Landing in Cuba - History

Landing in Cuba - History


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Capturing San Juan Hill

San Juan Hill

The road towards Santiago was now open. The going was difficult with a narrow path through the jungle. At the end of the trail the Spanish were dug in on the crest of San Juan Ridge and in the village of El Caney. The American plan developed by General Shafter, called for an assault first on El Caney by 5400 Americans, then once it was captured the whole American army would then swarm up the San Juan Hills. Unfortunately when the American forces advanced on El Caney before dawn on July 1 the actual assault did not develop as planned. Instead of taking an hour to overcome the Spanish defenses it took four assaults and all day. In the meantime the main part of the army had become ready to attack San Juan Hill. They made their way out of the jungle and into a meadow where they were subjected to withering fire. The men immediately took cover. They seemed trapped until three American Gattling guns came forward and held down enemy fire. Then almost spontaneously the American rose to their feet and began charging the hill. Teddy Roosevelt rode his horse leading the men to the top of the hill. The Hill was in American hands. The battle cost 205 American and 215 Spanish lives.



The Voyage of the Granma and the Cuban Revolution

In November 1956, 82 Cuban rebels piled onto the small yacht Granma and set sail for Cuba to touch off the Cuban Revolution. The yacht, designed for only 12 passengers and supposedly with a maximum capacity of 25, also had to carry fuel for a week as well as food and weapons for the soldiers. Miraculously, the Granma made it to Cuba on December 2 and the Cuban rebels (including Fidel and Raul Castro, Ernesto “Ché” Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos) disembarked to start the revolution.


Battle of Santiago de Cuba

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Battle of Santiago de Cuba, (July 3, 1898), concluding naval engagement, near Santiago de Cuba, Cuba, of the Spanish-American War, which sealed the U.S. victory over the Spaniards.

On May 19, 1898, a month after the outbreak of hostilities between the two powers, a Spanish fleet under Admiral Pascual Cervera arrived in Santiago harbour on the southern coast of Cuba. The Spanish fleet was immediately blockaded in harbor by superior U.S. warships from the U.S. squadrons in the Atlantic, under Rear Admiral William T. Sampson and Commodore Winfield S. Schley.

As long as the Spanish stayed within the protection of mines and shore batteries they could not be attacked, but nor could they challenge the U.S. blockade squadron. By July, however, the progress of U.S. land forces in Cuba put Cervera’s ships at risk from the shore. The Spanish admiral decided to attempt a breakout.

On 3 July, four cruisers and two destroyers steamed out of Santiago de Cuba. By chance, the flagship of Admiral William Sampson, commanding the blockade squadron, was off station. As the Spanish warships steamed along the coast, Commodore Winfield Schley led the pursuit on board USS Brooklyn. Cervera’s flagship, Infanta Maria Theresa, gallantly engaged Brooklyn in a delaying action in order to give the other ships a chance to escape, but in vain.

Battered by Brooklyn’s guns, the Spanish flagship ran aground, as did the cruiser Vizcaya, set ablaze after losing an unequal hour-long duel with the battleship USS Texas. The crew of the cruiser Oquendo scuttled their ship, and the two Spanish destroyers were sunk. The only Spanish ship to break the blockade was the cruiser Cristobal Colón. Fleeing westward, this final survivor was chased for 50 miles (80 km) by the swift battleship USS Oregon before it was overhauled. Colón’s captain scuttled his ship in shallow water to avoid futile loss of life.


5 Reasons Why the Bay of Pigs Invasion Failed

Just months after Fidel Castro and his communist revolutionaries took power in Cuba in 1959, the United States government secretly began to plot his downfall. Under President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the CIA recruited Cuban exiles in the U.S. to form a counter-revolutionary army at a covert CIA training camp in Nicaragua called "Happy Valley." The group was known as Brigade 2506. When John F. Kennedy was elected president in 1960, he inherited a convoluted scheme to invade Cuba using 1,500 of these anti-Castro Cubans trained by the CIA.

The mission, known as the Bay of Pigs Invasion, was doomed from the start and is widely regarded as one of America's worst foreign policy failures. The attack began the morning of April 15, 1961, with what was supposed to be an aerial bombardment of Castro's small air force. But the CIA-trained pilots, who flew World War II-era B-26 bombers painted to look like Cuban planes, failed to destroy all of Castro's aircraft.

That's when things really started to unravel, says Jim Rasenberger, author of "The Brilliant Disaster: JFK, Castro, and America's Doomed Invasion of Cuba's Bay of Pigs". Here are five reasons why the Bay of Pigs Invasion went so spectacularly wrong.

1. Journalists Spotted the CIA's Fake Plane

While eight of the B-26 bombers were sent to destroy Castro's airfields, a ninth flew directly to Miami, Florida, where "the CIA came up with this cockamamie idea," says Rasenberger.

The B-26 pilot in Miami claimed to be a defector from Castro's air force who had risen up with his comrades to attack the communist regime. The CIA took pains to make his plane look legit, complete with a Cuban air force serial number and a nose cone riddled with fresh bullet holes, but savvy journalists on the ground quickly saw through the ruse.

"There was still tape on the gun barrels to keep the dust out and his guns were mounted in the nose of the plane, while Castro's were under the wings," says Rasenberger. "It gave away the whole game right there."

Suddenly, with one bad fake job, it was plain to everyone that the U.S. was clearly behind this invasion. The Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev was furious and Kennedy was backed into a corner. If he admitted U.S. involvement, he risked starting World War III.

2. Kennedy Canceled the Second Airstrike

With the world watching, Kennedy made a difficult decision to cancel a second round of airstrikes planned for the early hours of April 17. Those airstrikes were supposed to destroy the rest of Castro's air force and clear a path for the amphibious pre-dawn landing of 1,500 men.

"The moment Kennedy canceled those airstrikes, he doomed the invasion," says Rasenberger. "Castro still had half of his planes left. For the invasion to have any chance of succeeding, those planes had to be taken out."

Rasenberger doesn't think Kennedy got "cold feet," as some critics alleged, but rather made a rational decision that a second airstrike wasn't worth going to war with Russia. Unfortunately, it would prove to be the mission's undoing, leaving the invading force and supply ships vulnerable to devastating airstrikes from Castro's remaining pilots.

3. The Landing Site Was Covered With Coral

The CIA had been planning the amphibious landing on Cuba's Playa Girón for months. Spy planes took dozens of aerial photographs of the landing site, but somehow the CIA officers missed a major obstacle — an offshore expanse of razor-sharp coral.

"The aerial photos showed something in the water, but CIA experts had explained it away as seaweed," says Rasenberger.

The plan was for the 1,500 CIA-backed Cuban fighters to slip quietly on to the beach before dawn, unload supplies from support vessels and establish a beachhead before Castro's army even woke up. But the coral threw everything into chaos, sinking some of the landing craft and slowing the amphibious landing to a crawl.

