It’s been exactly 55 years since President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s State Department imposed the first trade embargo on Cuba on Oct. 19, 1960. The original embargo covered all U.S. exports to Cuba except for medicine and some foods. President John F. Kennedy expanded the embargo to cover U.S. imports from Cuba and made it permanent on Feb. 7, 1962.
Although relations between the two countries warmed this year, the embargo is still in place and an act of Congress is required to remove it.
The origins of the embargo go back even further, to when Fidel Castro came to power Jan. 1, 1959. He quickly lost American support as he publicized private land and companies, and imposed heavy taxes on imports from the U.S. In the first year of Castro’s regime, U.S. trade with Cuba decreased 20%.
Just before the U.S. imposed the embargo, Cuba made another jab at “the Yankee imperialists.” In a single night, Castro’s Cabinet nationalized 382 businesses, “including 105 sugar mills, 13 department stores, 18 distilleries, 61 textile factories, eight railways and all banks, save the Royal Bank of Canada and the Bank of Nova Scotia,” according to TIME. “The U.S. need not worry that a strategic embargo will damage private industry in Cuba," the magazine noted. "It no longer exists.”
TIME further explained the embargo in a 1960 article:
Washington last week slapped Havana with the most severe trade embargo imposed on any nation except Red China. Under penalty of a $10,000 fine and ten years’ imprisonment, the U.S. barred from Cuba, which traditionally buys 70% of its foreign goods in the U.S., two-thirds of all American imports. Only medicines and nonsubsidized foods, such as canned goods, may still be shipped.
The U.S. Commerce Secretary was blasé about the embargo’s potential to drive Cuba further to the Soviet side, saying, “Too bad. After all, we've been the ones who've been pushed around lately."
It’s one of the longest running embargoes in U.S. history. The embargo against North Korea, however, is even older.
Read more about the embargo on Cuba, here in the TIME Vault: The End of Patience