Your trip to Cuba will be WAY MORE interesting and understandable when you read at least this history page ;)
Cuba, the largest of the Caribbean islands, was first inhabited by Amerindian people known as the Taíno and Ciboney. On 24 October 1492, Christopher Columbus sighted the island during his first voyage of discovery and claimed it for Spain. Cuba subsequently became a Spanish colony and was ruled for 388 years by the Spanish governor in Havana, though in 1762 the colony was briefly annexed by Britain before being returned in exchange for Florida. A series of rebellions during the 19th century failed to end Spanish rule, but increased tensions between Spain and the United States, resulting in the Spanish-American War, led finally to Spanish withdrawal, and in 1902 Cuba gained formal independence.
American trade dominated the island during the first half of the 20th century, aided by US government policy measures assuring influence over the island. In 1959, de facto leader Fulgencio Batista was ousted by revolutionaries led by Fidel Castro. Deteriorating trade relations with the US led to Cuba's alliance with the Soviet Union and Castro's transformation of Cuba into a declared socialist republic. Castro has remained in power since 1959, first as Prime Minister then concurrently President of Cuba.
The archeological record and evidence from mitochondrial DNA studies indicate that Cuba and the Antilles have been inhabited by peoples ancestral to the indigenous inhabitants for at least several thousand years. Some studies ascribe a role to these original inhabitants in the disappearance of the islands' megafauna, including condors , giant owls and eventually groundsloths.
Before 1492, Cuba was populated by at least two distinct indigenous peoples: Taíno and Ciboney (or Siboney) (some consider these populations to be neo-Taíno nations). These two groups were prehistoric cultures in a time period during which humans created tools from stone, yet they were familiar with gold (caona) and copper alloys (guanín) Copper Age. The Taíno agriculturalist and the Ciboney were a self-sufficient society, although their development was not limited to fishing and hunting, farming and production of wooden structures. Taínos and Ciboney took part in similar customs and beliefs, one being the sacred ritual practiced using, often nasally inhaled, narcotized tobacco vapors and particulates called cohoba, is known in English as smoking.
The Taíno (Islander Arawaks) were part of a cultural group commonly called the Arawak, which extends far into South America. The wide diffusion of this culture is witnessed even today by names of places in the New World; for example localities or rivers called Guama (the Taino name for Lonchocarpus domingens, a leguminous tree, the designation of a chief (as in Guamá a famous Taino who fought the Spanish) are found in Cuba, Venezuela and Brazil.
The Arawaks incorporated readily into the successive invading groups and acculturated almost to the point of disappearance. Residues of their poetry, songs, sculpture, and art are found today throughout the major Antilles. The Arawak and other such cultural groups are responsible for the development of perhaps 60% of crops in common use today and some major industrial materials such as rubber. The Europeans were shown by the Native Cubans how to nurture tobacco and consume it in the form of cigars.
Approximately 16,000 to 60,000, (Bartolome de las Casas estimated up to 200,000), natives belonging to the Taino and Ciboney nations inhabited Cuba before colonization. The Native Cuban Indian population, including the Ciboney and the Taíno, were forced into reservations during the Spanish subjugation of the island of Cuba. Many Natives were put in reservations. One famous reservation was known as Guanabacoa, today a suburb of Havana. Many indigenous Cuban Indians died due to the brutality of Spanish conquistadores and the diseases they brought with them, such as the measles and smallpox, which were previously unknown to Indians.
On the other hand, the introduction of smoking and, most probably, syphilis into Europe as a result of this contact caused uncounted deaths in Europe (Duarte, 1989). Shakespeare's character Caliban is taken by many to represent a Caribbean Shaman. Sir Walter Raleigh's execution is said to have been witnessed by his Caribbean servant. By 1550, many tribes were eradicated. Many of the Conquistadors intermarried with Native Cuban Indians. Their children were called mestizos, but the Native Cubans called them Guajiro, which translates as "one of us". Today, the descendants are maintaining their heritage.
Conquest of Cuba
Spanish Colonial Cuba
Cuba was first visited by Europeans when explorer Christopher Columbus landed on the island of Cuba for the first time on October 28, 1492. The coast of Cuba was fully mapped by Sebastián de Ocampo in 1511, and in that year Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar founded the first Spanish settlement at Baracoa. Other towns, including Havana (founded in 1515), soon followed. The Spanish, as they did throughout the Americas, oppressed and enslaved the indigenous population which, within a century, died out as a result of the combined effects of disease and mistreatment.
