As Jimmy Carter Visits Cuba, a Look Back on Cuban Relations with Other Presidents

When Jimmy Carter and his wife began their three-day stay in Cuba, it marked the second visit for the former American president. Carter also visited Cuba in 2002. He remains the only president, sitting or former, to visit Cuba since before the Cuban Revolution in 1959.

Carter landed in Cuba and met with Cuban Jewish leaders, but did not immediately discuss the release of jailed US aid contractor Alan Gross, Reuters reported on Monday. Gross was reportedly imprisoned for providing illegal Internet access to Jewish dissidents.

Since Gross was arrested in late 2009, relations between Cuba and the United States, which had been warming, chilled once again. Carter and his wife Rosalynn were invited by the Cuban government, and it is hoped the former president can at least begin the process to get Gross released .

The Obama administration has indicated there will not be a change in relations as long as Gross continues to be held.

President Carter has established himself diplomatically in the years since he was in the White House as being not afraid to go where others have feared to. What are some of the highlights of other presidential interactions with the Cuban government?

An NPR piece titled “10 Presidents, One Dictator” details interactions between Cuba and America since Fidel Castro came to power in 1959. The article is from 2006, before the election of President Obama made it 11. Fidel, and his brother Raul, the current Cuban president, have proved to be enigmatic adversaries.

When President Eisenhower ended weapons shipments to the Batista government, the move helped usher in Fidel Castro. Initially welcomed by Ike and then later snubbed, Castro began to court the Soviet Union. In 1960, when American-owned oil refineries refused to process Soviet-supplied petroleum, Castro had them seized.

The conflicts between President John F. Kennedy and Fidel Castro were centered around two critical events. The Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 was a failed attempt by the American government to overthrow Castro. In October 1962 came the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev had come to view Kennedy as weak and decided to press Soviet advancement by basing missiles in Cuba. The ensuing crisis is widely understood to be the closest the world has ever come to global thermonuclear war.

Lyndon Johnson continued to try to overthrow Castro. albeit not through direct invasion. When Nixon came in, he focused more on Vietnam and tended to disregard Cuba. President Gerald Ford was the first to try to normalize relations with Cuba, but that move was thwarted when Castro sent troops to Angola.

During the Carter administration, new attempts were made to once again establish relations. Once again, Cuban military cooperation with the Soviets was blamed for failed diplomatic efforts.

President Reagan nearly made the situation hot once again. In October of 1983, just two days after 241 US Marines were killed by a suicide attack in Lebanon, Reagan invaded the island nation of Grenada. Ostensibly done to protect American college students, the attack targeted Cuban troops on the island.

The situation stagnated until President Bill Clinton became the third president to attempt smoother relations with Castro. When Cuban missiles shot down two civilian aircraft, the effort stalled. G.W. Bush tightened restrictions even more.

The Obama Administration was looking for an easing of tensions, with some success until the jailing of Alan Gross. Perhaps Carter’s mission to Cuba can finally bear some fruit and end the hostile standoff that has existed for decades.

Sources :, hpol,org,