Photos: When the US last had diplomatic relations with Cuba

US baseball players and socialist revolutionaries overlapped for a brief window in Cuba, 1959.
US baseball players and socialist revolutionaries overlapped for a brief window in Cuba, 1959.
Image: AP Photo
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Today, the US and Cuban governments will re-open their embassies in each other’s countries, formally establishing diplomatic relations that have waned since the 1959 Cuban revolution and subsequent US embargo.

This diplomacy—and the economic connections many hope will follow—could help bring new prosperity to the Cuban people, and new opportunities for US travelers and businesses. We’ve traced these developments in four stories on Havana’s hot housing market, it’s burgeoning private sector, and boisterous art scene, in an attempt to figure out how the island might—or might not—change.

The US cut ties with Cuba in 1961. Today, we’ll look back at the six decades prior to that to see what relations used to be like—and how they brought us to today.

Remember the Maine

Lifeboats rescue surviving crewmen of the wrecked USS Maine after an underground explosion destroyed the battleship on the night of Feb. 15 as it was anchored in the Havana harbor, Cuba, in 1898. About 260 U.S. Naval personnel were killed in the explosion. The sinking of the U.S. warship was a catalyst for the outbreak of the Spanish-American War and the U.S. officially waged war on April 25.
Rescuers bring surviving crew off the wrecked battleship USS Maine.
Image: AP Photo

When the USS Maine exploded in Havana harbor in 1898—likely due to an accident, though the cause has never been firmly established—it provided the excuse for the US to intervene in Cuba’s uprising against Spanish colonial authorities. The US helped oust the Spaniards, but replaced them as a colonial overlord and then as an overweening patron of client governments.

The friendly skies

"The American Clipper," a four-motored, 45-passenger Sikorsky amphibious plane, is seen as it rests on Cienfuegos Bay, Cuba, Nov. 20, 1931 after its maiden voyage from Miami to Cuba. The Clipper was piloted by Charles Lindbergh.
The American Clipper in Cienfuegos, Cuba, 1931.
Image: AP Photo

Charles Lindbergh flew the American Clipper, an amphibious plane that could carry 45 passengers, on its first journey from Miami to Cuba in 1931. When prohibition drove alcohol consumption underground in 1918, Cuba became a major tourist destination for Americans looking for a drink. And when prohibition ended in 1933, Cuba’s momentum as a global tourist mecca continued apace.

There’s always a revolutionary

Sergeant Fulgencio Batista, center, hand on belt, who overnight has become the center of activity in the latest Cuban trouble, is shown Sept. 7, 1933. From his place as top sergeant in the Cuban Army he took the title of "Revolutionary Chief of Armed Forces" in the uprising which caused the downfall of the de Cespedes government.
Then-Sergeant Fulgencio Batista, with his hand on his belt, during the 1933 Cuban uprising.
Image: AP Photo

The man with his hand on his belt is Sergeant Fulgencio Batista, who led a rebellion that ousted the Cuban government. Batista, a US ally, would run the Cuban military as a strongman behind a series of puppet presidents before himself becoming president in 1940.


Author Ernest Hemingway, left, is shown with his wife Martha Gellhorn and Elicio Arguelles at a live pigeon shoot in Havana, Cuba, Feb. 9, 1942.
Ernest Hemingway, his wife Martha Gellhorn, and Elicio Arguelles at at Havana pigeon shoot.
Image: AP Photo

It wouldn’t be Cuba without Ernest Hemingway, the macho American author who made a home in Havana, becoming a favorite of the Cuban people and cultivating the mystique of rum, cigars and sport-fishing that attracted US visitors. He would donate his Nobel Prize medal to a Cuban church.

Oh say can you see…

Cuban's parade before the American Ambassador Mr. Spruille Braden and President Fulgencio Batisto in a commemoration of the U.S. Fourth of July, July 4, 1942.
Cubans celebrate US independence day in 1942.
Image: AP Photo

Batista’s regime supported the US, as this 1942 photo of a Fourth of July parade in Havana celebrating US independence reveals. The banner up front is held by workers employed by the Standard Oil company, reflecting the deep inroads that US multinational companies made on the island—and with Batista.


The caption describing Fidel Castro in his 1945 high school yearbook reads: "Distinguished student and a fine athlete. Very popular. Will study law and we have no doubt he will have a brilliant future."
Fidel Castro in his 1945 high school yearbook.
Image: AP Photo

Fidel Castro, the son of a wealthy land-owner, appears in his high school yearbook. The caption reads: “Distinguished student and a fine athlete. Very popular. Will study law and we have no doubt he will have a brilliant future.”

Meet the press

Associated Press Wide World photographer Ken Lucas tries his teeth on a piece of raw sugar cane with a Cuban sugar farmer, Jan. 25, 1946.
An AP reporter tries his teeth on a piece of raw sugar cane with a Cuban sugar farmer.
Image: AP Photo/Charles Kenneth Lucas

US journalists visiting Cuba are, to this day, big dorks.

Thug life

Charles (Lucky) Luciano (center, dark glasses) talks to two members of the Cuban secret police in his cabin on the steamship Bakir, March 19, 1947 in Havana, Cuba, before the start of the voyage to Cenoa, Italy. Luciano, former New York City racketeer, was deported to Italy on a Cuban presidential decree.
Charles (Lucky) Luciano talks to two members of the Cuban secret police in his cabin on the steamship Bakir.
Image: AP Photo

Italian-American crime figure Charles “Lucky” Luciano is deported from Cuba in 1947, after Batista was voted out and fled to the US. Luciano and other crime figures wouldn’t be gone for long, however.

