The seafarer Christopher Columbus landed in the island of Cuba on October 27, 1492. He was so much amazed by the beauty of the landscape that he did not hesitate to exclaim: "This is the most beautiful land that human eyes have ever beheld!”
The island was conquered by Diego Velásquez who initiated the process of settlements and the creation of the new Cuban villages, namely:
- Nuestra Señora de la Asunción de Baracoa (1512)
- San Salvador de Bayamo (1513)
- La Santísima Trinidad (1514), Sancti Spíritus (1514)
- Santiago de Cuba (1515), San Cristóbal de La Habana (1514)
- Santa María del Puerto del Príncipe (1514)
The Spanish conquerors enslaved the indigenous population which was decimated in just a few years. Given the need for additional labor force, thousands of blacks were forcibly taken out of Africa and brought here as slaves to work in the fields planted with sugarcane which was becominig the major economic staple in Cuba.
By the early 17th century, the Spanish metropolis was clearly decadent; France, England and Holland were disputing Spain its overseas conquests. The Cuban waters and coasts were filled with corsairs and pirates who actively engaged in smuggling. This had a positive influence on the Cuban economy which experienced a blooming in the field of animal husbandry, and in the sugar, coffee and tobacco productions, which remain three major economic staples still today. Piracy was also a source of many sagas.
An unexpected event shook the economic, political and social life of Cuba: Havana’s occupation by the English in 1762. During 11 months over a thousand ships docked in Havana harbor as the trade with the 13 colonies of North America flourished; also the English brought in more than 10,000 slaves to boost the sugar industry.
After Havana was recovered in 1763 in exchange for the Florida peninsula (discovered and conquered by Spain in the 14th century), Spain made many transformations in Cuba. As the Creole population became closely linked to Cuba as their land of birth, they increasingly lost contact with Spain and were increasingly reluctant to be left behind by Metropolitan traders and rulers who imposed a trade monopoly. Thus emerged a nationalist feeling that had among its initial figures people like José de la Luz y Caballero (1800-1862), José Antonio Saco (1797-1879) and Félix Varela (1788-1858); the most active expression of this trend was the initiation of the independence war in the 19th century.
The Ten Years’ War did not have a favorable ending and the independence was not won due to various reasons, mainly the excessive division among the Cuban military leaders and regions. In 1878 the Spanish general Arsenio Martínez Campos proposed a pact to the Cuban troops known as the Zanjón Pact, whereby the war would come to an end. General Antonio Maceo y Grajales – known as The Bronze Titan – heroically protested the Pact on March 15, 1878, in Mangos de Baraguá, a place close to the city of Santiago de Cuba. This event, where the resumption of the war was agreed, went down into history as The Baraguá Protest.
Many of the “criollos” in the war did not accept the pact either but they were a minority and finally gave in.
José Martí, the National Hero of the Cuban Independence (1853-1895), was an outstanding intellectual and revolutionary who became one of the most brilliant thinkers of Latin America to this day. In 1892 he founded the first Cuban Revolutionary Party and reorganized the Cuban emigrants behind a sole ideal: that of the Cuban Nation. The war began again on February 24, 1895 under the leadership of Martí, who died in combat three months later, on May 19. Máximo Gómez and Antonio Maceo remained in the struggle and expanded the war from the east to the west of the island. Spain could do little in the face of the thrust of the Cuban liberation forces.
The Cuban forces steadily gained ground and the Spanish army weakened rapidly due to its policy of pursuing it “to the last man and to the last nickel". The year 1898 marked the intervention of the United States in the war using as a pretext the blowing of the US warship "Maine" in Havana harbor -- something that many historians believe was a self-inflicted sabotage by the US to intervene in the conflict.
The Washington government very soon defeated the wasted Spanish army and did not recognize the government of the Republic of Cuba in Arms. In fact, the US troops command forbade general Calixto García -- the leader of the Cuban troops -- to enter the city of Santiago de Cuba when the Spanish command surrendered after its fleet was defeated in the historical naval battle of Santiago de Cuba on July 3, 1898.
The war ended with the signing of a peace treaty between Spain and the United States (the Treaty of Paris, of December 10, 1898), whereby the United States gained absolute control over Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines. The Cuban liberation forces were not represented in the treaty negotiations and signing.
