Quick History Lesson
Cuba was one of the first islands explored by Christopher Columbus on his initial
voyage to North America. At that time, the island was inhabited by Native Americ-
an Indians called the Taíno . Columbus claimed the island for the Kingdom of Spain
and colonization ensued. Fighting and outbreaks of disease eventually wiped out
most of the native population, which had, by some estimates, exceeded 350 000
The original capital of the country was located in Santiago de Cuba, which is cur-
rently Cuba's second largest city, located on the South-East coast of the island.
Later, the capital city was changed to Havana. Throughout the 18th and 19th cen-
tury, the country's population boomed as black slaves were brought in to work the
lucrative sugar cane and tobacco fields. Eventually, there were rebellions and the
citizens of Cuba revolted against the Spanish authority. Although their initial efforts
to gain independence were unsuccessful, slavery was abolished by the 1880's.
The effort to gain independence from Spain was reinvigorated by the Cuban writer,
Jose Marti, who started the Cuban Revolutionary Party in 1892. Fighting between
Cubans and the Spanish accelerated in early 1895. Jose Marti was killed shortly
after, in battle, solidifying his position as a freedom fighter and hero. The conflicts
lasted for over a decade, resulting in the deaths of up to 400 000 Cuban civilians.
Eventually, the United States joined the fight in support of Cuba, leading to the
In 1902, Cuba achieved independence from Spain. However, under the
constitution, the United States retained strong governing authority over the island.
Over the next three decades, tensions grew within Cuba as a series of US
influenced, puppet governments took power and social reform stagnated. A
political coup in 1933 resulted in Fulgencio Batista becoming president. Initially
Batista was praised, as his government implemented a series of positive social
reforms. Unfortunately, however, his desire for power soon put him at odds with
the populace. Through another series of puppet governments, Batista retained
de-facto control of Cuba well after his initial term as president expired, while also
retaining close relations with the United States government. Batista ran for office
again in 1952, and lost. A military coup followed and Batista became dictator of the
country. The United States legitimized his power grab by almost immediately re-
cognizing his regime.
At the time, Cuba was one of the most prosperous nations in Latin America, al-
though income inequality was extremely high. During Batista's reign as dictator, his
focus shifted away from social reform to catering predominantly to Cuba's upper
class, and building his own personal fortune. Cuba went from a constitutional