Cuba was inhabited by Native American people known as the Taíno, also called Arawak by the Spanish, and Guanajatabey and Ciboney people before the arrival of the Spanish. The ancestors of these Native Americans migrated from the mainland of North, Central and South America several centuries earlier. The native Tainos called the island Caobana. The Taíno were farmers and the Ciboney were farmers, fishers and hunter-gatherers.
After first landing on an island then called Guanahani on October 12, 1492, Christopher Columbus landed on Cuba’s northeastern coast near what is now Baracoa on October 27or 28. He claimed the island for the new Kingdom of Spain and named Isla Juana after Juan, Prince of Asturias.In 1511, the first Spanish settlement was founded by Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar at Baracoa; other towns soon followed including the future capital of San Cristobal de la Habana which was founded in 1515. The Spanish enslaved the approximately 100,000 indigenous people who resisted conversion to Christianity, setting them primarily to the task of searching for gold. Within a century the indigenous people were virtually wiped out due to multiple factors, including Eurasian infectious diseases aggravated in large part by a lack of natural resistance as well as privation stemming from repressive colonial subjugation. In 1529, a measles outbreak in Cuba killed two-thirds of the natives who had previously survived smallpox.]
Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar, conquistador of Cuba
Cuba remained a Spanish possession for almost 400 years (1511–1898), with an economy based on plantation agriculture, mining, and the export of sugar, coffee, and tobacco to Europe and later to North America. The work was done primarily by African slaves brought to the island.
The small land-owning elite of Spanish settlers held social and economic powers supported by a population of Spaniards born on the island (Criollos), other Europeans, and African-descended slaves. The population in 1817 was 630,980, of which 291,021 were white, 115,691 free black, and 224,268 black slaves.
In the 1820s, when the rest of Spain’s empire in Latin America rebelled and formed independent states, Cuba remained loyal. Although there was agitation for independence, the Spanish Crown gave Cuba the motto La Siempre Fidelísima Isla (“The Always Most Faithful Island”). This loyalty was due partly to Cuban settlers’ dependence on Spain for trade, their desire for protection from pirates and against a slave rebellion, and partly because they feared the rising power of the United States more than they disliked Spanish rule.
Ten Years’ War
Carlos Manuel de Céspedes is known as Father of the Homeland in Cuba, having declared the nation’s independence from Spain in 1868.
Independence from Spain was the motive for a rebellion in 1868 led by Carlos Manuel de Céspedes. De Céspedes, a sugar planter, freed his slaves to fight with him for a free Cuba. On 27 December 1868, he issued a decree condemning slavery in theory but accepting it in practice and declaring free any slaves whose masters present them for military service. The 1868 rebellion resulted in a prolonged conflict known as the Ten Years’ War. The United States declined to recognize the new Cuban government, although many European and Latin American nations did so. In 1878, the Pact of Zanjón ended the conflict, with Spain promising greater autonomy to Cuba. In 1879–1880, Cuban patriot Calixto García attempted to start another war known as the Little War but received little support.
Period between wars
In Cuba, a sophisticated and prosperous sugar industry had employed chattel slavery until the final third of the 19th century. Cuba produced 720,250 metric tons of sugar in 1868, more than forty percent of cane sugar reaching the world market that year. Slavery had been maintained in Cuba, however, while abolition was underway elsewhere. Abolition in Cuba began the final third of the 19th century, and was completed in the 1880s.
War of 1895
An exiled dissident named José Martí founded the Cuban Revolutionary Party in New York in 1892.The aim of the party was to achieve Cuban independence from Spain. In January 1895 Martí traveled to Montecristi and Santo Domingo to join the efforts of Máximo Gómez. Martí recorded his political views in the Manifesto of Montecristi. Fighting against the Spanish army began in Cuba on 24 February 1895, but Martí was unable to reach Cuba until 11 April 1895. Martí was killed in the battle of Dos Rios on 19 May 1895. His death immortalized him as Cuba’s national hero.
