Cuba’s recorded history goes back more than 500 years. In 1492, Christopher Columbus reported the existence of what he called “the most beautiful land that human eyes have ever seen.” He set foot on the northern shore of Cuba, which was inhabited by Guanahatabey, Siboney and Taino Indians at the time. Two decades later, Diego Velázquez headed the Europeans’ conquest and colonization of the island, with the founding of the first Spanish settlements here.
In 1526, after most of the original inhabitants had been killed, the Spanish landowners began to bring in African slaves, and slavery remained in force until the latter half of the 19th century. The period of Spanish colonialism was also one of pirate attacks; an invasion by a British fleet, which resulted in England controlling Havana briefly (1762-63); and scandalous corruption. As a result of Spain’s pillaging of the island’s tobacco and sugar riches, Cuba entered the 19th century with a spirit of rebellion, expressed by such eminent figures as Father Félix Varela, a teacher and tireless promoter of Cuba’s independence.
Carlos Manuel de Céspedes headed Cuba’s first war of independence – the Ten Years’ War, which lasted from 1868-1878. In 1874, he was declared the Father of his Country. José Marti (1853-95), whom Cubans revere as the greatest Cuban of all time, renewed the attempt, inspiring a nation that “by virtue of its irrevocable will and historic necessity, must achieve its independence.” He was killed by Spanish troops after the beginning of that war.
The war spread from eastern Cuba toward the west between 1895 and 1898. Then, when the Cuban Mambí fighters for independence had the Spanish troops on the point of surrender, the United States intervened and claimed the victory as their own. US troops occupied Cuba for four years, and the US authorities imposed complete political and economic control by means of the Platt Amendment in 1902. Thus, a republic, which was far from independent, was born. US control lasted for 57 years, in spite of growing opposition inside the country, which led to social unrest and outbreaks of rebellion.
In 1953, Fidel Castro and a group of other young people attacked the Moncada Garrison, in Santiago de Cuba. That heroic action initiated the struggle, which led to the triumph of the Revolution of January 1, 1959.