Area 68,885 square mi (110,860 square km)
Population 11.26 million 2014
Highest Point 6,578 ft (2,005 m)
Lowest Point 0 m
GDP $77.15 billion 2013
Primary Natural Resources sugar, tobacco, citrus, coffee, rice.
CUBA, THE 15th largest island in world, is part of the West Indies in the CARIBBEAN SEA. This island, which experiences a subtropical climate and a wet summer season between May and October, is composed of fertile ground where tobacco, sugarcane, and coffee are grown and where cattle graze. Twenty-five percent of the island is covered by the Oriental, Central, and Occidental mountain ranges.
More than 6,000 plant species are spread across Cuba. The royal palm is the most noticeable, and supposedly 20 million palms exist across the island. Cork palm can also be found on the island, as well as the palma barrigona, the ceiba, and the mariposa. The southern coast supports swamps with fish and birds. Reptiles are the most abundant fauna. Crocodiles, iguanas, salamanders, lizards, and turtles, as well as a mixture of nonpoisonous snakes, are present throughout the country. The jutia (a tree rat) is the largest land mammal on the island. And the world’s smallest bird, the bee hummingbird, originates from Cuba.
Modern-day history of Cuba can be traced back to November 27, 1492, when Christopher Columbus landed on the island. For the next 300 years, Spain had control over the small island. During the 16th century, the indigenous Tainos were virtually obliterated from the island. Subjected to a life of labor under the Spanish encomienda system, these indigenous people were forced to mine for silver and gold and to work the many plantations spread across the island.
Overall, the Spanish found a limited amount of silver and gold on the island. As the years passed, it was obvious that Cuba would have to serve other purposes for the Spanish administration. The island became a stopover for ships carrying goods from the Americas to Europe. In 1607, Havana was created as the Cuban capital. The forests across the island were cut down to make room for livestock, tobacco, and sugar for European sale. However, after the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1587, Spain’s New World colonies, such as Cuba, suffered from a lack of central control. The unregulated West African slave trade flourished and pirates appeared in Cuban ports.
In 1762, 200 English warships with 20,000 troops appeared outside of Havana. After 44 days, Havana fell to the English, but within a year, the British traded their new possession back to SPAIN for the land of FLORIDA. The new king of Spain, Charles III, began to actively encourage free trade, and the Cuban economy prospered. By 1820, Cuba held the distinction of being the world’s largest sugar producer. By 1835, all the New World colonies of Spain had received independence, except for PUERTO RICO and Cuba. Cuban revolutionaries began to form protests. In 1868, slavery was finally abolished and an overall rebellion for independence rose throughout the land. Ten years of war lasted and around 200,000 people perished in the fighting; some 100,000 fled the island. The Pact of Zanjon was signed in 1878, which ultimately granted all the rebels amnesty. However, independence was still not granted.
Cuban exiles in the UNITED STATES, including the poet Jose Marti, began plans for the next wave of rebellion. In 1895, they landed on eastern Cuba, and Marti was fatally shot. The rebels continued to fight, and in return, the Spanish government executed public figures and threatened civilians. Cuba eventually agreed to a home rule government for the Cubans, but the Cuban citizens wanted full independence.
In 1898, the U.S. warship Maine, anchored in the harbor in Havana, exploded. Although the reason for the explosion was unknown, American newspaper reports blamed the Spanish. American troops were dispatched to the island and the Spanish-American War began.
After various victorious American battles, including the Battle of San Juan Hill, a peace treaty was signed in December 1898. Although the Cubans were now independent of Spain, the U.S. influence on Cuba began. In 1902, the United States granted Cuba full independence but, under the Platt Amendment, reserved the legal right to intervene militarily if Cuba’s independence was threatened. The Guantanamo Bay naval base was also leased by the United States, and is still currently occupied by the U.S. military.
By the 1920s, over two-thirds of Cuba’s farmland was owned by American companies. Into the 1950s, Cuba was ruled by a number of military and political figures. During the early years of the Great Depression, President Gerardo Machado y Morales violently ended civil unrest throughout the country. He was overthrown in a coup, and Fulgencio Batista gained power, which would last for more than 20 years. Throughout this period, Cuba suffered economically, and active resistance groups were formed.
Fidel Castro emerged as a very influential rebel leader. In 1953, he led an attack on the Moncada barracks in Santiago. More than 100 died, and Castro faced a public trial. He was jailed but given an early release. He was exiled to Mexico, and from there organized the 26th of July Movement. In December 1956, Castro and his group landed on the eastern part of the island. For three years, guerrilla warfare spread throughout the island. On January 1, 1959, Batista was overthrown and fled to the DOMINICAN REPUBLIC.
Castro became the prime minister of the country, and overhauled the economy. He nationalized much of the land and American-owned petroleum facilities. The United States in return cut sugar imports, which debilitated the economy. With a deteriorating economic situation, Castro turned to the Soviet Union for aid. Sugar trade thus developed between Cuba and the Soviets.
BAY OF PIGS
In 1961, the U.S. CIA organized an invasion in the Bay of Pigs. Fourteen hundred CIA-trained Cuban exiles attacked Castro forces but were quickly captured. Castro declared that Cuba was to be a socialist state. The Soviet Union sent food, supplies, and nuclear missiles to the island that was only 90 miles off the coast of superpower rival, the United States. After an extremely tense nuclear standoff in 1962 between Cuba, the United States, and the Soviet Union, the missiles were returned to the Soviets.
For the next three decades, Cuba became a leading military and political force in the Third World, but its economy fell into major disrepair. In 1989, after the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and the decline of the Soviet Union, RUSSIA withdrew its aid. In 1991, economic reforms began in the country. Cuban citizens were allowed to be self-employed and farmers’ markets were opened. Slowly, the Cuban economy grew. Sensing that Castro’s power base was declining, the United States passed the Helms-Burton Act, which imposed harsher embargo conditions on Cuba. In 2004, Castro’s hold on Cuba was still strong and the country remained one of the last socialist states in the world.