"By the time the first light came up, all those men were supposed to be on the beach and the support vessels out of sight," says Rasenberger. "The whole thing got completely screwed up."

Castro's air force, still intact after Kennedy's canceled airstrike, strafed the invasion force like it was target practice, not only killing men, but sinking two of their supply ships and sending the rest fleeing to international waters.

"The result was that all of the supplies for these 1,500 men were taken away," says Rasenberger. "Medical supplies, arms, vehicles. Everything they needed to survive on the beach was gone."

4. There Was No Spontaneous Cuban Uprising

It's unclear exactly what the CIA hoped would happen after the exiled Cuban fighters secured the beachhead at Playa Girón, but one of the political assumptions was that once news of the invasion reached Havana, it would inspire a spontaneous uprising from Castro's underground enemies.

"That didn't happen," says Rasenberger. "By the spring of 1961, all the anti-Castro Cubans had either left the country or were in jail in Cuba."

At this point, the survivors of the botched beach landing were pinned down on Playa Girón while Castro's army closed in from the surrounding swampland. No counter-revolutionaries were going to come out of the woodwork to save them, assuming they could have crossed the swampland. But the survivors could still count on their CIA backers, right?

5. A Time Zone Snafu Ruined the Rescue

At this point, the CIA and the U.S. Navy were begging Kennedy to send U.S. Air Force fighters to shoot down Castro's planes and clear a supply route for the pinned down troops. Kennedy rejected the idea of direct attacks by U.S. planes, but eventually authorized one hour of cover by six unmarked American Skyhawk jets from the U.S.S. Essex, an aircraft carrier patrolling nearby.

The Skyhawks wouldn't engage Castro's planes directly but would provide defensive cover for B-26 bombers flown in from Happy Valley. As it turned out, those B-26s weren't flown by Cuban exiles this time, but by U.S. airmen from Alabama who were in Nicaragua as trainers.

"What happened next was really strange. There was a time screwup," says Rasenberger. The time agreed upon was 6:30 a.m. EST but for some reason the B-26s launched an hour early. The jets immediately flew after them but they couldn't reach the invasion area in time to offer protection.

When the American-piloted B-26s flew over Cuba expecting Navy jets to be protecting them, they were all alone. Two of the jets were shot down and four of the American pilots were killed. Castro recovered one of the bodies and kept it as proof of America's hand in the failed plot. Seventy-five percent of Brigade 2506 ended up in Cuban jails. They were freed in 1962 in exchange for $53 million in food and medicine.

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Instead of ousting Castro, the disastrous Bay of Pigs Invasion gave legitimacy to his regime and only strengthened Cuba's relationship with the Soviet Union, an anti-American alliance that would result in the far scarier Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.


DESTINATION HAVANA, CUBA: THE TRAGIC MS ST LOUIS 1939 SAILING AND THE 900 DOOMED GERMAN-JEWISH PASSENGERS

1939 – FDR AND HIS DEMOCRATIC ADMINISTRATION REFUSED TO TAKE 900 JEWISH REFUGES FROM THE MS ST LOUIS – THEY HAD BEEN DENIED ENTRY INTO HAVANA AND THE CAPTAIN TRIED TO LET THEM FIND FREEDOM BY DOCKING IN MIAMI. THE US GOVERNMENT’S ACTIONS SENT MANY TO THEIR DEATHS – MAKING SO-CALLED AMERICAN “COMPASSION” A BLATANT HYPOCRISY UNDER FDR AND HIS GOVERNMENT.

SURVIVING GERMAN-JEWISH PASSENGERS – WHO WERE QUITE YOUNG AT THE TIME – FROM THE 1939 “VOYAGE OF THE DAMNED” AS SEEN IN MIAMI LAST DECEMBER AT 70TH YEAR REUNION. Under America’s backward embargo against Cuba, these people would still not be able to disembark in Havana. Not because Cuba wouldn’t welcome them but because the USA wouldn’t permit it. As FDR refused to let them land in the USA – in 1939.Seventy years after the MS St. Louis was turned away from the United States, the surviving passengers of the ill-fated voyage may be reuniting for the last time near where their chance at freedom was denied. Thirty-three of the 75 survivors — ranging in age from 71 to 91 are seen above. They signed a U.S. Senate proclamation issued earlier this year marking the first time the United States officially acknowledged the suffering of those aboard the ship when FDR refused entry into the USA.

On Suicide Watch – Small boats surrounded the MS ST LOUIS in Havana Harbor to prevent refugee passengers from committing suicide when denied landing in Cuba.

The surviving passengers (pictured at the reunion) were young children in 1939 when thee St. Louis was not allowed to dock in Havana. The ship was not permitted to land the 900 plus passengers. When the German captain begged the USA and Canada to take the passengers, FDR and the Prime Minister of Canada refused. The passengers were returned to Europe. Many died in concentration camps.

One of the darkest moments in a America’s mythical position as the bastion of humanitarian responses and concerns, was the MS St Louis saga during which over 900 German Jews were refused entry into the United States under the leadership of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

The MS St. Louis was a German ocean liner most notable for a single voyage in 1939, in which her captain, Gustav Schröder, tried to find homes for more than 900 German Jewish refugees after they were denied entry to Cuba. The event was the subject of a 1974 book, Voyage of the Damned, by Gordon Thomas and Max Morgan-Witts. It was adapted for a film with the same title, released in 1976 – starring Faye Dunaway, Faye Dunaway, Oskar Werner, Sam Wanamaker, Luther Adler, Wendy Hiller, Julie Harris, Jonathan Pryce, Max von Sydow, Malcolm McDowell, Orson Welles, James Mason, Katharine Ross, José Ferrer, Ben Gazzara, Fernando Rey, Janet Suzman, Helmut Griem and Denholm Elliott.

MS St. Louis – Captain Gustav Schröder, the commander of the ship, was a non-Jewish German and an anti-Nazi who went to great lengths to ensure dignified treatment for his passengers. He arranged for Jewish religious services and commanded his crew to treat the refugee passengers as they would any other customers of the cruise line. As the situation of the vessel deteriorated, he personally negotiated and schemed to find them a safe haven (for instance, at one point he formulated plans to wreck the ship on the British coast to force the passengers to be taken as refugees). He refused to return the ship to Germany until all the passengers had been given entry to some other country. He was eventually honored in Israel and Germany following WW 2.

The voyage of the St. Louis, a German ocean liner, dramatically highlights the difficulties faced by many people trying to escape Nazi terror. In May 1939, 937 passengers, most Jewish refugees, left Hamburg, Germany, en route to Cuba. Most of them planned eventually to emigrate to the United States and were on the waiting list for admission. All passengers held landing certificates permitting them entry to Cuba, but when the St. Louis reached the port of Havana, the President of Cuba refused to honor the documents.

Telegram appealing unsuccessfully to FDR to help.

