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Essay: U.S. Foreign Policy: Cuba

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Sierra Club

by Nicholas Klar

Cuba’s relations with America deteriorated rapidly after the 1959 Revolution for several reasons. The first and most important reason was that the U.S. seemed totally unable to divert Cuba from the path that it set itself upon. Castro had committed his country to a redistribution of resources, which naturally included some that were American. Cuba, a small state that had been totally dominated by America, was now defying the giant that blacked out its northern horizon. [Smith p.333]

Cubans, who had been ‘given’ their ‘independence’ by America, were seen as upstarts and ingrates. It is argued by some that because of this inability by the U.S. to command the situation they undertook drastic steps that eventually drove Cuba into the Soviet orbit. This assumes that Castro was not Marxist/Leninist in orientation until forced to be. Because the character of the revolution seemed uncertain at the beginning there may some value in this argument.

Castro angered U.S. officials when he began to interfere with American sugar and oil interests. What exacerbated this situation was that he chose to pursue a trade relationship with the USSR, which only convinced Americans of his communist pedigree. Yet by their refusal to deal with Cuban nationalism the U.S. may well have left Castro little room to maneuver.

The U.S. used the 'Guatemalan model' for their abortive Bay of Pigs invasion. They had expected popular support, but it's failure only reinforced anti-American imperialism feelings amongst Cubans. In 1962 when Cuba was expelled from the OAS it could hardly be expected to serve it's own defense against a superpower. To protect it's revolutionary advances where else was it to turn, apart from the USSR? This only worsened U.S. fears, which became hysterical by the time of the missile crisis. [LeoGrande p.250, Smith p.336]

The U.S. was displeased that Cuba was not only serving as a positive model for other revolutionary movements, but was attempting to export revolution to Latin America. Clearly there were too much at stake for America, both economically and politically. However it must be noted that Cuba was unable to help replicate its situation anywhere else, so the danger may have been overstated.

Because of Cuba's previous total reliance on American imports it was hoped that the economic embargo would quickly bring Cuba to it's knees. Certainly the economic cost to Cuba was high (and still is today) but once again this solidified internal support, and also made them turn again to the Soviets for assistance. As stated by Guevera at Punte del Este, Cuba wanted their sovereignty, their autonomy, and freedom of trade. [Griswold pp.4,12,13] Clearly the two nations shared different world views. [Smith p.334]

Castro's attempts to project himself onto the world stage, and his commitment to armed struggle set him at odds with both the U.S. and the USSR. [LeoGrande pp.230,250] Diplomacy was seen by the U.S. administration as an inappropriate way to deal with Castro. [Smith p.350] This was particularly so after Cuba sent troops to Angola and Ethiopia. Here it must be considered the influence that western powers had previously exercised in these struggles, and the hypocrisy this involved. [Smith pp.340-5]

In conclusion I would consider that Cuba would not have been seen as a strategic threat if the situation had been handled better. The constraints of the Cold War struggle certainly limited the U.S. in the ways it could maneuver. Most seriously Cuba's role model status threatened the political influence, and in turn the economic interests, of America. I think America could have lived with the Cuban Revolution, but in the end cannot stand to have its hegemony challenged in such a major way.


William M. LeoGrande 'Cuba' in M.Blachman, et al (Ed.) 'Confronting Revolution' New York 1986

Deirdre Griswold 'Che Guevera at Punte del Este'

Wayne S. Smith 'U.S.-Cuba Relations : Twenty-Five Years of Hostility' in S. Halebsky and J. Kueh (Ed.) 'Cuba' New York 1985

© 1993, Nicholas Klar, PO Box 280, Brighton SA 5048, AUSTRALIA 

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REF: Nicholas Klar, 1993, "U.S. Foreign Policy: Cuba" - + date accessed

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