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Cuba History

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.


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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.


Pre-Columbian 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.

Sugar Plantations
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).


Minor Wars

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.

Cuban Rebels
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.

Military coup

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.


The Cuban Revolution

Fidel Castro, a young lawyer from a wealthy family, who was running for a seat in the Chamber of Representatives for the Partido Ortodoxo, circulated a petition to depose Batista's government on the grounds that it had illegitimately suspended the electoral process. However, the petition was not acted upon by the courts.

On July 26, 1953 Castro led a historical attack on the Moncada Barracks near Santiago de Cuba, but failed and was jailed until 1955, when amnesty was given to many political prisoners, including the ones that assaulted the Moncada barracks. Castro subsequently went into exile in Mexico. While in Mexico, he organized the 26th of July Movement with the goal of overthrowing Batista. A group of over 80 men sailed to Cuba on board the yacht Granma, landing in the eastern part of the island in December 1956. Despite a pre-landing rising in Santiago by Frank Pais and his followers of the urban pro-Castro movement, most of Castro's men were promptly killed, dispersed or taken prisoner by Batista's forces. Castro managed to escape to the Sierra Maestra mountains with about 12-17 effectives, aided by the urban and rural opposition, including Celia Sanchez and the bandits of Cresencio Perez's family, he began a guerrilla campaign against the regime. Castro's main forces supported by numerous poorly armed escopeteros, and with support from the well armed fighters of the Frank Pais urban organization who at times went to the mountains the rebel army grew more and more effective. The country was soon driven to chaos conducted in the cities by diverse groups of the anti-Batista resistance and notably a bloody crushed rising by the Batista Navy personnel in Cienfuegos. At the same time rival guerrilla groups in the Escambray Mountains also grew more and more effective.

Faced with a corrupt and ineffective military, 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. Within months of taking control, Castro moved to consolidate power by marginalizing other resistance groups and figures and imprisoning or executing opponents and former supporters. As the revolution became more radical, many hundreds of thousands of Cubans fled the island.

In July 1961, the Integrated Revolutionary Organizations (ORI) was formed by the merger of Fidel Castro's 26th of July Revolutionary Movement, the People's Socialist Party (the old Communist Party) led by Blas Roca and the Revolutionary Directory March 13th led by Faure Chomón. On March 26, 1962 the ORI became the United Party of the Cuban Socialist Revolution (PURSC) which, in turn, became the Communist Party of Cuba on October 3, 1965 with Castro as First Secretary.


Communist Cuba

Relations between the United States and Cuba deteriorated rapidly as the Cuban government, in reaction to the U.S refusal to refine Soviet oil in refineries located in Cuba, expropriated U.S. properties, notably those belonging to the International Telephone and Telegraph Company (ITT) and the United Fruit Company. This was in line with Castro's anti-U.S. ideologies used to gain support at home and abroad. In the Castro government's first agrarian reform law on May 17, 1959 it sought to limit the size of land holdings, and to distribute that land to agricultural workers in "Vital Minimum" tracts. In compensation, the Cuban government offered to pay the landholders based on the tax assessment values for the land, in reality little or no compensation was paid. Reasons for this include that actual payment would be with twenty-year bonds paying 4.5% interest (instead of the then U.S. investment grade corporate bond rate of 3.8%). Landholders from most other countries settled on this basis. The problem was with the tax assessed values. Most of the large landholdings had been acquired in the 1920 period when world sugar prices were depressed, and the land could be bought at bargain-basement prices. In the intervening period, former Cuban governments friendly to these interests had kept these bargain prices as the basis for calculating property taxes, thus insuring that those taxes would be kept low. However, as Castro's control of the island's assets tightened and more nationalization campaigns took place, promises such as these were not honored.