St. Louis sailed from Hamburg to Cuba on May 13, 1939, carrying seven non-Jewish and 930 Jewish refugees (mainly German) seeking asylum from Nazi persecution.[1][2] On the ship’s arrival in Cuba, the Cuban government under Federico Laredo Brú refused the passengers entry as either tourists (laws related to tourist visas had recently been changed) or under political asylum. During negotiations, the government requested an additional $500 visa fee per passenger, money which most of the refugees did not have. The demands prompted a near-mutiny. Two passengers attempted suicide, and dozens more threatened to do the same. However, 29 of the refugees managed to disembark at Havana.

Early in 1939, Cuba enacted Decree 55, which stated there was a difference between a tourist and a refugee. The refugee was required to have a visa and to pay a $500 bond. However, a tourist did not have to abide by these requirements. While Decree 55 stated that refugees were different from tourists, one large oversight existed: it did not define what the difference was between refugees and tourists. Manuel Benitez, Director of Immigration, took advantage of this flaw and called the refugees aboard the St. Louis tourists. This distinction enabled Benitez to sell landing permits (something only tourists could purchase) to the St. Louis refugees for $150. Benitez benefitted from selling the landing permits until the President of Cuba, Frederico Laredo Bru, discovered that Benitez was profiting from the Decree’s loophole and refused to share his profits. Angered by Benitez’s actions, as well as Cuba’s poor economy and growing resentment of refugees, President Bru passed Decree 937, which remedied Decree 55’s flaw.

Unwanted refuges – Passengers are shown here boarding the MS ST LOUIS in Hamburg on the unsuccessful cruise.Cuba, the USA and Canada refused to take the MS ST LOUIS passengers and the ship was forced to return to Europe.

A haunting photo of the MS ST LOUIS from another ship.

A view of the MS ST LOUIS surrounded by smaller vessels in the port of Havana. After the ship left the Havana harbor, it sailed so close to the Florida coast that the passengers could see the lights of Miami. The captain appealed for help, but in vain. U.S. Coast Guard ships patrolled the waters to make sure that no one jumped to freedom and did not allow the ship to dock in the U.S.

Passengers (the German-Jewish refugees) were unable to disembark in Cuba – reflecting the tension and disappointment as they stand at the ship’s railing looking out at Havana. The St. Louis turned back to Europe. Belgium, the Netherlands, England, and France admitted the passengers. But within months, the Germans overran western Europe. Hundreds of passengers who disembarked in Belgium, the Netherlands, and France eventually fell victim to the Nazi “Final Solution.”

The route of the MS ST LOUIS.


St. Louis Captain Gustav Schroeder negotiates landing permits for the passengers with Belgian officials in the port of Antwerp. Schroeder, anti-Nazi German, refused to take the ship back to Germany before disembarking the German-Jewish refuges.

Postcard view of the liner MS ST LOUIS or SS ST LOUIS – Built by the Bremer Vulkan shipyards in Bremen for the Hamburg America Line, the St. Louis was a diesel-powered ship, and properly referred to with the prefix “MS” or “MV”. She is often known as the “SS St. Louis”. The St. Louis regularly sailed the trans-Atlantic route from Hamburg to Halifax, Nova Scotia and New York and made cruises to the West Indies. St. Louis was built for both transatlantic liner service and for leisure cruises.

Some histories recount that on June 4, 1939, Captain Schröder believed he was being prevented from trying to land St. Louis on the Florida shore. Material from that time was conflicting. According to authors Rabbi Ted Falcon, Ph.D & David Blatner in Judaism for Dummies, when the “St Louis was turned away from Cuba…, America not only refused their entry but even fired a warning shot to keep them away from Florida’s shores”. Legally the refugees could not enter on tourist visas, as they had no return addresses, and the U.S. had enacted immigration quotas in 1924. Telephone records show discussion of the situation by Secretary of State Cordell Hull and Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau, members of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s cabinet, who tried to persuade Cuba to accept the refugees. Their actions, together with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, were not successful. The Coast Guard was not ordered to turn away the refugees, but the US did not make provision for their entry. As St. Louis was turned away from the United States, a group of academics and clergy in Canada attempted to persuade Canada’s Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King to provide sanctuary to the ship, which was only two days from Halifax, Nova Scotia. However Canadian immigration officials and cabinet ministers hostile to Jewish immigration persuaded the Prime Minister not to intervene on June 9.

Captain Gustav Schröder, the commander of the ship, was a non-Jewish German and an anti-Nazi who went to great lengths to ensure dignified treatment for his passengers. He arranged for Jewish religious services and commanded his crew to treat the refugee passengers as they would any other customers on the cruise line. As the situation of the vessel deteriorated, he personally negotiated and schemed to find them a safe haven (for instance, at one point he formulated plans to wreck the ship on the British coast to force the passengers to be taken as refugees). He refused to return the ship to Germany until all the passengers had been given entry to some other country. US officials worked with Britain and European nations to find refuge for the travelers in Europe. The ship returned to Europe, docking at Antwerp, Belgium, on 17 June 1939. The United Kingdom agreed to take 288 of the passengers, who disembarked and traveled to the UK by other steamers. After much negotiation by Schröder, the remaining 619 passengers were allowed to disembark at Antwerp 224 were accepted by France, 214 by Belgium, and 181 by the Netherlands. They appeared to be safe from Hitler’s persecution.
The following year, after the German invasions of Belgium and France in May 1940, the Jews were at renewed risk. Without its passengers, the ship returned to Hamburg and survived the war.

By using the survival rates for Jews in various countries, Thomas and Morgan-Witts, authors of Voyage of the Damned, estimated that about 180 of the St. Louis refugees in France, plus 152 of those in Belgium and 60 of those in the Netherlands, survived the Holocaust. Of the original 936 refugees, they estimated a total of roughly 709 survived and 227 were slain. Later research by Scott Miller and Sarah Ogilvie of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum gave a more precise, higher total of 254 deaths: “Of the 620 St. Louis passengers who returned to continental Europe, we determined that eighty-seven were able to emigrate before Germany invaded western Europe on May 10, 1940. Two hundred and fifty-four passengers in Belgium, France and the Netherlands after that date died during the Holocaust. Most of these people were murdered in the killing centers of Auschwitz and Sobibór the rest died in internment camps, in hiding or attempting to evade the Nazis. Three hundred sixty-five of the 620 passengers who returned to continental Europe survived the war.”

Public Rooms aboard the ST LOUIS in first class.

A tour of the city of Havana, Cuba in the 1930s. The travelogue was filmed by Andre de la Varre. These are the sites refugees aboard the St Louis could only see from a distance. Shots of the capital and outlying visits to the island. Including arrival and departure by a cruise ship from New York. And scenes of Sloppy Joe’s.

SATURDAY, MAY 13, 1939 – 937 JEWISH REFUGEES FLEE NAZI GERMANY AND SAIL FOR HAVANA, CUBA
A German passenger ship, the St. Louis, leaves the port of Hamburg with approximately 900 passengers, mainly Jewish refugees holding Cuban landing permits. On 15 May 1939, the St. Louis stops in Cherbourg, France, to take on more passengers. The total number of passengers reaches 937. The ship sails for Havana, Cuba. What the captain and the passengers do not know, however, is that the Cuban government has invalidated all landing permits.

