On October 27, 1492, Christopher Columbus exclaimed upon arriving to the cost of Cuba that: “This is the most beautiful land that human eyes ever beheld”. Eighteen years later, Diego Velazquez embarked on the conquest of Cuba and the first settlements were founded. The first sugar mills were built towards the end of the 16th Century. Two hundred years later, sugar became the main economic staple of the island, resulting in the introduction of the first African slaves, whose amalgamation with the Spaniards settlers produced the creoles or the first Cubans. With the advent of the 17th Century, the Cuban shores became infested with corsairs and pirates and the country flourished with contraband trade. However, during the mid 18th Century, an unexpected event shook Cuba’s economic, social and political foundations: the occupation of Havana by the British. During the ensuing eleven months, more than one thousand ships entered the port of Havana and a thriving trade was established with the Thirteen Colonies in North America and more than ten thousand slaves were brought in for the purpose of expanding the sugar industry.
In 1763, the Spaniards recovered Havana in exchange for the Florida peninsula (discovered and settled by the Spaniards in the 15th Century). Spain introduced numerous reforms at all levels of society which accelerated the formation of the Cuban nationality. As a result, the ideals of liberation became increasingly stronger. On October 10, 1868, the war for national independence began and spanned throughout a period of ten years. Jose Marti (1853-1895), the most prominent figure of the Cuban struggles for independence emerged during this period. He founded the Cuban Revolutionary Party and organized the Independence War of 1895.
In 1898, the United Status of America intervened in the war. Washington finished-off the practically vanquished Spanish army; however, it refused to recognize the government of the Republic of Cuba in Arms. On May 20, 1902, the US Congress passed the Platt Amendment, authorizing the government of the United States of America to intervene in Cuba at any moment it deemed fit. On May 20, 1902, Cuba was formally granted its independence, although the country was controlled by an oligarchy which was bound to Washington through the Platt Amendment as an appendix to the constitution of the nascent nation.
In 1923, a small group of patriots created the University Reform Movement and the Federation of University Students (FEU), headed by Julio Antonio Mella, a young revolutionary and a Marxist. During this period, the Anti-Imperialist League and the Jose Marti Popular University were also founded, which were attended by workers and members of other organizations.
On July 26, 1953 a group of young revolutionaries headed by Fidel Castro stormed the Moncada Barracks in Santiago de Cuba, the second military fortress in the country for the purpose of distributing arms to the people, thus igniting a general insurrection. However, the action failed and the youths were tried and condemned to long prison sentences at the Presidio Modelo (Model Prison) in the Isle of Pine (now Isle of Youth). Thanks to a widespread popular campaign, the revolutionaries were granted amnesty and in 1955 they traveled to Mexico as exiles.
In Mexico, Fidel Castro, together with the rest of his comrade-in-arms, including an Argentine doctor named Ernesto Che Guevara, organized an expedition to Cuba. The revolutionaries traveled on board the Granma yacht, which landed on December 2, 1956, in the eastern region of Cuba, in a place known as Las Coloradas, which marked the beginning of the armed struggle (guerrilla movement) in the Sierra Maestra Mountains. A clandestine struggle was also waged throughout the country.
Dictator Fulgencio Batista was definitively toppled by the revolutionary forces on January 1, 1959 and fled. The Cuban Revolution had triumphed. On February 7 of that year, the Constitution of 1940 was reinstated as the Fundamental Law of the Republic, which was amended in accordance with the new situation in the country. The Council of Ministers was invested with legislative powers. On February 16, 1959, President Manuel Urrutia LLelo, a former magistrate, became President of the Republic and Fidel Castro, Primer Minister. Foreign companies, including the Cuban Telephone Company, Cooperativa de Omnibus Aliados and the Omnibus Metropolitanos were nationalized and the Agrarian Reform law was signed.
However, opposition forces based in the Dominican Republic and the United Status armed bands and financed plans to overthrow the Cuban Revolution. The Bay of Pigs invasion, launched with the participation of US air sport and counterrevolutionary forces trained by specialists from that country, represented a the first great defeat of Imperialism in Latin America.
In the 1990s, and following the collapse of the socialist block in Eastern Europe and demise of the Soviet Union, the United States Government initiated a new phase of the economic blockade against Cuba. A group of Florida legislators submitted a bill in Congress for the purpose of putting an end to ongoing transactions between subsidies of US transnational companies, based in third countries which had been circumventing the stringent measures imposed by the blockade since 1975, and Cuba. The Bill also sought to sanction ships transporting goods or passengers to the largest isle in the West Antilles (vessels traveling to Cuba were banned from docking in US ports for a term of 180 days). On October 23, 1992, the Torricelli Act was signed by President Clinton and in 1997, track two of the Helms-Burton Act was enforced. Washington resorted to all means and tried to rally support for its policy against the island from the EU and its other allies.
Cuba has carried out profound social development programs which have made it the country with the highest level of social justice in the Third World. Its excellent public healthcare and education systems, sports and cultural indicators are proof of this endeavor.
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