Nation occupying the largest island of the West Indies, at the entrance to the Gulf of Mexico, with the Caribbean Sea on the S and the Atlantic Ocean on the N. It includes some other island s of which the Isle of Youth, Isle of Pines until 1978, is the largest. Cuba has a semi-tropical climate and fertile land on which the growing of sugarcane created a largely onecrop economy beginning in the late 18th century. Relations with the United States have played a large part in Cuba’s history for over a century, and , for a small nation, Cuba recently has figured prominently in world events.
The island was discovered in 1492 by Christopher Columbus, and in 1511 Diego de Velazquez conquered it for Spain. He also founded several towns: Baracoa, the oldest, in 1512; Havana, now the capital and largest city, in 1515; and Santiago de Cuba in 1514. In the colonial era Cuba was part of the viceroyalty of New Spain. The Arawak Indians died or were killed off and their place was taken by imported black slaves. Cuba prospered, but there was unrest in the early 19th century, the Spanish suppressing slave revolts without mercy. Expansionists in the United States, especially in the slave states, wanted to acquire Cuba, and the Ostend Manifesto of 1854, drawn up by three American diplomats, proposed buying Cuba from Spain. Nothing came of this, but the struggle for independence continued with the Ten Years’ War of 1868 to 1878. The warfare was mostly guerrilla fighting, reforms were promised but not fulfilled, and Cuba remained Spanish.
American interest resulted in the Spanish-American War in 1898, triggered by the mysterious blowing up of the battleship Maine in Havana harbor. On July 3 American ships destroyed a Spanish fleet at Santiago, and on July 17 the city was taken by U.S. land forces. On May 20, 1901, an independent Cuban government took power, although an act of the U.S. Congress, the Platt Amendment, gave the United States the right to intervene in Cuban affairs. This right was given up in 1934, but it was exercised when revolt broke out in 1906. U.S. military occupation lasted until 1909. A corrupt and dictatorial regime, that of Fulgencio Batista y Zaldivar, was overthrown in 1959 by revolutionaries led by Fidel Castro. Castro began a series of wide-ranging social and economic reforms. He soon formed close ties with the USSR, receiving economic and military aid from the Soviets. In 1961 Castro declared himself a Marxist-Leninist, ruling as a dictator. On April 14, 1961, an anti-Castro Cuban force, trained by the United States, was crushed in an attempted invasion of the island at the Bay of Pigs. In the summer of 1962 U.S. air reconnaissance revealed that the USSR was building missile sites in Cuba. This led to the imposition of a naval blockade and the threat of war by President John F. Kennedy, whereupon the USSR backed down and dropped the project.
In 1976 Castro began to send large numbers of Cuban troops abroad, especially to Angola, to support Soviet-backed regimes or rebels. By 1978 it was estimated that perhaps as many as 50,000 Cubans were in Africa. In 1980 Castro suddenly lifted a ban on emigration, and by September about 125,000 Cubans had sought refuge in the United States. In the 1990s the economic problems caused by the collapse of Soviet aid, downturns in the world sugar market, and a long-lasting U.S. embargo led the regime to reverse some of its socialist economic policies. In 1994, there were more boatloads of Cuban refugees sailing to the United States, and the United States agreed to limit legal migration to 20,000 a year. In 1998 the United States allowed food and medicine sales to Cuba, and in 2000, food and medicine were exempted from the trade embargo. The United States maintains a naval base at Guantanamo Bay, in SE Cuba, leased by treaty in 1903, which Castro wants returned to Cuba. The base at Guantanamo has been used since 2001 for Taliban and Al Qaeda prisoners from the Afghanistan war.