Cuban history till 1959
Cuba’s history includes much more than Fidel Castro and the revolution: Spanish colonialism, enslavement, and independence struggles. Christopher Columbus discovered the island in 1492. Following then, Cuba was brutally subjugated. The Cubans struggled for independence for a long time, finally achieving it in 1902. And even then, only under certain conditions.
Christopher Columbus discovers Cuba
In his onboard diary, Christopher Columbus described the island as “the most beautiful island ever viewed by the eyes of man.” When he was commissioned by the Spanish government to find a sea route to India, he discovered Cuba on October 27, 1492. Cuba is the Antilles’ largest island, conveniently placed at the Gulf of Mexico’s entrance, barely 90 miles from Florida. Haiti, the Bahamas, and Jamaica are all close by.
As a result, not only was the island gorgeous, but it was also strategically important in the conquest of America. Cuba became known as the “key to the New World” quite early. It is estimated that 200,000 indigenous people lived on Cuba before Columbus found the island. Archaeological evidence suggests that the island’s first people arrived more than 10,000 years ago. Because he thought he was in India, Columbus referred to the locals as “Indians.”
The Conquistadors of Spain
Diego Velázquez began subjugating Cuba for the Spanish crown in 1510. With barely 300 troops, he headed out to conquer Cuba, but the conquistadors were able to vanquish the Cubans through brutality and superior technology. The majority of the population was slaughtered, enslaved, or died of diseases introduced into the area, such as smallpox. The island was conquered after four years.
The Spanish’s main goal was now to find gold and silver on the island, but they were unsuccessful. Tobacco cultivation, on the other hand, blossomed for the first time in the 17th century. The island did not prosper until sugar cane was imported in the second part of the 18th century. Because the labor force for this originated from Africa, the number of slaves on the island skyrocketed in the second half of the eighteenth century.
Slavery on sugar cane plantations
At the end of the 18th century, there was a lot of demand for sugar in other countries, and Cuba was able to meet it. The expansion of sugar production and mass slavery were facilitated by the Spanish crown. By 1840, the Antillean island had surpassed the United States as the world’s leading producer of refined sugar.
The number of slaves on sugar plantations increased at a similar rate. Although there were sporadic uprisings, there were more than 435,000 slaves in 1841. But, for the most part, they stayed on the plantations, living in huts and working in harsh conditions until they died young. Slaves were also used in a variety of other jobs, such as housekeeping and railroad construction.
The slaves’ African heritage left an indelible imprint on Cuban society, not least through their gods. Santerie, a mix of African protector gods and saints as well as Christian components, is still a popular religion today.
Human trafficking to Cuba declined as a result of the United States Civil War, which saw the Northern states defeat the slave-holding Southern states in 1865. Slavery was eventually abolished in 1886. It was necessary to reform the country and its economy.
The American Revolutionary War
The native governing class of “criollos” (Cubans of Spanish heritage) attempted to extract changes from the Spanish government in the second half of the nineteenth century. Demands included more trade freedom and political autonomy for the island, as well as the eradication of slavery. Diplomatic attempts, however, were unsuccessful.
Cuba’s first fight of independence began in 1868. It all started with a plantation owner who emancipated his slaves and gave a speech proclaiming Cuba’s independence. On the island, the war extended further and further. It took ten years for Spain to vanquish the Cuban insurgents. The Spaniards had a numerical advantage, but there were also internal disagreements among the rebels, weariness, and starvation.
Only Antonio Maceo, a half-African, refused to accept the Spaniards’ requirements and stop the battle. He defied the Spanish colonial authority for another two years. This earned him fame in Cuba, and it continues to do so.
The second independence war
The economy and the country did not prosper well after the first war of independence, which lasted from 1868 to 1878. The common fight, on the other hand, had brought individuals of various backgrounds together. As a result, the rebels in the second War of Independence gained rapid support from the populace.
José Mart became one of the pivotal figures. He was sentenced to forced labor at an early age as a result of his rebellion against Spain, and he eventually went into exile. Mart led Cuban exiles in the United States as a poet, writer, and journalist. He rallied his countrymen to fight for Cuba’s military liberation.
Spain continued to deny Cubans further authority on the island. As a result, on February 24, 1895, a revolt took place, with Mart as the civilian commander and strategist. He was, however, slain in a skirmish with Spanish troops on May 19, 1895. Mart became a martyr and a hero, and a legend was established.
The second battle of independence concluded three years later, although neither the Spanish nor the Cubans had won. The United States stepped in to help. For some time, the Americans had had their eye on the adjacent island, and now saw an opportunity to establish more influence there. The Spanish fleet was defeated, and the colonial rulers finally surrendered in Santiago de Cuba on July 17, 1898.
Cubans, on the other hand, who had backed the US in the battle, had no reason to celebrate. The United States simply excluded Cubans from the rebuilding process. No Cubans were invited to the Spanish capitulation in Havana, and the American flag flew. At the Paris peace talks, which were likewise attended by no Cuban delegates, Cuba was given to the United States.
Self-sufficiency with a sour aftertaste
Cuba was under US military government from 1899 to 1902 until becoming an independent republic in 1902, with Cuban Estrada Palma as president.
But there was one sour note: the United States reserved significant intervention rights for itself through the Platt Amendment, a constitutional amendment. The United States dominated the island politically and economically, and it influenced Cuban presidential elections, for example.
Cuba’s relationship with the United States did not shift completely until Fidel Castro took power in 1959. The “Máximo Lder,” who had now resigned, had embarked on a decades-long confrontation with the neighboring superpower with his revolution.