This December 17 marks five years since the announcement of the “thaw” of diplomatic relations between the governments of Cuba and the United States by the then presidents Raúl Castro and Barack Obama.
The five-year period, which began with the historic announcement of the reestablishment of diplomatic relations and the visit of President Obama to the island, ends with a 180-degree turn in U.S. policy towards Cuba, new presidents in both countries and relations at a critical point.
This has been, broadly speaking, the chronology of a path that promised a new stage in relations between the two countries and that distorted the intentions of normalization after the arrival of the Trump administration.
December 17: Raúl Castro and Barack Obama announce the reestablishment of bilateral relations. The prisoners accused of espionage are released, in Cuba the American Alan Gross and in the United States the Cubans Gerardo Hernández, Antonio Guerrero and Ramón Labañino. Measures are announced, among others, to facilitate travel and remittances to Cuba.
January 17: The measures announced by President Barack Obama on December 17, 2014, which remove some restrictions on trade and certain categories of travel to Cuba for Americans, come into force.
January 21-22: The first round of Cuba/United States negotiations is held in Havana after the announcement of the reestablishment of relations. The delegations were headed by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson, and by Josefina Vidal Ferreiro, Director General for the United States at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Cuba.
April 11: First official meeting between presidents Barack Obama and Raúl Castro. They talked for an hour and 20 minutes in the framework of the 7th Summit of the Americas held in Panama.
May 29: Cuba is excluded from the State Department’s list of countries sponsoring terrorism.
July 1: Barack Obama and Raúl Castro exchange letters for the reestablishment of diplomatic relations and for the opening of their respective embassies on July 20.
July 20: In a ceremony headed by Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez, the Cuban Embassy in Washington is inaugurated, officially reestablishing bilateral diplomatic relations.
August 14: Secretary of State John Kerry presides over the ceremony of raising the flag at the U.S. embassy in Havana, in front of the Malecón seawall.
September 11: The first Cuba-U.S. bilateral commission meets in Havana.
September 25-29: Raúl Castro travels to the United States to speak for the first time at the UN General Assembly. On September 29 he meets with Obama.
October 6: Visit to Cuba by U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker.
December 8: High representatives of the governments of both countries hold in Havana the first informational meeting on the subject of mutual economic compensation: those that have to do with the nationalizations made by the Cuban government after the triumph of the Revolution, and those derived from the embargo on the island.
December 11: Cuba and the United States agree to restore direct postal service.
January 12: During the State of the Union speech at Congress, President Obama asks for the embargo on Cuba to be lifted.
February 16: The governments of Cuba and the United States sign a memorandum of understanding on civil aviation in Havana that includes direct regular routes.
March 16: Cuba and the United States restore direct postal service. Regulations come into force by which the U.S. government allows the use of dollars to Cubans and the island’s financial institutions for certain transactions in the United States and authorizes individual trips to Cuba for educational purposes.
March 20: President Barack Obama arrives in Havana, accompanied by his family. Secretary of State John Kerry also travels in the delegation. It is the first and, so far, the only visit of an active American president to the island during the revolutionary government on the island (1959-present).
March 21: Obama and Raúl Castro meet at the Palace of the Revolution. Later, the U.S. president participates in a forum with Cuban entrepreneurs.
March 22: Obama gives a speech at the Alicia Alonso Grand Theater of Havana, attended by Raúl Castro, members of the government and civil society. He later meets with some opponents of the Cuban government and attends a baseball game before continuing his trip to Argentina.
May 2: The Adonia cruise ship of the American company Carnival Cruises arrives in Havana. This is the first commercial passenger trip from the United States to Cuba in half a century.
June 13: A Memorandum of Understanding on medical and health issues is signed in Washington between the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Cuban Ministry of Public Health.
August 31: With a flight to Santa Clara, the JetBlue airline opens regular flights from the United States to Cuba, after more than half a century.
October 7-9: Official visit to Cuba of Jill Biden, wife of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, with an agenda on educational and cultural issues.
October 14: Barack Obama approves a presidential directive with new measures for an “irreversible opening” to Cuba.