MAY 27, 1939 – CUBAN PRESIDENT DENIES ENTRY FOR REFUGEES
The St. Louis arrives in the Havana port, but the passengers are not permitted to leave the ship. The Cuban president, Federico Laredo Bru, refuses to accept their landing permits. Less than 30 passengers meet the new visa requirement and are allowed to enter Cuba. The ship remains anchored in the Havana harbor for six days in the hope that the refugees will eventually be allowed to land. Jewish refugees already in Cuba take boats into the harbor to get a glimpse of family members on the ship. On June 2, 1939, President Bru insists that the St. Louis leave the Havana harbor. The ship sails north, close to the Florida coast. The refugees hope that the United States will permit them to land. FDR and his Democratic administration denied this. FDR’s critics cite the SS St. Louis as a failure of his government to prove their humanity. There was also FDR’s failure to fire Breckinridge Long. While serving in FDR’s State Department, Long obstructed and delayed visas, causing the deaths of Jews desperate to escape Europe. Critics also note that anti-Semitism was common among wealthy Anglo-Saxons such as the Roosevelts during this era. Indeed, Roosevelt’s State Department was stocked with anti-Semites who opposed raising any immigration quotas to save European Jews. Roosevelt’s ambassador to England, Joe Kennedy was notoriously anti-Semitic.

JUNE 6, 1939 – JEWISH REFUGEES ABANDON HOPE OF REFUGE AND SAIL FOR EUROPE
After failing to dock in Cuba and the United States, the St. Louis is forced to return to Europe. Other countries agree to take the refugees. Belgium takes 214, the Netherlands 181, Great Britain 287, and France 224. On June 17, 1939, the St. Louis docks in Antwerp, Belgium, and the passengers are taken to their countries of refuge. Hundreds of passengers who disembarked in Belgium, the Netherlands, and France eventually fall victim to the Nazi “Final Solution.”

After Kristallnacht in November 1938, many Jews within Germany decided that it was time to leave. Though many German Jews had emigrated in the preceding years, the Jews who remained had a more difficult time because emigration policies had toughened. By 1939, not only were visas needed to be able to enter another country but money was also needed to leave Germany. Since many countries, especially the United States, had immigration quotas, visas were near impossible to acquire within the short time spans in which they were needed. For many, the visas were acquired after it was too late. The opportunity that the MS St. Louis presented seemed like a last hope to escape.
Boarding

The MS St. Louis, part of the Hamburg-America Line (Hapag), was tied up at Shed 76 awaiting its next voyage which was to take Jewish refugees from Germany to Cuba. Once the refugees arrived in Cuba they would await their quota number to be able to enter the United States. The black and white ship with eight decks held room for four hundred first-class passengers (800 Reichsmarks each) and five hundred tourist-class passengers (600 Reichsmarks each). The passengers were also required to pay an additional 230 Reichsmarks for the “customary contingency fee” which was supposed to cover the cost if there was an unplanned return voyage.1 As most Jews had been forced out of their jobs and had been charged high rents under the Nazi regime, most Jews did not have this kind of money. Some of these passengers had money sent to them from relatives outside of Germany and Europe while other families had to pool resources to send even one member to freedom. On Saturday, May 13, 1939, the passengers boarded. Women and men. Young and old. Each person who boarded had their own story of persecution.

One passenger, Aaron Pozner, had just been released from Dachau. On the night of Kristallnacht, Pozner along with 26,000 other Jews had been arrested and deported to concentration camps. While interned at Dachau, Pozner witnessed brutal murders by hanging, drowning, and crucifixion as well as torture by flogging and castrations by a bayonet.2 Surprisingly, one day Pozner was released from Dachau on the condition that he leave Germany within fourteen days. Though his family had very little money, they were able to pool enough money to buy a ticket for him to board the MS St. Louis. Pozner said goodbye to his wife and two children, knowing that they would never be able to raise enough money to buy another ticket to freedom. Beaten and forced to sleep amongst bloody animal hides on his journey to reach the ship, Pozner boarded with the knowledge that it was up to him to earn the money to bring his family to freedom.

Many other passengers had either left family members behind while some were also going to be meeting relatives that had traveled earlier. As the passengers boarded they remembered the many years of persecution that they had been living under. Some had come out of hiding to board the ship and none were certain that they would not receive the same kind of treatment once aboard. The Nazi flag flying above the ship and the picture of Hitler hanging in the social hall did not allay their fears. Earlier, Captain Gustav Schroeder had given the 231 member crew stern warnings that these passengers were to be treated just like any others. Many were willing to do this, two stewards even carried Moritz and Recha Weiler’s luggage for them since they were elderly. But there was one crew member who was disgusted by this policy and was ready to make trouble, Otto Schiendick the Ortsgruppenleiter. Not only was Schiendick ready to make trouble and was constantly trying, he was a courier for the Abwehr (German Secret Police). On this trip, Schiendick was to pick up secret documents about the U.S. military from Robert Hoffman in Cuba. This mission was code-named Operation Sunshine.

The captain made a note in his diary:

There is a somewhat nervous disposition among the passengers. Despite this, everyone seems convinced they will never see Germany again. Touching departure scenes have taken place. Many seem light of heart, having left their homes. Others take it heavily. But beautiful weather, pure sea air, good food, and attentive service will soon provide the usual worry-free atmosphere of long sea voyages. Painful impressions on land disappear quickly at sea and soon seem merely like dreams.

At 8:00 p.m. on that Saturday (May 13) evening, the ship sailed.

The Trip to Cuba

Only a half an hour after the MS St. Louis set sail, it received a message from Claus-Gottfried Holthusen, the marine superintendent of Hapag. The message stated that the MS St. Louis was to “make all speed” because there were two other ships (the Flandre and the Orduna) carrying Jewish refugees and heading for Cuba.4 Though there was no explanation for the need to hurry, this message seemed to warn of impending trouble.

The passengers slowly started adjusting to life aboard a large ship. With lots of good food, movies, and swimming pools the mood began to relax a little. Children enjoyed each others’ company and made new friendships as well as played childish pranks including locking bathroom stall doors and then climbing out underneath as well as soaping doorknobs. Several times Schiendick attempted to disturb this calm by posting copies of Der Stürmer, by substituting a newsreel with Nazi propaganda for the intended film, and by singing Nazi songs.

For Recha Weiler, who was helped by a steward with her luggage, her main concern was for her husband since his health continued to deteriorate. For over a week, the ship’s doctor continued to prescribe medicine for Moritz Weiler but nothing helped. On Tuesday, May 23, Moritz passed away. Captain Schroeder, the purser, and the ship’s doctor helped Recha to lay out her husband, provided candles, and found a rabbi on board. Though Recha wanted her husband buried once they reached Cuba, there was no storage facility where the body could be kept. Recha agreed to a burial at sea for her husband. To not unduly disturb the other passengers, it was agreed to hold the funeral at eleven o’clock the same night.

