Cuba was Christopher Columbus’s favorite “discovery.” He spoke glowing praise for its “brightly plumaged birds” and the gentle Taino-Arawak Indians. Columbus claimed the island for Spain and the Spanish got busy colonizing. Spain was the first of several governments to rule Cuba.

Colonial Governance

Spain established cattle, sugarcane and tobacco plantations, pressing the Taino-Arawak Indians into slavery. The native people attempted a revolt in 1533, but it was put down. As their numbers dwindled almost to extinction, African slaves were imported to work the fields and plantations. The colony was a wholly-owned Spanish enterprise administered by colonial governors and military captain generals appointed by Spain.

Independence From Spain

In 1868 wealthy lawyer and landowner, Carlos Manuel de Cespedes, began a revolt that lasted 30 years. In 1898, the United States intervened after the sinking of the USS Maine in the Havana Harbor. The cause of the explosion was never satisfactorily determined, but the event outraged Americans who enthusiastically joined the fight. Spain relinquished control of Cuba to the United States with the Treaty of Paris in December 1898.

American Protectorate

Cubans viewed the U.S. occupation with distrust. American military personnel served as governors of the island, but kept many formerly Spanish functionaries in place. Although the American governors tried to improve the lives of Cuban citizens, there was still resentment with “Yankee dominance.”

Independence from the United States

In 1895, Jose Marti, Cuban poet and activist, reignited the fight for true independence and on May 20, 1902, the United States granted Cuba its independence with the Platt Amendment. The United States and Cuba signed a Treaty of Relations in 1934, with Cuba agreeing to continue leasing the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base to the U.S.

Military Dictatorships

After winning its independence from the United States, Cuba was ruled by a series of American-supported politicians. But in May of 1925, Brigadier General Gerardo Machado staged a coup and took over the government. His time in office was marked by repeated bloody uprisings. In 1933 Fulgencio Batista, an army sergeant, led a revolt among army officers. The revolt removed Machado and put Batista into the position of ruler behind weak presidents. The revolt and Batista’s government had the tacit approval of the United States. Batista won the presidential election in 1940. He was voted out of office in 1944 but staged a bloodless coup in 1952. Although tainted by corruption and abuses, his presidency held until it was replaced by a communist government established by Fidel Castro’s revolutionaries in 1959.