Foreign policy and defense
Cuban foreign policy is shaped by the
relationship with the arch enemy US and the close ties
with Venezuela. Relations with the EU countries and
China are also important.
The strained relationship with the United States has
characterized Cuban foreign policy ever since the US
blockade was introduced in the early 1960s (see Modern
History). The blockade has meant that US companies have
basically not been allowed to trade with Cuba and that
Americans have not been allowed to visit the country.
The blockade has caused Cuba financial difficulties but
also strengthened the regime as a host of problems have
been blamed on the US hostile attitude.
Overview of business holidays and various national observances in Cuba for years of 2020, 2021, 2022, 2023, 2024 and 2025.
Over the years, the blockade has intensified and
intensified. A large proportion of the exile Cubans in
the US have wanted to keep the blockade. These have
exerted strong political influence as they are
concentrated in the state of Florida where there is
usually a level playing field between candidates in US
presidential elections. Among the exile Cubans, there is
now a growing group advocating that the blockade be
lifted or at least mitigated. Those who want a softening
also include American farmers and other entrepreneurs
who see opportunities to do business with Cuba.
To lift the trade block, the United States has
demanded that Cuba release its political prisoners,
initiate a democratization and pay compensation for US
property nationalized after Fidel Castros and the
revolutionaries' takeover of power in 1959. Cuba has
said it is ready to negotiate the issue of compensation
but has rejected the claims. on political reforms.
Barack Obama, who took office as president in early
2009, felt that US policy toward Cuba was outdated and
unsuccessful. He introduced gradual relief in the
blockade and wanted to have it completely abolished in
the long run, which requires a decision by the US
Exile Cubans were now allowed to visit their old
homeland without restrictions and the limit on how much
money they could send to relatives in Cuba was removed.
It was also allowed to send mobile phones, computers and
satellite receivers and to pay for relatives' mobile and
satellite TV subscriptions. Some remaining restrictions
on exports of food and medicines to Cuba were also
In late 2014, Obama announced that it was time to
turn the pages of relations with neighboring countries.
At the same time, Obama and Castro announced that
diplomatic relations between the countries would be
restored. This happened formally six months later, on
July 20, 2015, when the countries reopened their
embassies in each country.
However, the US trade blockade against Cuba was still
in force and there was no majority in Congress to lift
it. President Obama continued to ease the blockade on
the points he could. Ordinary Americans were allowed to
visit Cuba under certain conditions and American
companies were given certain rights to operate in Cuba.
Corridors and air services were resumed. In March 2015,
Obama himself made a historic visit to Cuba (read more
in the Calendar).
The rapprochement between the countries was unlocked
when Donald Trump became president of the United States
in 2017. Donald Trump threatened to turn the clock back
completely unless the Cuban government delivered "an
agreement that better benefits the Cubans, the United
States and relations between the countries". However,
the change was not as drastic as expected. Trump
reintroduced some restrictions on travel to Cuba and
banned business with companies in the tourism industry
owned by the Cuban military, but he did not introduce
any new sanctions and allowed diplomatic relations to
continue. However, Trump made clear that continued
rapprochement between the countries was dependent on
political changes in Cuba.
Unlike the United States, EU countries have long
opted for dialogue and trade as a tool to influence
Cuba's leaders to implement democratic reforms.
Especially Spain has played an important role as an
intermediary link, even though relations are bordered by
conflicts. Spanish companies have also played an
important economic role in Cuba, not least in the
In response to the mass arrests of dissimilar
thinking in 2003 (see Modern History), the EU imposed
diplomatic sanctions on Cuba. The following year,
contacts at the government level were resumed, even
though the sanctions were not formally lifted. When Raúl
Castro took office as head of state in 2008, the EU
finally lifted its sanctions on the grounds that it
wanted to support a change in the country. Through
Spain, the EU contributed to the release of political
prisoners in 2010 and then continued to work for a
rapprochement. In March 2016, the EU and Cuba were able
to sign an agreement to normalize their mutual
With the states of Latin America, Cuba now has
working relationships. In the spring of 2009, El
Salvador and Costa Rica became the last Latin American
countries to resume diplomatic relations with Cuba. They
had been suspended in protest against the Cuban
Revolution of 1958–1959 (see below).
Particularly close contacts were developed with
Venezuela during the time of President Hugo Chávez in
power (1999-2013). Chávez offered Cuba Venezuelan oil at
an advantageous price in exchange for Cuba sending
doctors and teachers to Venezuela. Venezuela became
Cuba's largest trading partner and most important ally.
In the spring of 2006, Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia
signed a trade agreement, Alba, which was intended to
counteract US influence in Latin America.
