Cuban History History of Cuba Christopher Columbus landed on the island of Cuba on October 28, 1492, during his initial westward voyage. In honor of the daughter of Ferdinand V and Isabella I of Spain, his benefactors, Columbus named it Juana, the first of several names he successively applied to the island. It eventually became known as Cuba, from its aboriginal name, Cubanascnan. Colonization by Spain When Columbus first landed on Cuba it was inhabited by the Ciboney, a friendly tribe related to the Arawak. Colonization of the island began in 1511, when the Spanish soldier Diego Velzquez established the town of Baracoa. Velzquez subsequently founded several other settlements, including Santiago de Cuba in 1514 and Havana in 1515.
The Spanish transformed Cuba into a supply base for their expeditions to Mexico and Florida. As a result of savage treatment and exploitation, the aborigines became, by the middle of the 16th century, nearly extinct, forcing the colonists to depend on imported black slaves for the operation of the mines and plantations. Despite frequent raids by buccaneers and naval units of rival and enemy powers, the island prospered throughout the 16th and 17th centuries. Restrictions imposed by the Spanish authorities on commercial activities were generally disregarded by the colonists, who resorted to illicit trade with privateers and neighboring colonies. Following the conclusion of the Seven Years’ War in 1763, during which the English captured Havana, the Spanish government liberalized its Cuban policy, encouraging colonization, expansion of commerce, and development of agriculture.
Between 1774 and 1817 the population increased from about 161,000 to more than 550,000. The remaining restrictions on trade were officially eliminated in 1818, further promoting material and cultural advancement. During the 1830s, however, Spanish rule became increasingly repressive, provoking a widespread movement among the colonists for independence. This movement attained particular momentum between 1834 and 1838, during the despotic governorship of the captain general Miguel de Tacn. Revolts and conspiracies against the Spanish regime dominated Cuban political life throughout the remainder of the century. In 1844 an uprising of black slaves was brutally suppressed. A movement during the years 1848 to 1851 for annexation of the island to the United States ended with the capture and execution of its leader, the Spanish-American general Narciso Lpez.
Offers by the U.S. government to purchase the island were repeatedly rejected by Spain. In 1868 revolutionaries under the leadership of Carlos Manuel de Cspedes proclaimed Cuban independence. The ensuing Ten Years’ War, a costly struggle to both Spain and Cuba, was terminated in 1878 by a truce granting many important concessions to the Cubans. In 1886 slavery was abolished. Importation of cheap labor from China was ended by 1871.
In 1893 the equal civil status of blacks and whites was proclaimed. Independence Although certain reforms were inaugurated after the successful revolt, the Spanish government continued to oppress the populace. On February 23, 1895, mounting discontent culminated in a resumption of the Cuban revolution, under the leadership of the writer and patriot Jos Mart and General Mximo Gmez y Bez. The U.S. government intervened on behalf of the revolutionists in April 1898, precipitating the Spanish-American War. Intervention was spurred by the sinking of the battleship Maine in the harbor of Havana of February 15, 1898, for which Spain was blamed.
By the terms of the treaty signed December 10, 1898, terminating the conflict, Spain relinquished sovereignty over Cuba. An American military government ruled the island until May 20, 1902, when the Cuban republic was formally instituted, under the presidency of the former postmaster general Toms Estrada Palma. The Cuban constitution, adopted in 1901, incorporated the provisions of the Platt Amendment, U.S. legislation that established conditions for American intervention in Cuba. Certain improvements, notably the eradication of yellow fever, had been accomplished in Cuba during the U.S. occupation.
Simultaneously, U.S. corporate interests invested heavily in the Cuban economy, acquiring control of many of its resources, especially the sugar-growing industry. Popular dissatisfaction with this state of affairs was aggravated by recurring instances of fraud and corruption in Cuban politics. The first of several serious insurrections against conservative control of the republic occurred in August 1906. In the next month the U.S.
government dispatched troops to the island, which remained under U.S. control until 1909. Another uprising took place in 1912 in Oriente Province, resulting again in U.S. intervention. With the election of Mario Garca Menocal to the presidency later in the same year, the Conservative Party returned to power. On April 7, 1917, Cuba entered World War I on the side of the Allies.