Around 200,000 Spanish troops outnumbered the much smaller rebel army which relied mostly on guerrilla and sabotage tactics. The Spaniards began a campaign of suppression. General Valeriano Weyler, military governor of Cuba, herded the rural population into what he called reconcentrados, described by international observers as “fortified towns”. These are often considered the prototype for 20th-century concentration camps. Between 200,000 and 400,000 Cuban civilians died from starvation and disease in the camps, numbers verified by the Red Cross and United States Senator and former Secretary of War Redfield Proctor. American and European protests against Spanish conduct on the island followed.
The U.S. battleship Maine arrived in Havana on 25 January 1898 to offer protection to the 8,000 American residents on the island, but the Spanish saw this as intimidation. On the evening of 15 February 1898, the Maine blew up in the harbor, killing 252 crew. Another eight crew members died of their wounds in hospital over the next few days. A Naval Board of Inquiry headed by Captain William T. Sampson was appointed to investigate the cause of the explosion on the Maine. Having examined the wreck and taken testimony from eyewitnesses and experts, the board reported on 21 March 1898 that the Maine had been destroyed by “a double magazine set off from the exterior of the ship, which could only have been produced by a mine.
The facts remain disputed today, although an investigation by Admiral Hyman G. Rickover in 1976 established that the blast was most likely a large internal explosion. Rickover believes the explosion was caused by a spontaneous combustion in inadequately ventilated bituminous coal which ignited gunpowder in an adjacent magazine. The original 1898 board was unable to fix the responsibility for the disaster, but a furious American populace, fueled by an active press— notably the newspapers of William Randolph Hearst— concluded that the Spanish were to blame and demanded action. The U.S. Congress passed a resolution calling for intervention, and President William McKinley complied.Spain and the United States declared war on each other in late April.
Early 20th century
After the Spanish-American War, Spain and the United States signed the Treaty of Paris (1898), by which Spain ceded Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Guam to the United States for the sum of $20 million.Under the same treaty, Spain relinquished all claim of sovereignty over Cuba. Theodore Roosevelt, who had fought in the Spanish-American War and had some sympathies with the independence movement, succeeded McKinley as U.S. President in 1901 and abandoned the treaty. Cuba gained formal independence from the U.S. on May 20, 1902, as the Republic of Cuba. Under Cuba’s new constitution, the U.S. retained the right to intervene in Cuban affairs and to supervise its finances and foreign relations. Under the Platt Amendment, the U.S. leased the Guantánamo Bay naval base from Cuba.
Following disputed elections in 1906, the first president, Tomás Estrada Palma, faced an armed revolt by independence war veterans who defeated the meager government forces.The U.S. intervened by occupying Cuba and named Charles Edward Magoon as Governor for three years. Cuban historians have attributed Magoon’s governorship as having introduced political and social corruption.In 1908, self-government was restored when José Miguel Gómez was elected President, but the U.S. continued intervening in Cuban affairs. In 1912, the Partido Independiente de Color attempted to establish a separate black republic in Oriente Province, but was suppressed by General Monteagudo with considerable bloodshed.
During World War I, Cuba exported considerable quantities of sugar to Britain. Cuba was able to avoid U-boat attacks by the subterfuge of shipping the sugar to Sweden. The Menocal government declared war on Germany very soon after the United States.
A constitutional government was maintained until 1930 when Gerardo Machado y Morales suspended the constitution. During Machado’s tenure, a nationalistic economic program was pursued with several major national development projects which included the Carretera Central and El Capitolio. Machado’s hold on power was weakened following a decline in demand for exported agricultural produce due to the Great Depression, attacks by independence war veterans, and attacks by covert terrorist organizations, principally the ABC.
