As the political borders between the U.S. and Cuba slowly peel open, so do the visual barriers. Historic talks between Washington and Havana have allowed more Americans a glimpse into a country kept just beyond arm's reach by hawkish diplomacy since relations between the two countries crumbled more than 50 years ago.
On Wednesday, American and Cuban leaders met in Havana for the first high-profile gathering in decades. The historic negotiations are aimed at ending the nations' mutual Cold War-era aggressions. U.S. President Barack Obama has indicated that the White House would pursue refiguring economic embargoes against Cuba, which were put in place two years after socialist revolutionary Fidel Castro led a successful uprising against the Cuban government in 1959. "Neither the American nor the Cuban people are well-served by a rigid policy that's rooted in events that took place before most of us were born," Obama said in a statement in December. "It's time for a new approach."
Obama’s “new approach” would include loosening travel restrictions on U.S. citizens going to the island nation. Washington and Havana have also begun swapping political prisoners.
At the same time, Cuban leaders have warned the U.S. not to intervene with the country’s communist principles. "In the same way that we have never demanded that the United States change its political system, we will demand respect for ours," Cuban President Raúl Castro, brother of Fidel Castro, told Cuba's National Assembly last month.
Relations between the U.S. and Cuba devolved in 1959 following Fidel Castro’s rise to power and subsequent nationalizing of private land and companies. What ensued were several clandestine attempts by the U.S. military to topple Fidel Castro’s government, culminating with the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962. All ties between Washington and Havana were severed, embargoes were imposed, and life in Cuba got a lot harder as food security and wages declined.
The U.S. quickly became a leading destination for Cubans seeking political asylum. Between 1960 and 1980, hundreds of thousands of Cubans arrived in Florida by boat, a mass migration that led to what became known as the "wet foot, dry foot" policy in 1995. The Clinton-era policy essentially allowed any Cuban who stepped foot on U.S. shores to remain and pursue residency. Anyone intercepted at sea, however, would be returned to Cuba.
Here’s a look at Cuba over the decades from 1960 to the present.
A Cuban Armed Forces soldier is seen in 1961 standing next to U.S.-built weapons captured after some 1,500 anti-Castro allies came ashore during the CIA-organized Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba. It was ultimately an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow Castro's government as Cuba's fledgling revolutionary government scrambled to defend itself.Photo: Reuters
Fidel Castro, right, waved to the people in Havana on Jan. 8, 1959, the day he and his troops took Havana from the U.S.-backed regime of Fulgencio Batista after a 2-year revolutionary war. The war won increasing popular support, culminating in the revolution's triumph on Jan. 1, 1959, when Batista finally fled the country.Photo: Reuters
Fidel Castro, at far left, and Che Guevara, in the center, took part in a memorial service march on March 5, 1960, for victims of the La Coubre explosion in Havana that happened one day earlier.Photo: Creative Commons
American politician and 5th U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Adlai Stevenson II showed aerial photos of Russian missiles in Cuba to the United Nations Security Council in the presence of USSR ambassador Valerian Zorin on Oct. 25, 1962.Photo: Creative Commons
Then-Cuban President Fidel Castro made a few comments upon his May 10, 1994, arrival at the presidency building in Pretoria prior to the inauguration of Nelson Mandela, the first black president of South Africa.Photo: Reuters
Members of the U.S. Coast Guard assisted Cuban refugees from their raft onto a Coast Guard ship in the Florida Straits off the coast of Cuba on Aug. 25, 1994.Photo: Reuters
Cuban refugees, as pictured on Aug. 27, 1994, who were rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard in the Florida Straits were transferred to a tent city holding camp at Guantanamo Naval Base in Cuba, which is manned by the U.S. military.Photo: Reuters
Would-be emigrants launch a makeshift boat into the Straits of Florida toward the U.S. on the last day of the 1994 Cuban Exodus in Havana on Sept. 13, 1994.Photo: Reuters
Three men pictured on July 5, 1995, walked through a passageway in one of Cuba's hundreds of miles of secret tunnels built by the military to protect against a U.S. invasion. Photo: Reuters
Nearly 300 Haitian refugees were repatriated to Port-au-Prince from Cuba via Cubana Airlines on Oct. 11, 1995, after being aboard unseaworthy vessels bound for Miami. They made it to Cuba and were detained in camps near Guantanamo Bay.Photo: Reuters
A Cuban boy played baseball in the center of Old Havana on April 22, 2004. Baseball is the national sport in Cuba and, despite the lack of available equipment, children make do with anything they can find to play the game, on streets, lots or fields.Photo: Reuters
Children practiced during a training session at a circus school in Havana on Sept. 29, 2014. The circus is a lucrative career path and a rare opportunity for Cubans to make real money on the communist-led island. Photo: Reuters
Revelers chatted on a street before performing at a carnival parade in Havana on Aug. 8, 2014.Photo: Reuters
A taxi driver drove a vintage car in downtown Havana on Jan. 16, 2015, a week after the U.S. rolled out a sweeping set of measures to significantly ease the half-century-old embargo against Cuba.Photo: Reuters
Children are pictured at a gym in downtown Havana on Jan. 16, 2015.Photo: Reuters
Andre Tamayo, 64, center, talked to his wife, Miriam Gonzalez, 67, right, on Jan. 9, 2015, while they waited for clients in the living room of their Havana home, where they sell coffee through the window.Photo: Reuters