Ninety miles off the Florida Keys sits the last untouched gem of the Caribbean. Cuba is a vestige of the beauty that was once the Caribbean--a sea now scarred by American influence, modernization and poverty.
"Discovered" by Christopher Columbus on Oct. 27, 1492, Cuba became a center of Spanish trade in gold and spices and the Spanish crown's military stronghold in the Americas. The native population was quickly decimated by brutal conquistadors, smallpox and other diseases introduced by colonists. The aboriginal population having been eradicated, Cuba soon turned to African slaves as an alternate source of labor.
The modern population of Cuba is made up largely of Latinos, blacks and mulattos, with Chinese and Caribbean minorities.
Revolutionary movements began gaining strength in the Nineteenth century, but it was United States intervention during the Spanish-American War that eventually helped Cuba gain independence from Spain on Dec. 12, 1898.
For the next 60 years, Cuba was ruled by a number of United States-backed dictatorships. These governments were known to be corrupt, weak and subordinate to U.S. interests. By 1920, U.S. companies owned more than two-thirds of Cuban farms, mines and factories. The population lived in deplorable conditions and slaved for insufficient wages. Public schools and health care were nonexistent.
But then, in 1956, Fidel Castro Ruz, a Cuban exile living in Mexico City, led a small army of revolutionaries to Cuba in hopes of toppling the brutal regime of dictator Fulgencio Batista. Castro and his army fought a long, hard guerilla war in the Sierra Maestra mountain range and eventually made some headway and gained public support. Fearing for his life, Batista fled to the Dominican Republic on New Years Eve, 1958. The next day, Castro's forces claimed vict ory and Castro marched triumphantly into Havana on Jan. 3, 1959.
Castro soon declared himself Prime Minister and set out to reform Cuba. He established public schools, socialized medicine, subsidized housing and a minimum wage. The people loved him.
Animosity, however, was building back in the United States among Cuban exiles and American businesses that had lost money and property because of the Cuban Revolution. In April 1961, 1400 Cuban exiles--trained and funded by the U.S. CIA--attempted to invade Cuba in what has become known as the Bay of Pigs invasion. Castro's forces crushed this revolutionary attempt, but Castro understood that he had to take measures to prevent further interventions by the United States.
On May Day of 1961, Castro announced that his revolution was socialist and Cuba became allied with the Soviet Union. Fearing the dreaded word "communism," President Kennedy issued an embargo against Cuba, making it illegal for Americans to travel to or do business with Cuba. Things came to a head in October 1962 when U.S. spy planes discovered Soviet missiles in Cuba, which brought about a standoff that brought the world closer to the brink of nuclear war that it ever has been.
The Cold War is over, but U.S. sanctions and travel restrictions against Cuba still exist. Cuba is still a Third-World nation and the people are not guaranteed freedoms of speech or religion. Yet, despite a repressive system, the people are happy, healthy and well-educated. Cuba boasts of a nearly 100 percent literacy rate and the lowest AIDS rate in the Western Hemisphere (about 1/42 of the United States Aids rate).
This Web site is designed, through a series of links, articles and photographs, to introduce you to some aspects of modern Cuba. Cuba is a fascinating place, and I hope this site helps build a greater appreciation of the country.
Viva la Cuba!