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Here’s How Cuba’s Tumultuous History Forced A Cuban Diaspora That Changed The World

Cuba Getty Images | Minube

One of the most complicated histories of any Latin American country has to be that of Cuba. From its colonization to its decades-long dictator, Cuba has endured a painful and passionate battle with leadership. The people of Cuba, however, have been and remain the adoring champion of their country, regardless of who was at the helm. Here’s a look back at how the Cuba we know now came to be.

The colonization of Cuba by Christopher Columbus.

CREDIT: Instagram/#ChristopherColumbus

The Ciboney are the first people to inhabit the island of Cuba, and they are part of the indigenous group named Taíno from the Caribbean. In 1492 Christopher Columbus arrived in Cuba and claimed the island for Spain. In 2014, a DNA study conducted on the people living in Cuba showed that their genetic ancestry is made up of 72 percent European, 20 percent African and 8 percent Native American.


The Spanish conquest of Cuba follows.

CREDIT: Unsplash

Now that Spain has taken over Cuba, in 1510 the Spanish conquest begins under the leadership of Diego de Velazquez, who establishes Baracoa and other settlements.

The first African slaves arrive in Cuba in the 1520s.

CREDIT: Unsplash

Between 1526-1527, more than 600,000 Africans were forcibly taken to Cuba and thousands of them did not survive the journey over the Atlantic. According to Traces of the Trade, between the 1780s and the 1860s, the slave population increased from 39,000 to 400,000. The primary source of labor for the slaves was sugarcane and coffee crops.

British interference.

CREDIT: Unsplash

In 1763, a British force took hold of the Havana port and for a ten-month period brought in thousands of more slaves that would work the sugarcanes. The Brits eventually conceded and gave up Havana back to Spain.

The Ten Years War and end of slavery.

CREDIT: Instagram/@irector_2015

Cuban-born planters and other wealthy natives fought to gain control of Cuba from Spain between 1868–1878. The war ended when Spain promised that the natives would have more control over the land, which never honestly took shape. Those actions, however, led to the end of Slavery in 1886.

Author and activist Jose Marti started second fight for independence.

CREDIT: Instagram/@espoir_dina

Cuban activist Jose Marti led the second war of independence in 1895. Despite being killed during the battle with Spanish troops, Marti left behind volumes of writings. In one such piece titled “The Spanish Republic and the Cuban Revolution,” he wrote that Cubans had to be independent of Spain because Cuban people have a different culture than the Spanish. “Cubans do not live as Spaniards live…They are nourished by a different system of trade, have links with different countries, and express their happiness through quite contrary customs. There are no common aspirations or identical goals linking the two peoples, or beloved memories to unite them…Peoples are only united by ties of fraternity and love.”

The birth of the Communist Party quickly changed the political landscape of Cuba.

CREDIT: Wikipedia: Sergeant Fulgencio Batista

Diego Vicente Tejer founded the Socialist Party in Cuba in 1899, and would later join the Cuban National Party. This movement in Havana led to the formation of the Communist Party in 1925, which in turn led to Sergeant Fulgencio Batista leading a coup to overthrow the General and President of Cuba Gerardo Machado.

The rise of Fidel Castro marks a troubling change.

CREDIT: Wikipedia: Fidel Castro

In 1953, activist and law student Fidel Castro had one central target in mind. He teamed up with rebellion groups with the sole purpose to overthrow the Batista regime. His first attempt, however, would be unsuccessful.


Fidel and Che start plotting a bloody coup.

CREDIT: @CdVinEnglish / Twitter

After Castro’s failed attempt at overthrowing the government, he fled to Mexico. That is when he first met Argentine Marxist-Leninist Che Guevara in 1956. Castro liked Guevara’s approach and his duality as a doctor and a solider. In the book titled “Fidel: A Biography of Fidel Castro,” Castro said Guevara was more of an advanced revolutionary than he. Together they plotted to overthrow Batista, but this time with a small group and strategy.

Castro successfully overthrows the Batista regime.

CREDIT: Unsplash

In 1959, together with a 9,000-strong guerrilla army, Castro, Guevara and Castro’s brother Raúl, force Batista to not only give up his reign in Cuba but to flee. Castro then declares himself prime minister, his brother, Raúl, becomes his deputy and Guevara becomes third in command.

The ’60s usher in a trying time for the Cuban people.

CREDIT: Unsplashed

Cuba’s chaotic climate within its government led the U.S. to stop providing military aid, which certainly didn’t help Batista during Castro’s coup. These occurrences gave way to an unsettled relationship between the U.S. and Cuba. In 1961, the U.S. ended all diplomatic relations with Havana. The Bay of Pigs only made matters worse. Castro then proclaimed Cuba a communist state and began an allied relationship with Russia.

