Cuba Country Profile
The recorded history of Cuba began on October 28, 1492, when Christopher Columbus sighted the island during his first voyage of discovery and claimed it for Spain. Since its occupation and settlement in 1511, Cuba remained a Spanish possession for 388 years, ruled by a colonial governor, first in Santiago and later in Havana. Since the late 18th century, Cuba's economy relied increasingly on plantation agriculture and the export of sugar, coffee, and tobacco to Europe and North America. The massive importation of African slaves bolstered the island's economy throughout the 19th century.
Cuba's proximity to the United States has been a powerful influence on its history. During the 19th century, the U.S. government made several attempts to annex or purchase the island from the Spanish government. Spain, however, refused to cede one of its two last possessions in the Americas.
In 1868 the first armed rebellion against Spain resulted in the Ten Years' War. Slavery was finally abolished in Cuba in 1886. In April 1895, rebellion against Spain broke out again. The United States intervened in what became known as the Spanish-American War in 1898 and temporarily occupied Cuba before it gained formal independence in 1902.
On May 20, 1902, the United States ended the military occupation of the island and the young republic was inaugurated under the presidency of Tomás Estrada Palma, a hero of the War of Independence. The next military occupation, predicated upon the Platt Amendment, lasted from 1906 to 1909 under a provisional government.
Political turmoil ensued during the dictatorship of Gerardo Machado, ended by a revolution in 1933 and followed by several coup d'états that introduced what some historians call "The Age of Democracy" (1940–1952). The 1940 Constitution included a wide range of social, economic, and political reforms such as the creation of a minimum wage and extended social security benefits. In 1952, General Fulgencio Batista deposed President Carlos Prío Socarrás, canceled the constitution, and suspended elections.
Fighting in the eastern mountains of the island since 1956, Fidel Castro's guerrillas mounted a counteroffensive against the Batista dictatorship. Following Batista's flight from the island, Castro and his guerrillas entered Havana triumphantly on January 8, 1959. Soon after, Cuba turned to the Soviet Union for support after the U.S. government imposed an embargo on the island. In 1961, the U.S. and Cuba severed diplomatic relations and the U.S.-backed Bay of Pigs invasion failed. In 1962, antagonism between the two countries escalated during the Missile Crisis, resolved by an agreement between the USSR and the U.S.
The trade embargo continues to be the linchpin of the U.S.-Cuba relationship. Whereas some U.S. administrations have relaxed the more stringent prohibitions to allow the purchasing and shipping of food and medicine, others have curtailed humanitarian and cultural exchanges as well as family visits.
Fidel Castro held effective power until July 2006, when he temporarily handed over his duties to his brother Raúl Castro, due to medical reasons. Cuba's National Assembly elected Raúl Castro President in February 2008.
In December 2014, Presidents Barack Obama and Raúl Castro announced that they would take steps toward resuming diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba. The two countries reopened embassies in their respective capitals in July 2015.
(Portions of this text were adapted from the entry on "Cuba" for the New World Encyclopedia.)