In 1901, the US Senate and House of Representatives passed the Platt Amendment that gave Cuba an apparent "sovereignty" but authorized the US government to intervene the country at any time. The Platt Amendment also provided that the Cuban government should let the United States "all the land necessary for the establishments of coal mines or naval stations in selected locations to be agreed with the president of the United States". The amendment was strongly opposed by members of the Constituent Assembly in 1901, most notably by Máximo Gómez and Manuel Sanguily.
In virtue of military order Nº 181 of the military government of the island of Cuba, the 1901 Constitution was enacted on May 20, 1902, with the Platt Amendment as an appendix once it was passed on June to 12, 1901 without the legislative power having the authority to modify it.
Three years ellapsed under the US tutelage and a formal independence controlled by the oligarchy which was dependent on Washington and which turned the country into a US neo-colony. Then followed corrupt governments and US interventions that served to continue giving the wealth of the country away to foreign interests.
The Cuban political scene of those years had only seen corrupt people, exposed in 1923 by a small group of patriots who formed the University Reform Students’ Movement after the creation of the Federation of University Students (FEU in Spanish) in December of 1922. An outstanding leader of the students’ movement was Julio Antonio Mella, a follower of Martí's and Marxist ideas.
Also founded were the Anti-Imperialist League, the José Martí People's University for Workers, and other organizations of a revolutionary orientation. August of 1925 saw the birth of the Confederation of Cuban Workers and the first Communist Party which was founded by Julio Antonio Mella and the socialist Carlos Baliño, among others.
The Revolution of the 1930s, the 1933 Strike and the Protest of the Thirteen are transcendental events in the revolutionary struggles. Among the most prominent leaders on account of their rebelliousness, intelligence and profound patriotism were Rubén Martínez Villena, Pablo de la Torriente Brau and Raúl Roa García, who was an outstanding intellectual and came to be known as “The Foreign Minister of Dignity” after the revolutionary triumph of 1959.
The actions of the youth against corruption expanded to other sectors of society. This contributed to the development of an independentist trend inspired in Martí's ideas which later took on an anti-imperialist sentiment and was very active in the struggle against the dictatorship of Gerardo Machado first and of Fulgencio Batista after the coup d'état of 1952.
On July 26, 1953, a group of young people led by Fidel Castro attacked the Moncada Garrison in Santiago de Cuba, to the east of the country. That was the second most important military fortress in Cuba, and the purpose of the attack was to arm the people and begin a general insurrection. That action did not succeed militarily but it showed Fidel Castro as the leader of the future revolution.
His self-defense speech at the trial after the attack -- now known under the title "History Will Absolve Me" -- turned him from defendant to accuser and became the best argument to bring tens of thousands of Cubans into the struggle against Batista’s dictatorship.
Fidel Castro and all the other survivors of the attack were sentenced to prison and sent to the Presidio Modelo (Model Prison) in the Isle of Pines, today the Isle of Youth. As a result of a strong popular campaign they were given amnesty and went into exile in Mexico in 1955.
While in Mexico, Fidel organized his comrades in the attack to the Moncada Garrison and other revolutionaries who joined him, like the Argentinian Ernesto "Che" Guevara and the Cuban Camilo Cienfuegos Gorriarán. They set sail from the Mexican port of Tuxpan onboard the "Granma" yatch and landed in Cuba on December 2, 1956, in Las Coloradas, to the south of the eastern region. Thus the armed struggle was resumed, this time as a guerrilla warfare in the historical Sierra Maestra Mountains. An underground struggle was also organized throughout the country.
The dictator Fulgencio Batista fled Cuba on January 1, 1959, unquestionably defeated by the revolutionary forces led by Fidel Castro ………… the Cuban Revolution had triumphed!
The liberation war is full of actions and of heroes; men who were total strangers became the people's idols because of their braveness and intelligence in the struggle, their popular ideas and respect for the masses. Throughout the struggle Fidel was accompanied by people like the humble tailor Camilo Cienfuegos, “The Hero of Yaguajay”, and the Argentinian doctor Ernesto Guevara de la Serna -- both of them Commanders in the struggle -- who were at his side during the most difficult times of the war and after the revolutionary triumph.
