When Columbus passed by Cuba in 1492 he described it as the most beautiful man had ever seen and so the Spanish soon colonised the island and enslaved the indigenous people whose numbers dropped drastically by more than 100,000 to less than 5,000 in 1550. Instead the Spanish brought in African slaves to work in the plantations and Cuba became the world's largest sugar producer. The US being one of the biggest sugar importers twice offered to buy the island – both unsuccessfully. In 1868 landowners freed slaves and rebelled against the Spanish in what became the First War of Independence – ten years and more than 200,000 lives later the war ended with improved conditions but not independence.
In 1895 Jose Marti initiated the Second War of Independence leaving the country in flames and chaos. However, it took the explosion of an American battleship in Havana Harbour (protecting American citizens) before the US invaded and conquered the island. In drafting a constitution the Americans gave Cuba two options; to remain under US occupation or become independent but allowing the US to intervene militarily at any time - indefinitely (and at the same time establishing Guantanamo naval base). Cuba became independent in 1902 starting a “tradition“ of currupt governments. Unknown to many Batista was initially elected in 1933 where he drafted a new constitution guaranteeing many democratic rights to the Cubans. However, after another two corrupt and inefficient governments he took over the country in a coup in 1952. Castro initiated a small and unsuccessful rebel attack and got sentences to 15 years – however he only served 3 years since Batista freed all political prisoners after being elected in 1955. After a year in Mexico establishing a new rebel force Castro returned to Cuba with 81 men but only 12 escaped to the Sierra Maestra mountains. The rebels slowly increased in numbers and gained grounds and on 1 January 1959 Batista fled the country.
The revolutionary government nationalised land, introduced new taxes and cut rent, electricity costs, etc. More than 500,000 Cubans left the country between 1959 and 1970 and since many of the affected were Americans, Castro (being socialist and not communist) was pushed towards the Soviet Union who assisted the Cuban regime providing know how and making massive investments. In 1961 the US cut all diplomatic relations and in 1962 assisted the unsuccessful attack in the Bay of Pigs. The US instead established a full trade embargo which was follwed by the Cuba Crisis when the Soviet's installed missiles and almost caused a nuclear world war. When the Wall fell in 1989 Cuba suffered severely losing yearly trade and credits of approx. US 5 billion. The introduction of US dollars in 1993 created liquidity but also reintrocuced class differences. After becoming seriously ill in 2006 Castro stepped down and his brother Raul took over. Recent years recession forced him to the anti-communist move of laying off more than ½ million public employees creating chaos and disbelief amogst a population being used to a low standard of living but at least being taken care of. Many assurances were revoked but at the same time new opportunities emerged as conditions for private enterprises improved. Many believe that Raul will limit reforms to the symbolic and necessary - at least as long as Fidel is still alive. And anyway, things take time – with many internal and external challenges the future way for Cuba seems long and diffcult.