Cuba, dropping leaflets and small firebombs.

In the coming years, the Bay of Pigs Invasion and the Cuban Missile Crisis placed the nation in the international spotlight as people all over the world nervously anticipated nuclear war. Finally, the U.S.S.R. agreed to remove the missiles. In return, the U.S. promised not to attack Cuba. Defiant as ever, Castro protested this decision to the Soviets. Although the missiles were removed, thousands of Soviet troops remained in Cuba.

Item #M11475 – Collection of 14 Cuba stamps from 1899.

Item #M11475 – Collection of 14 Cuba stamps from 1899.

During the late 1980s, the Soviet Union and its satellite nations in Eastern Europe began to ease their political and economic restrictions. Castro criticized these efforts. In 1991, the Soviet Union ceased to exist – the end of an era in world history. This meant an end to Soviet financial aid to Cuba, worth about $4-5 billion a year. However, Castro declared Cuba would remain Communist.

Cuba’s economy was further damaged by increased economic restrictions from the U.S., enacted in 1992 and 1996. In response, Castro loosened some restrictions on the economy and allowed many Cubans to leave the country. Investment, especially in tourism, from Canada, Europe, and Latin America has enabled Cuba to stage a modest economic recovery. Perhaps the most progressive of Castro’s new policies is the opening of “free trade zones,” where companies are allowed to import and export goods without seeking permission from the government.

On July 31, 2006, Fidel Castro underwent surgery and had to assign presidential power to his brother, Raúl Castro, temporarily. Though his health reportedly improved somewhat after surgery, Fidel Castro decided to officially resign from the presidency in 2008 – his brother replaced him.

Item #M7033 – In recent years, restrictions were limited, allowing us to get used Cuba stamps.

Item #M7033 – In recent years, restrictions were limited, allowing collectors in the U.S. to get used Cuba stamps.

During his time as president of Cuba, Raúl Castro has implemented many economic reforms – some even reversing laws put in place by his brother. One of the biggest achievements Raúl Castro has made was in December 2014 when he and U.S. President Barack Obama negotiated renewed diplomacy between the United States and Cuba. The two countries officially returned to full diplomatic relations on July 20, 2015. On March 20, 2016, President Obama was the first sitting U.S. President to visit Cuba in 88 years.

In the summer of 2016, relations between the United States and Cuba slowly improved. U.S. President Barack Obama has continued to urge Congress to lift the embargo on Cuba. Meanwhile, embassies in both countries have re-opened, and all signs point to relations continuing to improve.

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