Any American knows the key moments in the long, antagonistic history of U.S. – Cuba relations.
Fidel Castro’s revolution and turn to communism. The Bay of Pigs. The Cuban Missile Crisis.
But those moments illustrate just how long it’s been since there was any significant change in the relationship between the two countries. It’s stunning to consider that the last moments of major change were recorded in black and white. They’ve moved from high school political science classes to history lectures.
What we’ve seen over the 50 years that have passed since those days have been only small, incremental changes, the kinds that barely registered outside this Cuban-dominated city. President Carter opening an “interests section” in Havana in 1977. President George W. Bush restricting the already-limited travel opportunities for Americans to the island. President Obama reopening those travel channels after he took office. Even the 2008 transfer of power from Castro to his brother Raúl appeared to have little impact on the standoff.
That’s why Obama’s announcement Wednesday is so historic.
In 2012, the United States’ Dept. of the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) introduced the “People to People” educational exchange general license which allows U.S. tour operators to take groups of American travelers to Cuba. In 2013, the number of licenses increased to over 400 and now any American University can get a license and all alumni can travel on that license. By 2014, American tourists were travelling in all parts of Cuba–including the remote coastal ports and famous diving locations on the south coast — Jardin de la Reina (Queens Garden).
In the past, U.S. Coast Guard cutters vigilantly patrolled 12 miles off the Cuban Coast. These patrols hailed all vessels regardless of flag nationality of crew and were questioned as to where they were heading, passport details and, in some cases, vessels were boarded. Since 2011 there have been no USCG patrols off the Cuban coast. At one time, U.S. vessels that were docked in a Cuban marina would be situated in a less visible location so that no one could photograph them. Today, U.S. flagged yachts tie among the other vessels and have no special dockside treatment. American passports are still not stamped upon entry.
Sources: USA Today and Cruisingincuba.com