After the funeral rites were observed, the body was wrapped in a large Hapag flag that was then sewn up. Schiendick, trying to make trouble, insisted that the Party regulations stated that the bier, in a burial at sea, should be draped in a swastika flag. Schiendick’s proposal was refused. That evening, after a short funeral service the body slid into the sea.

Within half an hour, a depressed crew member jumped overboard at the same location that the body had left the ship. The MS St. Louis turned around and sent out search parties. The likelihood of finding the man overboard was small and the delay cost the ship valuable time in its race to Cuba against the Flandre and the Orduna. After several hours of searching, the search was called off and the ship resumed its course.

The news of the two deaths disturbed the passengers and suspicions and tensions increased. For Max Loewe, who was already on edge, the deaths increased his psychosis. Max’s wife and two children were increasingly worried about Max but tried to hide it.

Once the Captain received a cable on May 23 which stated that the MS St. Louis passengers might not be able to land in Cuba because of Decree 937, he felt it wise to establish a small passenger committee. The committee was to explore possibilities if there were problems landing in Cuba.
Decree 937

In Cuba in early 1939, Decree 55 had passed which drew a distinction between refugees and tourists. The Decree stated that each refugee needed a visa and was required to pay a $500 bond to guarantee that they would not become wards of Cuba. But the Decree also said that tourists were still welcome and did not need visas. The director of immigration in Cuba, Manuel Benitez, realized that Decree 55 did not define a tourist nor a refugee. He decided that he would take advantage of this loophole and make money my selling landing permits which would allow refugees to land in Cuba by calling them tourists. He sold these permits to anyone who would pay $150. Though only allowing someone to land as a tourist, these permits looked authentic, even were individually signed by Benitez, and generally were made to look like visas. Some people bought a large group of these for $150 each and then resold them to desperate refugees for much more. Benitez himself had made a small fortune in selling these permits as well as receiving money from the cruise line. Hapag had realized the advantage of being able to offer a package deal to their passengers, a permit and passage on their ship.

The President of Cuba, Frederico Laredo Bru, and his cabinet did not like Benitez making a great deal of money – that he was unwilling to share – on the loophole in Decree 55. Also, Cuba’s economy had begun to stagnate and many blamed the incoming refugees for taking jobs that otherwise would have been held by Cubans.

On May 5, Decree 937 was passed which closed the loophole. Without knowing it, almost every passenger on the MS St. Louis had purchased a landing permit for an inflated rate but by the time of sailing, had already been nullified by Decree 937.

Anticipation grew as the MS St. Louis neared the Havana harbor. No new mysterious or foreboding telegrams. No more deaths. Passengers enjoyed their last remaining days on ship and wondered what their new lives would be like in Cuba.

Late Friday afternoon, the last full day before the ship was to arrive, Captain Schroeder received a telegram from Luis Clasing (the local Hapag official in Havana) which stated that the St. Louis would have to anchor at the roadstead. Originally planning to dock at Hapag’s pier, anchoring at the roadstead had been a concession by President Bru since he still disallowed the St. Louis passengers to land. Captain Schroeder went to sleep that night wondering about this change.

Arrival at Cuba

At three o’clock in the morning, the pilot boarded. Captain Schroeder was anxious to ask the pilot about the reasons that they were to anchor in the harbor but the pilot used the language barrier as a reason not to answer the captain’s questions. A bell was rung at four in the morning to awaken the passengers and breakfast was served at half past four.

Cuban police and immigration officials boarded the St. Louis Saturday morning. Then the immigration officials suddenly left with no explanation. The police stayed on board and guarded the accommodation ladder. Several officials boarded but then left without an explanation as to why they had to anchor in the harbor nor gave an assurance that the passengers would be allowed to disembark. As the morning elapsed, family and friends of the passengers who were in Cuba began renting boats and encircling the St. Louis. The passengers on board waved and shouted to those below, but the smaller ships weren’t allowed to get too close.

The passengers remained anxious to disembark, not realizing the international and political negotiations which surrounded their fate.

Negotiations and Influences

Though a major player in the fate of the refugees since it was he who had signed their landing permits, he continually underestimated President Bru’s stance. Benitez constantly maintained that Bru would back down since the St. Louis was allowed in the harbor. He wanted $250,000 in bribes so that he could try to amend his relations with Bru and rescind Decree 937. President Bru refused to listen to Benitez’ requests. Though he no longer had access to Bru, he continued to espouse his assurance that Bru would back down. His confident attitude and slick talk convinced a number of influential people that the circumstances were not as serious as they seemed, thus action was not taken.

Clasing met several times with Benitez, hoping that Benitez could assure that the passengers would be allowed to disembark. Benitez wanted $250,000 – enough to pay President Bru what would seem a share in the landing permit profits. This was too much for Hapag to pay. Hapag had already given Benitez many “bonuses” Benitez’ request was in response to his lack of influence to change Bru’s opinion.

Hoffman needed the ship to land so that he could meet with Schiendick and give him the secret documents. Captain Schroeder had refused to give shore leave to the crew so Hoffman needed to find a way on to the ship or a way to get Schiendick off.

Before the St. Louis arrived in Havana, Goldsmith had repeatedly asked the Joint for additional funds to help the refugees already in Cuba and those about to arrive. The Joint refused. The local Jewish community donated to the Relief Committee but felt that the world should be helping. After the St. Louis arrived, the Joint began to realize the seriousness of the predicament. They would send two professionals to negotiate – but they would not arrive until four days later.

Joseph Goebbels and Anti-Semitism

Goebbels had decided to use the MS St. Louis and her passengers in a master propaganda plan. Having sent agents to Havana to stir up anti-Semitism, Nazi propaganda fabricated and hyped the passengers’ criminal nature – making them seem even more undesirable. The agents within Cuba stirred anti-Semitism and organized protests. Soon, an additional 1,000 Jewish refugees entering Cuba was seen as a threat.
Stuck in Cuba

The anxiousness and expectation of imminent departure transformed into anxiety and suspiciousness as the waiting was prolonged from hours to days.

On Monday, two days after arriving in Cuba, Hoffman found a way to board the St. Louis. Clasing had allowed Hoffman to go aboard in his place since Clasing was currently occupied about what he was to do with the 250 passengers who were supposed to board the St. Louis on a return voyage to Germany. Would President Bru allow 250 refugees to land so that these passengers waiting in Havana could make their return journey?

