As 2015 begins, let’s take a trip down memory lane. Imagine that it’s January 1963. For the last three years, the United States has unsuccessfully faced off against a small island in the Caribbean, where a revolutionary named Fidel Castro seized power from a corrupt but US-friendly regime run by Fulgencio Batista. In the global power struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union in which much of the planet has chosen sides, Cuba, only 90 miles from the American mainland, finds itself in the eye of the storm. Having lost Washington’s backing, it has, however, gained the support of distant Moscow, the other nuclear-armed superpower on the planet.
In October 1960, President Dwight D. Eisenhower instituted an embargo on US trade with the island that would, two years later, be strengthened and made permanent by John F. Kennedy. On entering the Oval Office, Kennedy also inherited a cockamamie CIA scheme to use Cuban exiles to overthrow Castro. That led, in April 1961, to the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion in which, despite major Agency support, the exiles were crushed (after which the CIA would hatch various mad plots to assassinate the new Cuban leader). What followed in October 1962 was “the most dangerous moment in human history”—the Cuban missile crisis—a brief period when many Americans, my 18-year-old self included, genuinely thought we might soon be nuclear toast.
Now, imagine yourself in January 1963, alive and chastened by a world in which you could be obliterated at any moment. Imagine as well that someone from our time suddenly invited you into the American future some fifty-two Januaries hence, when you would, miracle of miracles, still be alive and the planet still more or less in one piece. Imagine, as a start, being told that the embargo against, and Washington’s hostility toward, Cuba never ended. That fifty-two futile years later, with Cuba now run by Fidel’s “younger” brother, 83-year-old Raul, the 11th American president to deal with the “crisis” has finally decided to restore diplomatic relations, ease trade restrictions and encourage American visitors to the island.