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Cities in CUBA



Discovery and slavery

Cuba was discovered by Columbus on his first voyage in 1492. But it was only conquered by Diego Velasquez in 1511. The island was repopulated by Spaniards, African slaves and their descendants.

Although plantation agriculture soon developed, Cuba's main function in the Spanish-American empire was to supply the Spanish fleet. With the exception of an English occupation in 1762, Cuba was always a Spanish colony. This did not change when around 1820 the Spanish-American continent freed itself from the motherland. Meanwhile, Cuba developed into the most important sugar producer in the world. This development was possible thanks to the slave trade and slavery.

The relationship of the Cuban elite to Spain was ambivalent. Spanish mercantilism disadvantaged Cuban planters, who preferred to do business with the United States unhindered. There were even calls for affiliation with this country. On the other hand, the planters depended on Spain for the maintenance of law and order, especially among the slave population, which in 1841 made up 43% of the population. The issue of slavery remained a bone of contention. The first war of independence against Spain (1868-1878) broke out in the east of the country, where the plantation sector was little developed and slavery was of minor importance. Coloureds and freed slaves also played a major role in this war. Spain eventually managed to suppress the rebellion.


In 1886, slavery was abolished. However, the expansion of sugar production continued, partly due to the immigration of 125,000 Chinese contract workers. Resistance to Spain continued. Under the leadership of the Cuban exile José Mart¡ (1853-1895), a final war was fought (1895-1898). Spain was indeed defeated, but the Cuban rebels had to grant the real victory to the United States. This power, for a long time the most important economic partner, intervened in the war in 1898 and finally signed the peace treaty with Spain instead of the Cubans.

Cuba came under American control for a short time. Nevertheless, in 1902 it gained its independence as a republic. Under the constitution, however, the United States retained some rights. The most important of these was contained in the Platt Amendment, which gave the United States the right of intervention, as well as some naval support points, including (for a period of 100 years) Guantanamo Bay. Also in 1903, a trade treaty was concluded that formed the basis for further expansion of American business in Cuba. The Cuban economy experienced a strong, but one-sided (sugar-oriented) development. Until 1959, Cuba would be politically and economically very dependent on the United States.

The first presidents

Political chaos led to a return of US military rule after the resignation of the first president (1906), later repeated (1912, 1917-1922). The Platt Amendment was only repealed in 1924 and proved to be a powerful stimulus for anti-American nationalism.

In the meantime, presidents with little integrity took turns. To this was added a severe economic crisis after the collapse of sugar prices in 1920-1921. From 1926 to 1933, Gerardo Machado was president. The corruption of his regime led to widespread opposition. His position finally became untenable. Partly due to American mediation, he gave way to C sledes, who in turn was ousted after a month by a new army revolt, led by the popular sergeant Fulgencio Batista y Zaldivar. The latter appointed the intellectual Grau San Mart¡n as president. His regime was overthrown six months later by Batista himself. Batista dominated Cuban politics from 1934 to 1959, successively through stooges, as elected president and as dictator.

Period Batista

In preparation for the elections of July 1940, Batista shifted his political stance to the left, promising reforms in favour of the trade unions as well as legalisation of the Communist Party. With fairly broad popular support, Batista was elected president. His rule was theoretically based on a new, progressive constitution. However, this was hardly ever put into practice. In 1944, Batista suffered an electoral defeat against former President Grau San Mart¡n, leader of the liberal Aut ntica Party, who was able to hand over the presidency in 1948 to his kindred spirit, Pr¡o Socarras.

The latter was deposed in March 1952 in a coup led by Batista, who was re-elected as president in 1954 in fraudulent elections. Batista built a dictatorial regime. He continued to ignore the 1940 Constitution. During the 1950s, opposition to his rule grew stronger. A revolutionary movement led by Fidel Castro first raised its voice with a failed attack on the Moncada barracks on 26 July 1953. In the ensuing trial, the rebels were sentenced to prison terms.

