Have you ever wondered why Cuban rum – or any other Cuban product – is not available in the United States? Well wonder no more. Below is an account of the events that led up to the US embargo on all Cuban goods, but be warned: the pettiness might astound you!
The story starts way back in 1898 when the US, after defeating Spain in the Spanish-American War and gaining rights to its territories, granted Cuba its independence. A good start, you might think, and for the next fifty-odd years the two countries played nice. America invested heavily in the Cuban economy, and helped quash the odd rebellion here and there.
Then came the Cuban Revolution. In 1959, Castro overthrew the Batista regime with the help of Che Guevara and his band of guerrillas. America had also helped through political sanctions against Batista's government and they immediately recognised the new regime, although amidst much tut-tutting over the genocide of hundreds of Batista supporters. Within 3 months of coming to power, Castro visited the US and toured Washington with Vice President Nixon. Cuba and America were still chums, but not for long.
Soon Castro began seizing land and nationalising private companies in Cuba, among them the Havana Club Distillery owned by the Arechabala family. He also took American companies, and taxed products so heavily that imports from the US halved over the next 2 years. What followed was what can only be described as a large-scale game of tit-for-tat.
The US response: If you're going to tax our goods, we're imposing trade restrictions.
The Cuban response: Yankee imperialism! We don't want to play with you anymore! Our new BFF is the Soviet Union!
The US response: Well if you're going to be like that, we're not talking to you anymore, so there! You can direct all communication through Switzerland. And by the way, we're declaring a full embargo!
Cuba to Switzerland: Tell America we say "Fine!"
America to Switzerland: Tell Cuba WE say "Fine!"
Then things really got ugly and America thought it might be a good idea to try and kill Castro, but even the way they went about that was petty, more befitting an episode of Punk'd than a military campaign! After the Bay of Pigs, a botched CIA plot to overthrow Castro, they launched Operation Mongoose – a year-long series of ridiculous attempts on his life, ranging from an exploding seashell to shoes dusted with chemicals to make his beard fall out.
The Cuban response: So not cool! Now you've done it! We're going to let our new BFF build a missile base in our back yard!
The US to Switzerland: Tell Cuba we're still not talking to them.
Eventually what became known as the Cuban Missile Crisis was averted when the Soviets agreed to disarm Cuba in exchange for America dismantling their nuclear armoury in Turkey. Afterwards, the situation settled down to a strong dislike between the US and Cuba. Things were tense but manageable, but then Castro couldn't help himself and decided to release a flotilla of undesirables from one of his harbours, including a boatload of criminals and mental patients, in the direction of America. When they landed in Florida a few days later, the US was understandably unimpressed, but Castro's response was along the lines of: no takies-backies! And so America strengthened sanctions, effectively saying that none of its friends were allowed to play with Cuba, and that its island neighbour was banned from the playground.
Will there ever be an end to the silliness? In recent years President Obama has shown willingness to engage in talks, which is promising. Whatever happens, it will be a long time before these two start sharing their toys again, so don't go to America looking for Cuban rum any time soon.