During a general strike in which the Communist Party sided with Machado, the senior elements of the Cuban army forced Machado into exile. The Party then installed Carlos Manuel de Céspedes y Quesada, son of Cuba’s founding father (Carlos Manuel de Céspedes), as President. During 4–5 September 1933, a second coup overthrew Céspedes which led to the formation of the first Ramón Grau government. Notable events in this violent period include the separate sieges of Hotel Nacional de Cuba and Atares Castle. This government lasted 100 days but engineered radical socialist changes in Cuban society, including the abolishment of the Platt Amendment and instating of womens’ suffrage in Cuba. In 1934, Grau was ousted in favor of Carlos Mendieta, the first in a series of puppet presidents subordinate to the army and its young chief of staff, Fulgencio Batista.
Fulgencio Batista was democratically elected President in the elections of 1940, so far the only non-white Cuban endorsed for the nation’s highest office.His government carried out major social reforms. Several members of the Communist Party held office under his administration and established numerous economic regulations and pro-union policies, as well as the Cuban Constitution of 1940, which engineered radical progressive ideas. Batista’s administration formally took Cuba to the Allies of World War II camp in World War II. Cuba declared war on Japan on December 9, 1941, then on Germany and Italy on December 11, 1941. Cuban armed forces were not greatly involved in combat during World War II, although president Batista suggested a joint U.S.-Latin American assault on Francoist Spain in order to overthrow its authoritarian regime.
Many so-called yank tanks remain in use from pre-revolutionary days. The balcony above belongs to a casa particular.
Ramón Grau, who lost in 1940 to Batista, finally returned in the 1944 elections by defeating Batista’s preferred successor, Carlos Saladrigas Zayas. In 1948, his Revolutionary Authentic Party won again when Carlos Prío Socarrás won, the last person elected to the presidency by free and fair elections. The two terms of the Authenic Party saw an influx of investment fueled a boom which raised living standards for all segments of society and created a prosperous middle class in most urban areas. The gap between rich and poor became wider and more obvious.
The 1952 election was a three-way race. Roberto Agramonte of the Ortodoxos party led in all the polls, followed by Dr. Aurelio Hevia of the Auténtico party, and Fulgencio Batista, seeking a return to office, as a distant third. Both Agramonte and Hevia had decided to name Col. Ramón Barquín to head the Cuban armed forces after the elections. Barquín, then a diplomat in Washington, DC, was a top officer. He was respected by the professional army and had promised to eliminate corruption in the ranks. Batista feared that Barquín would oust him and his followers. When it became apparent that Batista had little chance of winning, he staged a coup on 10 March 1952. Batista held on to power with the backing of a nationalist section of the army as a “provisional president” for the next two years.
In March 1952 Justo Carrillo informed Barquín in Washington that the inner circles knew that Batista had plotted the coup. They immediately began to conspire to oust Batista and restore democracy and civilian government in what was later dubbed La Conspiracion de los Puros de 1956 (Agrupacion Montecristi). In 1954, Batista agreed to elections. The Partido Auténtico put forward ex-President Grau as their candidate, but he withdrew amid allegations that Batista was rigging the elections in advance.
In April 1956 Batista ordered Barquín to become General and chief of the army, but Barquín decided to move forward with his coup to secure total power. On 4 April 1956, a coup by hundreds of career officers led by Barquín was frustrated by Rios Morejon. The coup broke the back of the Cuban armed forces. The officers were sentenced to the maximum terms allowed by Cuban Martial Law. Barquín was sentenced to solitary confinement for eight years. La Conspiración de los Puros resulted in the imprisonment of the commanders of the armed forces and the closing of the military academies.
Cuba had Latin America’s highest per capita consumption rates of meat, vegetables, cereals, automobiles, telephones and radios, though this consumption was largely by the small elite class and foreigners. In 1958, Cuba was a relatively well-advanced country by Latin American standards, and in some cases by world standards. Cuba attracted more immigrants, primarily from Europe, as a percentage of population than the U.S. The United Nations noted Cuba for its large middle class. On the other hand, Cuba was affected by perhaps the largest labor union privileges in Latin America, including bans on dismissals and mechanization. They were obtained in large measure “at the cost of the unemployed and the peasants”, leading to disparities.
