Spanish settlers established the raising of cattle, sugarcane, and tobacco as Cuba's primary economic pursuits. As the native Indian population died out, African slaves were imported to work the ranches and plantations. Slavery was abolished in 1886.
The 1907 Catholic Encyclopedia wrote, "Cuba was discovered by Columbus during his first voyage, on the 28th of October, 1492. He took possession in the name of the Catholic monarchs of Spain, and named it Juana in honour of the Infante Don Juan. He again visited the island in 1494, and in 1502, and on each occasion explored part of the coast. He then believed that Cuba was part of the
mainland, and it was not until 1508 that Sebastian Ocampo, by order of the king, circumnavigated it, and proved it to be an island. IN 1511, Captain Diego Velásquez, who had accompanied Columbus on his second voyage, was sent to Cuba to subjugate and colonize the island. He landed near Cape Maisí, the eastern extremity, and there was founded Baracoa, the first colony in Cuba. In 1514 Velásquez
founded Trinidad and Santiago de Cuba on the south coast, Sancti Spiritus, Remedios, and Puerto Príncipe in the central portion; and, on the site of the present city of Batabanó, towards the western extremity of the south coast, San Cristóbal de la Habana; this last name, however, was given, in 1519, to a settlement existing on the present site of Havana. The same year Baracoa was raised to the
dignity of a city and a bishopric, and was made the capital, as it continued to be until 1522, when both the capital and bishopric were transferred to Santiago de Cuba. Havana became the capital in 1552, and has remained so ever since."
"Upon the death of Ferdinand, 23 January, 1516, Velásquez changed the name of the island to Fernandina in honour of that monarch. Later, the name was changed to Santiago in honour of Spain's patron saint, and still later, to Ave María in honour of the Blessed virgin. During all these official changes, however, the island continued to be known by its original name of Cuba, given it by natives,
and it has retained the name to the present day. The aborigines (Siboneys) whom the Spaniards found in Cuba, were a mild, timid, inoffensive people, entirely unable to resist the invaders of their country, or to endure the hardships imposed upon them. They lived under nine independent caciques or chiefs, and possessed a simple religion devoid of rites and ceremonies, but with a belief in a
supreme being, and the immortality of the soul. They were reduced to slavery by the white settlers, among whom, however, the energetic and persevering Father Bartolomé de Las Casas, "The Protector of the Indians", as he was officially called, earned a high reputation in history by his philanthropic efforts. In 1524, the first cargo of negro slaves was landed in Cuba. Then began the iniquitous
traffic in African slaves upon which corrupt officials fattened for many years thereafter. The negroes were subjected to great cruelties and hardships, their natural increase was checked, and their numbers had to be recruited by repeated importations. This traffic constantly increased, until at the beginning of the nineteenth century, slaves were being imported at the rate of over 10,000 per
"In 1538, Havana was reduced to ashes by the French, and was destroyed a second time in 1554. In 1762, the city was taken by the English, but within a year, under the terms of the Treaty of Paris, which ended the Seven Years War, it was returned to Spain in exchange for Florida. From this time the progress of Cuba was rapid. Luis de Las Casas, who was sent to Cuba as captain general, was
especially energetic in instituting reforms, and he did much for the prosperity and advancement of the island. During the nineteenth century, however, Cuba was governed by a succession of captains general, some of whom were honourable in their administration, while others seemed to regard their office solely as the means of acquiring a fortune. Various oppressive measures instituted by some of
these governors, such as depriving the native Cubans of political and civil liberty, excluding them from public office, and burdening them with taxation, gave rise to the deadly hatred between the Cubans and the Spaniards, which manifested itself from time to time in uprisings for greater privileges and freedom. Of this kind were the conspiracy of the "Black Eagle" (1829, the insurrection of the
black population (1844), and the conspiracy of Narciso López (1849-51), all which gave occasion to repressive measures of great cruelty. The rebellion of 1868-78, however, compelled Spain to promise the Cubans representation in the Cortes, together with other needed reforms. She failed to keep many of her promises, and the general discontent continued, with the result that in 1895, a new and
formidable revolt broke out. The insurgents, under able leaders, were able to keep the field, in spite of the extremely energetic and even cruel measured that were adopted to crush them. They were able to maintain the semblance of a government, and their heroic resistance, as well as the conduct of Spain, aroused great sympathy for them throughout the United States."
Cuba was the last major Spanish colony to gain independence, following a lengthy struggle begun in 1868. Jose Marti, Cuba's national hero, helped initiate the final push for independence in 1895. In 1898, after the USS Maine sunk in Havana Harbor on February 15 due to an explosion of undetermined origin, the United States entered the conflict. In December of that year Spain relinquished
control of Cuba to the United States with the Treaty of Paris. On May 20, 1902, the United States granted Cuba its independence but retained the right to intervene to preserve Cuban independence and stability under the Platt Amendment. In 1934, the amendment was repealed, and the United States and Cuba agreed to continue the 1903 agreement that leased the Guantanamo Bay naval base to the United
Independent Cuba was often ruled by authoritarian political and military figures who either obtained or remained in power by force. Fulgencio Batista, an army sergeant, organized a non-commissioned officer revolt in September 1933 and wielded significant power behind the scenes until he was elected president in 1940. Batista was voted out of office in 1944 and did not run in 1948. Both those
elections were won by civilian political figures with the support of party organizations. Running for president again in 1952, Batista seized power in a bloodless coup 3 months before the election was to take place, suspended the balloting, and began ruling by decree. Many political figures and movements that wanted a return to the government according to the Constitution of 1940 disputed
Batista's undemocratic rule.
