Cuba: Castros, communism and cigarsCuba opens a new chapter when Raul Castro steps down from the presidency on April 19, ending six decades of single-family rule launched by his brother Fidel. Ties between communist Cuba and the United States, roughly 150 kilometers (90 miles) apart, have been fraught due to US occupations and Cold War enmity that took the neighbors to the brink of nuclear war. A historic thaw began in 2014, when Barack Obama and Raul Castro simultaneously announced plans to normalize ties.