October 26: The United States abstains for the first time in the vote of a UN General Assembly resolution that since 1992 condemns the U.S. embargo on Cuba and calls for its end. The resolution is supported by 191 states.
November 28: President-elect Donald Trump announces that he will end the “agreement” with Cuba if the island’s government does not open up to “improvement.”
December: About 285,000 Americans visited Cuba since January of that year.
January 12: A new migration agreement is signed in Havana, ending the wet foot/dry foot policy.
January 19: Cuba sends two containers with 40 tons of charcoal to the United States, the first export of a product from the Caribbean island to that country in more than half a century.
February 3: White House spokesman Sean Spicer announces that President Donald Trump has ordered a “full review” of the policy towards Cuba.
March 2: A State Department report includes Cuba on its list of main places for money laundering and asks the Cuban government to increase the transparency of its financial system.
May 9: President Trump’s policy toward Cuba will have “important differences” with respect to Obama’s, especially through a “greater emphasis” on human rights, says Assistant Secretary of State for Latin America Francisco Palmieri.
May: Until the end of the month almost as many Americans had visited Cuba as in the whole of 2016.
June 13: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announces in the Senate the changes that the U.S. government plans to make to its policy towards Cuba.
June 16: President Trump announces in Miami changes in policy towards Cuba, with restrictions on travel and business with Cuban entities.
June 20: Minnesota Lieutenant Governor Tina Smith is the first high-ranking U.S. government figure to visit Cuba since President Donald Trump’s announcements.
June 29: The U.S. Treasury Department imposes four fines on U.S. and foreign companies for violations of the embargo. The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) was involved in 29 apparent violations in providing insurance coverage to several shipments of goods to, from or related to the island.
August: Alleged “acoustic attacks” on U.S. diplomats in Havana come to light. The Cuban government denies any responsibility in the incidents. Bilateral tensions increase.
September 20: The sixth meeting of the United States-Cuba Bilateral Commission is held, the first in 2017. The Cuban side protests President Trump’s speech at the UN, in which he severely conditioned relations with the island.
September 29: The U.S. government orders the withdrawal of more than half of the staff from its embassy in Havana because of the alleged “acoustic attacks” on its diplomats and indefinitely suspends the issuing of visas.
October 3: The U.S. government decides that 15 officials from the Cuban embassy in Washington leave the country arguing that the United States had reduced its diplomatic personnel in Havana, and that the Cuban government had not taken the necessary steps to prevent “attacks” against them.
November 8: The Departments of State, Treasury and Commerce make public the measures announced by Trump in Miami. A State Department list is published with 179 Cuban agencies with which U.S. entities and citizens are prohibited from making direct financial transactions. The list includes the Ministries of the Armed Forces and Interior, the National Revolutionary Police, enterprises, corporations, the Mariel Special Development Zone, the Mariel and Havana container terminals, dozens of hotels, travel agencies and stores.
November 18: The Treasury Department announces that the American Express Company (Amex) will pay a fine of 204,277 dollars for violation of the embargo. The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announces that this sanction is related to the possible responsibility of the Belgian company BCC Corporate S.A. (BCCC) in apparent violations of existing regulations.
December 23: The Office of Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announces that it would temporarily suspend operations at its embassy in Havana due to the reduction of personnel. The agency’s office in Mexico will assume these procedures.
January 10: The United States recommends that its citizens reconsider possible trips to Cuba. The State Department changes its alert system based on a ranking that places nations on four levels. The first only involves “taking normal precautions” and the fourth is a warning not to travel. They placed Cuba on level three, with the suggestion of reconsidering visits because there are supposed risks to their security and protection.
March 26: The budget approved by the U.S. Congress that allowed government financing until mid-2018 included 20 million dollars to support the dissidence.
March 30: It is announced that the United States will begin processing immigrant visas for Cubans through its embassy in Georgetown, Guyana. The consular section in Havana is virtually paralyzed. Since September 2017, it only offers emergency services.
September 10: President Donald Trump renews the Trading with the Enemy Act for another year, a 1917 statute that supports the economic embargo/blockade imposed on Cuba. Since John F. Kennedy (1962) all the following presidents have done so.