Fidel Castro, who had been active politically before Batista's coup, on July 26, 1953 led a failed attack on the Moncada army barracks in Santiago de Cuba in which more than 100 died. After defending himself in a trial open to national and international media, he was jailed, and subsequently was freed in an act of clemency, before going into exile in Mexico. There he organized the 26th of July
Movement with the goal of overthrowing Batista, and the group sailed to Cuba on board the yacht Granma, landing in the eastern part of the island in December 1956.
Batista's dictatorial rule fueled increasing popular discontent and the rise of many active urban and rural resistance groups, a fertile political environment for Castro's 26th of July Movement. Faced with a corrupt and ineffective military itself dispirited by a U.S. Government embargo on weapons sales to Cuba and public indignation and revulsion at his brutality toward opponents, Batista
fled on January 1, 1959. Although he had promised a return to constitutional rule and democratic elections along with social reforms, Castro used his control of the military to consolidate his power by repressing all dissent from his decisions, marginalizing other resistance figures, and imprisoning or executing thousands of opponents. An estimated 3,200 people were executed by the Castro regime
between 1959-62 alone. As the revolution became more radical, hundreds of thousands of Cubans fled the island.
Castro declared Cuba a socialist state on April 16, 1961. For the next 30 years, Castro pursued close relations with the Soviet Union until the demise of the U.S.S.R. in 1991. Relations between the United States and Cuba deteriorated rapidly as the Cuban regime expropriated U.S. properties and moved toward adoption of a one-party communist system. In response, the United States imposed an
embargo on Cuba in October 1960, and, in response to Castro's provocations, broke diplomatic relations on January 3, 1961. Tensions between the two governments peaked during the October 1962 missile crisis.
Under Castro, Cuba became a highly militarized society. From 1975 until the late 1980s, massive Soviet military assistance enabled Cuba to upgrade its military capabilities and project power abroad. The tonnage of Soviet military deliveries to Cuba throughout most of the 1980s exceeded deliveries in any year since the military build-up during the 1962 missile crisis. In 1990, Cuba's air force,
with about 150 Soviet-supplied fighters, including advanced MiG-23 Floggers and MiG-29 Fulcrums, was probably the best equipped in Latin America. In 1994, Cuba's armed forces were estimated to have 235,000 active duty personnel.
Cuban military power was sharply reduced after the loss of Soviet subsidies. Today, the Revolutionary Armed Forces number about 60,000 regular troops. The military plays a growing role in the economy and manages a number of hotels in the tourist sector. The navy and air force are only a fraction of their former size. The country's two paramilitary organizations, the Territorial Militia Troops
and the Youth Labor Army, have a reduced training capability. Cuba also adopted a "war of the people" strategy that highlights the defensive nature of its capabilities. The government continues to maintain a large state security apparatus, under the Ministry of Interior, to repress dissent within Cuba, and in the last decade, has formed special forces units to confront indications of popular
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Cuba expanded its military presence abroad, spending millions of dollars in exporting revolutions; deployments reached 50,000 troops in Angola, 24,000 in Ethiopia, 1,500 in Nicaragua, and hundreds more elsewhere. In Angola, Cuban troops, supported logistically by the U.S.S.R., backed the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) in its effort to take
power after Portugal granted Angola its independence. Cuban forces played a key role in Ethiopia's war against Somalia and remained there in substantial numbers as a garrison force for a decade. Cubans served in a non-combat advisory role in Mozambique and the Congo. Cuba also used the Congo as a logistical support center for Cuba's Angola mission.
In the late 1980s, Cuba began to pull back militarily. Cuba unilaterally removed its forces from Ethiopia, met the timetable of the 1988 Angola-Namibia accords by completing the withdrawal of its forces from Angola before July 1991, and ended military assistance to Nicaragua following the Sandinistas' 1990 electoral defeat.
President Bush announced an Initiative for a New Cuba on May 20, 2002, that called on the Cuban Government to undertake political and economic reforms and conduct free and fair elections for the National Assembly. The Initiative challenged the Cuban Government to open its economy, allow independent trade unions, and end discriminatory practices against Cuban workers. President Bush made clear
that his response to such concrete reforms would be to work with the U.S. Congress to ease the restrictions on trade and travel between the United States and Cuba. The Cuban Government did not enact any such reforms. Elections for the National Assembly were held in January 2003, with 609 government-approved candidates running. That was followed by the March crackdown on members of civil society.
On October 10, 2003, President Bush announced new initiatives on Cuba. These include a Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, which will be co-chaired by Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Martinez and Secretary of State Powell in order to: bring about a peaceful, near-term end to the dictatorship; establish democratic institutions, respect for human rights, and the
rule of law; create the core institutions of a free economy; modernize infrastructure; and meet basic needs in the areas of health, education, housing, and human services.
Cuban History Bibliography