Cuba, the largest of the Caribbean islands, was first inhabited by Indigenous peoples known as the Taíno and Ciboney. On 27 October 1492, Christopher Columbus sighted the island during his first voyage of discovery and claimed it for Spain. Cuba subsequently became a Spanish colony to be ruled by the Spanish governor in Havana, though in 1762 this city was briefly held by Britain before being returned in exchange for Florida in The Seven Years War. 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.
American trade dominated Cuba during the first half of the 20th century, aided by US government policy measures assuring influence over the island. This continued until 1959, when dictator Fulgencio Batista was ousted by revolutionaries (the major group was led by Fidel Castro). The banishing of American corporate holdings led to breaking of relations with Castro's government by the US. This position on Cuba was heavily reinforced by Castro's Soviet support and his loud anti-Americanism. Cuba has since been an isolated island dominated by Castro's dictatorship (relations with the US). Castro remained in power from 1959 to 2008, first as Prime Minister then from 1976 as President of Cuba. On February 18, 2008 Castro announced he would not accept the nomination of president and would resign from power. Raúl Castro was elected President at the 2008 National Assembly session on February 24.
The earliest inhabitants of Cuba were the Guanajatabey people, who migrated to the island from the forests of the South American mainland as long ago as 5300 BC. The Guanajatabeyes, who numbered about 100,000, were hunters, gatherers, and farmers. They were to cultivate cohiba (tobacco), a crop upon which the island's economy would one day depend. Spanish conquistador Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar later observed that the Guanajatabeyes were "without houses or towns and eating only the meat they are able to find in the forests as well as turtles and fish." Though the Guanajatabeyes are now considered to be a distinct population, early anthropologists and historians mistakenly believed that they were the Ciboney people who occupied areas throughout the Antilles islands of the Caribbean. More recently, researchers have speculated that the Guanajatabeyes may have migrated from the south of the United States, evidenced by similarities of artifacts found in both regions. Some studies ascribe a role to these original inhabitants in the extinction of the islands' megafauna, including condors, giant owls, and eventually ground sloths.
Further evidence suggests that the Guanajatabeyes were driven to the west of the island by the arrival of two subsequent waves of migrants, the Taíno and Ciboney. These groups are sometimes referred to as neo-Taíno nations. The new arrivals had migrated north along the Caribbean island chain from the Orinoco delta in Venezuela. 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).
The first sighting of a Spanish boat approaching the island was on October 28 1492, probably at Baracoa on the eastern point of the island. Christopher Columbus, on his first voyage to the Americas, sailed south from what is now The Bahamas to explore the northeast coast of Cuba and the northern coast of Hispaniola. During a second voyage in 1494, Columbus passed along the south coast of the island, landing at various inlets including what was to become Guantánamo Bay. With the Papal Bull of 1493, Pope Alexander VI commanded Spain to conquer, colonize and convert the Pagans of the New World to Catholicism. On arrival, Columbus observed the Taíno dwellings, describing them as “looking like tents in a camp. All were of palm branches, beautifully constructed”.
The Spanish began to create permanent settlements on the island of Hispaniola, east of Cuba, soon after Columbus's arrival in the Caribbean, but it wasn't until 1509 that the coast of Cuba was fully mapped by Sebastián de Ocampo. In 1511, Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar set out with three ships and an army of 300 men from Hispaniola to form the first Spanish settlement in Cuba, with orders from Spain to conquer the island. The settlement was at Baracoa, but the new settlers were to be greeted with stiff resistance from the local Taíno population. The Taínos were initially organized by cacique (chieftain) Hatuey, who had himself relocated from Hispaniola to escape the brutalities of Spanish rule on that island. After a prolonged guerrilla campaign, Hatuey and successive chieftains were captured and burnt alive, and within three years the Spanish had gained control of the island. In 1514, a settlement was founded in what was to become Havana.
Clergyman Bartolomé de Las Casas observed a number of massacres initiated by the invaders as the Spanish swept over the island, notably the massacre near Manzanillo of the inhabitants of Caonao. According to his account, some three thousand villagers had traveled to Manzanillo to greet the Spanish with loaves, fishes and other foodstuffs and were "without provocation, butchered". The surviving indigenous groups fled to the mountains or the small surrounding islands before being captured and forced into reservations. One such reservation was Guanabacoa, which is today a suburb of Havana.
In 1513, Ferdinand II of Aragon issued a decree establishing the encomienda land settlement system that was to be incorporated throughout the Spanish Americas. Velázquez, who had become Governor of Cuba relocating from Baracoa to Santiago de Cuba, was given the task of apportioning both the land and the indigenous Cubans to groups throughout the new colony. The scheme was not a success, however, as the Cubans either succumbed to diseases brought from Spain such as measles and smallpox, or simply refused to work preferring to slip away into the mountains. Desperate for labor to toil the new agricultural settlements, the Conquistadors sought slaves from surrounding islands and the continental mainland. But these new arrivals followed the indigenous Cubans by also dispersing into the wilderness or suffering a similar fate at the hands of disease.
Despite the difficult relations between the local Cubans and the new Europeans, some cooperation was in evidence. The Spanish were shown by the Native Cubans how to nurture tobacco and consume it in the form of cigars. There were also many unions between the largely male Spanish colonists and indigenous women. Their children were called mestizos, but the Native Cubans called them Guajiro, which translates as "one of us". Although modern day studies have revealed traces of Taíno DNA in individuals throughout Cuba, the population was effectively destroyed as a culture and civilization after 1515. The local Indian population left their mark on the language and placenames of the island, however. The name of Cuba itself and Havana were derived from neo-Taino dialect, and Indian words such as Tobacco, Hurricane and Canoe continue to be used today.
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 nineteenth 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 nineteenth 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.
