This Day In History: April 11

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For the first time in over 50 years, the presidents of the United States and Cuba meet on April 11, 2015. Barack Obama and Raúl Castro, President of Cuba and brother of Fidel Castro, with whom the United States broke off diplomatic contact in 1961, shook hands and expressed a willingness to put one of the world’s highest-profile diplomatic feuds in the past.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower had cut diplomatic ties with Cuba after the Castro-led revolution overthrew a U.S.-backed dictator and installed a regime that was friendly with the Soviet Union. For the next five decades, the U.S. sought to isolate Cuba economically and politically; though it failed to get other nations to join its embargo, it did manage to severely hamstring Cuba’s economic development. Fidel Castro stepped down as president in 2008, the same year that Obama was elected. Early in his administration, Obama signed laws and executive orders that eased the U.S. embargo of Cuba and made it easier for Americans to travel to the island nation. Taking over for his brother, Raúl Castro expressed a willingness to reciprocate, and the two shook hands at a memorial service for Nelson Mandela in 2013. That year, officials from the two nations discussed normalizing relations at secret talks facilitated by Pope Francis I in Canada and at the Vatican.

The following April, Castro and Obama met, shook hands, and posed together for photographs in Panama City, Panama. Both leaders stressed their desire to work together, but warned that their meeting was only the beginning of what would have to be a long dialogue. A short time later, the Obama administration removed Cuba from its list of state sponsors of terror, and the diplomatic relationship was officially re-established in July.

The “Cuban Thaw,” along with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action between Iran, the U.S., and its allies, was one of the major foreign policy accomplishments of Obama administration, and as such its reversal was priority for his successor, Donald Trump, who tightened travel restrictions between the two countries. The Trump administration did not manage to end commercial travel between the two countries, however, nor did it close the U.S. embassy in Cuba or ask Cuba to vacate its embassy in Washington, D.C.

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