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Cuban History

When Christopher Columbus arrived in Cuba for the first time on the 27th of October, 1492, and sailed around the Cuban Northeastern coast for forty days, he not only found lush vegetation, but also peaceful and naive aboriginals that presented him with cotton, a sort of spin yarn and small pieces of gold, all of which they would trade for valueless trinkets.

Two years later, when he explored the South coast of Cuba during his second trip, the Admiral realized that there were several groups of indigenous inhabitants. The natives from the Eastern region of the country that were traveling with him could not understand the language of those that lived in the Western region.

Settlements on the island started four thousand years before this encounter with several migrations: the first wave most likely came from the North through Florida, and then several migration waves most likely came from the Orinoco River through the arc of the Antilles.

When the Spanish conquest began there were about 100,000 natives on the island, each group with different degrees of social and cultural development. The oldest and most backward group, which had almost disappeared by the 15th century, made a living on fishing and fruit collection, and made their instruments with the shells of large mollusks. Another, more advanced, group made instruments mainly of stone and some with shells, and lived on fishing and hunting. A different advanced group, originally from South America, was called the Aruacos. This group practiced agriculture, and with their main crop, tapioca, made the casaba, which could not only be consumed immediately, but could last long enough to be preserved. They made ceramic jars and other objects and manufactured a variety of objects from shells and stone. They lived in "bohíos", thatched palm wood huts grouped in small aboriginal settlements. For centuries, the bohíos were an important element in the habitat of Cuban peasants.

Spanish settlers established the raising of cattle, sugarcane, and tobacco as Cuba's primary economic pursuits. As the native Indian population died out, African slaves were imported to work the ranches and plantations. Slavery was abolished in 1886.

Cuba was the last major Spanish colony to gain independence, following a 50-year struggle that began in 1850. The fight for independence against Spain began on 10 October 1868, with the War of the Ten Years (1868-1878). At it's height, there were 8,000 troops, badly armed and poorly fed and dressed, that fought without payment. However, they did inflict 80,000 casualties on the Spanish Field army in Cuba.

From the beginning of the insurrection there was a consensus about the necessity to establish a disciplined army and to centralize control. Nevertheless, the predominant regionalism in the Cuban society of that time, together with diverse factors of political, economic and social character -- fundamentally the contradictions of the radical sector of the landowner class who directed the war until the final stage -- prevented the country from establishing a cohesive military and government.

Those were the fundamental causes that lead to the tragic outcome of the war with the capitulation of the Pact of the Trench. The revolutionary cause could be saved for future persistence due to the strong protest of Baraguá, that was carried out by Lt. General Antonio Maceo.

When the Cubans rose in arms in 1895, the fight had been prepared politically during several years under the guide of Jose Martí. The new patriots took the lesson of 1868, the necessity of military discipline, and applied it to their strategy. The Liberation Army counted on order to lead the war. General Máximo Gómez assumed the position of Commander-in-Chief at the beginning of the hostilities and retained that position until the end of the war.

After the campaign labeled Invasion to the West, which concluded in 1896, the forces of the Liberation Army were organized in 6 Army Corps with 14 divisions, 34 brigades and 84 regiments, of which 34 were of cavalry and 50 of infantry and other forces.

Without additional resources this army nearly fought off, by means of differentiated tactics, the Spanish army which totaled 250,000 troops. The Spanish army inflicted heavy casualties and left the Cubans exhausted, without money, men nor energy to continue the war. By 1898 the Spanish troops had dominion over the cities, while the revolutionary forces held onto the countryside and interior communications.

It was then that the American armed intervention took place under opportunistic circumstances. Spain was defeated in Cuba due to the active participation of the forces of the Liberation Army to the orders of General Calixto García.

Jose Marti, Cuba's national hero, began the final push for independence in 1895. In 1898, after the USS Maine sunk in Havana Harbor on February 15 due to an explosion of undetermined origin, the United States entered the conflict. In December of 1898, Spain relinquished control of Cuba to the United States with the Treaty of Paris. On January 1, 1899, the Spanish flag was lowered and Cuba was transformed from a Spanish colony into semi-colony of the United States. Annexation was not possible due to the firm resolution of the patriotic Cubans.

On May 20, 1902, the United States granted Cuba its independence but retained the right to intervene to preserve Cuban independence and stability under the Platt Amendment. In 1934, the amendment was repealed, and the United States and Cuba reaffirmed the 1903 agreement that leased the Guantanamo Bay naval base to the United States.

Independent Cuba was often ruled by authoritarian political and military figures who either obtained or remained in power by force. Fulgencio Batista, an army sergeant, organized a non-commissioned officer revolt in September 1933 and wielded significant power behind the scenes until he was elected president in 1940. Batista was voted out of office in 1944 and did not run in 1948. Both of those elections were won by civilian political figures with the support of party organizations. When Batista ran for president again in 1952, he seized power in a bloodless coup 3 months before the election was to take place. He suspended the balloting and began ruling by decree. Many political figures and movements that wanted a return to the government according to the constitution of 1940 disputed Batista’s undemocratic rule.

Fidel Castro, who had been active politically before Baista's coup, on July 26, 1953 led a failed attack on the Moncada army barracks in Santiago de Cuba, was jailed, and subsequently went into exile in Mexico. There he organized the 26th of July Movement with the goal of overthrowing Batista, and the group sailed to Cuba on board the yacht Granma, which landed in the eastern part of the island in December 1956.

Batista's dictatorial rule fueled increasing popular discontent which led to the rise of many active urban and rural resistance groups. This created a fertile political environment for Castro's 26th of July Movement. Faced with a corrupt and ineffective military itself 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. Although he had promised a return to constitutional rule and democratic elections along with social reforms, Castro used his control of the military to consolidate his power in which he repressed all dissent that came his decisions, marginalized other resistance figures, and imprisoned or executed opponents. As the revolution became more radical, hundreds of thousands of Cubans fled the island.

Castro declared Cuba a socialist state on April 16, 1961. For the next 30 years, Castro pursued close relations with the Soviet Union until the demise of the U.S.S.R. in 1991. Relations between the United States and Cuba deteriorated rapidly as the Cuban regime expropriated U.S. properties and moved toward the adoption of a one-party communist system. In response, the United States imposed an embargo on Cuba in October 1960, and, in response to Castro's provocations, broke diplomatic relations on January 3, 1961. Tensions between the two governments peaked during the October 1962 missile crisis.

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Page last modified: 31-03-2013 19:26:33 ZULU