Cuba had long been a target of buccaneers, pirates and French corsairs seeking Spain's new world riches. Repeated raids meant that defences were bolstered throughout the island during the 16th century and Havana was furnished with the Castillo de los Tres Reyes Magos del Morro (El Morro fortress) to deter potential invaders which included English privateer Francis Drake, who sailed within sight of Havana harbour but did not disembark on the island. Havana's inability to resist invaders was dramatically exposed in 1628, when a Dutch fleet led by Piet Heyn plundered the Spanish fleet in the city's harbor. In 1662, on the eastern part of the island, English admiral and pirate Christopher Myngs captured and briefly occupied Santiago de Cuba in an effort to open up Cuba's protected trade with neighbouring Jamaica.
Nearly a century later, English were to invade in earnest taking Guantánamo Bay during the War of Jenkins' Ear with Spain. Edward Vernon, the British Admiral who devised the scheme, saw his 4,000 occupying troops capitulate to local guerilla resistance, and more critically, debilitating disease, forcing him to withdraw his fleet to British owned Jamaica. Seven years later, in 1748, tensions between the three dominant colonial powers; Britain, France and Spain, were transported to the Caribbean. A skirmish between a British squadron and a Spanish squadron off the coast of Cuba became known as the Battle of Havana.
The Seven Years' War, which erupted in 1754 in three continents, eventually arrived at the Spanish Caribbean. Spain's alliance with the French pitched them in direct conflict with the British, and in 1762 an expedition set out from Portsmouth of 5 warships and 4000 troops to capture Cuba. The English arrived on June 6, and by August had Havana under siege. When Havana surrendered, British Admiral of the fleet George Keppel, the 3rd Earl of Albemarle, entered the city as conquering new governor, taking control of the whole western part of the island. The arrival of the British immediately opened up trade with their North American and Caribbean colonies, causing a rapid transformation of Cuban society. Food, horses and other goods flooded into the city, and thousands of slaves from West Africa were transported to the island to work on the under manned sugar plantations. Though Havana, which had become the third largest city in the new world, was to enter an era of sustained development and closening ties with North America, the British occupation was not to last. Pressure from London by sugar merchants fearing a decline in sugar prices forced a series of negotiations with the Spanish over colonial territories. Less than a year after Havana was seized, the Peace of Paris was signed by the three warring powers thus ending the Seven Years' War. The treaty gave Britain Florida in exchange for Cuba on the recommendation of the French, who advised that declining the offer could result in Spain losing Mexico and much of the South American mainland to the British.
The first separatist rebellion emerged among the Creole aristocracy in 1809 and 1810. One of its leaders, Joaquín Infante drafted Cuba's first constitution considering the island a sovereign state, presuming the rule of the countries' wealthy, maintaining slavery as long as it was necessary for agriculture, establishing a social classification based on skin colour and declaring Catholicism the official religion. This conspiracy also failed and the main leaders were sentenced to prison and deported to Spain. In 1812, a mixed race abolitionist conspiracy arose, organized by José Antonio Aponte, a free black carpenter in Havana. He and others were executed. The main reason for the lack of support was that the vast majority of Creoles, especially the plantation owners, rejected any kind of separatism, considering Spain's power essential to maintain a slavery system and to prevent a Black revolt. They were interested in reforms to guarantee the country's progress which entailed the maintenance of slavery, the end to a commercial monopoly imposed by Madrid and granting Cuba the same rights enjoyed by other Spanish colonies. The establishment of the Spanish Constitution of 1812 curtailed a number of previous liberal political and commercial liberties. Inspired by the successes of Simón Bolívar, numerous secret societies emerged, of which the most important was the so-called "Soles y Rayos Bolívar", founded in 1821 and led by José Francisco Lemus. Its aim was to establish the free Republic of Cubanacán and the organization had branches in 5 provinces. In 1823 the leaders were arrested and condemned to exile. In the same year in Spain constitutional rule was lifted and absolutism re-established. As a result, in Cuba the national militia was dissolved, a permanent executive military commission under the orders of the governor was created, newspapers were closed, provincial representatives were removed and other liberties suppressed.
The suppression and the development in other former Spanish colonies lead to a rise of Cuban nationalism and a number of independence conspiracies took place during the 1820s and 1830s, but all failed. By 1825, most of Spain’s colonies in the new world had achieved their independence, and only Cuba and Puerto Rico remained. In 1826, on occasion of Panama's Congress, the US (with the backing of England) prevented Mexico and Colombia from joining to support Cuba's independence, threatening that the U.S. would “not remain indifferent” to the freeing of Cuba. The US diplomat who delivered the threats wrote a revealing letter to his superior, Secretary of State Henry Clay, stating, “What I most dread is that that blacks may be armed and used as auxiliaries… This country prefers that Cuba and Porto Rico should remain dependent on Spain. This Government desires no political change of that condition.” The Mexican-Colombian expedition was stopped before it began. Simón Bolívar told a delegation of Cuban revolutionaries: “We cannot set at defiance the American Government, in conjunction with that of England, determined on maintaining the authority of Spain over the islands of Cuba and Puerto Rico…” The US also opposed possible agreements between Spain and England.
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. Among others there were the "Expedición de los Trece" (Expedition of the Thirteen) in 1826, the "Gran Legión del Aguila Negra" (Great Legion of the Black Eagle) in 1829, the "Cadena Triangular" (Triangular Chain) and "Soles de la Libertad" (Suns of Liberty) in 1837. Leading national figures in these years were Félix Varela and Cuba's first revolutionary poet, José María Heredia. The 1830s saw a surge of the reformist movement, whose main leader was José Antonio Saco, standing out for his criticism of Spanish despotism and slave trade. Nevertheless, this surge brought no fruit; instead, Cubans remained deprived of the right to send representatives to the Spanish parliament and Madrid stepped up repression.