Breaking the color barrier

Jackie Robinson, Montreal Royals' first baseman, is shown shaking hands with Brooklyn Dodger manager Leo Durocher in March 1947 in Havana, Cuba, where the Dodgers and Royals played an exhibition game.
Jackie Robinson is shown shaking hands with Brooklyn Dodger manager Leo Durocher in March 1947 in Havana, Cuba.
Image: AP Photo

US baseball players would often play in Cuba’s winter baseball league, and they played pre-season games in Cuba as well. This picture, taken in 1947 in Havana, offers a preview of history: A year later, the man on the left, Dodgers manager Leo Durocher, helped make the man on the right, Jackie Robinson, the first African-American player in top-flight US professional baseball.

Simmering troubles

Students throw car seats back into a street car during a demonstration in Havana, Cuba, Feb. 10, 1948. The demonstrators were sympathizing with Guantanamo, Cuba students who are on a hunger strike for a new school building.
Students during a demonstration in Havana, 1948.
Image: AP Photo/Harold Valentine

For all the hedonism in Havana, the country’s social problems were still bubbling under the surface, with student protesters calling on the government to do more for the Cuban people.

Batista back

President Fulgencio Batista of Cuba speaks to his troops the day after an attempted coup against his government in Havana, in July, 1953.
Batista speaks following Castro’s first coup attempt.
Image: AP Photo

After a brief exile in the US, Batista returns to Cuba and takes over in a military coup. Here, he is seen speaking after his troops quashed Castro’s first attempt to launch a revolution in 1953. His increasingly repressive government would launch a brutal counter-insurgency against Castro and his allies.

Star power

Frank Sinatra and his new bride, movie actress Ava Gardner, join hands as they cut a wedding cake in the Montmarte, a Havana, Cuba, nightclub November 8, 1951. Married November 7, in Philadelphia, they went to Havana on a whirlwind honeymoon.
Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner, on their honeymoon in Havana, 1951.
Image: AP Photo

Despite political troubles, US celebrities loved Cuba in the middle of the 20th century. Hollywood royalty Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner made Havana their honeymoon destination.

Take a chance

Roulette is one of the many gambling attractions for U.S. tourists in Havana. This Photo Shows a group of players as they watch the spin of the wheel in the International Casino at the Hotel Nacional de Cuba, September 23, 1958.
Put it all on red.
Image: AP Photo

One reason for all the visitors: Havana was the Las Vegas of Latin America, with casinos like this one in the Hotel Nacional attracting gamblers of all stripes. Under Batista’s regime, the casino trade was largely controlled by the US mafia.

Revolution triumphant

In this Jan. 8, 1959 file photo, Cuba's revolutionary leader Fidel Castro speaks to supporters at the Batista military base "Columbia" now known as Ciudad Libertad. The Cuban revolution triumphed on Jan. 1, 1959 after dictator Fulgencio Batista fled the country and Fidel Castro and his band of rebels descended from the island's eastern mountains, where they waged a guerrilla war against government troops. Cuba will celebrate on Jan. 1, 2009 the 50th anniversary of the triumph of the revolution.
In 1959, Castro speaks to supporters of his triumphant revolution.
Image: AP Photo

Batista’s government ultimately fell to Castro’s revolutionary movement, which seized power in 1959 amidst an array of questions as to what shape the new regime might take. Despite reprisals against Batista loyalists, many—including Cuban businesses and mainstream politicians—held out hope that this could be a new beginning.

Guerilla chic

A young unidentified woman patrols near a headquarters building in Havana, Jan. 4, 1959.
A revolutionary in Havana.
Image: AP Photo

Many Americans were initially sympathetic to the Cuban revolution, with its progressive impulses and sexy, rough-hewn glamor. Castro travelled to America, where he met cheering crowds and Ed Sullivan.

A breaking point

Cuban Prime Minister Fidel Castro signs decree nationalizing all American-owned banks in Cuba, Sept. 17, 1960. President Osvaldo Dorticos, left, who also signed the decree, looks on. Expropriation measure affected First National City Bank of New York, First National Bank of Boston, and the Chase Manhattan Bank.
Castro signs laws to nationalize US banks in Cuba.
Image: AP Photo

But soon Castro’s government endorsed central planning and began nationalizing Cuban businesses, including those owned by American banks and companies. As the US responded with economic sanctions, Cuba grew closer to the Soviet Union.


FILE - This Jan. 7, 1961 file photo shows unidentified U.S. embassy employees rolling up a U.S. flag as the embassy transfers American affairs to the Swiss government, in Havana, Cuba. The U.S. Interests Section is poised to be transformed into a full embassy, which would include such symbolic measures such as raising the American flag on the Malecon, after the U.S. and Cuba announced on Dec. 17, 2014 they are re-establishing full diplomatic relations.
In 1961, US embassy employees fold the US flag as they prepare to close the embassy.
Image: AP Photo

By 1961, US president Dwight Eisenhower announced a full trade and travel embargo against Castro’s Cuba. It stands to this day, though the re-opening of diplomatic relations has raised hopes that it will soon be lifted.