It was in 1959 that Communist revolutionary Fidel Castro seized power in Cuba - just 90 miles from U.S. shores.
Then in 1962, the Soviet Union shipped nuclear missiles to Cuba - missiles that could potentially have been fired into the United States!
That's when President John F. Kennedy ordered the U.S. Navy to impose a tight blockade to halt the buildup and ultimately to force removal of the threatening Soviet missiles. Those were tense days, raising the possibility of U.S.-Soviet war - until the Soviets "blinked," and withdrew their missiles.
We recall those dramatic times today because Jimmy Carter, who went from being governor of Georgia to being president of the United States from 1977 to 1981, recently visited Cuba - and Cuban President Raul Castro, who took over when his brother Fidel stepped down. Carter reportedly was trying to "improve relations" between Washington and Havana.
He said he talked with Raul Castro about American Alan Gross, who was arrested in Communist Cuba in 2009. Gross was recently sentenced to 15 years in a Cuban prison after being convicted of illegally importing communications equipment. Carter was unable to secure his release.
"I hope we can contribute to better relations between the two countries," said Carter, who also visited Cuba in 2002, becoming the only former U.S. president to be in Cuba since Communists took over.
Was he on a "quiet," legal, official mission? Or was he violating U.S. law by engaging unofficially in U.S. diplomacy abroad? We may never know.