Spain had been under pressure to end trade of slaves. In 1817 it signed a first treaty to which it did not adhere. With the abolishment of slavery altogether in their colonies the British forced Spain to sign another treaty in 1835. With this background Black revolts in Cuba increased and were put down with massive killings and executions. One of the most significant was the Conspiración de La Escalera (Ladder Conspiracy), which started March 1843 and continued to 1844. The conspiracy took its name from a torture method, Black being tied to a ladder and whipped until they confessed or died. It included free Blacks and slaves as well as white intellectuals and professionals. It is estimated that 300 Blacks and mulattos died from torture, 78 were executed, over 600 were imprisoned and over 400 expelled from the island. (See comments in new translation of Villaverde's "Cecilia Valdés.") Among the executed was 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.
Black unrest and British pressure to abolish slavery motivated many Creols to advocate Cuba's annexation to the United States, where slavery was still legal. Other Cubans supported the idea because they longed for the higher development and democratic freedom. Annexation of Cuba was repeatedly supported by the US. In 1805 President Thomas Jefferson considered possessing Cuba for strategic reasons, sending secret agents to the island to negotiate with Governor Someruelos. In April 1823 US Secretary of State John Quincy Adams formulated his "ripe fruit theory": "there are laws of political gravitation, like there are laws of physical gravitation, and Cuba, separated from Spain, will necessarily fall in the grasp of the United States, the same way a ripe fruit detached from a tree has to necessarily fall to the ground". In December of the same year the US proclaimed the Monroe Doctrine, directly relating to Cuba and other European colonies: "America for the Americans".
The most outstanding attempts in support of annexation were made by Spanish Army General Narciso López, who prepared four expeditions to Cuba in the US. The first two in 1848 and 1849 already failed before departure due to US-opposition. The third one, made up of some 600 men, managed to land on Cuba and take the central city of Cárdenas. Lacking popular support, this expedition failed. His fourth expedition landed in Pinar del Río province with around 400 men in August 1851; the invaders were defeated by Spanish troops and López was executed.
In the 1860s Cuba had two more liberal minded governors, Serrano and Dulce, who even encourage the creation of a Reformist Party, despite the fact that political parties were forbidden. But a reactionary governor, Francisco Lersundi, followed, who suppressed all liberties granted by the previous ones and maintaining a pro-slavery regime with all its rigour.
In the years of the so-called “Rewarding Truce”, lasting for 17 years from the end of the Ten Years War in 1878 there were fundamental social changes in Cuban society. With the abolition of slavery in October 1886 former slaves joined the ranks of farmers and urban working class. Most wealthy Cubans lost their properties and many of them joined the urban middle class. The number of sugar mills dropped and efficiency increased with only companies and the most powerful plantation owners owning them. The numbers of campesinos and tenant farmers rose considerably. It is the period when US capital began flowing into Cuba, mostly into the sugar and tobacco business and mining. By 1895 investments reached 50 million US dollars. Although Cuba remained Spanish politically, economically it started to depend on the United States.
Although the conditions were very difficult, these changes entailed the rise of labour movements, the first organisation created in 1878 being the Cigar Makers Guild, followed by the Central Board of Artisans in 1879 and many more across the island. After his second deportation to Spain in 1878, José Martí moved to the United States in 1881 were he took up mobilizing the support of the Cuban exile community, especially in Ybor City (Tampa area) and Key West, Florida, for a revolution and independence from Spain, but also lobbying to oppose U.S. annexation of Cuba, which some American and Cuban politicians desired. After deliberations with patriotic clubs across the US, the Antilles and Latin America "El Partido Revolucionario Cubano" (The Cuban Revolutionary Party) with the purpose of gaining independence for both Cuba and Puerto Rico was officially proclaimed on April 10, 1892. Martí was elected Delegate, the highest party position. By the end of 1894 the basic conditions for launching the revolution were set.
“Martí’s impatience to start the revolution for independence was affected by his growing fear that the imperialist forces in the United States would succeed in annexing Cuba before the revolution could liberate the island from Spain.” A new trend of aggressive US “influence,” evident by Secretary of State James G. Blaine’s expressed ideals that all of Central and South America would some day fall to the U.S. “That rich island,” Blaine wrote on December 1, 1881, “the key to the Gulf of Mexico, is, though in the hands of Spain, a part of the American commercial system… If ever ceasing to be Spanish, Cuba must necessarily become American and not fall under any other European domination.” Blaine’s vision did not allow the existence of an independent Cuba. “Martí noticed with alarm the movement to annex Hawaii, viewing it as establishing a pattern for Cuba…”
On December 25, 1895 three ships loaded with fighters and weapons, the Lagonda, the Almadis and the Baracoa set sail for Cuba from Fernandina Beach, Florida, loaded with weapons and supplies that had been difficult and costly to obtain. Two of the ships were seized by US authorities in early January, who also alerted the Spanish government, but the proceedings went ahead. Not to be dissuaded, on March 25 Martí presented the Proclamation of Montecristi (Manifesto de Montecristi) which outlined the policy for Cuba’s war of independence:
The insurrection began on 24 February 1895 with uprisings all across the island. In Oriente the most important ones took place in Santiago, Guantánamo, Jiguaní, San Luis, El Cobre, El Caney, Alto Songo, Bayate and Baire. The uprisings in the central part of the island, such as Ibarra, Jagüey Grande and Aguada suffered from poor co-ordination and failed; the leaders were captured, some of them deported and some executed. In the province of Havana the insurrection was discovered before it got off and the leaders detained. Thus, the insurgents further west in Pinar del Río were ordered to wait. Martí, on his way to Cuba, proclaimed the ‘’’Manifesto de Montecristi’’’ in Santo Domingo, outlining the policy for Cuba’s war of independence: the war was to be waged by blacks and whites alike; participation of all blacks was crucial for victory; Spaniards who did not object to the war effort should be spared, private rural properties should not be damaged; and the revolution should bring new economic life to Cuba.
