The Straight Dope: The US-Cuba Deal

Cuba Flags

Everything you wanted to know about the US-Cuba deal.



President Obama last week announced a broad agreement between US and Cuba that would essentially end 50 years of hostility. The deal itself isn’t complicated but everything surrounding it is. Here’s the straight dope.



How to Make a Killer Cuba Libre

Cuba Libre


This explanation might take a little while, so it would smart to get yourself a drink and settle in. May a suggest a refreshing cuba libre? Here’s how to make one.


Step 1: Get a Collins glass (a tall skinny glass like in the picture) and put two or three ice cubes in it.

Step 2: Cut one slice from a fresh lime. Squeeze the lime slice into the Collins glass with the ice and toss it to the bottom of the glass, below the ice cubes.

Step 3: With the remaining lime shave off some peel shavings into the glass.

Step 4: Take you one shot (or two if it’s THAT kind of party) of your rum (preferably something good like Appleton Special Gold rum) into the Collins glass.

Step 5: Finally pour in Coke (preferably made of pure cane sugar for the perfect taste) until the glass is full.


Ok now that you have the perfect Cuba Libre in hand, get comfortable, because this one’s going to be a barn burner.



A Primer in Cuba-US Relations

US-Cube map


The past 50 years or so has been an interesting for the US and Cuba. To understand the tension between the two nations, you have to understand the Cold War. Unlike today, the Cold War had divided the world into two factions; the Western Bloc (US, NATO countries, ect) and the Eastern Bloc (Soviet Union, Warsaw Pact countries, ect). To make this simple we can divide these countries into nations that practiced Democracy (the US and its allies) and countries that participated in Communism (the Soviet Union and its allies). As many countries around the world started to gain independence after World War II, both the US and Soviet Union started to fight for political influence over these countries, hoping they would adopt their respective ideology. Cuba got caught up in the middle of this.


So after the Cuban Revolution in 1959, revolutionary leaders Che Guevara (the guy from this poster that was hung-up in your dorm room) and Fidel Castro (the former leader of Cuba) made it clear that their revolution was along communist lines. So after Batista fell (the former Cuban leader, not the wrestler) Cuba would be aligned with the Soviet Union. This meant that many business interests between the US and Cuba had now suddenly gone void. Not only did this break a lucrative foreign investment for the US, but it also put the Soviet Union (the US’ chief political rival and biggest threat) right next door in Cuba. This made Cuba the proxy for the Cold War conflict between the US and Soviet Union.


To make things worse, after the Cuban Revolution, many Cubans ended up being displaced as refugees in the US. This was known as the Mariel Boatlift, in which over 100,000 Cuban refugees (which included those that had been jailed and in mental institutions) fled to the US for asylum. Regardless, Cuban refugees in the US aren’t too fond (to put it lightly) of Castro and the current political regime. To them, any reconciliation from the US to Cuba would be nothing less than the US excepting a brutal dictatorship.


So that is why President Obama’s announcement of the US once again starting relations with Cuba is so startling. After decades of hostility, the US brokering a deal with Cuba would have been unheard of say 20 years ago.



What Each of the Nations Get from this Deal

Cuba Releases Alan Gross, Held In Prison For 5 Years



  • The US will start creating diplomatic ties to Cuba. The first since 1961.

  • The US Embassy will reopen in Cuba after being closed for over half a century.

  • Three individuals that were convicted of espionage for the Cuban government will be released from prison.

  • Many restrictions for business and travel will be lifted. (Important Note: This deal doesn’t include American tourism.)

  • Many that are in the US will finally be able to send money to families living in Cuba (up to $2000-a-year).

  • Small scale imports like cigars and alcohol will be allowed in the US.

  • The US will review Cuba’s status of “state sponsor of terrorism.”



  • US contractor, Alan Gross, will be released by the Cuban government. For many years his detention has been a thorn on the side of US-Cuban relations.

  • Cuba will also release a list of 53 political prisoners that has been compiled by the US.

  • There will be an increase of Internet access for individuals in Cuba. The US hopes this will bring democratic reforms.

  • Organizations and institutions like the Red Cross would be allowed entry in Cuba once again.

  • The United Nations would be allowed in Cuba.



Outside Actors



This deal would not be possible without these outside actors.


  • Pope Francis: It has been recently reported that various Vatican officials participated in the talks. Specifically Pope Francis was in a unique position by being the first Pope from Latin America and having strong relations with the US. If there was anyone that could help Latin America – especially Cuba – to build trust with the US once again, it would be Pope Francis.


  • Canadian Government: According to the New York Times the Canadian government played a vital role in the 18 months that lead to the eventual US-Cuba deal. Many of those negotiations were held in Canada, allowing both countries a neutral (yet safe) space to negotiate.


  • Venezuela: Maybe the biggest reason this deal happened were not due to the ending of the Cold War, but because of falling oil prices. Venezuela, one of the top oil producers in the world, recently has been hit hard due to free falling oil prices. It’s gotten so bad that the country’s bonds are currently at default levels. Over the last decade, Cuba has been the biggest benefactor of Venezuela’s energy dominance. But current leader of Cuba, Raul Castro, has wanted Cuba to diversify the economy away from Venezuela. The current oil crash and Venezuela’s economic woes may have accelerated the US-Cuba deal.



A Cold War State of Mind


Politicians don’t want to admit this, but the reason the embargo has been placed on Cuba for so long has less to do with the ideology that “Communism is against American interests” and more to do with “man there sure are a lot of Cuban expats in Florida.” Let us explain.


From an economic standpoint, the US embargo on Cuba never really made much sense. The embargo was basically designed in hopes of starving off Cuba so they would overthrow the Castro regime. As you can see, it didn’t work. Fifty years later the Castro regime is still in power. Yet what’s even more absurd is that the Cold War ended over two decades ago! So why did the embargo last this long? One word, Florida.


In every presidential election, Florida plays a major role in deciding the presidency. With its 29 electoral votes, candidates listen to Florida intently and for years the large Cuban bloc in Florida believed the embargo to be a political statement to Castro’s Cuba. The conventional wisdom was if you wanted to win Florida, you needed the Cuban bloc. And that meant politically supporting the Cuban embargo.


But times have changed. A new generation of Cubans – who grew up in the US – no longer identify themselves as refugees pushed out by the Castro regime. An FIU report shows, while more than 1/3 of Cuban-Americans living in Miami arrived in the last 20 years, a large majority (68%) of Cubans now favor diplomatic relations with Cuba, with the younger generation of Cubans overwhelmingly supporting the measure (90%).


For the Obama Administration, this was something that had to happen. The embargo on Cuba is something that is a holdover to a way of thinking that went away when the Cold War ended. Much like how Sen. Rand Paul took Sen. Marco Rubio to task on Twitter, politically the Cuba embargo just doesn’t make sense anymore. The Cold War is over. We won. We should all just move on.



(Photo Credit: Associated Press, Google Images)


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