Foreign policy and defense
Cuba is a nation in North America. Its capital city Havana. Cuban foreign policy is shaped by the relationship with the arch enemy US and the close ties with Venezuela. Relations with the EU countries and China are also important.
The strained relationship with the United States has characterized Cuban foreign policy ever since the US blockade was introduced in the early 1960s (see Modern History). The blockade has meant that US companies have basically not been allowed to trade with Cuba and that Americans have not been allowed to visit the country. The blockade has caused Cuba financial difficulties but also strengthened the regime as a host of problems have been blamed on the US hostile attitude.
- Countryaah: Overview of business holidays and various national observances in Cuba for years of 2020, 2021, 2022, 2023, 2024 and 2025.
Over the years, the blockade has intensified and intensified. A large proportion of the exile Cubans in the US have wanted to keep the blockade. These have exerted strong political influence as they are concentrated in the state of Florida where there is usually a level playing field between candidates in US presidential elections. Among the exile Cubans, there is now a growing group advocating that the blockade be lifted or at least mitigated. Those who want a softening also include American farmers and other entrepreneurs who see opportunities to do business with Cuba.
To lift the trade block, the United States has demanded that Cuba release its political prisoners, initiate a democratization and pay compensation for US property nationalized after Fidel Castros and the revolutionaries’ takeover of power in 1959. Cuba has said it is ready to negotiate the issue of compensation but has rejected the claims. on political reforms.
Barack Obama, who took office as president in early 2009, felt that US policy toward Cuba was outdated and unsuccessful. He introduced gradual relief in the blockade and wanted to have it completely abolished in the long run, which requires a decision by the US Congress.
Exile Cubans were now allowed to visit their old homeland without restrictions and the limit on how much money they could send to relatives in Cuba was removed. It was also allowed to send mobile phones, computers and satellite receivers and to pay for relatives’ mobile and satellite TV subscriptions. Some remaining restrictions on exports of food and medicines to Cuba were also mitigated.
In late 2014, Obama announced that it was time to turn the pages of relations with neighboring countries. At the same time, Obama and Castro announced that diplomatic relations between the countries would be restored. This happened formally six months later, on July 20, 2015, when the countries reopened their embassies in each country.
However, the US trade blockade against Cuba was still in force and there was no majority in Congress to lift it. President Obama continued to ease the blockade on the points he could. Ordinary Americans were allowed to visit Cuba under certain conditions and American companies were given certain rights to operate in Cuba. Corridors and air services were resumed. In March 2015, Obama himself made a historic visit to Cuba (read more in the Calendar).
The rapprochement between the countries was unlocked when Donald Trump became president of the United States in 2017. Donald Trump threatened to turn the clock back completely unless the Cuban government delivered “an agreement that better benefits the Cubans, the United States and relations between the countries”. However, the change was not as drastic as expected. Trump reintroduced some restrictions on travel to Cuba and banned business with companies in the tourism industry owned by the Cuban military, but he did not introduce any new sanctions and allowed diplomatic relations to continue. However, Trump made clear that continued rapprochement between the countries was dependent on political changes in Cuba.
Unlike the United States, EU countries have long opted for dialogue and trade as a tool to influence Cuba’s leaders to implement democratic reforms.
Especially Spain has played an important role as an intermediary link, even though relations are bordered by conflicts. Spanish companies have also played an important economic role in Cuba, not least in the tourism industry.
In response to the mass arrests of dissimilar thinking in 2003 (see Modern History), the EU imposed diplomatic sanctions on Cuba. The following year, contacts at the government level were resumed, even though the sanctions were not formally lifted. When Raúl Castro took office as head of state in 2008, the EU finally lifted its sanctions on the grounds that it wanted to support a change in the country. Through Spain, the EU contributed to the release of political prisoners in 2010 and then continued to work for a rapprochement. In March 2016, the EU and Cuba were able to sign an agreement to normalize their mutual relations.
With the states of Latin America, Cuba now has working relationships. In the spring of 2009, El Salvador and Costa Rica became the last Latin American countries to resume diplomatic relations with Cuba. They had been suspended in protest against the Cuban Revolution of 1958–1959 (see below).
Particularly close contacts were developed with Venezuela during the time of President Hugo Chávez in power (1999-2013). Chávez offered Cuba Venezuelan oil at an advantageous price in exchange for Cuba sending doctors and teachers to Venezuela. Venezuela became Cuba’s largest trading partner and most important ally.
In the spring of 2006, Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia signed a trade agreement, Alba, which was intended to counteract US influence in Latin America.