Hoffman had already hidden the secret documents in the spine of magazines, inside pens, and inside a walking cane, so he brought these with him to the ship. At the accommodation ladder, Hoffman was told he was allowed onto the ship but that he couldn’t bring anything on board. Leaving his magazines and cane behind, Hoffman boarded with the pens. Sent directly to Captain Schroeder, Hoffman used the influence of the Abwehr to force Schroeder into allowing the crew to go to shore. Schroeder, shocked that the Abwehr was connected to his ship, acquiesced. After a quick meeting with Schiendick, Hoffman left the ship. With the change in shore leave policy, Schiendick was able to pick up the magazines and cane and reboard the St. Louis. Now, Schiendick became a major push to head back to Germany with no stop in America for fear of being caught with the secret documents.

On Tuesday, Captain Schroeder called the passenger committee for a meeting for only the second time. The committee had become distrustful of the captain. The St. Louis had sat in the harbor for four days before they were called. No good news had come forward and the passenger committee was asked to send telegrams to influential people, family, and friends asking for help.

Each day that the St. Louis sat in the harbor, Max Loewe became increasingly paranoid. His family had worried before, but Max became extremely disturbed believing that there were many SS and Gestapo on board plotting to arrest him and put him in a concentration camp.

On Tuesday, Max Loewe slit his wrists and jumped overboard at the same spot that the body had gone over the side. Splashing around as he clawed at his arms attempting to pull out his veins, Max Loewe drew the attention of many on board. The siren wailed for man-overboard and a courageous crew member, Heinrich Meier, jumped into the water. The siren and uproar drew police crafts to the area. After some struggle, Meier was able to grab Loewe and push him into a police boat. Loewe kept screaming and had to be tackled to keep him from jumping back into the water. He was taken to an awaiting ambulance and then to a hospital. His wife was not allowed to visit him.

The days continued to progress and the passengers all became increasingly suspicious and fearful. If they were forced back to Germany, they would surely be sent to concentration camps. The possible consequences of their return were loudly suggested in German newspapers and magazines.

For anyone thinking about jumping overboard, the chances were slim of their success with the increased number of police crafts, the searchlights that scanned the ship, and the dangling lights used to illuminate the water.

The world followed the fate of the passengers aboard the St. Louis. Their story was covered around the world. The U.S. Ambassador to Cuba met with an influential member of the Cuban government and spoke diplomatically about the precarious position the Cubans were now in. The Ambassador had spoken without direct instructions from the President but he made the concerns of the U.S. known. The Cuban Secretary of State stated that the subject was to be determined by the cabinet.

On Wednesday, the cabinet met. The passengers aboard the St. Louis would not be allowed to land, not even 250 to allow room for return passengers.

Captain Schroeder began to fear mass suicides on board. Mutiny was also a possibility. With the help of the passenger committee, “suicide patrols” were created to patrol at night.

The two Americans from the Joint had arrived in Havana and by Thursday, June 1, had befriended a couple of influential people who convinced President Bru to reopen negotiations. To their shock though, Bru would not negotiate until the St. Louis was out of Cuban waters. The St. Louis was given notice to leave within three hours. Pleading by Schroener that he needed more time to prepare for departure, the deadline was set back until Friday, June 2 at 10 a.m.

No options were left for the St. Louis, if they did not leave peacefully, they were to be forced out by the Cuban navy.

Leaving Cuba

On Friday morning, the MS St. Louis roared up its engines and began to take its leave. Farewells were shouted overboard to friends and family in rented boats below.

The St. Louis was going to encircle Cuba, waiting and hoping for the conclusion of negotiations between the Joint representative, Lawrence Berenson, and President Bru.

The Cuban government wanted $500 per refugee (approximately $500,000 in total). The same amount as required for any refugee to obtain a visa to Cuba. Berenson didn’t believe he would have to pay that much, with negotiations, he believed, it would only cost the Joint $125,000.

During the following day, Berenson was approached by several men claiming affiliation with the Cuban government, one identified himself as having powers to negotiate bestowed by Bru. These men insisted that $400,000 to $500,000 were needed to ensure the St. Louis passengers’ return. Berenson believed that these men just wanted a cut in the profit by negotiating a higher price. He was wrong.

While the negotiations continued, the St. Louis milled around Cuba and then headed north, following the Florida coastline in the hopes that perhaps the United States would accept the refugees. [Accounts often mention that U.S. Coast Guard ships were following the St. Louis to prevent it from landing, but those ships had actually been sent at the request of Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau, Jr., because the location of the ship was unknown and he wanted to keep track of it in case a change in policy would allow it to land.]

At this time, it was noticed that because of the lack of time to prepare for leaving port, the St. Louis would run into food and water shortages in less than two weeks. Telegrams continued to arrive insisting the possibility of landing in Cuba or even the Dominican Republic. Once a cable arrived stating the MS St. Louis passengers could land on the Isla de la Juventud (formerly Isle of Pines), off of Cuba, Schroeder turned the ship around and headed toward Cuba.

The good news was announced to those on board and everyone rejoiced. Ready and awaiting a new life, the passengers prepared themselves for their arrival the next morning.

The next morning, a telegram arrived stating that landing at the Isla de la Juventud was not confirmed. Shocked, the passenger committee tried to think of other alternatives.

Around noon on Tuesday, June 6, President Bru closed the negotiations. Through a misunderstanding, the money allotment had not been agreed upon and Berenson missed a 48 hour deadline that he didn’t know existed. One day later, the Joint offered to pay Bru’s every demand but Bru said it was too late. The option of landing in Cuba was officially closed.

With a diminishing supply of food and pressures from Hapag to return to Germany, Captain Schroeder ordered the ship to change heading to return to Europe.

The Return Voyage

The following day, Wednesday, June 7, Captain Schroeder informed the passenger committee that they were returning to Europe. Though the situation was desperate there was still hope that negotiations for their landing in Europe somewhere other than Germany could be possible.

While massive negotiations were beginning, Aaron Pozner rallied some youths aboard to participate in a mutiny. Though they succeeded in capturing the bridge, they did not capture the other strategic locations of the ship. The mutiny was overcome. A crew members suicide by hanging also marked dread on the return voyage.

Through miraculous negotiations, the Joint committee was able to find several countries that would take portions of the refugees. 181 could go to Holland, 224 to France, 228 to Great Britain, and 214 to Belgium.

The passengers disembarked from the MS St. Louis from June 16 to June 20. Other ships were transformed to carry the passengers to their locations.

Having crossed the Atlantic Ocean twice, the passengers’ original hopes of freedom in Cuba and the U.S. turned into a forlorn effort to escape sure death upon their return to Germany. Feeling alone and rejected by the world, the passengers returned to Europe in June 1939. With World War II just months away, many of these passengers were sent East with the occupation of the countries to which they had been sent.

Voyage of the Damned

St. Louis sailed from Hamburg to Cuba in May 1939, carrying seven non-Jewish and 930 Jewish refugees (mainly German) seeking asylum from Nazi persecution. On the ship’s arrival in Cuba, the Cuban government under Federico Laredo Brú refused the passengers entry either as tourists (laws related to tourist visas had recently been changed) or under political asylum. During negotiations the government requested an additional $500 visa fee per passenger, money which most of the refugees did not have. This prompted a near-mutiny. Two passengers attempted suicide, and dozens more threatened to do the same. However, 29 of the refugees managed to disembark at Havana.