Cuba’s new leader cracks down on the country.

CREDIT: Unsplash

With Castro as the new leader, the lives of the Cuban people changed drastically and with devastating results.

The mass exodus.

CREDIT: Unsplash

On April 20, 1980, Castro directed anyone that wishes to leave the island, free to do so and can aboard the Mariel Boatlift. More than 125,000 Cubans left to the U.S., however, many of those on board were also prisoners who were released. According to History.com, of those 125,000 “more than 1,700 were jailed, and another 587 were detained until they could find sponsors.” Decades before, shortly after Castro took power, thousands of Cubans fled across the globe to escape a regime responsible for countless deaths and disappearances.

The capture, and international crisis, of Elian Gonzalez.

CREDIT: Wikipedia: Elian Gonzalez

In 1999, Elizabeth Brotons Rodríguez, her child Elian, and a few others fled Cuba on a boat to the U.S. The boat capsized, and she drowned. Elián and two others survived after fishers had rescued them. They arrived on U.S. soil where U.S. officials handed Elián over to his relatives in Miami. Elián’s father in Cuba, who was divorced from his mother, wanted his son back. U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno ordered Elián to return to his father, but the relatives in Miami did not give him up. Federal agents had to enter their home and forcefully get Elián away from his relatives. Elián became a symbol of Cubans wishing to leave Cuba and Castro’s dictatorship to force his people to live under his rule. Years later, as an adult, Elián said in an interview that he never regretted leaving the U.S. for Cuba, but that one day he would like to return “to give my love to the American people”.

Cuban exiles and immigrants take their culture to free socities around the world.

CREDIT: Instagram/@gloriaestefan

Aside from Cuba’s infamous leaders such as Marti and Castro, Cuba has many other famous Cubans including artist Gloria Estefan, her husband Emilio Estefan. Also, singer Celia Cruz, actor Andy García, baseball player Jose Canseco, and artist Pitbull. There are many Cubans responsible for taking their culture and introducing the sounds of salsa and the taste of sofrito far and wide in the world.

Cuban cuisine makes a splash internationally.

CREDIT: Instagram/@cuballama

Cuban sandwiches are probably the most instantly recognized of Cuban foods, but have you ever tried ropa vieja? Shredded beef, white rice, green olives, avocados, and tostones, it’s the best.

Fidel hands the country over to his brother Raúl continuing the Castro dynasty on the island.

CREDIT: Unsplash

In 2006, Fidel’s brother Raúl Castro takes over presidential duties of Cuba after Fidel recovers from his medical issues. It wasn’t for another two years that Fidel officially resigned and that his brother took over as appointed President by the National Assembly.

Obama visits Cuba opening relations after decades of strained relations.

CREDIT: Unsplash

In 2014, the U.S. and Cuba began diplomatic talks and re-established their new relationship. Two years later, for the first time in 88 years, a U.S. president visited Cuba. President Barack Obama visited the country for three days.

Cuba re-opens its door to the U.S.

CREDIT: Unsplash

While some travel restrictions initially applied between the U.S. and Cuba, the country opened its door to American tourists for the first time in decades.

The death of Fidel Castro was celebrated by Cuban exiles around the world.

CREDIT: Instagram/@federico.miceli.9

On No. 25, 2016, Fidel Castro succumbed to his death at the age of 90. In 2018, a new era began in Cuba with the announcement of new president Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, who was hand-picked by Raúl Castro, furthering the Castro regime. Fidel’s death was welcomed news in Cuabn exile communities aroud the world hoping for a return to democracy and freedom in Cuba.


READ: 25 Odd Facts About Cuba To Know Before You Visit

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Here’s The Little Known History Of How Cuba Took In And Treated Thousands Of Children After The Chernobyl Disaster

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Here’s The Little Known History Of How Cuba Took In And Treated Thousands Of Children After The Chernobyl Disaster

a.nilssenphoto / nicolebiente / Instagram

Everyone is talking about “Chernobyl,” the HBO miniseries that retells the apocalyptic nuclear accident in Ukraine and its chilling, bleak aftermath. The TV show is meticulous in its reconstruction of the Soviet Era event, pointing at how the government response tried to keep panic under control. Truth is, the accident was one of the worst the world has ever seen and in the years of the Cold War. It was a catastrophic reminder that even though we might have political and ideological differences, we only have one planet. 

