When Christopher Columbus landed in Cuba in 1492, he encountered three indigenous communities: the Siboney, Guanahatabey and Taino. All three were virtually wiped out by disease within 50 years.
In addition to a variety of infections, the Spanish and French settlers brought sugarcane, and later slaves to the island. To this day, both sugar and Cubans of African descent have a role in defining the country’s character. Cuba’s racial make up is a mosaic of separate waves of human inhabitation.
Two wars of independence marked nineteenth-century Cuba. The first, between 1868 and 1878, ended in stalemate; the second, in which the rebels were inspired by the revolutionary poet, José Martí, began in 1895 and ended when the United States became involved in 1898. Cuba was occupied at first for two years by US forces. After their withdrawal in 1901, the USA kept a tight hold on the island’s politics and economy throughout a series of corrupt Cuban dictators. These included the Fulgencio Batista who was overturned by Fidel Castro and his rebel army in 1959, resulting in the establishment of a socialist republic. Castro became the first and only Secretary of the Communist Party in Cuba. All US businesses were expropriated in 1960, and diplomatic relations between the two countries were halted. In the following years, Cuba grew closer to the Soviet Union and the United States instituted a full economic and financial blockade on the island.
In 1961, the United States CIA organised a corps of anti-Castro rebels to invade Cuba. This ‘Bay of Pigs’ invasion was a total failure; all the invaders were captured or killed and US involvement was quickly uncovered. The following year, the Soviet Union installed missiles on Cuba which were capable of hitting targets in the US. US President Kennedy ordered a naval blockade against the island. The confrontation escalated to the threshold of nuclear war, before Kennedy and Russian leader Khrushchev reached an agreement.
When the Eastern bloc dissolved in 1989, Cuba immediately lost almost all its trading partners and foreign aid. A ‘Special Period in Time of Peace’ was declared, a period of intense economic difficulty that threatened the survival the revolutionary government. In the 2000s, Cuba’s economy finally began ot grow, largely thanks to help from Venezuela’s then President, Hugo Chavez, Bolivia’s leader Evo Morales, and aid from China.
in 2008 Fidel Castro’s declining health prompted the National Assembly to elect his brother Raul Castro to replace him as President of Cuba.