Some histories recount that on June 4, 1939, Captain Schroder believed he was being prevented from trying to land St. Louis on the Florida shore. Material from that time was conflicting. Legally the refugees could not be entered on tourist visas, as they had no return addresses, and the U.S. had enacted immigration quotas in 1924. Telephone records show discussion of the situation by Secretary of State Cordell Hull and Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau, members of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s cabinet, who tried to persuade Cuba to accept the refugees. Their actions, together with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, were not successful. The Coast Guard was not ordered to turn away the refugees, but the US did not make provision for their entry. The St. Louis then tried to enter Canada but was denied permission.

Captain Gustav Schröder, the commander of the ship, was a non-Jewish German and an anti-Nazi who went to great lengths to ensure dignified treatment for his passengers. He arranged for Jewish religious services and commanded his crew to treat the refugee passengers as they would any other customers of the cruise line. As the situation of the vessel deteriorated, he personally negotiated and schemed to find them a safe haven (for instance, at one point he formulated plans to wreck the ship on the British coast to force the passengers to be taken as refugees). He refused to return the ship to Germany until all the passengers had been given entry to some other country.

US officials worked with England and European nations to find refuge for the travelers in Europe. The ship returned to Europe, first stopping in the United Kingdom, where 288 of the passengers disembarked. After much negotiation by Schröder, the remaining 619 passengers were allowed to disembark at Antwerp 224 were accepted by France, 214 by Belgium, and 181 by the Netherlands. They appeared to be safe from Hitler’s persecution. The following year, after the German invasions of Belgium and France in May 1940, the Jews were at renewed risk. Without its passengers, the ship returned to Hamburg and survived the war.

By using the survival rates for Jews in various countries, Thomas and Morgan-Witts, authors of Voyage of the Damned, estimated that about 180 of the St. Louis refugees in France, plus 152 of those in Belgium and 60 of those in the Netherlands, survived the Holocaust. Of the original 936 refugees, they estimated a total of roughly 709 survived and 227 were slain.

Later, research by Scott Miller and Sarah Ogilvie of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has given a slightly higher total of deaths:

After the war, Captain Schröder was awarded the Order of Merit by the Federal Republic of Germany

In 1993 Gustav Schröder was posthumously named as one of the Righteous Among the Nations at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Israel in recognition of his heroism in finding safe haven for his passengers on the MS St. Louis.


How Cuba Remembers Its Revolutionary Past and Present

It’s not hard to see why Fidel Castro’s guerrilla headquarters during the Cuban revolutionary war was never found by the army. Even today, getting to the command post feels like a covert mission. Known as Comandancia La Plata, the remote hide-out was built in the spring of 1958 in the succulent rainforest of the Sierra Maestra at Cuba’s eastern tip, and it still lies at the end of steep, treacherous, unpaved roads. There are no road signs in the Sierra, so photographer João Pina and I had to stop our vehicle and ask for directions from passing campesinos on horseback while zigzagging between enormous potholes and wandering livestock. In the hamlet of Santo Domingo, we filled out paperwork in quadruplicate to secure access permits, before an official government guide ushered us into a creaky state-owned four-wheel-drive vehicle. This proceeded to wheeze its way up into one of the Caribbean’s last wilderness areas, with breathtaking views of rugged green peaks at every turn.

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One Day in December: Celia Sánchez and the Cuban Revolution

The guide, Omar Pérez, then directed us toward a steep hiking trail, which ascends for a mile into the forest. Rains had turned stretches into muddy streams, and the near-100 percent humidity had us soaked with sweat after only a few steps. A spry local farmer, Pérez pushed us along with mock-military exhortations of Vámanos, muchachos! By the time I spotted the first shack—the dirt-floored field hospital set up by the young medical graduate Ernesto “Che” Guevara—I looked like a half-wild guerrilla myself.

In any other country, the Comandancia would make an excellent eco-lodge, but in Cuba it remains one of the revolution’s most intimate historical shrines. The base was first carved out in April 1958 and continued to be Fidel’s main command post until December 1958, as the guerrillas gained one unexpected victory after the next and began to seize the rest of the island. Its 16 thatch-roofed huts were home to some 200 rebel soldiers and had the ambience of a self-contained—and strikingly beautiful—jungle republic.

The structures are all original, Pérez insisted, and are lovingly labeled with wooden signs. Che’s hospital was used to treat wounded guerrillas and enemy soldiers, and ill local peasant supporters. (“Che performed a lot of dentistry here,” Pérez said. “Not very well.”) Paths lead to the press office, where the rebels’ newspaper, El Cubano Libre, was produced mostly by hand. At the summit, Radio Rebelde was transmitted around Cuba using an antenna that could be raised and lowered unseen.

The main attraction is La Casa de Fidel—Castro’s cabin. Perched on a ledge above a burbling stream, with large windows propped open by poles to let in a cooling breeze, it’s a refuge that would suit a Cuban John Muir. The spacious two-room hut was designed by his resourceful secretary, rural organizer and lover, Celia Sánchez, and the interior still looks like the revolutionary power couple has just popped out for a cigar. There is a pleasant kitchen table and gasoline-fueled refrigerator used to store medicines, complete with bullet holes from when it was shot at while being transported on the back of a mule. The bedroom still has the couple’s armchairs, and an ample double bed with the original mattress now covered in plastic. Raised in a well-to-do family of landowners, Fidel enjoyed his creature comforts, but Celia also thought it important for visitors to see the rebel leader well established and comfortable—acting, in fact, as if the war were already won and he was president of Cuba. She would serve guests fine cognac, cigars and potent local coffee even as enemy airplanes strafed randomly overhead. Celia even managed to get a cake to the hut packed in dry ice via mule train for Fidel’s 32nd birthday.

The interior of the cabin is off-limits to visitors, but when Pérez meandered off, I climbed up the ladder and slipped inside. At one point, I lay down on the bed, gazing up at a window filled with jungle foliage and mariposa flowers like a lush Rousseau painting. It was the ideal place to channel 1958—a time when the revolution was still bathed in romance. “The Cuban Revolution was a dream revolution,” says Nancy Stout, author of One Day in December: Celia Sánchez and the Cuban Revolution. “It didn’t take too long. It worked. And it was filled with these extraordinary, larger-than-life characters.” As it was unfolding, the outside world was fascinated by the spectacle of a ragtag bunch of self-taught guerrillas, many of them barely out of college, who managed to overthrow one of Latin America’s most brutal dictatorships. “It was,” says Stout, “like an operetta.”