On April 1 and 11, 1895, the main Mambi leaders landed on two expeditions in Oriente: Major Antonio Maceo and 22 members near Baracoa and Martí, Máximo Gomez and 4 other members in Playitas. Around that time, Spanish forces in Cuba numbered about 80,000,of which, 20,000 were regular troops, and 60,000 were Spanish and Cuban volunteers. The latter were a locally enlisted force that took care of most of the “guard and police” duties on the island. Wealthy landowners would “volunteer” a number of their slaves to serve in this force, which was under local control and not under official military command. By December, 98,412 regular troops had been sent to the island, and the number of volunteers increased to 63,000 men. By the end of 1897, there were 240,000 regulars and 60,000 irregulars on the island. The revolutionaries were far outnumbered.
The Mambises were named after the Negro Spanish officer, Juan Ethninius Mamby who joined the Dominicans in the fight for independence in 1846. The Spanish soldiers referred to the insurgents as “the men of Mamby,” and “Mambies.” When Cuba’s first war of independence (known as the Ten Year War) broke out in 1868, some of the same soldiers were assigned to the island, importing what had, by then, become a derogatory Spanish slur. The Cubans adopted the name with pride. After the Ten-Year War, possession of weapons by private individuals had been prohibited. Thus, from the very beginning of the war, one of the most serious problems for the rebels was the acquisition of suitable weapons. This lack of arms led to the guerrilla-style war using the environment, the element of surprise, a fast horse and a machete. Most of the weapons were acquired in raids on the Spaniards. Between June 11, 1895 and November 30, 1897, out of sixty attempts to bring weapons and supplies to the rebels from outside the country, only one succeeded through the protection of the British. Twenty-eight were prevented already within US-territory; 5 were intercepted by the US Navy, 4 by the Spanish Navy; 2 were wrecked; one was driven back to port by storm; the fate of another is unknown.
Martí was killed only shortly after his landing on May 19, 1895, at Dos Rios, but Máximo Gomez and Antonio Maceo fought on, taking the war to all parts of Oriente. By the end of June all of Camagüey was at war. Continuing west, they were met by 1868 war veterans, Polish internationalist, General Carlos Roloff and Serafín Sánchez in Las Villas, adding weapons, men and experience.
In mid-September representatives of the five Liberation Army Corps assembled in Jimaguayú, Camagüey to approve the “Jimaguayú Constitution”, establishing a central government, which grouped the executive and legislative powers into one entity named “Government Council”, headed by Salvador Cisneros and Bartolomé Masó. After some time of consolidation in the three eastern provinces the liberation armies headed for Camagüey and then Matanzas, outmanoeuvring and deceiving the Spanish Army several times, defeating the Spanish General Arsenio Martínez Campos, himself the victor of the Ten Year War, and killing his most trusted general at Peralejo. Campos tried the same strategy he had employed in the Ten Year War, constructing a broad belt across the island, called the “trocha”, about 80km long and 200m wide. This defence line was to limit rebel activities to the eastern provinces. The belt consisted of a railroad, from Jucaro in the south to Moron in the north, on which to move armoured cars. Along this railroad, at various points there were fortifications, and at intervals 12m of posts and 400m of barbed wire. In addition, booby traps were placed at locations most likely to be attacked. For the rebels it was essential bring the war to the western provinces (Matanzas, Havana and Pinar del Rio) where the island's government and wealth was located. The Ten Year War failed because it had not managed to proceed beyond the eastern provinces. In a successful cavalry campaign, overcoming the trochas they invaded every province. Surrounding all larger cities and well fortified towns they arrived at the westernmost tip of the island on January 22, 1896, exactly 3 months after the invasion near Baraguá.
Campos was replaced by General Valeriano Weyler y Nicolau (nicknamed the "butcher") who reacted to these successes by introducing terror methods: periodic executions, mass exile, destruction of farms and crops, reaching their height on October 21, 1896, when he ordered all countryside residents and their livestock to gather in various fortified areas and towns occupied by his troops within 8 days. Hundreds of thousands of people had to leave their homes creating appalling and inhumane conditions in the crowded towns and cities. It is estimated that this measure caused the death of at least one third of Cuba’s rural population. The forced relocation was maintained until March 1898. Starting in the early 80 Spain had also suppressing an independence movement in the Philippines,, which was intensifying and Spain was now fighting two wars, which were putting a heavy burden on its economy. But it turned down offers in secret negotiations by the US in 1896, which was closely following the war, to buy Cuba from Spain.
Maceo was killed December 7, 1896, in Havana province while returning from the west, As the war went on, the major obstacle to Cuban success was weapons supply. Although weapons and funding came 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. In 1897 the liberation army maintained a privileged position in Camagüey and Oriente, where the Spanish only controlled a few cities. Spanish Liberal leader Praxedes Sagasta admitted in May 1897: “After having sent 200,000 men and shed so much blood, we don’t own more land on the island than what our soldiers are stepping on”. The rebel force of 3,000 defeated the Spanish in various encounters, such as the battle of La Reforma or the surrender of Las Tunas on August 30 and the Spaniards were kept on the defensive. Las Tunas had been guarded by over 1,000 well-armed-and-supplied men.
As stipulated at the Jimaguayü Assembly two years earlier, a second Constituent Assembly met in La Yaya, Camagüey on October 10, 1897. The newly adopted constitution supplied for a military command subordinated to civilian rule. The government was confirmed, naming Bartolomé Masó President and Dr. Domingo Méndez Capote Vice President.
Madrid decided to change its policy towards Cuba, replaced Weyler, drew up a colonial constitution for Cuba and Puerto Rico and installed a new government in Havana. But with half the country out of its control and the other half in arms it was powerless and rejected by the rebels.
The Cuban struggle for independence had captured the American imagination for years and newspapers had been agitating for intervention with sensational stories of Spanish atrocities against the native Cuban population, intentionally sensationalized and exaggerated.
This continued even after Spain replaced Weyler and changed its policies and American public opinion was very much in favour of intervening in favour of the Cubans.