Between 1933 and 1958, Cuba extended economic regulations enormously, causing economic problems. Unemployment became a problem as graduates entering the workforce could not find jobs. The middle class, which was comparable to the United States, became increasingly dissatisfied with the unemployment. The labor unions supported Batista until the very end.
On 2 December 1956 a party of 82 people on the yacht Granma landed in Cuba. The party, led by Fidel Castro, had the intention of establishing an armed resistance movement in the Sierra Maestra. While facing armed resistance from Castro’s rebel fighters in the mountains, Fulgencio Batista’s regime was weakened and crippled by a United States arms embargo imposed on 14 March 1958. By late 1958, the rebels broke out of the Sierra Maestra and launched a general popular insurrection. After the fighters captured Santa Clara, Batista fled from Havana on 1 January 1959 to exile in Portugal. Barquín negotiated the symbolic change of command between Camilo Cienfuegos, Che Guevara, Raúl Castro, and his brother Fidel Castro after the Supreme Court decided that the Revolution was the source of law and its representatives should assume command.
Fidel Castro’s forces entered the capital on 8 January 1959. Shortly afterward, a liberal lawyer, Dr Manuel Urrutia Lleó became president. He was backed by Castro’s 26th of July Movement because they believed his appointment would be welcomed by the United States. Disagreements within the government culminated in Urrutia’s resignation in July 1959. He was replaced by Osvaldo Dorticós Torrado, who served as president until 1976. Castro became prime minister in February 1959, succeeding José Miró in head of the state.
In its first year, the new revolutionary government expropriated private property with little or no compensation, nationalized public utilities, tightened controls on the private sector, and closed down the mafia-controlled gambling industry. The CIA conspired with the Chicago mafia in 1960 and 1961 to assassinate Fidel Castro, according to documents declassified in 2007.
Some of these measures were undertaken by Fidel Castro’s government in the name of the program outlined in the Manifesto of the Sierra Maestra. The government nationalized private property totaling about USD $25 billion, of which American property made up around USD $1 billion.
By the end of 1960, the coletilla made its appearance, and most newspapers in Cuba had been expropriated, taken over by the unions, or had been abandoned. All radio and television stations were in state control. Moderate teachers and professors were purged. In any year, about 20,000 dissenters were imprisoned. Some homosexuals, religious practitioners, and others were sent to labor camps where they were subject to political “re-education”. One estimate is that 15,000 to 17,000 people were executed.
The Communist Party strengthened its one-party rule, with Castro as ultimate leader. Fidel’s brother, Raúl Castro, became the army chief. Loyalty to Castro became the primary criterion for all appointments. In September 1960, the revolutionary government created a system known as Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR), which provided neighborhood spying.
In the 1961 New Year’s Day parade, the administration exhibited Soviet tanks and other weapons. Eventually, Cuba built up the second largest armed forces in Latin America, second only to Brazil. Cuba became a privileged client-state of the Soviet Union.
By 1961, hundreds of thousands of Cubans had left for the United States. The 1961 Bay of Pigs Invasion (La Batalla de Girón) was an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow the Cuban government by a U.S.-trained force of Cuban exiles with U.S. military support. The plan was launched in April 1961, less than three months after John F. Kennedy became the U.S. President. The Cuban armed forces, trained and equipped by Eastern Bloc nations, defeated the exiles in three days. Cuban-American relations were exacerbated the following year by the Cuban Missile Crisis, when the Kennedy administration demanded the immediate withdrawal of Soviet missiles placed in Cuba placed in response to U.S. nuclear missiles in Turkey and the Middle East. The Soviets and Americans soon came to an agreement. The Soviets would remove Soviet missiles from Cuba and the Americans would remove missiles from Turkey and the Middle East. Kennedy also agreed not to invade Cuba in the future. Cuban exiles captured during the Bay of Pigs Invasion were exchanged for a shipment of supplies from America.