In response to the seizure of American properties and the increased repression carried out by Castro's government on the people, the U.S. broke diplomatic relations on January 3, 1961 and imposed the U.S. embargo against Cuba on February 3, 1962. The embargo is still in effect as of 2006, although some humanitarian trade in food and medicines is now allowed. At first, the embargo didn't extend to other countries and Cuba trades with most European, Asian and Latin American countries and especially Canada. But now the United States pressures other nations and U.S. companies with foreign subsidiaries to restrict trade with Cuba. This hinders Castro's historic argument of blaming the United States for Cuba's grave economic situation. Then again, due to Cuba's location, such trade is hindered by high transportation costs. Also, the Helms-Burton Act of 1996 makes it very difficult for companies that do business with Cuba to also do business in the United States, effectively forcing internationals to choose between the two. Another consideration here is that Cuba already was a very poor country in 1959 and hardly any poor countries, capitalist or socialist, have managed to escape poverty in the 20th century, so political orientation can't be conclusively said to be the determining factor.

The establishment of a Socialist system in Cuba led to the fleeing of many hundreds of thousands of Cuban exiles to the United States and various other countries since Castro's rise to power. One major exception to the embargo was made on November 6, 1965 when Cuba and the United States formally agreed to start an airlift for Cubans who wanted to go to the United States. The first of these so-called Freedom Flights left Cuba on December 1, 1965 and by 1971 over 250,000 Cubans had flown to the United States. Currently, there is an immigration lottery allowing 20,000 Cubans seeking political asylum to go to the United States legally every year. Perhaps a thousand or more take the terrible risks of escaping by sea.

Bay of Pigs Invasion

The United States then sponsored an unsuccessful attack on Cuba, using conservative political groups as the main source of support. The attack began on April 15, 1961, when exiles, flying planes provided by the United States bombed several Cuban air force bases. This attack did not succeed in destroying all of Castro's air force. In response, Castro declared Cuba a socialist state in a speech on April 16, 1961.

On April 17, 1961, a force of about 1,500 Cuban exiles, financed and trained by the CIA, landed in the south during the Bay of Pigs Invasion. The CIA's assumption was that the invasion would spark a popular rising against Castro. Castro's forces were forewarned of the invasion and had arrested hundreds of thousands of suspected "subversives," before the invasion landed (Priestland, 2003). Castro executed high level defectors from his own ranks notably William Morgan and Sori Marin. There was no popular uprising. Most of the invasion force made it ashore, however all their supplies did not, despite some initial advances in which thousands of Castro militia died was quickly defeated as President Kennedy did not allow the US Navy already on site to provide the air support he had promised. Many believe that the invasion, instead of weakening Castro, actually helped him consolidate his grip on power.

For the next 30 years, Castro pursued closer relations with the Soviet Union until its demise in 1991. Castro cast a big shadow in the Cold War, disproportionate to the size of his country. Castro’s enemies often died mysterious violent deaths. Castro-directed overt and covert operations undertaken throughout much of the world. Yet he was interviewed on American TV by Barbara Walters in a famous interview in which she seemed clearly to charmed by the force of his personality.

The Organization of American States, under pressure from the United States, suspended Cuba's membership in the body on January 22, 1962 and the U.S. Government banned all U.S-Cuban trade a couple of weeks later on February 7. The Kennedy administration extended this on February 8, 1963 making travel, financial and commercial transactions by U.S. citizens to Cuba illegal.

The Cuban Missile Crisis

Tensions between the two governments peaked again during the October 1962 Cuban missile crisis. The United States had a much stronger arsenal of long-range nuclear weapons than the Soviet Union, as well as some medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBMs) in Turkey, whereas the Soviet Union had a large stockpile of medium-range nuclear weapons which were primarily located in Europe. Cuba agreed to let the Soviets secretly place SS-4 Sandal and SS-5 Skean MRBMs on their territory. Reports from inside Cuba to exile sources questioned the need for large amounts of ice going to rural areas , and such lead to the discovery of the missiles, which was confirmed by U-2 flights. When the United States saw what was happening they put up a cordon in international waters to stop Soviet ships from bringing in any more missiles (named a quarantine rather than a blockade to avoid issues with international law). At the same time, Castro was getting a little too fanatic for the liking of Moscow, so, at the last moment, the Soviets decided to call back the ships. In addition, they agreed to remove the missiles that were already placed, in exchange for an agreement that the United States would not invade Cuba. Only after the fall of the Soviet Union it came out that another part of the agreement was the removal of the missiles in Turkey. It also turned out that some submarines that the U.S. Navy blocked were carrying nuclear missiles and that communication with Moscow was scarce, effectively leaving the decision of firing the missiles at the discretion of the captains of those submarines. In addition, following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Russian government revealed that FROGs (Free Rocket Over Ground) armed with nuclear warheads and IL-28 Beagle bombers armed with nuclear bombs had been deployed in Cuba to be used in the event of a US invasion.