After Castro's release in 1955, he and several others (including Ernesto 'Che' Guevara) began preparations for an invasion of Cuba from his place of exile in Mexico, which indeed took place. Of the 81 participants in the expedition with the ship Granma, only a dozen managed to survive the adventure. From the Sierra Maestra, this group began organising a guerrilla movement, which incidentally garnered little or no sympathy from the opposition to Batista but little or no sympathy from the Communist Party. By the end of 1958, the movement had spread and strengthened to such an extent that the opposition to Batista had become so widespread that, when the army no longer supported him either, he was forced to flee with many supporters (31 Dec. 1958). On Jan. 1, 1959, Castro's 26th of July movement entered Havana. Thus, the victory was a fact.

Castro and the Cuban crisis

Already in the course of 1959, it became clear that Castro wanted to turn Cuba into a socialist state. Prime Minister himself, he appointed his brother and fellow combatant Raoul as Minister of Defence (to this day, he is Cuba's second in command). After a number of reforms were initiated in June 1959, relations with the United States deteriorated very rapidly, probably partly due to the fact that the nationalisation programme of the new regime would also involve some American investments in Cuba.

American aid was cut off, sugar imports from Cuba ceased and diplomatic relations were broken off. Allies of the United States also took part in the boycott. The Cuban regime now began to seek support from socialist countries, in particular the Soviet Union.

On 16 April 1961, a US-supported invasion of the Bay of Pigs took place, carried out by Cuban exiles who had been instructed by the American CIA. The invasion ended in total failure, partly due to military mistakes and partly due to underestimation of the support that Fidel Castro enjoyed among the majority of the population. In October 1962, it became known that Soviet missile bases had been set up in Cuba.

President Kennedy demanded their dismantling and announced a partial economic and diplomatic blockade of the island. This led to the most serious crisis in international politics since 1945. After a week, Moscow decided to give in. In Cuba, a hardening and radicalisation could be observed. Signs of this were the redistribution of land and the nationalisation of public services, sugar refineries and later the oil refineries, which were almost entirely in American hands. The government developed large-scale plans for improving the economic and social infrastructure.

Consolidation of the communist regime

In October 1965, Castro, who had declared in 1961 that the Cuban revolution was based on Marxist-Leninist principles, announced the creation of a new Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) to replace his Partido Unido de la Revolucion Socialista. This led to a split with some of his former associates, as well as to a large-scale emigration of populations that did not agree with the regime's increasingly totalitarian tendencies.

Since then, there has been a consolidation of the revolution. This was reflected in the new Constitution of 1976. The lack of civil liberties in Cuba has been widely criticised. Many political opponents from all walks of life emigrated. When the possibility of emigration briefly arose in 1980, no fewer than 125,000 Cubans took advantage of this opportunity.

Cautious liberalisation of the economy

In 1995, the state monopoly on the sale of agricultural products was abolished. Despite the economic reforms, democratic reforms failed to materialise. According to dissidents, between 100,000 and 200,000 Cubans were in prisons and labour camps at the end of 1995, some of them for political reasons.

In May of that year, Cuba and the United States agreed that the United States would issue 20,000 entry visas a year to Cubans in exchange for the Cuban commitment to prevent illegal refugees from leaving the country. US President Clinton signed the Helms-Burton Act in March 1996. This sanctions law contains provisions making it possible to impose sanctions on foreigners who invest in nationalised companies in Cuba. The EU, Canada and Latin American countries protested against the tightening of the embargo against Cuba and President Clinton postponed the entry into force of the most controversial part of the law in July 1996. In early June 1997, Castro signed a decree allowing foreign investment in free trade zones with tax exemptions and low customs duties. In 1998, Pope John Paul II visited Cuba, where, in front of an enthusiastic audience, he drew attention to respect for human rights, but also called on the United States to ease the trade embargo against Cuba. The National Assembly of People's Power re-elected Fidel Castro as President of the Council of State and his brother Raúl Castro as Vice-President. Both also retained their positions as Head of Government and Minister of Defence respectively.

