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On This Day: Eisenhower Places Embargo on Exports to Cuba

Last updated: February 13, 2023

On Oct. 19, 1960, the Eisenhower administration placed an embargo on exports to Cuba, setting in motion an uneasy political relationship that continues to this day.

Trade Embargo Placed on Cuba

Beginning in 1898, when Spain ceded Cuba to the United States following the Spanish-American War, the U.S. had a tight economic relationship with Cuba that revolved around trade and tourism. This relationship came to an end when Fidel Castro seized control of the country from Fulgencio Batista in January 1959.

Almost immediately, Castro began to restructure the government in a socialist mold and develop a relationship with the Soviet Union. “Relations between the United States and Cuba deteriorated rapidly as the Cuban regime expropriated U.S. properties and moved toward adoption of a one-party communist system,” writes the U.S. State Department.

Sources in this Story

  • U.S. State Department: Background Note: Cuba
  • PBS: Fidel Castro: Timeline: Post-Revolution Cuba
  • University of California, Santa Barbara: The American Presidency Project: Statement by the President Upon Signing Bill and Proclamation Relating to the Cuban Sugar Quota
  • Council on Foreign Relations: U.S.-Cuba Relations
  • NPR: 10 Presidents, One Dictator: U.S.-Cuba Policy

In the spring of 1960, President Dwight D. Eisenhower approved a plan that would place embargoes on sugar, oil, and guns. That June, under orders from the Eisenhower administration, U.S. oil companies in Cuba refused to refine oil delivered by the Soviet Union; Castro responded by nationalizing oil refineries. The next day, Eisenhower reduced the quota of Cuban sugar by 95 percent.

Castro continued to nationalize U.S. businesses and commercial properties and grow closer to the Soviet Union. On Oct. 19, the Eisenhower administration retaliated with a unilateral embargo on all exports to Cuba.

U.S.-Cuba Economic Relations Since 1960

Related Events

In January 1961, just before leaving office, Eisenhower broke off U.S. diplomatic relations with Cuba. “Since 1961, the official U.S. policy toward Cuba has been two-pronged: economic embargo and diplomatic isolation,” writes the Council on Foreign Relations.

Eisenhower’s successor, John F. Kennedy, maintained a hard-line economic stance against Cuba. In February 1962, his administration expanded the trade embargo to cover all trade with Cuba. The following February, Kennedy issued a ban on travel to Cuba.

The economic and travel embargoes were intended to put pressure on the Castro government and weaken his rule. Castro, however, spent nearly 50 years in office, outlasting 10 U.S. presidents, before stepping down due to ailing health in 2008.

“A consensus is emerging among Cuban-Americans that ‘current policy has failed and that neither the Cuban nor the U.S. government has any business getting in the way of individuals,’” according to the CFR. Nevertheless, the U.S. has continued to renew the trade embargo.

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