When Chávez became seriously ill in 2011, Cuba began
to worry about the generous support failing and looking
after other allies. Among other things, relations with
Brazil were developed, which became an important market
for Cuban medicines and vaccines.
The cooperation between Cuba and Venezuela has
continued under Chávez's successor Nicolás Maduro. In
2016, the countries signed a comprehensive cooperation
agreement, including on trade and energy, which runs
until 2030. However, support from Caracas has waned in
the wake of the economic crisis in Venezuela.
Dramatically reduced oil supplies from Venezuela have
had a negative impact on Cuba's economy, but political
relations have remained good.
Cuba is a member of the regional cooperation
organizations Celac and ACS and has served as a mediator
in regional crises. The country played a constructive
role in the peace talks that ended the civil war in El
Salvador and Guatemala in the 1990s. From 2012, Cuba
hosted peace talks between the government of Colombia
and the Colombian guerrilla FARC. The dialogue resulted
in a peace agreement between the parties in 2016.
Cuba has not participated in the cooperation of the
United States Cooperative Organization (OAS) since 1962
when the country was excluded from the organization on
the initiative of the United States. Many of the member
states have demanded that Cuba be reintroduced into the
Community, which the United States has opposed. In 2009,
a compromise was reached. From the beginning, the United
States demanded that Cuba be called for political
reforms before re-entry, but eventually agreed that the
exclusion could be lifted if Cuba agreed to a dialogue
on the organization's "pro-democratic principles". Cuba
called the OAS decision a big victory but declared that
it does not want to join the organization which Cuban
leaders see as a tool for US dominance in the region.
Russia and Asia
Relations with Moscow were important until the Soviet
Union disbanded in 1991. Thereafter, contacts with
Russia were kept at a low level. Only in 2000 did
Russian President Vladimir Putin visit Cuba. It took
another eight years before the countries could agree on
a series of trade agreements.
As Venezuela's financial contributions have
diminished, Russia has become an increasingly important
economic partner. Russian companies have invested in
Cuba's important nickel industry, state-owned Russian
company Rosneft has multiplied its oil supplies to Cuba
and Russian interests participate in the pursuit of oil
in Cuban waters.
During the crisis of the 1990s, Cuba began to develop
its relations with China. China provided loans and other
assistance to Cuba during the difficult years (see
Modern History). Contacts were intensified in the early
2000s, mainly due to growing Chinese interest in
investing in Cuban natural resources. Relations were
further strengthened after Raúl Castro took power in
2008 and a number of cooperation agreements were signed.
Among other things, China promised to buy sugar and
nickel from Cuba. China has also invested in Cuba's oil
industry and participated in the exploration of possible
oil and gas sources off Cuba's coasts. China is now the
country's most important trading partner before
Between 1970 and 1985, Japan was Cuba's second most
important trading partner, but during the crisis in the
early 1990s trade exchanges declined dramatically. A new
chapter in relations began to be written in the fall of
2016, when Cuba was first visited by a Japanese head of
government. Shinzo Abe's visit to Cuba became the
starting point for a new dialogue and cooperation in a
number of areas was planned. Abe also asked Cuba for
help to persuade North Korea to halt its nuclear weapons
program. Cuba is one of the few countries in the world
to have friendly relations with North Korea.
Since the 1960s, Cuba has been committed to assisting
developing countries on a large scale in education,
healthcare and disaster relief. Cuba has over 50,000
relief workers deployed in over 60 countries. Cuba
received a lot of praise when it sent healthcare
personnel to West Africa during the Ebola epidemic in
2014. Cuba contributed more doctors and nurses than any
other country. Cuba has also assisted neighbors in the
Caribbean with disaster relief following hurricanes.
Particularly comprehensive assistance was directed to
Haiti after the severe earthquake in 2010.
Cuba's military power exerts great influence
politically but also economically. The military runs
large business complexes, especially in the tourism
The defense has largely focused on protecting the
country from any US invasion. When it comes to the
number of soldiers, Cuba's military is strongest in the
Caribbean but the equipment is now obsolete.
The regular defense forces comprise 49,000 men. Cuba
also has semi-military forces: a troop that will provide
state security, a civilian defense unit, a border force,
and a militia of over 1 million people. A special work
brigade covers 70,000 young people.
The total defense force has almost halved since the
beginning of the 1990s, and military duty has been
reduced from three to two years. The military service
includes all young men from the age of 18; For women,
military service is optional.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, the US
military base Guantánamo in southeast Cuba. At the base
is a disputed prison camp for suspected terrorists.
FACTS - DEFENSE
38,000 men (2017)
The air Force
8,000 men (2017)
3,000 men (2017)
Military expenditure's share of GDP
3.1 percent (2015)