The event happened on April 26, 1985, when the now infamous No. 4 reactor of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, near Pripyat in what is now Ukraine, superheated and caused a steam explosion. Radiation was released and the area became uninhabitable. Casualties estimates vary depending on how they are counted: some only count the immediate aftermath of the accident, while others take into consideration the effects that radiation had on life expectancy. As many as 200,000 died, according to Greenpeace. At the time, more than 600,000 civilians and military personnel were drafted to contain the nuclear fallout. 

At the time, as you know (and if you don’t its time to brush up on your contemporary world history), the world was basically divided in three: countries that aligned with the United States, countries that aligned with the Soviet Union and a few non-aligned countries. Among the Soviet Bloc countries, Cuba stood out for its response to the Chernobyl disaster. How? Well, putting to work its team of world-renowned doctors, who treated young Ukrainians affected by the radiation. 

Cuba created a massive health center for the children of Chernobyl after the deadly disaster.

Credit: b065124cef5ae6971e0fd77ff3665214_XL. Digital image. Periodico 26

About 30 kilometers from Havana lay a holiday village that was converted into an enormous facility in which the Castro regime treated children that were affected by radiation poisoning. Most of these kids came from Ukraine, but up until 1992 the program also cared for little ones from Russia and Belarus. Originally Cuba received 139 children, but the number soon increased exponentially.

The number of treated children is impressive and quite shocking.

Credit: robblekkink / Instagram

As many as 25,000 children (yes, 25,000, a whole small town) were treated between 1990 and 2011, according to Cubadebate. This is a gargantuan effort that needed considerable logistical planning.

The illnesses these kids suffered required medical specialists.

Credit: chevy88uk / Instagram

The kids were mainly treated for cancer, deformations, and muscle atrophy. Among all the things that the revolutionary regime in the island could have done better, its medical training is not one of them. Cuban oncologists and physiotherapists are among the best in the world. Other specialties that were needed: dermatology, endocrinology, and gastroenterology.

But why did the Cuban government do this?

Credit: 160413_abc_archive_chernobyl_kidscuba_16x9_992. Digital image. ABC News

Besides being aligned with the former Soviet Union, Cuba follows a principle of internationalism, which is a political principle which goes beyond nationalism and advocates a greater political or economic cooperation among nations and people. Cuban doctors have not only provided aid to these Ukranian children but have also spearheaded relief efforts in countries like Venezuela and Brazil. According to Foreign Affairs, “Cuban health care workers have given aid to 158 nations, and Cuba has trained 38,000 doctors from 121 countries without charge”. Those are really impressive numbers.

Despite tremendous efforts, this was not easy or cheap for Cuba.

Credit: f4b6dca0e2911082f0eb6e1df1a0e11d_XL. Digital image. ACFS Melbourne

The collapse of the Soviet Union, for which Chernobyl holds partial blame, was also a hard blow to Cuba’s economy. All of a sudden, Cuba’s main export customer was gone. Despite this, the Tarara center continued its operations. One Cuban doctor told TeleSUR in 2017: “Although Cuba went through economically difficult times, our state continued to offer specialized treatment to minors, fulfilling a commitment of solidarity”. Dr. Julio Medina, who was the general coordinator of the program, told the official newspaper, Granma: “Many people who are unaware of our ideals still wonder what Cuba might be after. It is simple: we do not give what we have in excess; we share all that we have”. 

Unfortunately, these efforts have been mostly ignored by Western media.

Credit: 040860_360W. Digital image. The New York Times

Despite being a feel-good story amidst the avalanche of bad news that we listen, read and watch every day, this story has been swept under the heavy rug of history, perhaps due to geopolitical reasons. At the time, outlets like The New York Times published information on the matter. With the success of HBO’s show, this has been pointed out. A reader of The Guardian, one Dr. Doreen Weppler-Grogan, wrote a letter stating: 

“No other country in the world launched such a massive programme. The Cubans responded – as ‘an ethical and moral,’ not a political question, as it was put at the time, and the programme continued despite changing governments in the Ukraine.”

“Today, the aftermath persists. Just a few weeks ago, Cuba announced that it will resume the programme in a new facility for the sons and daughters of the victims, who are now showing ailments similar to those of their parents.”

Tarara was a community, not only a big hospital.

Credit: art305 / Instagram

The facilities were adapted to provide a healthy environment for the victims. Besides the medical areas, it included schools, a cooking center, a theater, parks, and recreation areas. In 2005 one of the kids, a 16-year-old girl named Alina Petrusha, told the Sunday Telegraph: “It helps. We sit under the infrared lamp and they put a lotion on our heads. Then we go to the beach.”

Everyone knows how expensive medical treatments are, but for the patients being treated in Tarara, treatment was free.

