Dorkis Iglesias: So we just pulled up to a Cuban restaurant. It’s called El Palacio de los Jugos. It’s classical Cuban food.
Shelby: Dorkis Iglesias was born in Cuba, but her family came to Miami when she was a little girl.
Dorkis: So this store has the Cuban style of clothing.
Shelby: Miami has a large Cuban population. And Cuba’s rich culture can be seen throughout the city. It’s a reminder of her homeland that is just 90 miles from Florida. But even though Cuba and the U.S. are close geographically, the countries are far from friendly.
Dorkis: Over here, you kind of have a chance to be whatever you want and have whatever you want if you work for it. In Cuba, there is no chance, even if you work for it.
Shelby: Cuba is still feeling the effects of a bitter dispute with the U.S. that took place fifty years ago. It was during the Cold War, when the United States and the Soviet Union were embroiled in a dangerous arms race and both countries had built up stockpiles of nuclear weapons. In the middle of the conflict between the two superpowers was the tiny nation in the Caribbean and its new leader, Fidel Castro. Castro came to power in 1959, when he overthrew Cuba’s former leader in a revolution. He quickly created a communist government, which seized most land and businesses, controlled the media and limited the freedom of citizens.
Castro also aligned his country with America’s communist rival, the Soviet Union. As a result, the United States cut all ties with Cuba and made it illegal for Americans to do business there. The U.S. also made several attempts to topple Castro’s government. Then, tensions between America and its island neighbor reached a breaking point.
President Kennedy: This government has maintained the closest surveillance of the Soviet military buildup on the island of Cuba.
Shelby: Cuba let the Soviet Union bring nuclear weapons within firing distance of the U.S. In October of 1962, just 90 miles off the southern tip of Florida, U.S. spy planes discovered that a Soviet missile base was being built in Cuba. The U.S. also believed that the increasing number of Soviet ships arriving in Cuba were carrying new supplies of weapons, bringing the threat of nuclear war dangerously close to the United States.
The spy planes photographed this evidence of the missile site construction. And when President John F. Kennedy saw the photos, he immediately called a secret meeting of top advisors. It was the beginning of what became known as the Cuban missile crisis.
President Kennedy: This government feels obliged to report this new crisis to you in fullest detail.
Shelby: Kennedy knew that both the U.S. and the Soviet Union had the power to destroy one another with nuclear weapons, and a war could mean the deaths of hundreds of millions of people. So instead of attacking the Cuban base, Kennedy announced a naval quarantine. The U.S. would form a ring of ships around Cuba to block Soviet shipments of weapons. He also gave the Soviet Union an ultimatum.
President Kennedy: I have directed the armed forces to prepare for any eventualities.
Shelby: The U.S. would not invade Cuba if the Soviet Union withdrew its missiles. But if the Soviet Union rejected his offer, the U.S. would attack Cuba within 24 hours. And in secret, Kennedy also agreed to remove American nuclear missiles from Turkey and Italy. For a tense 13 days, Americans braced for war while the U.S. and Soviet Union negotiated the deal. On October 28th, they finally agreed. Within six months, the Soviet weapons were gone.
But while the Cuban missile crisis was over, Cuba’s icy relationship with the United States had just begun. President Kennedy froze all Cuban assets in the U.S. and made it illegal for Americans to travel there. And for decades, Cuba has remained largely cutoff from the American world. You won’t find a Coca-Cola or Starbucks. And the cars there are mostly from the time when U.S. automakers could still sell to Cuba.
Claudia De Verona: And these are from the day I left Cuba.
Shelby: The day you left Cuba?
Claudia: The day I left. Like, this is in the airport.
Shelby: Claudia De Verona’s family moved to the U.S when she was 8-years-old in search of greater opportunity. She tells me that the Cuban people have suffered under Castro’s rule and because of the trade embargo with the U.S. The people are poor, food is rationed and freedoms are still limited.
Claudia: That one says doctor en estomatòloga.
Shelby: Her parents had to give up their careers as doctors and start all over when they moved to the U.S. But Claudia says it was for the best.
Claudia: My family was pretty wealthy before Fidel. They had farms with horses. According to my dad’s story, it was really beautiful. But they took all of that away.
Shelby: Cuba’s communist regime is still in place. But small changes have been made since former dictator Fidel Castro handed power over to his brother Raul in 2008. Some Cubans can now own small businesses, use cell phones, and sometimes, even access the internet. But these things are still out of reach for much of Cuba’s population.
Claudia: Some people have never even seen a computer in their life. My family, thankfully, has that advantage but some people really don’t.
Shelby: There have also been small improvements in Cuba’s relationship with America.
President Obama: The United States seeks a new beginning with Cuba.
Shelby: In 2009, the U.S. lifted restrictions on the number of visits Cuban-Americans can make to the island nation, and on how much money they can send back to family and friends. But for Cuban-Americans like Claudia, those changes are not enough.
Claudia: I think it would be great for some of the kids in Cuba to have a chance to, you know, improve their lifestyle.
Shelby Holliday, Channel One News.