When Chávez became seriously ill in 2011, Cuba began to worry about the generous support failing and looking after other allies. Among other things, relations with Brazil were developed, which became an important market for Cuban medicines and vaccines.
The cooperation between Cuba and Venezuela has continued under Chávez’s successor Nicolás Maduro. In 2016, the countries signed a comprehensive cooperation agreement, including on trade and energy, which runs until 2030. However, support from Caracas has waned in the wake of the economic crisis in Venezuela. Dramatically reduced oil supplies from Venezuela have had a negative impact on Cuba’s economy, but political relations have remained good.
Cuba is a member of the regional cooperation organizations Celac and ACS and has served as a mediator in regional crises. The country played a constructive role in the peace talks that ended the civil war in El Salvador and Guatemala in the 1990s. From 2012, Cuba hosted peace talks between the government of Colombia and the Colombian guerrilla FARC. The dialogue resulted in a peace agreement between the parties in 2016.
Cuba has not participated in the cooperation of the United States Cooperative Organization (OAS) since 1962 when the country was excluded from the organization on the initiative of the United States. Many of the member states have demanded that Cuba be reintroduced into the Community, which the United States has opposed. In 2009, a compromise was reached. From the beginning, the United States demanded that Cuba be called for political reforms before re-entry, but eventually agreed that the exclusion could be lifted if Cuba agreed to a dialogue on the organization’s “pro-democratic principles”. Cuba called the OAS decision a big victory but declared that it does not want to join the organization which Cuban leaders see as a tool for US dominance in the region.
Russia and Asia
Relations with Moscow were important until the Soviet Union disbanded in 1991. Thereafter, contacts with Russia were kept at a low level. Only in 2000 did Russian President Vladimir Putin visit Cuba. It took another eight years before the countries could agree on a series of trade agreements.
As Venezuela’s financial contributions have diminished, Russia has become an increasingly important economic partner. Russian companies have invested in Cuba’s important nickel industry, state-owned Russian company Rosneft has multiplied its oil supplies to Cuba and Russian interests participate in the pursuit of oil in Cuban waters.
During the crisis of the 1990s, Cuba began to develop its relations with China. China provided loans and other assistance to Cuba during the difficult years (see Modern History). Contacts were intensified in the early 2000s, mainly due to growing Chinese interest in investing in Cuban natural resources. Relations were further strengthened after Raúl Castro took power in 2008 and a number of cooperation agreements were signed. Among other things, China promised to buy sugar and nickel from Cuba. China has also invested in Cuba’s oil industry and participated in the exploration of possible oil and gas sources off Cuba’s coasts. China is now the country’s most important trading partner before Venezuela.
Between 1970 and 1985, Japan was Cuba’s second most important trading partner, but during the crisis in the early 1990s trade exchanges declined dramatically. A new chapter in relations began to be written in the fall of 2016, when Cuba was first visited by a Japanese head of government. Shinzo Abe’s visit to Cuba became the starting point for a new dialogue and cooperation in a number of areas was planned. Abe also asked Cuba for help to persuade North Korea to halt its nuclear weapons program. Cuba is one of the few countries in the world to have friendly relations with North Korea.
Since the 1960s, Cuba has been committed to assisting developing countries on a large scale in education, healthcare and disaster relief. Cuba has over 50,000 relief workers deployed in over 60 countries. Cuba received a lot of praise when it sent healthcare personnel to West Africa during the Ebola epidemic in 2014. Cuba contributed more doctors and nurses than any other country. Cuba has also assisted neighbors in the Caribbean with disaster relief following hurricanes. Particularly comprehensive assistance was directed to Haiti after the severe earthquake in 2010.
Cuba’s military power exerts great influence politically but also economically. The military runs large business complexes, especially in the tourism sector.
The defense has largely focused on protecting the country from any US invasion. When it comes to the number of soldiers, Cuba’s military is strongest in the Caribbean but the equipment is now obsolete.
The regular defense forces comprise 49,000 men. Cuba also has semi-military forces: a troop that will provide state security, a civilian defense unit, a border force, and a militia of over 1 million people. A special work brigade covers 70,000 young people.
The total defense force has almost halved since the beginning of the 1990s, and military duty has been reduced from three to two years. The military service includes all young men from the age of 18; For women, military service is optional.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, the US military base Guantánamo in southeast Cuba. At the base is a disputed prison camp for suspected terrorists.
FACTS – DEFENSE
Army: 38,000 men (2017)
The air Force: 8,000 men (2017)
The fleet: 3,000 men (2017)
Military expenditure’s share of GDP: 3.1 percent (2015)