Cuba is the largest Caribbean island, between the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean. It lies 145 km (90 miles) south of Key West, Florida, between the Cayman Islands and the Bahamas, to the west of Haiti, east of Mexico and northwest of Jamaica. For over 60 years, it has been ruled by a Communist single party state.
Cuba became a U.S. protectorate in 1898 after American and Cuban forces defeated Spanish forces during the Spanish-American War. In 1902, the Platt Amendment ended the U.S. military occupation of Cuba, but the United States reserved the right to intervene in Cuban affairs in order to “defend Cuban independence and to maintain a government adequate for the protection of life, property, and individual liberty”. Between 1902 and 1959, many U.S. citizens lived in Cuba or frequently traveled to Cuba. The Cuban economy relied heavily on tourism from the U.S. and Canada. Havana had a large number of shows, events, and hotels catering to tourists.
Fulgencio Batista was the elected President of Cuba from 1940 to 1944, and U.S.-backed dictator from 1952 to 1959, before being overthrown during the Cuban Revolution. The Cuban Revolution (Spanish: Revolución cubana) was an armed revolt conducted by Fidel Castro’s 26th of July Movement and its allies against the right-wing dictatorship government of Fulgencio Batista. The revolution began in July 1953, and continued sporadically until the rebels finally ousted Batista on 1 January 1959.
The Cuban Revolution was a crucial turning point in U.S.-Cuban relations. Although the American government was initially willing to recognize Castro’s new government, it soon came to fear that Communist insurgencies would spread through the nations of Latin America, as they had in Southeast Asia. Castro, meanwhile, resented the Americans for providing aid to Batista’s government during the revolution. After the revolutionary government nationalized all U.S. property in Cuba in August 1960, the American Eisenhower administration froze all Cuban assets on American soil, severed diplomatic ties and tightened its embargo of Cuba.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower secretly began planning efforts to assassinate or overthrow Castro, such as the Bay of Pigs invasion, which eventually occurred during the administration of U.S. President John F. Kennedy. When Castro asked the U.S. for new armaments, President Eisenhower refused — keeping the arms embargo in place. In response, Castro began purchasing weapons from the Soviet Union.
In October, 1960, a private U.S. oil refinery in Cuba refused to refine a shipment of Soviet crude oil. In response, Castro nationalized all oil refineries in Cuba, without compensating the owners. Private U.S. companies had owned all of the refineries at the time. In the ensuing months, the U.S. incrementally expanded its embargo, and Castro incrementally nationalized more U.S. companies. Ultimately, President Kennedy added travel restrictions, which remained wholly in place until 2016.
After 1959, Cuban tourism diminished drastically and was mostly for people within the Soviet block. As a result, Cuba did not renew many facilities until the 1990s, when Cuba lost financial backing from the defunct Soviet Union, when Cuba opened its doors to foreign tourism and the possession of foreign currency. Now many European, Canadian, and even American visitors come to the island. In the typical tourist regions like Varadero and Holguín many modern 3-star to 5-star hotels are available, while in less popular tourist regions visitors are still able to rent rooms in many Cuban homes (called casas particulares).
Travel to Cuba for tourist activities remains prohibited for U.S. citizens. However, in March, 2016 The Obama administration issued general licenses for 12 categories of travel. Individuals who meet the regulatory conditions of the general license they seek to travel under do not need to apply for an additional license from OFAC to travel to Cuba. The 12 categories of authorized travel to Cuba are: family visits; official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations; journalistic activity; professional research and professional meetings; educational activities; religious activities; public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions; support for the Cuban people; humanitarian projects; activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes; exportation, importation, or transmission of information or informational materials; and certain authorized export transactions.