The Spanish established sugar and tobacco as Cuba's primary products. As the native Indian population and the Spanish intermarried and were educated, field labor became scarce. Native Americans from Florida and Indians from Bahama were imported as slaves, and as that population became mixed as well, field labor was harder to come by. African slaves were then imported to work the plantations as field labor. However, restrictive Spanish trade laws made it difficult for Cubans to keep up with the 17th and 18th century advances in processing sugar cane pioneered in British Barbados and French Saint Domingue (Haiti). Spain also restricted Cuba's access to the slave trade, which was dominated by the British, French, and Dutch. One important turning point came in the Seven Years' War, when the British conquered the port of Havana and introduced thousands of slaves in a ten month period. Another key event was the Haitian Revolution in nearby Saint-Domingue, from 1791 to 1804. Thousands of French refugees, fleeing the slave rebellion in Saint Domingue, brought slaves and expertise in sugar refining and coffee growing into eastern Cuba in the 1790 and early 1800s.
In the 1800s, Cuban sugar plantations became the most important world producer of sugar, thanks to the expansion of slavery and a relentless focus on improving the island's sugar technology. Use of modern refining techniques was especially important because the British abolished the slave trade in 1807 and after 1815 began forcing other countries to follow suit. Cubans were torn between the profits generated by sugar and a repugnance for slavery, which they saw as morally, politically, and racially dangerous to their society. By the end of the 19th century, slavery was abolished.
However, leading up to the abolition of slavery, Cuba gained great prosperity from its sugar trade. Originally, the Spanish had ordered regulations on trade with Cuba, which kept the island from becoming a dominant sugar producer. The Spanish were interested in keeping their trade routes and slave trade routes protected. Nevertheless, Cuba's vast size and abundance of natural resources made it an ideal place for becoming a booming sugar producer. When Spain opened the Cuban trade ports, it quickly became a popular place. New technology allowed a much more effective and efficient means of producing sugar. They began to use water mills, enclosed furnaces, and steam engines to produce a higher quality of sugar at a much more efficient pace than elsewhere in the Caribbean.
The boom in Cuba's sugar industry in the 19th century made it necessary for Cuba to improve its means of transportation. Planters needed safe and efficient ways to transport the sugar from the plantations to the ports, in order to maximize their returns. Many new roads were built, and old roads were quickly repaired. Railroads were built early and changed the way that perishable sugar cane (within one or two days after the cane is cut easily crystalizable sucrose sugar has "inverted" to turn into far less recoverable glucose and fructose sugars) is collected and allowing more rapid and effective sugar transportation. It was now possible for plantations all over this large island to have their sugar shipped quickly and easily. The prosperity seen from the boom in sugar production is a major reason that Cuban ethnicity became further enriched by new influx of Spanish migrants. Many Spaniards immigrated to Cuba, calling it a place of refuge.
Cuba failed to prosper before the 1760s due to Spanish trade regulations. Spain had set up a monopoly in the Caribbean and their primary objective was to protect this. They did not allow the islands to trade with any foreign ships. Spain was primarily interested in the Caribbean for its gold. The Spanish crown thought that if the colonies traded with other countries it would not itself benefit from it. This slowed the growth of the Spanish Caribbean. This effect was particularly bad in Cuba because Spain kept a tight grasp on it. It held great strategic importance in the Caribbean. As soon as Spain opened Cuba's ports up to foreign ships, a great sugar boom began that lasted until the 1880s. The Island was perfect for growing sugar. It is dominated by rolling plains, with rich soil, and adequate rainfall. It is the largest island in the Caribbean, its relatively low mountains and large plains are suitable for roads, and railroads, and it has the best ports in the area. By 1860, Cuba was devoted to growing sugar. The country had to import all other necessary goods. They were dependent on the United States who bought 82 percent of the sugar. Cubans resented the economic policy Spain implemented in Cuba, which was to help Spain and hurt Cuba. In 1820, Spain abolished the slave trade, hurting the Cuban economy even more and forcing planters to buy more expensive, illegal, and troublesome slaves (as demonstrated by the events surrounding the ship Amistad). Some Cubans seeking freedom from Spain began to support annexation to join the United States. For a time, Cuban ports served as bases for ineffective Confederate blockade runner ships , which did not end with the American civil war but was transformed to aid freedom-seeking Blacks and Whites.
Antislavery movements and the Conspiración de La Escalera
In 1812. a mixed race abolitionist conspiracy arose, organized by José Antonio Aponte, a free black carpenter in Havana. He and others were executed .
Cubans began to have an interest in abolishing slavery, and a number of plots and rebellions occurred. One of the most significant was the 'Ladder Conspiracy' (Conspiración de La Escalera), which occurred circa 1840-1844. This event, once viewed as an excuse to rid the Island of rebellious abolitionists, is now viewed as a real, if frustrated, plot (see comments in new translation of Villaverde's "Cecilia Valdés."). The Spanish reacted strongly and many were executed, including one of Cuba's greatest poets, Gabriel de la Concepción Valdés, now commonly as "Placido". José Antonio Saco one of Cuba's foremost thinkers was expelled from Cuba.