In January 1898, a riot by Cuban Spanish loyalists against the new autonomous government broke out in Havana leading to the destruction of the printing presses of four local newspapers for publishing articles critical of Spanish Army atrocities. The US Consul-General cabled Washington with fears for the lives of Americans living in Havana. In response the battleship USS Maine was sent to Havana in the last week of January. On February 15, 1898, the Maine was rocked by an explosion, killing 268 of the crew and sinking the ship in the harbour. The cause of the explosion has not been clearly established to this day.
In an attempt to appease the US the colonial government took two steps that had been demanded by President William McKinley: it ended the forced relocation and offered negotiations with the independence fighters. But the truce was rejected by the rebels.
The explosion of the Maine sparked a wave of indignation in the US. Newspaper owners such as William R. Hearst leapt to the conclusion that Spanish officials in Cuba were to blame, and they widely publicized the conspiracy although Spain could have had no interest in getting the US involved in the conflict. Yellow journalism fuelled American anger by publishing "atrocities" committed by Spain in Cuba. Hearst, when informed by Frederic Remington, whom he had hired to furnish illustrations for his newspaper, that conditions in Cuba were not bad enough to warrant hostilities, allegedly replied, "You furnish the pictures and I'll furnish the war. Although McKinley, Speaker of the House Thomas Brackett Reed and the business community opposed the growing public demand for war, which was lashed to fury by the yellow journalism. The American cry of the hour became, Remember the Maine, To Hell with Spain!
The decisive event was probably the speech of Senator Redfield Proctor delivered on March 17, analyzing the situation and concluding that war was the only answer. The business and religious communities, switched sides, leaving McKinley and Reed almost alone in their opposition to the war. “Faced with a revved up, war-ready population, and all the editorial encouragement the two competitors could muster, the U.S. jumped at the opportunity to get involved and showcase its new steam-powered Navy”. On April 11, McKinley asked Congress for authority to send American troops to Cuba for the purpose of ending the civil war there. On April 19, Congress passed joint resolutions (by a vote of 311 to 6 in the House and 42 to 35 in the Senate) supporting Cuban independence and disclaiming any intention to annex Cuba, demanding Spanish withdrawal, and authorizing the president to use as much military force as he thought necessary to help Cuban patriots gain independence from Spain. This was adopted by resolution of Congress and included from Senator Henry Teller the Teller Amendment, which passed unanimously, stipulating that “the island of Cuba is, and by right should be, free and independent”. The amendment disclaimed any intention on the part of the U.S. to exercise jurisdiction or control over Cuba for other than pacification reasons, and confirmed that the armed forces would be removed once the war is over. Senate and Congress passed the amendment April 19, McKinley signed the joint resolution on April 20, and the ultimatum was forwarded to Spain. War was declared on April 20/21, 1898.
On April 19 the U.S. Congress (by a vote of 311 to 6 in the House and 42 to 35 in the Senate) adopted the Joint Resolution for War with Spain, which included the Teller Amendment, named after Colorado Senator Henry Moore Teller. The amendment disclaimed any intention on the part of the U.S. to exercise jurisdiction or control over Cuba for other than pacification reasons, and confirmed that the armed forces would be removed once the war is over. The amendment, pushed through at the last minute by anti-imperialists in the Senate, made no mention of the Philippines, Guam, or Puerto Rico. The U.S. congress formally declared war on April 25.
“It's been suggested that a major reason for the U.S. war against Spain was the fierce competition emerging between Joseph Pulitzer's New York World and William Randolph Hearst's New York Journal.” Joseph E. Wisan wrote in an essay titled "The Cuban Crisis As Reflected In The New York Press”, published in “American Imperialism” in 1898: "In the opinion of the writer, the Spanish-American War would not have occurred had not the appearance of Hearst in New York journalism precipitated a bitter battle for newspaper circulation." It has also been argued that the main reason the U.S. entered the war was the failed secret attempt, in 1896, to purchase Cuba from a weaker, war-depleted Spain.
Hostilities started hours after the declaration of war when a US contingent under Admiral William T. Sampson blockaded several Cuban ports. The Americans decided to invade Cuba and to start in Oriente where the Cubans had almost absolute control and were able to co-operate, e. g. by establishing a beachhead and protecting the US landing in Daiquiri. The first US objective was to capture the city of Santiago de Cuba in order to destroy Linares' army and Cervera's fleet. To reach Santiago they had to pass through concentrated Spanish defences in the San Juan Hills and a small town in El Caney. Between June 22 and 24, the Americans landed under General William R. Shafter at Daiquirí and Siboney, east of Santiago, and established a base. The port of Santiago became the main target of naval operations. The U.S. fleet attacking Santiago needed shelter from the summer hurricane season. Thus nearby Guantánamo Bay with its excellent harbour was chosen for this purpose and attacked on June 6 (1898 invasion of Guantánamo Bay). The Battle of Santiago de Cuba on July 3, 1898, was the largest naval engagement during the Spanish-American War resulting in the destruction of the Spanish Caribbean Squadron (Flota de Ultramar.
Resistance in Santiago consolidated around Fort Canosa, All the while major battles between Spaniards and Americans took place at Las Guasimas (Battle of Las Guasimas) on June 24, El Caney Battle of El Caney and San Juan Hill Battle of San Juan Hill on July 1, 1898, outside of Santiago. after which the American advance ground to a halt. Spanish troops successfully defended Fort Canosa, allowing them to stabilize their line and bar the entry to Santiago. The Americans and Cubans forcibly began a bloody, strangling siege of the city which eventually surrendered on July 16, after the defeat of the Spanish Caribbean Squadron. Thus, Oriente was under control of Americans the Cubans, but US General Nelson A. Miles would not allow Cuban troops to enter Santiago, claiming that he wanted to prevent clashes between Cubans and Spaniards. Thus, Cuban General Calixto Carcía, head of the mambi forces in the Eastern department, ordered his troops to hold their respective areas and resigned, writing a letter of protest to General Shafter.
