Bernie Sanders on Cuba

Bernie Sanders supports President Obama’s efforts to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba. In 2014, Bernie commended the announcement of the President’s policy as a “major step forward in ending the 55-year Cold War with Cuba.”

Diplomatic Relations with Cuba

Bernie believes improving diplomatic relations with Cuba is essential to promoting democratic values in the region and strengthening our economic and cultural ties with its people.

Go back to the beginning. What happened to create this tension between the U.S. and Cuba in the first place?

It’s complicated. And, like most of world history post-World War II, the Cold War was at the center of the conflict.

Though the U.S. initially supported Castro by imposing a 1958 arms embargo against the Batista government, diplomatic relations began to deteriorate after Cuba nationalized several local subsidiaries of U.S. corporations and taxed American products so heavily that U.S. exports were halved in just two years. And after Cuba consolidated trade relations with the Soviet Union, President Eisenhower officially withdrew all diplomatic recognition of its government and closed the embassy in Havana.

The U.S. then began focusing on overthrowing Castro’s regime, leading to the failed Bay of Pigs operation. Then in 1962, an American U-2 spy plane secretly photographed the Soviet Union building nuclear missile sites — sparking the Cuban Missile Crisis. Cuba played a significant role in the Cold War chess match until the collapse of the U.S.S.R. in the early 90s. The U.S. added Cuba to its list of state sponsors of terror in 1982. And throughout, it has maintained concerns over Cuba’s record of human rights issues.

What does Bernie have to say about Cuba?

Bernie supports normalizing relations between the two nations and removing the economic embargo, which he argues is costing American businesses billions of dollars. In February 2014, Bernie shared his hope that “Cuba moves toward a more democratic society while, at the same time, the United States will respect the independence of the Cuban people.” He was part of a U.S. delegation that traveled to Cuba in 2014 to discuss trade, healthcare, and human rights issues in Havana.

Later in 2014, Bernie applauded President Obama’s announcements on discussions with Cuba, and in January 2015, he sponsored the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act, which aimed to address the administration’s proposal to loosen restrictions on travel to Cuba and remove restrictions on travel-related banking transactions.

What’s the current state of affairs?

In April 2009, President Barack Obama reduced some of the travel and cellular restrictions between the U.S. and Cuba. Both countries were open to dialogue until the capture and detention of U.S. Agency for International Development subcontractor Alan Gross in Havana in December of that year. After five years of imprisonment, Gross was released in a prisoner swap.

After half a century of Cold War tensions, President Obama and Raúl Castro held the first meeting between a U.S. and Cuban head of state since then-Vice President Richard Nixon met with Fidel Castro in 1959. These April 2015 talks served as a first step toward renewing diplomatic relations with Cuba and paved the way for incremental improvements, leading up to the recent re-opening of the U.S. embassy in Havana. The trade embargo, however, is still in place.

How about Guantánamo? That’s in Cuba, right?

Bernie supports closing the Guantánamo Bay detention camp the United States maintains on the Cuban island, noting it has “significantly damaged the United States’ moral standing, undermined our foreign policy, and encourage terrorism rather than effectively combated it.”

His opinion refers to abuse and torture, as well as the unlawful detention of inmates at the military prison Amnesty International has called a “gulag of our times.”

In 2009 Bernie voted against the proposals the Obama administration suggested for closing the prison. The bill was defeated with strong bipartisan support (90-6). Given Bernie’s human rights concerns regarding the facility, he voted against it because the plans did not address the human rights violations — including being held indefinitely without trial — that he and so many other Americans are most concerned about with regards to Guantánamo.