Following from the 1868-1878 rebellion Ten Years' War, all slavery was abolished by 1884, making it the second to last country in the Western Hemisphere to abolish slavery (Brazil was the last).
Inspired by the successes of Simón Bolívar, a movement to overthrow Spanish rule arose; with nominal support from mercenary English troops, Spain was first defeated in the Battle of Carabobo in 1821. Blacks and whites then began acting together to overthrow slavery and colonial rule. In 1826, the first armed uprising for independence took place in Puerto Príncipe (Camagüey Province), led by Francisco de Agüero and Andrés Manuel Sánchez. Agüero (white) and Sánchez (mulato, of mixed African and European ancestry) were executed, becoming the first martyrs of Cuban independence.
After the English capture of Havana, perhaps the second most significant military action to that date was the landings of Narciso Lopez.
Cuba was once perhaps 90% forest. It was still heavily forested at the end of the 19th Century. Buccaneers Alexander Exquemelin and bandits form an important part of Cuban history.
The Ten Years' War was the first major effort for independence.
José Martí, when plotting the 1895-1898 Cuban War of Independence from Spain, fearing the contagion of crime, rejected the most valuable help of Manuel Garcia, the "King" of the Cuban Countryside. Manuel Garcia was killed just before this war started. In an interesting parallel, a little over 50 years later, Batista, apparently feeling the need to rid Oriente Province of those who could support resistance, had bandit Edesio Hernandez killed. Crecencio Perez protected Fidel Castro in the early days in the Sierra Maestra Sierra and was a major factor in the survival of the Castro revolution.
Independence from Spain
Cuban independence from Spain was gained by a complex of three larger wars (with the second La Guerra Chiquita overlapping the end of the first), including La Guerra de los Diez Años, or Ten Years' War, and a number of other actions. On 10 October 1868, Carlos Manuel de Céspedes freed his slaves and thus started the Ten Years' War when other plantation owners and guajiros joined in the guerrilla fighting in the Eastern regions. The Spanish were able to exploit the mistrust among the rebels to reach a settlement on 10 February 1878 with the Pact of Zanjón. After that, José Martí, who was exiled after an attempt to back up the rebels in the West, started campaigning in the United States, where there was a sizable community of Cuban exiles. In 1880, there was another significant rising, the so called "Guerra Chiquita", but bad coordination between Antonio Maceo and Calixto Garcia doomed it to failure. On 24 February 1895, events beginning a few days before culminated to resurrect the insurrection. Several major Cuban independence fighters landed near Baracoa, starting the Cuban second major War of Independence, commonly called the War of '95. Soon, Martí was killed, but Máximo Gomez and Antonio Maceo fought on, defeating the Spanish Governor Arsenio Martínez Campos, himself the victor of the Ten Year War, and killing his most trusted general at Peralejo. In a brilliant cavalry campaign, they invaded every province. Maceo was killed in Havana province while returning from the west, but Calixto Garcia, escaped to Spain and was soon at it again, taking Spanish strongholds with cannon and infantry. As the war went on, the major limit to Cuban success was weapons supply. Although the weapons and funding come from within the US, the supply operation violated American laws which were enforced by the US Coast Guard; of 71 re-supply missions only 27 got through, 5 were stopped by the Spanish but 33 by the US Coast Guard.
Riots in Havana by rowdy pro-Spanish "Voluntarios" gave the United States a reason to send in the warship USS Maine to indicate high national interest. American opinion was outraged at news of Spanish atrocities, and President William McKinley demanded reforms or independence. When the US battleship Maine blew up on 15 February 1898, tensions escalated, and the U.S. would no longer accept Spanish promises of eventual reform. The U.S. declared the Spanish-American War. American naval and military forces were immediately successful, as the Spanish put up a weak resistance. On 17 July 1898, the Spanish surrendered and, on 10 December 1898, they signed the Treaty of Paris giving to the U.S. Cuba, as well as, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines. The U.S. Army took over the island on a temporary basis and began a massive public health program to eradicate disease, and a complex modernization program of upgrading the infrastructure of ports, roads, and communications.
Cuba in the Early 20th Century
In 1902, the United States handed over control to a Cuban government that as a condition of the transfer had included in its constitution provisions implementing the requirements of the Platt Amendment, which among other things gave the United States the right to intervene militarily in Cuba. Land that was in ruins was acquired by U.S. investors, enabling the United States to control roughly three-quarters of the Cuban sugar, the foundation of the Cuban economy. Havana and Varadero became tourist resorts, riddled with casinos and strip-clubs. The Cuban population gradually recovered economic power from both Spanish and U.S. interests, and enacted civil rights anti-discrimination legislation that ordered minimum employment quotas for Cubans.
