In what some perceive as a step toward lifting the long-standing embargo against Cuba, the Obama administration is moving to loosen restrictions for trade and travel between the United States and Cuba, according to yesterday's Guardian story. A spending bill coming up for vote this week includes a provision that would allow those with relatives in Cuba to visit every year rather than every three years as well as ease certain trade requirements.
The embargo dates back to the rise of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro in the 1960s at the height of the Cold War. This timeline from NPR lays out a helpful chronology of how 10 different presidents have dealt with Cuba since the rise of Castro. The United States imposed an economic embargo on Cuba when Castro took over some American-owned properties in 1960. After the Bay of Pigs disaster and the Cuban Missile Crisis, John F. Kennedy strengthened the embargo and banned Americans from traveling to Cuba.
Attempts to loosen the embargo under the Ford and Carter administrations fell through when Castro supported other communist regimes. When the USSR fell, Cuba lost its major economic supporter, but soon regained support through relations with European and other countries. After Cuba shot down an American plane in 1996, it ended Bill Clinton's attempts to restore relations, and the George W. Bush administration continued to tighten restrictions.
Some want President Obama to go further and end what they perceive as an out-dated embargo policy. Although as a senator, Obama sought to end the embargo, he changed his tune during his campaign. Susan Kaufman Purcell argues in the book Cuba that the embargo still has an important role to encourage an end to the communist regime. Although critics argue that it has failed in this mission, Purcell insists that engaging in Cuban trade (like Western Europe and Canada have done) has not only failed to remove but actually encouraged the regime.