By 1963, Cuba was moving towards a full-fledged Communist system modeled on the USSR. The U.S. imposed a complete diplomatic and commercial embargo on Cuba and began Operation Mongoose, a program of covert CIA operations.
In 1965, Castro merged his revolutionary organizations with the Communist Party, of which he became First Secretary; Blas Roca was named Second Secretary. Roca was succeeded by Raúl Castro, who, as Defense Minister and Fidel’s closest confidant, became and remained the second most powerful figure in Cuba until his brother’s retirement. Raúl’s position was strengthened by the departure of Che Guevara to launch unsuccessful insurrections in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and then Bolivia, where he was killed in 1967.
During the 1970s, Fidel Castro dispatched tens of thousands troops in support of Soviet-supported wars in Africa, particularly the MPLA in Angola and Mengistu Haile Mariam in Ethiopia.
The standard of living in 1970s was “extremely spartan” and discontent was rife. Fidel Castro admitted the failures of economic policies in a 1970 speech. By the mid-1970s, Castro started economic reforms.
Cuba was suspended from the Organization of American States (OAS) in 1962 in support of the U.S. embargo, but in 1975 the OAS lifted all sanctions against Cuba, with approval of 16 countries, including the U.S.
On 3 June 2009 the OAS adopted a resolution to end the 47-year exclusion of Cuba. The meetings were contentious, with the U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton walking out at one point. However, in the end, the U.S. delegation agreed with the other members and approved the resolution. Cuban leaders have repeatedly announced they are not interested in rejoining the OAS.
As of 2002, some 1.2 million persons of Cuban background (about 10% of the current population of Cuba) reside in the U.S. Many of them left the island for the United States, often by sea in small boats and fragile rafts. On 6 April 1980, 10,000 Cubans stormed the Peruvian embassy in Havana seeking political asylum. The following day, the Cuban government granted permission for the emigration of Cubans seeking refuge in the Peruvian embassy. On 16 April, 500 Cubans left the Peruvian Embassy for Costa Rica. On 21 April, many of those Cubans started arriving in Miami via private boats and were halted by the U.S. State Department, but the emigration continued, because Castro allowed anyone who desired to leave the country to do so through the port of Mariel. Over 125,000 Cubans emigrated to the U.S. before the flow of vessels ended on 15 June.
Castro’s rule was severely tested in the aftermath of the Soviet collapse (known in Cuba as the Special Period), with effects such as food shortages. The government did not accept American donations of food, medicines, and cash until 1993.On 5 August 1994, state security dispersed protesters in a spontaneous protest in Havana.
Cuba has found a new source of aid and support in the People’s Republic of China, and new allies in Hugo Chávez, President of Venezuela and Evo Morales, President of Bolivia, both major oil and gas exporters. In 2003, the government arrested and imprisoned a large number of civil activists, a period known as the “Black Spring”.
On July 31, 2006, Fidel Castro temporarily delegated his major duties to his brother, First Vice President, Raúl Castro, while Fidel recovered from surgery for an “acute intestinal crisis with sustained bleeding”. On 2 December 2006, Fidel was too ill to attend the 50th anniversary commemoration of the Granma boat landing, fuelling speculation that he had stomach cancer, although there was evidence his illness was a digestive problem and not terminal.
In January 2007, footage was released of Fidel Castro meeting Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, in which Castro “appeared frail but stronger than three months ago”. In February 2008, Fidel Castro announced his resignation as President of Cuba, and on 24 February Raúl was elected as the new President. In his acceptance speech, Raúl promised that some of the restrictions that limit Cubans’ daily lives would be removed. In March 2009, Raúl Castro removed some of Fidel Castro’s officials.