September 18: Trump appoints Mauricio Claver-Carone, former executive director of the Cuba-United States Democracy Political Action Committee and known for being a hardliner, as the new director of the Western Hemisphere Affairs of the National Security Council.
December 18: According to the annual report of the Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the United States deported a total of 256,085 immigrants in fiscal year 2018. Of that figure, 463 are Cuban, an increase of 189% in relation to fiscal year 2017, when 160 nationals were returned to the island.
April 17: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announces that President Trump would not suspend Title III of the Cuban Freedom and Democratic Solidarity Act, better known as the Helms-Burton Act, for no additional period of time. This title allows U.S. citizens whose properties were nationalized in the 1960s to sue in court any person, regardless of their nationality, who knowingly and intentionally “traffic” with those properties, and includes those interested Cuban citizens who were nationalized Americans after the expropriations of the 1960s.
May 2: The Trump administration’s national security adviser, John Bolton, declares that Cuba has 20,000 soldiers in Venezuela and was intervening in its internal affairs.
May 3: The Trump administration activates Title III of the Helms Burton Act. As of 1996, when it was signed by Bill Clinton, the successive administrations had postponed its application every six months after an agreement with several trade partners with investments on the island, in particular the European Union and Canada.
May 12: Senators Marco Rubio and Bob Menéndez present a bill to prohibit the official recognition of Cuban trademark rights in the United States.
June 5: The Treasury Department announces the policy of not allowing people-to-people cultural and educational trips to Cuba, and other measures related to travel and transportation services, remittances, banking, commerce and telecommunications businesses. “These actions will help keep U.S. dollars out of the reach of Cuban military and intelligence and security services,” said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
June 5: The last U.S. cruise ship departs from Havana, thus putting an end to a brief boom. Seventeen companies and 27 ships had gotten to operate. According to John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, the cruises contributed between 63 million to 107 million dollars to the Cuban government, a tiny part of the 2.5 billion dollars in revenue reported by the Ministry of Tourism that year.
September 6: The Treasury Department modifies the Cuban Assets Control Regulations to impose new sanctions on Cuba. “Through these regulatory amendments, the Treasury is denying Cuba’s access to foreign currencies and we are curbing the bad behavior of the Cuban government while continuing to support the people of Cuba who suffer so much,” said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
The new sanctions increase the restrictions for sending remittances and bank transactions. The United States imposes a limit of 1,000 dollars per quarter for the sending of family remittances. It also prohibits sending remittances to close relatives of Cuban officials and members of the Communist Party.
It also imposes restrictions on U-turn transactions, which consist of transfers of funds carried out through a U.S. bank, but which do not originate or have as destination that country, and in which neither the issuer nor the recipient are subject to U.S. jurisdiction. With the new regulation, the White House puts an end to a prior permit authorizing these movements.
October 25: The U.S. government announces that it will suspend commercial airline flights to the interior of the island. As of December 10, they will only be allowed to land in Havana. This means the suspension of flights to another 10 airports throughout the island. The ban on flights to other cities in Cuba does not apply to charter flights.
November 15: Coinciding with the celebration of Havana’s 500th anniversary, the U.S. government adds five hotels to its list of enterprises with which Americans are prohibited from negotiating. In a press release issued the day before that anniversary, the State Department reports that these changes will take effect on November 19.
November 27: The new restrictions on travel to Cuba imposed by the United States had a negative impact on the tourism sector of the Caribbean country. In September 2018, 51,776 Americans traveled to Cuba, in the same month in 2019 only 13,094 did so, for a decrease of 74.7%.
From January to September of this year, U.S. visitors decreased by 5.2%, from 460,288 to 436,453.
December 10: The measure on commercial flights announced on October 25 takes effect.
December 16: Carlos Fernández de Cossío, director of the United States Department of the Cuban Foreign Ministry, said in Havana that: “Cuba wants normal relations with the U.S., but Havana won’t lose any sleep if the administration of President Donald Trump breaks official ties between the two countries.”