When President Dwight D. Eisenhower ended diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba on January 3, 1961, few imagined that 54 years would intervene before his decision was reversed. Yet the restoration of diplomatic relations should not
A History of Abnormal Relations
Even while Cuba was a colony of Spain, which
At that point, as Cuban independence fighters were about to win their struggle against Spain, the United States intervened to steal away their victory. Denying Cubans permission even to attend the peace treaty negotiations in Paris, the United States
Between 1903 and 1933 the United States sent troops to Cuba three times, including one stint from 1906 to 1909 under Governor General Charles Magoon, who was so overtly contemptuous of Cubans that today they use his name as a synonym for treachery. In 1933, after insurgents overthrew the dictatorship of Gerardo Machado, President Franklin D. Roosevelt refused to recognize the new government, which lasted only one hundred days
Fulgencio Batista’s dictatorship tried U.S. patience in other ways—by giving U.S. organized crime syndicates carte blanche to plan global operations based in Cuba and blatantly thumbing his nose at U.S. requests to curtail violence against Cubans and cease human rights violations. Batista’s behavior nearly led the Eisenhower administration to seek his ouster when the January 1, 1959 victory of Cuban revolutionaries removed the option of finding a “third way” in
Over the next half
In contrast, the existential threat Cuban officials perceived had greater validity. The United States organized, funded, and managed the 1961 Bay of Pigs Invasion, along with at least seven attempts to assassinate the Cuban leadership. It engaged in
With this legacy of tension and hostility, the usually unobjectionable ways in which any two countries engage each other has become problematic for the United States and Cuba. For example, orderly migration or even travel has
From Normal Diplomatic Relations to Normal Relations
Several analysts have well summarized key issues on the U.S.-Cuban negotiating agenda once
Both countries can take steps to reduce fear and build trust. Consider the U.S. democracy promotion programs. U.S. officials correctly argue that they
Fears also could
Trust will more difficult to build than reducing fears. Even as many Cubans celebrated the December 17 announcements on diplomatic relations, former President Fidel Castro waited
Still, diminishing fear and building trust are the cornerstones of establishing a normal relationship, because fear and mistrust prevent adversaries from empathizing with each other. Political psychologist Ralph White helpfully explains that empathy “does not
Without empathy, two countries are more likely to misinterpret unintended slights or insults as animosity, to perceive bellicose language intended for a domestic audience as a threat, or to treat a minor action, such as a visa denial, as a policy decision, when it may have been
The effort to empathize is especially difficult between a large and a small country, because the calculus of threat for each is so different. A great power tends not even to think about whether it will
Most countries are small
*Philip Brenner is Professor of International Relations and Affiliate Professor of History at American University. He is
co-editor (with Marguerite Rose Jiménez, John M. Kirk, and William M. LeoGrande) of A Contemporary Cuba Reader: The Revolution Under Raúl Castro (Rowman and Littlefield, 2014), and co-author (with Peter Eisner) of Cuba’s Quest for Sovereignty: A 500-Year History (Rowman and Littlefield, forthcoming).
[ii] As quoted in Schoultz, That Infernal Little Republic, pp. 18-19.
[iii] U.S. State Department, Office of the Historian. n
[iv] Inspector General, Central Intelligence Agency. 1967. "Report on Plots to Assassinate Fidel Castro." May 23;
[v] See "Testimony of Richard M. Helms," U.S. Congress, House, Select Committee on Assassinations, "Investigation of the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy," Hearings, 95th Cong., 2nd Sess., September 22, 25 and 26, 1978,
[vi] Sanger, David E. 2014. "U.S. Says It Tried to Build a Social Media Site in Cuba, but Failed." New York Times, April 4.
[vii] For example, see William M. LeoGrande, "Normalizing Relations With Cuba: The Unfinished Agenda," available at Newsweek http://www.newsweek.com/normalizing-relations-cuba-unfinished-agenda-303232 or Jorge Bolaños. 2015. "La
[viii] Armstrong, Fulton. 2011. "Time to clean up U.S. regime-change programs in Cuba." Miami Herald, December 26; Editorial, 2014. "A Cuban Brain Drain, Courtesy of U.S." New York Times, November 17.
[ix] Lakoff. George. 1992. "Metaphor and War: The Metaphor System Used to Justify War in the Gulf," in
[xi] White, Ralph K. 1991. "Empathizing with Saddam Hussein," Political Psychology, 12:2: 292.
[xii] Alzugaray Treto, Carlos. 1989. "Problems of National Security in the Cuban-U.S. Historic Breach," in U.S.-Cuban Relations in the 1990s, eds., Jorge I. Domínguez and Rafael Hernández. Boulder: Westview. p. 86.
By the Center for Latin American & Latino Studies and the Social Science Research Council