21th century

In the year 2000, the world was under the spell of the little boat refugee Elián González. After much tug-of-war, the boy returned to Cuba because his mother had died during the journey and the father would not seek political asylum. On 19 January 2003, Cubans elected the 609 deputies in the National Assembly of People's Power, the parliament, and the 1199 members of the provincial parliaments. On 6 March, members of parliament unanimously elected Fidel Castro to a sixth term as president of the Council of State, the de facto head of state, for a five-year term. On 15 April 2004, the UN Commission on Human Rights adopted by a majority of one vote a resolution condemning the Cuban government's human rights violations. The Cuban Foreign Minister, Felipe Pérez Roque, accused Honduras, which had submitted the resolution, of being bribed by the US government.

On 31 July 2006, President Fidel Castro handed over all his powers to his brother Raúl Castro after undergoing a major operation. Shortly afterwards, there were some changes in ministerial positions. Since then, the Head of State has made few public appearances, including at the Summit of Non-Aligned Countries in September 2006. Since the government does not issue health bulletins, there is uncertainty about Fidel Castro's health. This has given rise to speculation that the President is suffering from a serious illness, which may prevent him from returning to the political scene. On 29 October 2006, some recent footage of the ailing President was released, possibly to dispel rumours about his health. In a letter, the President stated that for health reasons he could not attend the opening on 28 November of the festivities for the postponed celebration of his 80th birthday. Castro was also absent from the great military parade on 2 December 2006. At the end of December 2006, the Spanish doctor José Luis García Sabrido visited Fidel Castro. Upon his return, he declared that Castro did not have cancer and that he was recovering.

In mid-January, rumours circulated that Castro was suffering from, among other things, an inflammation of the large intestine and had undergone three unsuccessful operations as a result. Shortly afterwards, the President of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, stated that Castro was fighting for his life.

Currently, Raúl Castro is in charge and has surrounded himself with a number of newly appointed ministers: Minister of Health: José Balaguer Cabrera (Politburo member); Ministers of Education: José Machado Ventura and Esteban Lazo Hernández (both Politburo members), Minister of Energy: Carlos Lage Davila (Politburo member and also member of the Economic Commission); President of the Central Bank: Francisco Soberón Valdés (also member of the Economic Commission); Minister of Foreign Affairs: Felipe Perez Roque (Member of the Economic Commission); Minister of Information and Communications: Ramiro Vald és Menendez; Minister of Transport: Jorge Luis Sierra Cruz (member Politburo). In April 2007, Fidel Castro recovered to the extent that he took up some of his duties.

Period Raúl Castro

In February 2008, Raúl Castro assumed the presidency. It seems that he wants to bring about reforms. In March 2009, the first dismissals occurred and there were shifts in the government. The United States Congress eases the trade embargo somewhat. Cubans are allowed to send money to relatives in Cuba and visiting Cuba becomes slightly easier. In 2009, the government economises as a result of the international credit crisis. In May 2010, women and mothers of political prisoners demonstrated. The demonstration was allowed after the arrival of the Archbishop of Havana. In September 2010, President Raúl Castro wants to thoroughly reform the Cuban system and to that end eliminates half a million state jobs. At the same time, the rules for privatisation in the communist country were relaxed so that the dismissed officials could try their luck as free entrepreneurs. Pope Benedict visits Cuba and criticises both the United States and Cuba for disrupting relations. Raúl Castro is appointed president for a second term in February 2013. In January 2014, Brazil invests in a project to build a port in Cuba. In March 2014, negotiations begin between the EU and Cuba to renew the trade relationship that has been broken since 1996. From late 2014, relations between Cuba and the United States improve. In July 2015, the two countries reopen their embassies. In March 2016, President Obama paid a historic visit to Cuba. In November 2016, Fidel Castro dies at the age of 90; nine days of national mourning follow. In June 2017, US President Donald Trump reverses some aspects of his predecessor's Cuba policy.

Cuba after the Castro's

Miguel Diaz-Canel became president in April 2018 in a handover that ended six decades of rule by the Castro family Raul Castro will continue to head the all-powerful Communist Party of Cuba, but in April 2021 Miguel Diaz-Canel will succeed him in that position as well.


Baijer,M / Cuba

Cuba : a short history
Cambridge University Press

Encarta Encyclopedie

CIA - World Factbook

BBC - Country Profiles

Last updated March 2024
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