Cokie Roberts Answers Your Questions About The U.S. And Cuba In this week's #AskCokie segment, commentator Cokie Roberts answers listener questions about the history of U.S.-Cuba relations.
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Cokie Roberts Answers Your Questions About The U.S. And Cuba

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Cokie Roberts Answers Your Questions About The U.S. And Cuba

Cokie Roberts Answers Your Questions About The U.S. And Cuba

Cokie Roberts Answers Your Questions About The U.S. And Cuba

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In this week's #AskCokie segment, commentator Cokie Roberts answers listener questions about the history of U.S.-Cuba relations.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Let's ask Cokie about the United States and Cuba. You've heard by now that President Trump has retightened travel restrictions to Cuba. In announcing his new policy, the president slammed the Obama presidency that had made openings to the Castro-led government.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: It's hard to think of a policy that makes less sense than the prior administration's terrible and misguided deal with the Castro regime.

INSKEEP: There's a lot of history here. And our colleague Rachel Martin asked Cokie Roberts, as part of our regular feature, about the history of U.S.-Cuba relations.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Even though Fidel Castro died last year, he is still a fixture in U.S.-Cuba relations. Since he seized control of that country in 1959, Castro forged ties with the Soviet Union and nationalized American companies doing business in Cuba. Two years later, President Eisenhower cut off diplomatic relations. Here's Eisenhower's press secretary, James Hagerty, making the announcement.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JAMES HAGERTY: There is a limit to what the United States in self-respect can endure. That limit has now been reached.

MARTIN: After that diplomatic closure, the U.S. set up an economic blockade and made several attempts to overthrow Castro.

Commentator Cokie Roberts has been fielding your questions on the status of U.S.-Cuban relations, and she joins me now. Hey, Cokie.

COKIE ROBERTS, BYLINE: Hi, Rachel.

MARTIN: All right - first up, a question about history, which is appropriate with this subject. This comes from Tony Gutierrez. He wrote on Twitter the following, (reading) when was the last time the U.S. wasn't trying to actively interfere or meddle with Cuba?

ROBERTS: There's basically never been a time.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

ROBERTS: All through the 19th century, the United States had various plans to annex Cuba. But the Spanish, by and large, managed to hold onto it until the Spanish-American War at the end of the century. And then when they lost that, they signed over Cuba, along with Puerto Rico and Guam and the Philippines, to the United States, which had a military occupation for a few years and got Guantanamo forever. Castro finally did seize power in 1959. And at first, Rachel, the U.S. embraced him. But that didn't last for long.

MARTIN: Yeah. And then there were a series of attempts to overthrow him.

ROBERTS: No - overthrow him and kill him. First, John Kennedy became president. Right away, he had the Bay of Pigs invasion, and it was a disaster. And Castro then declared a Communist regime, and there were these efforts to kill him that were ludicrous, you know, exploding cigars and flesh-eating wetsuits. And this went on for decades. But meanwhile, the United States did impose economic sanctions, had a complete trade embargo imposed by Kennedy in early 1962, and of course, we've been living with that embargo - and Cuba has been living with that embargo - in various forms ever since.

MARTIN: So 1962, you mentioned, this is a date that lives in infamy in American history. That's when U.S. spy planes discovered evidence that the Soviet Union was building missile bases on Cuba. And of course, this is what sparked the Cuban missile crisis. Right?

ROBERTS: Right. And it was really one of the scariest times in the history of the planet. I remember it very well. My father was in the House leadership. A helicopter came and plucked him out of the Gulf of Mexico where he was fishing, took him to the White House, and they just hunkered down there for almost two weeks. It was really considered the moment when the two superpowers came closest to nuclear war.

But after a lot of maneuvering, as you know, finally Kennedy sent a secret message to Khrushchev that the U.S. would remove missiles from Turkey if the Soviet Union got out of Cuba. It worked. And after 13 very tense days, the Soviet Union stood down. But the sanctions against Cuba stayed in place.

MARTIN: OK. We'll close with one more question from a listener.

JAVIERA FLORES: My name is Javiera Flores (ph). I'm from Los Angeles, Calif. Why did the U.S. list Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism?

MARTIN: Cokie?

ROBERTS: That happened in the Reagan administration, when Cuba was supporting communist guerrillas in El Salvador and Angola. Once again, an invasion was threatened. That didn't happen, but Cuba was put on the terrorist list. And there have been just fits and starts over the years of relaxing relations, tightening up relations. But the big breakthrough came with Obama and the deal brokered by Pope Francis. Trump now has said he will keep the diplomatic relations but crack down on some travel, some business, despite the fact that an awful lot of Americans support ending all of these restrictions. There's still some Cuban-Americans who feel strongly about it, and he has promised to help them out.

MARTIN: Commentator Cokie Roberts. You can ask Cokie your questions about how politics and government work by emailing us at askcokie@npr.org, or you can tweet us with the hashtag #AskCokie.

Thanks, Cokie.

ROBERTS: Thank you, Rachel.

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