After losing the Philippines and Puerto Rico, which had also been invaded by the US, and with no hope of holding on to Cuba, Spain sued for peace on 17 July, 1898. On August 12 the US and Spain signed a protocol of Peace in which Spain agreed to relinquish all claim of sovereignty over and title of Cuba. On December 10, 1898, the US and Spain signed the Treaty of Paris, recognizing Cuban independence Although the Cubans had participated in the liberation efforts, the US prevented Cuba from participating in the Paris peace talks and signing the treaty. The treaty set no time limit for US occupation and the Isle of Pines was excluded from Cuba. Although the treaty officially granted Cuba's independence, US General William R. Shafter refused to allow Cuban General Calixto García and his rebel forces to participate in the surrender ceremonies in Santiago de Cuba.
The US administration was undecided on Cuba’s future status. Once it had been pried away from the Spaniards it was to be assured that it moved and remained in the US sphere. How this was to be achieved was a matter of intense discussion and annexation was an option, not only on the mainland but also in Cuba. McKinley spoke about the links that should exist between the two nations.
Brooke set up a civilian government, also placed US governors in seven newly created departments and named civilian governors in the provinces as well as mayors and representatives in municipalities. Many Spanish colonial government officials were kept in their posts. People were ordered to disarm and, ignoring the Mambi Army, Brooke created the Rural Guard and municipal police corps at the service of the occupation forces. Judicial powers and courts remained legally based on the same codes of the Spanish government. Tomás Estrada Palma, successor of Martí as delegate of the Cuban Revolutionary Party, dissolved the party a few days after the signing of the Paris Treaty in December 1898, claiming that the objectives of the party had been met. The revolutionary Assembly of Representatives was disregarded and also dissolved. Thus, the three representative institutions of the national liberation movement, disappeared.
Already before the US officially took over the government, it had cut tariffs on US goods entering Cuba without granting the same rights to Cuban goods going to the US. Government payments had to be made in US dollars. In spite of the Foraker Amendment, prohibiting the US occupation government from granting privileges and concessions to US investors, the Cuban economy, facilitated by the occupation government, was soon dominated by US capital. The growth of US sugar estates was so quick that in 1905 nearly 10% of Cuba’s total land area belonged to US citizens. By 1902 US companies controlled 80% of Cuba’s ore exports and owned most of the sugar and cigarette factories.
The U.S. Army began a massive public health program to fight endemic diseases, mainly yellow fever, and an education system was organized at all levels, increasing the number of primary schools four-fold. Voices soon began to be heard, demanding a Constituent Assembly. In December 1899 the US War Secretary assured that the occupation was temporary, that municipal elections would be held, that a Constituent Assembly would be set up, followed by general elections and that sovereignty would be handed to Cubans. Brooke was replaced by General Leonard Wood to oversee the transition. Parties were created, including the Cuban National Party, the Federal Republican Party of Las Villas, the Federal Republican Party of Havana and the Democratic Union Party.
The first elections for mayors, treasurers and attorneys of the country’s 110 municipalities for a one-year-term took place on June 16, 1900, but balloting was limited to literate Cubans older than 21 and with properties worth more than 250 US dollars. Only members of the dissolved Liberation Army were exempt from these conditions. Thus, the number of about 418.000 male citizens over 21 was reduced to about 151.000. 360.000 women were totally excluded. The same elections were held one year later, again for a one-year-term.
Elections for 31 delegates to a Constituent Assembly were held September 15, 1900 with the same balloting restrictions. In all three elections pro-independence candidates including a large number of mambi delegates won the overwhelming majority. The Constitution was drawn up from November 1900 to February 1901 and then passed by the Assembly. It established the republican form of government, proclaimed internationally recognized individual rights and liberties, freedom of religion, separation between Church and State and the composition, structure and functions of state powers.
On March 2, 1901, the US-Congress passed the Army Appropriations Act stipulating the conditions for the withdrawal of United States troops remaining in Cuba since the Spanish-American War. As a rider this act included the Platt Amendment, which defined the terms of Cuban-U.S. relations until 1934. It replaced the earlier Teller Amendment.
The amendment provided for a number of rules heavily infringing on Cuba’s sovereignty:
As a precondition to Cuba’s independence the US demanded that this amendment be approved fully and without changes by the Constituent Assembly as an appendix to the new constitution. Faced with this alternative the appendix was approved after heated debating with a margin of 4 votes. Governor Wood admitted: “Little or no independence had been left to Cuba with the Platt Amendment and the only thing appropriate was to seek annexation”
In the following presidential elections on December 31, 1901, Tomás Estrada Palma, a US citizen still living in the United States, was the only candidate. His adversary, General Barolomé Masó, withdrew his candidacy in protest against US favoritism and the manipulation of the political machine by Palma’s followers. Palma was elected to be the Republic’s first President and only returned to Cuba four months after the election. US occupation officially ended when Palma took office on May 20, 1902.
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 until 1925 when the United States finally recognized Cuban sovereignty over the island. 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).
In World War I, Cuba declared war on Imperial Germany on April 7th, 1917, the day after the US entered the war. Despite being unable to send troops to fight in Europe, Cuba played a significant role as a base to protect the West Indies from U-Boat attacks. A draft law was instituted, and 25,000 Cuban troops raised, but the war ended before they could be sent into action.
President Gerardo Machado was elected by popular vote in 1925, but he was constitutionally barred from reelection. Machado, who determined to modernize Cuba, set in motion several massive civil works 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. After Machado was deposed there was a confused short interregnum.
To consolidate power, Batista suppressed a series of revolts. Notable are that of Blas Hernandez at the Atares Castle, and 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.
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 had 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.
Taking advantage of the opportunity, Batista, who was running for president in the 1952 elections, but was only expected to get 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 temporarily suspended the balloting and the constitution, and attempted to rule by decree. Elections were held in 1953 and Batista was elected. Opposition parties mounted a blistering campaign, and continued to do so, using the Cuban free press during all of Batista's tenure in office. Although Batista was intent on lining his pockets, Cuba did flourish economically during his regime.
