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The island of Cuba has been inhabited for more than several thousand years by Amerindian peoples known as the Taíno and Ciboney. The Taíno were known to be mostly farmers while the Ciboney were hunter-gatherers. The name Cuba in fact is derived from the Taíno word cubanacán, which means "a central place”. Christopher Columbus sighted the island during his first voyage of discovery on 24 October 1492, and immediately claimed it for Spain.

Spain possessed the island of Cuba for 388 years, ruled by the governor of Havana. It had an economic base of plantation agriculture and main exports of sugar, coffee and tobacco to Europe and later to North America. British seized the island in 1762, but returned it to Spain the following year. Like most of the Spanish Empire, a small land-owning elite of settlers held all the social and economic power. They were served by a population of small farmers, laborers and slaves.

Many architectural masterpieces constructed during Spanish rule still stand today. An excellent example is the Catedral de San Cristóbal, Havana. During the 1820s, when the rest of Spain’s empire in South America rebelled and seceeded, Cuba remained loyal, although some campaigned for independence. Partly because fears of a slave rebellion (as had happened in Haiti) if the Spanish withdrew, partly because the prosperity of Cuban settlers depended on their export trade to Europe, and partly because Cuba feared the rising power of the United States more than they disliked Spanish colonial rule.

Due to the fact that Cuba is a mere 90 miles from the United States has had a profound influence on the countries development. Politicians in the south plotted the island’s annexation as a means of bolstering the pro-slavery forces in the U.S. throughout the early 1900’s. In 1848 a pro-annexationist uprising was defeated after several failed invasion atemps from Florida proved fruitless. After that the United States tried to buy Cuba from Spain but was always turned down.

Rural poverty in Spain led to a substantial Spanish emigration to Cuba. Among those arriving were the parents of Fidel Castro. During the 1890s pro-independence agitation revived, fueled by resentment of the restrictions imposed on Cuban trade by Spain and hostility to Spain’s increasingly oppressive and incompetent administration of Cuba. On 15 July 1895 rebellion broke out and the independence party, led by Tomás Estrada Palma and the poet José Martí, proclaimed Cuba an independent republic. Martí was killed shortly thereafter and has become Cuba’s undisputed national hero.

This brief article can’t possibly address the vast history that is Cuba. I have listed several excellent books at the end of this page. You can find them all at Amazon or your local bookstore.

Cuba: A New History by Richard Gott

The Cuba Reader: History, Culture, Politics (Latin America Readers) by Aviva Chomsky, Barry Carr, and Pamela Maria Smorkaloff

This is Cuba: An Outlaw Culture Survives by Ben Corbett

Inside Cuba by Julio Cesar Perez Hernandez, Angelika Taschen, and Giani Bosso

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