Senior American official Edward Lee came on record stating that the United States is open to building a new relationship with Cuba. While Mr. Lee stopped short of divulging any groundbreaking information or insights, his comments do suggest that the United States could be looking to turn the page with Cuba.

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Cuba-United States tensions steeped in history

Cuban-American relations have long been strained. The United States actually “liberated” Cuba from the Spanish during the Spanish-American war at the turn of the 19th century. During this period American companies owned massive portions of the Cuban economy, while the U.S. military maintained a presence in several military bases.

Cuba was promptly placed under de facto American rule, however, until the Communist revolution of Fidel Castro in 1959. As Cuba moved to nationalize various industries and seized control of American companies’ property, the United States ramped up import and export bans on the country. With relations with the United States rapidly deteriorating, Castro quickly allied himself with the Soviet Union, causing the United States to ban all exports to Cuba.

During the late 1960’s and 70’s relations gradually thawed with Cuba, though trade restrictions remained high and formal diplomatic relations were not fully restored. When Reagan came to power, however, he quickly tightened embargo measures against Cuba. Reagan also forbade U.S. Citizens from spending money in Cuba. Further measures in 1992 and 1996 increased economic sanctions against Cuba.

Relations remained rocky under President George W. Bush. Under Barack Obama, however, relations with Cuba have slowly warmed. The Obama administration has lifted travel restrictions on Cuban-Americans and eased some economic sanctions. The Obama administration has said that it would be open to lifting or easing trade sanctions in exchange for major political changes on the part of the Cuban government.

Obama administration may be open to change

The most recent comments by Edward Lee suggest, however, that the Obama administration may be more willing than previously thought to engage with the Cuban government. Mr. Lee said that a meeting last week between the two countries went over well and progress was made on migration and other issues.

Mr. Lee said, however, that major changes in U.S. policies would have to go hand-in-hand with fundamental changes regarding how the Cuban government views its own people. He did not elaborate on the details, but Cuba has a reputation for oppressing dissidents and has been accused of violating various human rights.

With the Obama administration’s time in office winding down, it’s difficult to tell how much conditions can really thaw over the next few years. Add in bigger political focal points, such as Iran, and it will be easier for Cuba to simply be placed on the back burner. And whether any thaw will continue with the next administration will largely depend on the composition of that administration.