President Tomás Estrada Palma was elected in 1902, and Cuba was declared independent, though Guantanamo Bay was leased to the United States as part of the Platt Amendment. The status of the Isle of Pines as Cuban territory was left undefined. Estrada Palma, a frugal man, governed successfully for his four year term; yet when he tried to extend his time in office, a revolt ensued. In 1906, the United States representative William Howard Taft, notably with the personal diplomacy of Frederick Funston, negotiated an end of the successful revolt led by able young general Enrique Loynaz del Castillo, who had served under Antonio Maceo in the final war of independence. Estrada Palma resigned. The United States Governor Charles Magoon assumed temporary control until 1909. In this period in the area of Manzanillo, Agustín Martín Veloz, Blas Roca, and Francisco (Paquito) Rosales founded the embryonic Cuban Communist Party.
For three decades, the country was led by former War of Independence leaders, who after being elected did not serve more than two constitutional terms. The Cuban presidential succession was as follows: José Miguel Gómez (1908-1912); Mario Garcia Menocal (1913-1920); Alfredo Zayas (1921-25). The Castro government would later describe this period as a "pseudo-republic."
President Gerardo Machado was elected by popular vote in 1925, but he was constitutionally barred from reelection. Also, in 1925, Abraham Semjovitch, code name Fabio Grobart, a Kremlin Agent, helped formally link the Cuban Communist Party to the Communist International. Machado, who determined to modernize Cuba, set in motion a massive civil works with projects such as the Central Highway, but at the end of his constitutional term held on to power. The United States, despite the Platt Amendment, decided not to interfere militarily. The communists of the PCC did very little to resist Machado in his dictator phase; however, practically everybody else did. In the late 1920s and early 1930s a number of Cuban action groups, including some Mambí, staged a series of uprisings that either failed or did not affect the capital. After much complex rebellion, Machado was asked to leave by the Cuban Army and senior Cuban civil leaders in 1933 (ISBN 1593880472). After Machado was deposed there was a confused short interregnum.
Fulgencio Batista, Cuban dictator.About six months later still, in September 1933, there was a successful mutiny by enlisted soldiers and non-commissioned officers, taking the lower ranks of the Cuban Army to power. A key figure in the process was Fulgencio Batista, an army sergeant holding a key post as a telegraph officer. Then Batista with his straight Taíno hair and very dark skin, often lightened in later photographs, was known at "El Mulato Lindo;" he was probably the first noticeably colored ruler of Cuba since the Spanish conquest. He gradually assumed total command. As this revolutionary process, and because it would limit Batista’s power, the Platt Amendment was repealed. Still, American pressure forced Cuba to reaffirm the agreement which was imposed on the country in 1903 which leased the Guantanamo Bay naval base to the United States for a nominal sum, under terms which many Cubans at the time found (and some still find) objectionable and colonialist.
To consolidate power, Batista suppressed a series of revolts. Notable at that of Blas Hernandez at the Atares Castle that of the regular army officers at the Hotel Nacional. With encouragement from U.S. Ambassador Sumner Welles, he separated the Cuban military from the student-labor component of the new revolutionary government, and as Army Chief of Staff became the country's de facto leader behind a series of puppet presidents. In 1940, Batista became the country's official president in an election which many people considered to be rigged. Batista was voted out of office in 1944.
Elections resume in Cuba
He was succeeded by Dr. Ramón Grau San Martín, a populist physician, who had briefly held the presidency in the 1933 revolutionary process. President Grau passed a number of populist measures favoring workers and also had been instrumental in passing the 1940 Constitution, which has been widely regarded as one of the most progressive ever written in terms of worker protection and human rights.
Grau was followed by Carlos Prío Socarrás, also elected democratically, but whose government was tainted by increasing corruption and violent incidents among political factions. Around the same time Fidel Castro become a public figure at the University of Havana. Eduardo Chibás was the leader of the Partido Ortodoxo (Orthodox Party), a liberal democratic group, who was widely expected to win in 1952 on an anti corruption platform. Chibás committed suicide before he could run for the presidency, and the opposition was left without its major leader.
Taking advantage of the opportunity, Batista, who was running for president in the 1952 elections, but had only a small minority of votes, seized power in an almost bloodless coup three months before the election was to take place. President Prío did nothing to stop the coup, and was forced to leave the island. Due to the corruption of the past two administrations, the general public reaction to the coup was somewhat accepting at first. However, Batista soon encountered stiff opposition when he suspended the balloting and the constitution, beginning to rule by decree.