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    United States: Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Go Now!

    United States
    Explore the vast openness and wildlife found roaming in the western United States, including Theodore Roosevelt National Park (pictured) in North Dakota. Begin Your Journey!

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    Trinidad & Tobago: Beautiful Coastline. Go Now!

    Trinidad & Tobago
    These Caribbean islands mix Indian, African, and European cultures alongside beautiful beaches. Go Now!

  • St. Kitts & Nevis!

    St. Kitts & Nevis: Nevis Island. Go Now!

    St. Kitts & Nevis
    This island nation mixes aspects of European, African, and Caribbean culture... not to mention incredible beaches. Go Now!

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    The original banana republic, Honduras has made a name for itself with the banana trade; however foreign influences have also vastly altered the culture. Go Now!

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History of Cuba

WARNING: International disputes with Cuba are ongoing, please read this travel warning before going!

One of, if not the first people to live on the island of Cuba, were the Guanajatabey people, however over time these people were joined by others on the island. The Taino and Ciboney peoples (Arawak people) both arrived later and settled the eastern part of the island. These native people made a living by fishing and farming on the fertile land.

The first European to arrive to what is today known as Cuba was Christopher Columbus on his very first journey to the "New World." He claimed the island for Spain in 1492 and in 1511 they began forming settlements on the island; the first being at Baracoa. This was viewed as an invasion by the Taino people and they fought back, but their Columbus only lasted three years when the Spanish took the island and founded Havana in 1514.

The Spanish takeover of the island was brutal and the indigenous people that survived the original attacks fled to the mountains. However, relatively few survived due to the spread of European diseases and the massacres, which involved killing entire villages. Despite these set-backs, many of the people eventually intermarried, creating the primarily mestizo population of the island today.

Cuba was established as an agricultural source for Spain, but the Spanish needed manual labor to complete this task and with the death or fleeing of the locals there were few people left. This led to the importation of African slaves. The arrival of these slaves was slow though as the slave trade was primarily controlled by the British and relations between the two countries were poor in much of the 1500s and 1600s.

The lands of Cuba were rich with natural resources and the British and French knew this, making the coasts ideal locations for pirates to loot the shipments to and from the island. This led to raids both off shore as well as attacks on Havana itself, with the city looted in 1628 and again in 1662. These attacks led to greater defenses, but the island was too large to completely defend.

In 1762, as a result of the Seven Years' War, the British attacked and took the city of Havana. They not only controlled the city and much of the island, but they also brought in numerous goods to the island, most notably African slaves and horses. These slaves and horses vastly improved the sugarcane industry, which was a very labor intensive industry. Britain's hold on Cuba was short lived though as in the Seven Years' War peace treaty Cuba was returned to Spain in exchange for Florida.

In the late 1700s social upheavals were underway as slave revolts began to bubble and the America Revolution led some in Cuba to begin independence movements. These movements moved into the early 1800s, but few of the wealthy landowners supported these movements, due to favorable positions and laws from Spain that encouraged and supported the sugarcane industry. At the time the sugarcane industry was the support of the entire Cuban economy. The industry also demanded better infrastructure and technology to move and product this product, leading to great social changes.

In 1835 a blow was struck on Cuba when Spain finally ended the slave trade. This, however didn't end slavery, just the trade of slavery, meaning slavery continued in Cuba until 1886. This ending of slavery came with numerous rebellions, including the Ten Years' War, which took place from 1868 to 1878. With the end of slavery much of the economy collapsed as the country's labor force was freed and there were no workers who could do the job at such low costs.

At the end of the 1800s Cuba was at a crossroads. Their economy was falling apart and becoming more dependent on the United States, their largest importer, while political freedom from Spain was growing more popular. Between 1895 and 1898 numerous ships sailed from the U.S. to Cuba in order to take the island over. These ships primarily consisted of Cubans who either sought independence from Spain or union with the United States, while both the U.S. and Spanish governments attempted to and did take a large number of these ships.