Credit: Chernobyl / HBO

As reported by The Guardian in 2009, treatment at Tarara was free. Most children were orphans or came from very poor families who could not afford care. Then, the deputy director of the program, Dr. Maria Teresa Oliva, told The Guardian: ” Ukraine now has a capitalist economy and for most of the families these kinds of treatments are very costly. Here, thanks to the revolution, we can provide everything for free”. In 2009, Natalia Kisilova, mother of Mikhail Kisilov, a 15-year-old boy who was born with one outer ear and auditory canal missing, told Noticias Financieras: ‘In my country, the treatment that my son receives would cost 80,000 euros (105,362 dollars)”. This would have been unaffordable, to say the least.

The program survived due to Ukraine-Cuba collaboration.

Credit: lh91_uk / Instagram

It is estimated that Cuba spent $300 million USD a year in the program. By 2009  Ukraine covered transportation, while room, board, schooling, and medical services were covered by the Cuban government. In 2011 Ukranian president Viktor Yanukovich visited the center alongside then Cuban President Raul Castro. A year earlier the Ukranian Foreign Minister Konstantin Grishenko said: “We will never forget what Cuba has done for us.”

You can watch this documentary to get the full story.

Credit: Chernobil en nosotros / Television Cubana

There is a 50-minute documentary that tells the story of the medical program at Tarara. Doctors talk about the effects of radiation in an approachable, if chilling, way. You can watch the documentary with English subtitles here

You can also watch this footage from AP about the program in Cuba for Chernobyl children.

Have you seen HBO’s “Chernobyl”?

READ: Here’s How Cuba’s Tumultuous History Forced A Cuban Diaspora That Changed The World

The Trump Administration Just Made It Harder For US Citizens To Travel To Cuba

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The Trump Administration Just Made It Harder For US Citizens To Travel To Cuba

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Following up on an announcement back in April, the Trump administration has moved to further restrict travel to Cuba.

The US government announced major new restrictions on US citizens who want to travel to the island and is limiting the most popular method of visiting.

The announcement effectively bans the most common way Americans were traveling to the island.

Credit: @cnnbrk

These new restrictions block the most common way Americans are able to visit the island — through organized tour groups that license US citizens to travel automatically — and banning US cruise ships from stopping in the country.

American tourism is not explicitly permitted in Cuba. However, Americans can travel to Cuba if it is covered under specific categories, which included organized group travel, known as group people-to-people travel, until Tuesday.

The move is blamed on Cuba’s role in Venezuela and Nicaragua.

In a statement, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that the restrictions are a result of Cuba continuing “to play a destabilizing role in the Western Hemisphere, providing a communist foothold in the region and propping up US adversaries in places like Venezuela and Nicaragua by fomenting instability, undermining the rule of law, and suppressing democratic processes.”

Commercial flights from the US will continue as normal.

After the Obama administration loosed travel restrictions to Cuba in 2014, many US-based airlines began service to the island. These flights will still be allowed to operate.

Officials in Cuba were quick to condemn the news.

Credit: @BrunoRguezP / Twitter

Cuban government statistics say US citizens have quickly grown to become the second largest foreign group visiting the island after Canadians. They also pointed out that the blockade and new travel restrictions are against international law.

Cuba is one of only two countries that US citizens can’t travel to freely.

Credit: @carlosgutierrez / Twitter

Many were surprised by the news because the Trump administration has positioned itself as a fan of deregulation and more ‘freedom’ for US citizens. However, this policy is limiting the rights and freedom of Americans who want to travel to Cuba.

Many worried travelers took to Twitter to check with cruise lines if their plans were still OK.

Credit: @CNN / Twitter

Unfortunately, most companies, including major cruise lines, were still short on details. Though according to the Treasury, travelers who already booked at least one part of their travel to Cuba will still be allowed to take their trip.

Others took to Twitter to share their stories of recent trips to Cuba and how this new policy only hurts the lives of local Cuban people.

Credit: @CNN / Twitter

According to several sources, the US travel restrictions have the greatest impact on local Cubans and very little effect on the policies of the Cuban government.

I mean the blockade has been in place for more than 50 years. Has it achieved it stated goal yet?

While many were upset that other Americans may not have the chance to witness the country’s beauty.

Credit: @CNN / Twitter

And that the Cuban people are being punished for the policies of their government.

But some were celebrating the move in a pretty sarcastic way.

Credit: @CNN / Twitter

Since in many countries, Americans don’t always have the best reputation as travelers. People often accuse us of being loud and kinda entitled when we travel.

But overall most people reacted with disappointment.

Credit: @CNN / Twitter

The travel ban and economic blockade have been in place in one form or another for more than 50 years and they’ve had little effect.

US citizens are allowed to travel to other communist countries, so why is the US singling out Cuba?

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