On New Years Day, 1959, Fidel Castro overthrew Cuban President Fulgencio Batista. On taking power, Castro launched a revolution that challenged major U. S. interests on the island, including mob-run casinos, U. S. military missions, and investments worth many millions of dollars. Castro decried U. S. hegemony and Cuban dependency and vowed to restructure economic and political life to reduce U. S. influence, which had grown exponentially since the turn of the century. In 1960, relations between the two countries deteriorated rapidly after the U. S. imposed trade sanctions on the island. The Cubans increasingly turned to the Soviet Union, which became Castro’s economic and military partner. In January 1961, the United States broke relations with Castro when the Cubans ensconced themselves firmly in the Soviet orbit.
During the 1960 presidential campaign, Senator John F. Kennedy accused the Eisenhower administration of “losing” Cuba. “Cuba, ” he said in Cincinnati on 6 October of that year, was a “glaring failure of American foreign policy…it was our own policies, ” the young Democrat continued, “not Castro’s, that first began to turn our former good neighbors against us. ” 1
After four decades, most scholars who write on Cuban-American relations still accept Kennedy’s argument that the U. S. would not have lost Cuba to Castro had it followed a more coherent policy towards Batista during the 1950s. These writers imply that if Eisenhower had paid more attention to Cuba and had acted to ease Batista out of office in 1957 or 1958, then the Cuban people would not have been subjected to over four decades of communist dictatorship. As Robert McMahon writes, “the verdict of much recent scholarship on Cuban-American relations, ” is that U. S. policy toward Cuba was “rash, poorly planned, and ultimately counterproductive. ” 2