Although a lame duck president—the constitution prohibited him from running again—with a corrupt but effective military, dispirited by a U.S. Government embargo on weapons sales to Cuba and public indignation, Batista fled on January 1, 1959. Within months of taking control, Castro moved to consolidate power by brutally marginalizing other resistance groups and figures and imprisoning and executing opponents and former supporters. As the revolution became more radical and continued its persecution of those who did not agree with its direction, hundreds of thousands of Cubans fled the island.
In July 1961, the Integrated Revolutionary Organizations (BYA) 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.
Among the opponents of Batista there were many who wanted to accommodate the US. Castro belonged to a faction who, to the astonishment of Eisenhower and many North Americans, was repulsed by US domination and paternalism. Castro did not forgive the US supply of arms to Batista during the revolution. On 5 June 1958, he wrote: “The Americans are going to pay dearly for what they are doing. When the war is over, I’ll start a much longer and bigger war of my own: the war I’m going to fight against them. That will be my true destiny.”. (The US had stopped supplies to Batista in March 1958, but left its Military Advisory Group in Cuba). Thus, Castro had no intention to bow to the US. “Even though he did not have a clear blueprint of the Cuba he wanted to create, Castro dreamed of a sweeping revolution that would uproot his country’s oppressive socioeconomic structure and of a Cuba that would be free of the United States”.
Only six months after Castro seized power, the Eisenhower administration began to plot his ouster. The United Kingdom was persuaded to cancel the sale of Hawker Hunter fighter aircraft to Cuba. “At an NSC meeting on 14 January 1960, Under Secretary Livingston Merchant noted, that “our present objective was to adjust all our actions in such a way as to accelerate the development of an opposition in Cuba which would bring about … a new government favorable to US interests”. At the same meeting Roy Rubottom, assistant secretary for inter-American affairs, summarised the evolution of US – Cuban relations since January: “The period from January to March might be characterised as the honeymoon period of the Castro government. In April a downward trend in U.S. – Cuban relations had been evident….In June we had reached the decision that it was not possible to achieve our objectives with Castro in power and had agreed to undertake the programme referred to by Mr. Merchant. In July and August we had been busy drawing up a programme to replace Castro. However some US companies reported to us during this time that they were making some progress in negotiations, a factor that caused us to slow the implementation of our programme. The hope expressed by these companies did not materialize. October was a period of clarification ….On October 31., in agreement with CIA, the Department had recommended to the President approval of a programme along the lines referred to by Mr. Merchant. The approved programme authorised us to support elements in Cuba opposed to the Castro government while making Castro’s downfall seem to be the result of his own mistakes. “It was probably as part of this programme that Cuban exiles mounted sea borne raids against Cuba from US territory and that unidentified planes attacked economic targets on the island, leading the US to warn Washington that the population was “becoming aroused” against the United States”. In January 1960, CIA Chief Allen Dulles proposed to sabotage sugar refineries on Cuba. Eisenhower considered such undertakings timely and felt that more ambitious programmes should be implemented. In his view “it was probably now the time to move against Castro in a positive and aggressive way which went beyond pure harassment”. He asked the CIA to develop an enlarged programme which was presented in March 1960. This programme led to the invasion in the Bay of Pigs. In February 1960, the French ship La Coubre was blown up in Havana harbour as it unloaded munitions, killing dozens.
Relations between the United States and Cuba deteriorated rapidly as the Cuban government, in reaction to the refusal of Royal Dutch Shell, Standard Oil and Texaco to refine petroleum from the Soviet Union in Cuban refineries under their control, took control of those refineries in July 1960. The Eisenhower administration promoted a boycott of Cuba by oil companies, to which Cuba responded by nationalising the refineries in August 1960. Both sides continued to escalate the dispute. Cuba expropriated more US-owned properties, notably those belonging to the International Telephone and Telegraph Company (ITT) and the United Fruit Company. In the Castro government's first agrarian reform law, on 17 May 1959, it sought to limit the size of land holdings, and to distribute that land to small farmers 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.
It wasn’t Castro’s record on human rights and democracy that bothered Eisenhower. Historian Stephen Rabe wrote: “During much of the decade (1950s), US officials were busy hugging and bestowing medals on sordid, often ruthless (Latin American) tyrants”. “US presidents –even Woodrow Wilson, his rhetoric notwithstanding- had consistently maintained good relations with the worst dictators of the hemisphere, so long as they accepted US hegemony”. The only US president to briefly deviate from this norm was Truman in 1945 – 1947.
In response to the seizure of US commercial properties the US broke diplomatic relations on 3 January [[1961 and imposed the U.S. embargo against Cuba on 3 February 1962. The embargo is still in effect as of 2008, although some humanitarian trade in food and medicines is now allowed. At first, the embargo didn't extend to other countries and Cuba traded with most European, Asian and Latin American countries and especially Canada. But now the United States pressures other nations and US companies with foreign subsidiaries to restrict trade with Cuba. Also, the Helms-Burton Act of 1996 makes it very difficult for companies doing business with Cuba to also do business in the United States, forcing internationals to choose between the two.
The establishment of a socialist system in Cuba led to the fleeing of many hundreds of thousands of upper- and middle-class Cubans to the United States and other countries since Castro's rise to power. One major exception to the embargo was made on 6 November 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 1 December 1965 and by 1971 over 250,000 Cubans had flown to the United States. In 1980, another 125,000 came to US during six-months period in the Mariel boat lift, some of them criminals and people with psychiatric diagnoses. It was discovered that the Cuban government was using the event to rid Cuba of the unwanted segments of its society. 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 risk of traveling the hundred miles by sea to Florida on small craft annually.
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.
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 during which thousands of Castro militia died, the CIA's forces were quickly defeated as President Kennedy did not allow the U.S. 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.
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.
