Here’s How Cuba’s Tumultuous History Forced A Cuban Diaspora That Changed The World
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
With Castro as the new leader, the lives of the Cuban people changed drastically and with devastating results.
The mass exodus.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.