Growing Instability Mounting economic difficulties, caused by complete U.S. domination of Cuban finance, agriculture, and industry, marked the period following World War I. In an atmosphere of crisis, the Liberal Party leader, Gerardo Machado y Morales, campaigned on a reform platform and was elected president in November 1924. Economic conditions deteriorated rapidly during his administration, the chief accomplishment of which, an ambitious public-works program, was achieved by floating huge loans abroad. Before the end of his second term, he succeeded in acquiring dictatorial control of the government.
All opposition was brutally suppressed during his administration, which lasted until a general uprising in August 1933, supported by the Cuban army, forced him into exile. A protracted period of violence and unrest followed Machado’s overthrow, with frequent changes of government. During this period the United States instituted various measures, including abrogation of the Platt Amendment, in an effort to quiet popular unrest on the island. A degree of stability was accomplished following the impeachment in 1936 of President Miguel Mariano Gmez by the senate, which was controlled by Fulgencio Batista Zaldvar. With the support of Batista, the head of the Cuban army and unofficial dictator of Cuba, the new president, the former political leader and soldier Federico Laredo Br, put into operation a program of social and economic reform. Batista won the presidential contest of 1940, defeating Ramn Grau San Martin, the opposition candidate.
The promulgation in 1940 of a new constitution contributed further to the lessening of political tension. In December 1941 the Cuban government declared war on Germany, Japan, and Italy; consequently it became a charter member of the United Nations (UN) in 1945. The presidential election of 1944 resulted in victory for Grau San Martin, the candidate of a broad coalition of parties. The first year of his administration was one of recurring crises caused by various factors, including widespread food shortages, but he regained popularity the following year by obtaining an agreement with the U.S. government for an increase in the price of sugar.
In 1948 Cuba joined the Organization of American States (OAS). Fluctuations in world sugar prices and a continuing inflationary spiral kept the political situation unstable in the postwar era. Carlos Prio Socarrs, a member of the Autntico Party and a cabinet minister under Grau San Martin, was elected president in June 1948. Shortly after his inauguration a 10 percent reduction in retail prices was decreed in an attempt to offset inflation. Living costs continued to rise, however, leading to unrest and political violence. The Batista Regime In March 1952 former president Batista, supported by the army, seized power. Batista suspended the constitution, dissolved the congress, and instituted a provisional government, promising elections the following year.
After crushing an uprising in Oriente Province led by a young lawyer named Fidel Castro on July 26, 1953, the regime seemed secure, and when the political situation had been calmed, the Batista government announced that elections would be held in the fall of 1954. Batista’s opponent, Grau San Martin, withdrew from the campaign just before the election, charging that his supporters had been terrorized. Batista was thus reelected without opposition, and on his inauguration February 24, 1955, he restored constitutional rule and granted amnesty to political prisoners, including Castro. The latter chose exile in the United States and later in Mexico. In the mid-1950s the Batista government insituted an economic development program that, together with a stabilization of the world sugar price, improved the economic and political outlook in Cuba. On December 2, 1956, however, Castro, with some 80 insurgents, invaded. The force was crushed by the army, but Castro escaped into the mountains, where he organized the 26th of July Movement, so called to commemorate the 1953 uprising.
For the next year Castro’s forces, using guerrilla tactics, opposed the Batista government and won considerable popular support. On March 17, 1958, Castro called for a general revolt. His forces made steady gains through the remainder of the year, and on January 1, 1959, Batista resigned and fled the country. A provisional government was established. Castro, although he initially renounced office, became premier in mid-February.
In the early weeks of the regime military tribunals tried many former Batista associates, and some 550 were executed. Cuba Under Castro The Castro regime soon exhibited a leftist tendency that worried U.S. interest in the isla …