Tensions between the two governments peaked again during the October 1962 Cuban missile crisis. The United States had a much larger arsenal of long-range nuclear weapons than the Soviet Union, as well as 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 in their on their territory. Reports from inside Cuba to exile sources questioned the need for large amounts of ice going to rural areas, which led to the discovery of the missiles, confirmed by U-2s. The United States responded by establishing a cordon in international waters to stop Soviet ships from bringing in more missiles (designated a quarantine rather than a blockade to avoid issues with international law). At the same time, Castro was getting a little too extreme for the liking of Moscow, so at the last moment the Soviets called back their ships. In addition, they agreed to remove the missiles already there in exchange for an agreement that the United States would not invade Cuba. Only after the fall of the Soviet Union was it revealed that another part of the agreement was the removal of U.S. missiles from Turkey. It also turned out that some submarines that the U.S. Navy blocked were carrying nuclear missiles and that communication with Moscow was tenuous, 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 also been deployed in Cuba, to be used in the event of a US invasion.
The United States has honored this agreement by not attacking Cuba again, but the CIA has continued to support anti-Castro groups by mounting extensive international campaigns and several botched assassination attempts throughout the 1960s. And the agreement was specifically about Cuban territory. Cuba has in turn provided military support to revolutions in Angola, Nigeria and parts of South America. During one such campaign, Ernesto Che Guevara was captured by U.S.-trained commandos in Bolivia in 1967 and ultimately executed. He has since become a symbol of revolution worldwide, remembered for his ideology and untimely death on 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 later become popular on t-shirts and posters.
From the very beginning the Cuban Revolution defined itself as internationalist and focused on the whole world. Thus, out of this idealism and also as a strategy for survival, already one year after the victory of revolution on Cuba the country took on civil and military assignments in the southern hemisphere. Although still a third world country itself Cuba supported African, Central American and Asian countries in the field of military, health and education. These “overseas adventures” not only irritated the USA but quite often were a “major headache” for the Kremlin.
The Sandinista insurgency in Nicaragua which lead to the demise of the Somoza-Dictatorship in 1979, was openly supported by Cuba and can be considered its greatest success in Latin America. Apart from that, Cuban efforts bore little fruit in this region considered to be the back door of the US.
Quite the contrary was the case on the African continent, where Cuba garnered a number of successes in supporting 17 liberation movements or leftist governments, e. g. Ethiopia, Guinea-Bissau and Mozambique. Among these countries Angola takes an exceptional position.
In the mid 1960s, Africa moved to the centre of Cuba’s foreign activities. African revolutionaries like Patrice Lumumba, Amilcar Cabral and Agostinho Neto requested help from Cuba liberation struggles.
Already in 1961 in its first mission Cuba supported the National Liberation Front (FLN) in Algeria against France. Shortly after Algerian independence Morocco started a border dispute in October 1963 in which Cuba sent troops to help Algeria (see: Sand War ). From a Memorandum of 20 October, 1963 by Major Raúl Castro it can be seen, that great importance was attached to the decent behaviour of the troops and good relations giving strict instructions on conduct.
In 1965 Cuba supported a rebellion of adherents of Lumumba (Simba Rebellion) in Congo-Leopoldville (today Democratic Republic of the Congo) under the personal leadership of Ernesto Che Guevara. Among the insurgents was also Laurent-Désiré Kabila who, 30 years later, would overthrow long-time dictator Mobutu. This secret Cuban mission turned out to be a complete failure. In contrast Cuba’s influence was decisive in Guinea-Bissau’s war of independence against Portugal from 1966 to 1974 and especially in Angola.
Cuba's involvement in Angola began in the 1960s when relations were established with the leftist Movement for the Popular Liberation of Angola (MPLA). The MPLA was one of three organisations struggling to liberate Angola from Portugal, the other two being UNITA and the FNLA, mainly supported by the West and Apartheid South Africa. After the Carnation Revolution in 1975, the Portuguese withdrew quite suddenly from Angola, ending 400 years of colonialism. The MPLA gained control of the capital of Luanda.
In August and October 1975, South African Defence Forces (SADF) invaded Angola in support of the UNITA and FNLA. On 5 November 1975, without consulting the USSR, the Cuban government opted for an all out intervention with combat troops Operation Carlota in support of the MPLA. Cuban military assistance was decisive in repelling the attacks on Luanda in the battle of Kifangondo, in the demise of the FNLA and the establishment of a leftist government.
In 1987-1988, South Africa again sent military forces to Angola to stop an advance of Angolan government forces (FAPLA) against UNITA leading to the Battle of Cuito Cuanavale, and again, without consulting the USSR, Cuba stepped in.
Cuba directly participated in the negotiations between Angola and South Africa. On 22 December 1988 Angola, Cuba and South Africa signed the Three Powers Accord in New York arranging for the retreat of South Africa, the withdrawal of Cuban troops within 30 months and the implementation of the 10 year old UN Security Council Resolution 435 for the independence of Namibia. The Cuban intervention, for a short time, turned Cuba into a “global player” in the midst of the Cold War. It ended with the independence of Namibia and sounded the bell for the decline of the Apartheid regime in South Africa. The withdrawal of the Cubans ended 13 years of military presence in Angola. At the same time they removed their troops from Pointe Noire Republic of the Congo and Ethiopia.
In the 1970s and 1980s Cuba stepped up its military presence abroad, especially in Africa. It had up to 50,000 men stationed in Angola, 24,000 in Ethiopia and hundreds in other countries. Cuban forces played a key role in the Ogaden War 1977/78 between Ethiopia and Somalia and kept a substantial garrison stationed in Ethiopia. In the Mozambican Civil War beginning in 1977 and in Congo-Brazzaville (today Republic of the Congo) Cubans acted as advisors. Congo-Brazzaville acted as a supply base for the Angola mission.
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 of activists 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 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 long 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 otherwise sympathetic to his government.
In an unrelated matter, three men were sentenced to death for hijacking a ferry with guns and knives, steering it into international waters where it ran out of fuel, and threatening to kill the passengers.