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 Spainish withdrawal, and in 1902 Cuba gained formal independance.
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.
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.
(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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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 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.
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.
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 sizeable 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.
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,
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.
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.
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."
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
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 colonialistic.
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.
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.
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 anticorruption platform.
Chibás committed suicide before he could run for the presidency,
and the opposition was left without its major leader.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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. Effectivly one covertable peso is
equal to about $1.20 USD.
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."
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.
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.
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 criticised by mainstream
human rights organizations and even by U.S. leftists generally sympathetic
to his government.