The United States have honored this agreement by not openly attacking Cuba anymore, but the CIA continued to support anti-Castro groups by mounting an extensive international campaign and several botched assassination attempts throughout the 1960s. And the agreement was specifically about Cuban territory. But Cuba provided military support to revolutions in Angola, Nigeria and South America. During one such campaign, Ernesto Che Guevara was captured by U.S. trained commandos in Bolivia in 1967 and then executed. He has since become a symbol of revolution worldwide, remembered for his ideology and untimely death on the one hand, and for the Sierra Maestra blood purges and his role in executions after Castro gained power on the other. A stylized likeness of him became very popular on t-shirts and posters after his death.

Cuba after the Soviet Union

When the Soviet Union broke up in late 1991, a major boost to Cuba's economy was lost, leaving it essentially paralyzed because the Cuban economy had a very narrow basis, focused on just a few products with just a few buyers. Also, supplies (including oil) almost dried up. Over 80% of Cuba's trade was lost and living conditions worsened. A "Special Period in Peacetime" was declared, which included cutbacks on transport and electricity and even food rationing. In response, the United States tightened up the trade embargo even further, thinking this would surely mean the downfall of Castro. But Castro tapped into a pre-revolutionary source of income and opened the country to tourism, and entered into several joint ventures with foreign companies for hotel, agricultural and industrial projects. As a result, the use of U.S. dollars was legalized in 1994, with special stores being opened which only sold in dollars. Thus, there were now two separate economies, the dollar-economy and the peso-economy, creating a social split in the island because those in the dollar-economy made much more money (such as in the tourist-industry). However, in October 2004 the Cuban government announced an end to this policy: from November dollars would no longer be legal tender in Cuba, but would instead be exchanged for convertible pesos, presently at the exchange rate of $1.08 with a 10% tax payable to the state. Effectively one converable peso is equal to about $1.20 USD.

Extreme shortages of food and other goods as well as electrical blackouts led to a brief period of unrest, including numerous anti-government protests and widespread increases in crime. In response the Cuban Communist party government formed hundreds of “rapid-action brigades” to confront protesters. According to the Communist Party daily, Granma, "delinquents and anti-social elements who try to create disorder and an atmosphere of mistrust and impunity in our society will receive a crushing reply from the people."

Some non-violent initiatives have been launched by Cubans in the island, aiming at political reform. In 1997, a group led by Vladimiro Roca, a decorated veteran of the Angolan war and the son of the founder of the Cuban Communist Party, sent a petition, entitled La Patria es de Todos ("the homeland belongs to all") to the Cuban general assembly requesting democratic and human rights reforms. As a result, Roca and his three associates were sentenced to jail, from which they were eventually released.

In 2001, a group backed by the Catholic church collected thousands of signatures for the Varela Project, a petition requesting a referendum on the island's political system. The process was openly supported by former U.S. president Jimmy Carter during his historic 2002 visit to Cuba. The petition gathered sufficient signatures, but was rejected on an alleged technicality. Instead. a plebiscite then was held in which it was formally proclaimed that Castro's brand of socialism would be perpetual.

In 2003, seventy-five anti-government activists were arrested and summarily sentenced to heavy jail terms. Cuban officials described it as a response to provocative actions by the head of the U.S. interests section in Cuba, who had been traveling around the country holding publicized meetings and press conferences with the dissidents. Castro's action was widely criticized by mainstream human rights organizations and even by U.S. leftists generally sympathetic to his government.


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