Many of these attacks, along with domestic rebels succeeded, primarily in the eastern part of the island as they took much land, but the Spanish continued to hold the central and western parts of the island. As these battles escalated and Havana became hostile, the U.S. sent the USS Maine to the Havana harbor to protect U.S. citizens. In February of 1898 the ship was sunk (although the actual cause of the sinking is still unknown) and war broke out between the United States and Spain.

The Spanish-American war was short lived as by July 1898 it ended with the United States taking the Philippines and Puerto Rico, while giving Cuba independence, however no time frame was set for this freedom and in the meantime the U.S. was to oversee the island. The first elections in Cuba took place in 1900, but who was allowed to vote was severely limited by age and wealth. A vote the following year elected a U.S. citizen, Tomas Estrada Palma, who wasn't even living in Cuba. He took the presidency and U.S. occupation officially ended, although its influence was ever present.

Cuba remained fairly stable through the early twentieth century, but in 1933 the people were being angered by the government and demanded more and quicker social changes. These protests led to the election of Fulgencio Batista in 1940, a communist. From this point into the 1950s communist and more liberal leaning candidate continued to hold power, but corruption also blossomed in the government and across the island as a whole. With much debate surrounding the 1952 election, Batista took power in a coup, then won an election. Despite his questionable methods, Cuba at the time became one of the richest countries in the world.

Despite the great improvement in healthcare and education in Cuba, the large middle class wanted greater improvements and, with the help of newspapers, grew tiresome of their government. Fidel Castro attempted to overthrown Batista legally in 1953, but after that failed he turned to military tactics, increasing this attitude after meeting Che Guevara in Mexico when Castro was exiled there. In Mexico, Castro organized what later became known as the 26th of July Movement.

Castro and his men (82 of them) sailed to Cuba in December 1956, but most were killed upon arrival. Castro and only about a dozen others escaped to the mountains where they began their guerilla war, which essentially began as a class war in the mountains and small towns on the island. This momentum continued until 1959 when Batista left office and Castro took over.

Castro's power encouraged thousands of Cubans to leave the island, many of whom moved to the United States. Castro them quickly outlawed political parties and restricted many of the people's rights, while also vastly improving education and healthcare. The U.S. recognized Castro and attempted to open relations with him; however Castro blamed the U.S. for various things and refused to work with the U.S. government. This relationship eventually ended in 1961, with an embargo of Cuban goods in 1962.

During this time, in April of 1961 the U.S. trained Cuban exiles in the U.S. in order to invade and war with Castro and his governmental forces. This attack, known as the Bay of Pigs invasion only lasted three days as the Cuban exiles stood on real chance of taking over the island nation.

This was followed by the embargo of Cuban goods and the Cuba Missile Crisis, which took place in 1962. It seems Castro was interested in firing the Soviet nuclear missiles stationed in Cuba, however the Soviets decided to negotiate; the Soviets removed their nuclear missiles from Cuba and the U.S. removed theirs from Turkey.

Since the early 1960s Cuba has continued on its course of improving numerous social injustices, while also becoming more politically restrictive. They have gotten involved in numerous communist movements throughout the world, most of which failed. They have also been embargoed by a number of countries, hurting their economy. Their saving grace during much of this time was the Soviet Union, who became their major trading partner until 1991.

After the collapse of Cuba's largest trading partner, the Soviet Union, in 1991, Cuba struggled economically as their incomes dramatically fell and standards of living plummeting, leading to food shortages. Despite this, Cuba managed to make it through this time by opening up to international tourism and improving relations with numerous countries, primarily European countries. This industry has given Cuba enough funds and resources to maintain their current economic state.

In 2006 Fidel Castro fell ill and in 2007 he handed power over to his brother, Raul Castro. Raul seems to be leading the country in much the same way as his brother had earlier.

This page was last updated: March, 2013