Making a “Revolution of the people and for the people” was at the core of the Moncada program which was turned into the basis of the social project pursued along all these years.
On February 7, 1959, the Fundamental Law of the Republic was passed based on the 1940 Constitution which was duly amended in view of the changes that have taken place in the country. Among the changes was giving the Council of Ministers the legislative power and constitutional authority.
Manuel Urrutia Lleó, a former magistrate, became the new president. Fidel became the Prime Minister on February 16 that same year. Many events ensued, like the nationalization of the Cuban Telephone Company and the Aliados and Metropolitanos Bus Cooperative, and the Agrarian Reform Law was signed.
The road was clear to fulfill the promises made during the Moncada trial and the Sierra Maestra struggle, despite the rise of the organized counterrevolution in the territory of the Dominican Republic and the United States which gave haven to many criminals and politicians of the Batista era. That was the beginning of "the other war", one which was slyer and dirtier. The mountains of the center and western parts of the country were filled with bandits armed and financed by the counterrevolutionaries exiled in the United States.
Then came the invasion at Playa Girón (also known as the Bay of Pigs invasion) by U.S. Army planes and counterrevolutionary forces trained by US experts. Workers, farmers and students joined the National Revolutionary Militias and the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution -- founded in 1959 and 1960, respectively -- and defeated the invasion after a 72 hours fight. The armed bands were also dismantled. This was proclaimed as “the first major defeat of imperialism in the Americas”.
The Missile Crisis, or October Crisis, and Cuba's expulsion from the Organization of American States (OAS) have gone down into the revolutionary history as expressions of stoicism, conviction and resistance.
This feat by the Cuban people did not put an end to the dispute between Cuba and the United States; there were many attempts to destabilize the Cuban state and kill its leader, the Commander-in-Chief, which claimed the lives of thousands of innocent people and harassed Cuba in the economic, commercial, political and diplomatic fields.
An event of particular significance was the First Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba in 1975, which was an expression of unity and ideological reaffirmation that have been the basis of the Cuban socio-political system to this day.
With the disappearance of the Eastern European socialist countries and with the USSR on the brink of desintegration, the US government believed that the time was right to start in 1990 a new phase of the economic blockade against Cuba. In April that year, Florida members of Congress introduced several bills aimed at hampering the commercial transactions between branches of US transnational companies and our country which had been eased in 1975. They also intended to sanction all the vessels that brought goods or passengers to Cuba which were forbidden to enter US ports for 180 days after visiting our country.
On October 23, 1992, the then Republican president George Bush signed the Torricelli Act, and in 1997, as a result of that same policy, Chapter II of the Helms-Burton Act was implemented.
Since it was enacted, Washington has spared no effort to enforce it beyond its borders and make its allies in the European Union and elsewhere follow its policy against the island.
So the battle has continued along all these years. Cuba has suffered attempts against the life of its leaders, acts of sabotage, a bacteriological war, a strong economic blockade and multiple forms of aggression, including smear campaigns by the major mass media throughout the world that try to discredit the Cuban leaders and lie about the powerful reasons that have made the Cuban Revolution a popular, democratic process unprecedented in contemporary international relations.
The social development attained by the revolutionary government has achieved outstanding levels of social justice, not only compared to Third World countries. Such levels can be seen in the high public health achievements, where Cuba stands as a world superpower; in an all level free education, compulsory up to high school; in sports, where Cuba occupies the first place in Pan-American Games, and is among the top list in the Olympics; as well as in the cultural field, accessible to all Cubans and exhibited by our artists throughout the globe.
On the other hand, although it is true that hostility against Cuba has reached its peak in the United States, it can be rightly said that solidarity with the island has reached impressive dimensions throughout the planet, even among the American people themselves. Friendship associations with Cuba, political movements, religious sectors and personalities of various political affiliation and ideology, constantly work to provide political and moral support to Cuba and run campaigns for material aid as well.
Friendship brigades from many countries visit the Island and contribute with their work to the development of the country and to the Cuban people’s resistance.
In the last five years, support towards Cuba has risen in international agencies and fora. For almost two consecutive decades now, the UN General Assembly has, by an overwhelming majority, rejected the blockade against the Island.