Whenever Cuba is mentioned, what comes to many people’s minds are images of Fidel Castro thumping his fist in the air against the United States, Soviet Union, the 1962 nuclear missile crisis, world-class cigars, vintage cars, globe-trotting doctors, and long-standing defiance against the American superpower. While talking about Cuba one can’t forget about the world famous Cuban cigars, which have become the best cigars in the world. Partagas cigars are one of the most famous among Cuban cigars, as they mix modern tastes with time-honored tradition and history.
However, this small Caribbean island nation’s history is a lot more exciting and intriguing than this.
Cuba before the 1953 Revolution: Colonialism and Independence Revolts and Coups
Before the Cuban Revolution of 1953 led by Fidel Castro, Cuba was a different place entirely as far as geopolitics were concerned. Before the Castro regime, Cuba was one of the United States’ closest allies anywhere in the Americas. This could be traced to the long history that existed between the two nations, even if the course of history changed with Castro’s coming.
Like many other nations in the Americas, Cuba was wrecked by an almost endless series of revolts and coups in its pre-independence and post-independence eras. It had always been a tumultuous region as far as political affairs were concerned. Believed to be initially inhabited by the indigenous Taino Indians who are now extinct, the Guanahatabey and the Ciboney, Cuba would later fall to Spain’s colonial forces.
In 1868, a planter by the name of Carlos Manuel de Cespedes gave freedom to his slaves and led a rebellion against the Spanish colonists to get complete independence from Spain. This rebellion would lead to a protracted conflict called the Ten Years’ War, which lasted from 1868 to 1878. In total, Cubans fought three liberation wars against Spain for their independence. Apart from the Ten Years’ War, the other two were the Cuban War of Independence (1895 to 1898) and the Little War, which lasted from 1879 to 1880.
United States Occupation
The United States would later intervene in the conflict and led to the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1898, followed by the United States taking control of Cuba and turning it into a protectorate. Cuba would not get full independence from the United States until 1902 when it became the Republic of Cuba. Around this time, the United States secured a lease of the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base with the provisions of the Platt Amendment.
After controversial elections in 1906, Tomas Estrada Palma emerged the first president of Cuba, but he was soon confronted by armed rebels, and the United States had to intervene again and appointed Charles Edward Magoon as the administrator of Cuba. By 1908, Jose Miguel Gomez became President, and many successive Cuban leaders faced political unrest and revolts.
This continued until the time of President Geraldo Machado in the 1930s. Political unrest increased until a new constitution was drawn up in 1940 when Fulgencio Batista emerged as President, but he refused to honor the new constitution. Batista would remain in power by force until he was forced into exile in 1958.
The Batista Government, Political and Socioeconomic Crisis
Fulgencio Batista was a soldier who became President of Cuba from 1940 until 1944 and later from 1952 to 1959 when he reigned as a dictator fully supported by the United States. He would remain in office until he was overthrown by the brains behind the Cuban Revolution, which had commenced in 1953.
Batista’s second coming to power upon his return from exile in Florida was different as he now got all the financial, logistical, political, and military support that he needed from the American government. Buoyed by support from the United States, Batista decided to nullify the 1940 constitution, grossly limited political freedoms and banned workers from going on strike.
Batista would then forge a very warm relationship with the elite’s members like the wealthy and aristocratic owners of the country’s vast sugar plantations and promoted American interests in the country. The Batista government’s economic policies led to a widening of the gap between the rich and the poor masses of the island nation.
As poverty, unemployment, and repression increased, discontent swelled amongst the citizens, and there were regular riots by students and protests by workers. Batista embarked on a tighter grip of the media, stepped up repression, and used his secret police, the infamous Bureau for the Repression of Communist Activities, to unleash terror and deal with the opposition. Dissents were executed publicly, and torture was widespread.
Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution: The End of Batista
A combination of popular discontent, a failing economy, political repression, suppression of freedoms by a dictatorial regime backed by a foreign superpower all made it possible for Fidel Castro and his 26th of July Movement to form a political force and armed revolt against the Batista junta.
The revolution commenced in July 1953 and would continue until Batista’s ousting on the 31st of December 1958. Castor would immediately place Cuba under Communist rule and forge closer ties with the Soviet Union while breaking ties with the United States, an action that sparked long-standing hostility between the two nations.