Early period until the 18th century
The island of Cuba was populated by various Indian tribes even before the Christian era began. The first knowledge of agriculture was brought to the island by the Tainos coming from the Amazon basin. In 1492, Christopher Columbus discovered the island when he was looking for a western sea route across the Atlantic to India. He called her “Fernandina” in honor of King Ferdinand. In 1511, the Spaniard Diego Vel¨¢squez de Cu¨¦llar and his troops conquered the estimated 300,000 Indian residents and took possession of the island for the Spanish crown. He founded the first cities on the island: Baracoa, Santiago de Cuba, Santa Maria de la Puerto Pr¨ªncipe (later Camag¨¹ey), Trinidad and Habana. Cuba became an important strategic base for the Spanish in the Caribbean.
- COUNTRYAAH: See current national flag of Cuba. Download high definition image, and learn flag meanings as well as the history of Cuba flags.
In Cuba, diseases, forced labor and persecution that were brought in quickly decimated the local population. In order to cultivate the fields on which tobacco and sugar cane were grown, the first slaves from West Africa had to be brought to Cuba.
In the 16th and 17th centuries, the Spaniards had to repel attacks by pirates and attempts to conquer them by the British, Dutch and French. The British finally conquered the island in the Seven Years’ War (1756-63). In exchange for Florida, Great Britain ceded the island to the Spanish crown in 1763. In the course of the development of the plantation economy in the course of the 18th century, the number of black slaves on the island skyrocketed. Above all, the Creole upper class benefited from the proceeds of the emerging economy (above all from sugar exports).
19th and early 20th centuries
By 1840, Cuba became the world’s largest sugar cane producer. When slavery was banned in Cuba in 1886, the sugar barons sent workers from China and the Philippines.
In the second half of the 19th century, according to AbbreviationFinder, the Cuban population rebelled against the Spanish colonialists for the first time (in 1868 under Jos¨¦ Mart¨ª and M¨¢ximo G¨®mez).
With the support of the USA (almost all sugar cane exports went to North America), Cuba was the last Spanish colony to gain independence in 1898. The Republic of Cuba was proclaimed in 1901 and a first presidential constitution was passed, while maintaining the strong presence of the USA (including through two military bases). In 1902, Estrada Palma became the first Cuban president.
Unrest in Cuba led to repeated US interventions in 1906 and 1913. In 1903, the American government leased the Bay of Guant¨¢namo and the 114 km² surrounding area for a period of 99 years. (To date, the US government has categorically rejected the abandonment of its naval base there and has announced that it will continue to operate after the lease expires.)
In 1933, the leader of the Senate and chief of the Cuban army, Fulgencio Batista y Zald¨ªvar, had the elected president deposed by a vote of no confidence, became an unofficial de facto head of government and established a US-tolerated dictatorship in the country. Batista was elected president from 1940 to 44, in 1952 he took power with the help of a military coup. At that time, Cuba was both politically and economically heavily dependent on the United States: US companies controlled almost all relevant economic sectors. The social divide between the rich upper class and the impoverished majority of the population was widening. A first attempted coup against the government led by lawyer Fidel Castro Ruz failed in 1953, and another one three years later. A multi-year guerrilla war broke out against the Batista government and the United States stopped delivering arms to the Cuban government. On New Year’s Eve 1958/59, the President of Cuba went abroad with the treasury, valued at around $ 40 million.
In January 1959, Fidel Castro Ruz became the new president, by his side was the Argentine doctor and revolutionary Ernesto Guevara Serna (Che Guevara, who was shot in Bolivia in 1967). Castro’s first measures included the expropriation of all large companies (including the American ones) and the implementation of socialist reforms as well as the creation of programs, for example for housing construction and against illiteracy. After the United States stopped importing sugar from Cuba, the Castro government signed a first trade and capital assistance agreement with the Soviet Union in 1960. In 1961, an attempted invasion by Cuban exiles in the “Bay of Pigs” failed, which had been supported by the American secret service CIA.
The further the Cuban government moved from the United States, the closer it became to the Soviet Union. In 1962, Cuban President Fidel Castro declared Cuba a socialist state. When the Soviet Union began to deploy medium-range missiles in Cuba, a massive conflict between the two world powers, the United States and the USSR, was within reach (Cuba crisis 1962). By giving in to the Soviet leadership under Khrushchev and dismantling the Soviet missiles, the crisis was resolved.
Supported by Soviet subsidies and with the Soviet Union as its main trading partner, the Cuban economy remained stable. The situation changed fundamentally when the Eastern Bloc disintegrated at the end of the 1980s and the Soviet Union and the Eastern European countries reoriented both politically and economically. Due to the loss of subsidies, the Cuban economy came into a serious crisis. Castro, unwilling to abandon socialism in favor of democratization, was forced to call for an emergency program. For the population, this meant cuts in food allocations, power cuts and a variety of savings measures. To deal with the economic crisis (the American economic embargo was still valid), The Cuban leadership under Castro was increasingly pursuing the course of liberalizing the economy (slowly moving away from the planned economy and allowing private companies) while maintaining the political order. Special emphasis was also placed on the expansion of tourism (which in the mid-1990s surpassed the sugar cane industry as the most important source of foreign currency).
In 1994 there was a mass exodus of Cubans to the United States, which was tolerated by the Cuban leadership. Accusations by the United Nations and governments around the world against the United States and their sanctions against Cuba, which are at the expense of the local population, led in 1997 to the American leadership promising to review or relax the measures. In January 1998, the head of the Christian Church, Pope John Paul II visited Cuba. In advance, Castro officially approved December 25th again as a Christian holiday. In the same year, Fidel Castro was again confirmed by the National Assembly for another five years as chairman of the State Council, while remaining the head of state, head of government and commander-in-chief of the armed forces. The US Senate approved the easing of the embargo in January 2000, albeit to a limited extent (medication, food, funding restrictions). After a referendum in 2002, socialism was laid down as an “irrevocable” part of the constitution.
In July 2006, Fidel Castro temporarily handed over government affairs to his brother Ra¨²l due to health problems. In February 2008, Ra¨²l Castro became the new Cuban head of state; Fidel Castro finally resigned from his political office. A political change has not occurred, but a slow opening of Cuba, at least in the economic area, seems possible. At the end of 2014, Ra¨²l Castro and US President Barack Obama agreed to establish diplomatic relations.