January 3

This Day in History

Cold War

Jan 3, 1961:

United States severs diplomatic relations with Cuba

In the climax of deteriorating relations between the United States and Fidel Castro's government in Cuba, President Dwight D. Eisenhower closes the American embassy in Havana and severs diplomatic relations.

The action signaled that the United States was prepared to take extreme measures to oppose Castro's regime, which U.S. officials worried was a beachhead of communism in the western hemisphere. The immediate reason cited for the break was Castro's demand that the U.S. embassy staff be reduced, which followed heated accusations from the Cuban government that America was using the embassy as a base for spies.

Relations between the United States and Cuba had been steadily declining since Castro seized power in early 1959. U.S. officials were soon convinced that Castro's government was too anti-American to be trusted, and they feared that he might lead Cuba into the communist bloc. Early in 1960, following Castro's decision to sign a trade treaty with the Soviet Union, the Eisenhower administration began financing and training a group of Cuban exiles to overthrow the Cuban leader. Castro responded by increasing his program of nationalizing foreign property and companies. In return, the United States began to implement cutbacks in trade with Cuba. The diplomatic break on January 3, 1961 was the culmination of an increasingly acrimonious situation.

Severing relations marked the end of America's policy of trying to resolve its differences with Castro's government through diplomacy. Just over two months later, President John F. Kennedy unleashed the Cuban exile force established during the Eisenhower years. This led to the Bay of Pigs debacle, in which Castro's military killed or captured the exile troops. After the Bay of Pigs, the relationship between the United States and Cuba was one of the chilliest of the Cold War.

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