But even the hallowed Comandancia cannot escape Cuba’s modern realities, as the Socialist system is slowly being dismantled. As we hiked back down the mountain, Pérez explained that he had landed his prized job as a guide a decade ago, in part because his grandfather had helped the rebels in the 1950s. Although he has a university degree in agricultural engineering, he said he makes far more money in tourism than he could on a state-run farm. “My salary is 14 CUC [$16] a month, but I get by on propinitas, little tips,” he added pointedly. Pérez also hoped the opening of the economy since 2011 by Raúl Castro—Fidel’s younger brother, a guerrilla who also spent time at the Comandancia—would speed up. “Cuba has to change!” he said. “There’s no other way for us to move forward.”

It was a startling admission at such a hallowed revolutionary spot. Ten years ago, he might have been fired for such a declaration.

Castro’s cabin at the rebel headquarters had a simple bed, a fridge, a study and a secret trapdoor, in case he came under attack. (João Pina) The Sierra has long been a refuge for rebels, starting with the Taíno chief Hatuey, who led an uprising against the Spanish in the 1500s. (João Pina) The deserted road between Santiago de Cuba and Marea del Portillo. Much of the route has been wrecked by hurricanes and landslides. (João Pina) Sections of the road between Santiago de Cuba and Marea del Portillo can only be traversed at five miles an hour. (João Pina) (Guilbert Gates)

Cubans love anniversaries, and this December 2 marks one of its greatest milestones: the 60th anniversary of the secret landing of Granma, the ramshackle boat that brought Fidel, Che, Raúl and 79 other barely trained guerrillas to start the revolution in 1956. Che later described it as “less a landing than a shipwreck,” and only a quarter of the men made it to the Sierra Maestra—but it began the campaign that would, in a little over two years, bring down the Cuban government and reshape world politics. To me, the coming anniversary was an ideal excuse for a road trip to untangle a saga whose details I, like many who live in the United States, know only vaguely. Within Cuba, the revolutionary war is very much alive: Almost everywhere the guerrillas went now has a lavish memorial or a quasi-religious museum featuring artifacts like Che’s beret, Fidel’s tommy gun, or homemade Molotov cocktails. It’s still possible to meet with people who lived through the battles, and even the younger generation likes to remain on a first-name basis with the heroes. Cubans remain extremely proud of the revolution’s self-sacrifice and against-all-odds victories. Recalling that moment of hope can be as startling as seeing photographs of the young Fidel without a beard.

Fidel Castro (seated left) and his comrades in revolution review plans at the Sierra Maestra command post in 1958. (Andrew Saint-George / Magnum Photos)

“The war was both a long time ago and not so long ago,” says Jon Lee Anderson, author of Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life. “For Americans, the best way to understand what the era was like is to visit Cuba itself. You see the world as it was 60 years ago, without expressways or fast-food stores or strip malls. Today, the U.S. has been tamed. It’s a suburban landscape. But in the 1950s, there were no cellphones, no internet, there weren’t even many telephones. Everything moved in a different time frame.”

Following the path of the revolutionary war also leads to corners of Cuba that few travelers reach. While most outsiders are fascinated by Havana, with its rococo mansions and retro-chic hotels funded by the American mob, the cradle of revolt was at the opposite end of the long, slender island, in the wild, thinly populated Oriente (“East”).

Cuba was the last Spanish possession in the Americas, and two vicious 19th-century wars of independence began there. Victory in the second was plucked from Cuban hands by the intervention of the United States in the Spanish-American War in 1898. The humiliating Platt Amendment, passed by Congress in 1901, made it legal for the U.S. to intervene in Cuban politics, a safeguard that protected a flood of Yanqui investment. Although President Franklin D. Roosevelt repealed the law in 1934, the island remained a virtual American colony, with everything from power plants to sugar plantations in U.S. hands. This troubled situation took a dire turn in 1952, when a strongman with matinée idol looks named Fulgencio Batista seized power in a coup. Although Cuba remained one of the wealthiest nations in Latin America, Batista’s rule was marked by blatant corruption and a savage level of political repression.

“If you really want to understand the Cuban Revolution, you should start in Santiago cemetery,” Nancy Stout advised me before I flew to the city. Santiago de Cuba, whose palm-fringed plazas and colonial cathedrals now bask in splendid decay, is the country’s second-largest city. No sooner had I arrived than I hopped on the back of a motorbike taxi and gritting my teeth in the unnerving traffic, sped to the ancient necropolis of Santa Ifigenia. The memorial to “Those Fallen in the Insurgency” is a simple wall with dozens of bronze plaques, each one adorned with a fresh red rose, naming those killed by Batista’s security forces, usually after sickening torture. Many mutilated bodies were found strung from trees in city parks or dumped in gutters. Some victims were as young as 14 and 15. “The police officer in charge of Santiago was, literally, a psychopath,” Stout said. “Some of Batista’s generals had only fifth-grade educations. The ‘leftist agitators’ they were executing were often just kids.” On one occasion, the mothers of Santiago staged a protest march carrying placards that said: Stop the Murder of Our Sons. “A lot of everyday Cubans—students, bricklayers, teachers—were simply fed up.”

One of those was the young law graduate Fidel Castro Ruiz. Born into a wealthy landowning family some 60 miles north of Santiago, Fidel was from his teens known for a rebellious nature, hypnotic charisma and staggering self-confidence. At university in Havana he became involved in radical student politics and at age 24 planned to run as a progressive candidate in the 1952 election, before Batista canceled it. Photographs of him from the time show a tall, well-fed youth, often in a snappy suit, V-neck sweater and tie, and sporting a pencil mustache. With his chances of working within the system gone, Fidel and fellow activists in 1953 decided to take direct action.

The story would seem straight out of Woody Allen’s Bananas if the consequences had not been so tragic. With about 160 inexperienced men (and two women) disguised as soldiers, Fidel planned to storm government sites including a Santiago barracks called La Moncada, where he would surprise the 1,000 or so troops—who were hopefully sleeping off hangovers due to the previous evening’s carnival celebrations— and escape with a cache of arms. This resounding victory, Fidel hoped, would provoke Cubans to rise up against Batista and restore constitutional democracy. From the start, it was a fiasco. As his convoy of 15 cars approached the Moncada before dawn on July 26, it ran into two patrolmen. Fidel stopped his car and leapt out to deal with them, but this confused the other rebels, who mistook a military hospital for the Moncada and began firing wildly. By the time they had regrouped, soldiers were everywhere. Fidel ordered a retreat, but most of his men surrendered.

The reaction of the army shocked Cubans. Five of the attackers had been killed in the shootout, but 56 prisoners were summarily executed and their bodies scattered in the Moncada’s hallways to make it look as if they had been killed in battle. Many, in fact, had been gruesomely tortured. The eyes of one leader, Abel Santamaría, were gouged out and presented to his sister in an attempt to make her reveal their hide-out. Fidel was captured in the countryside soon after, by a by-the-books officer who refused to hand his prisoner over to superiors who wanted to dispense summary justice. It was the first of countless lucky breaks in the story of the revolution. Although Fidel and his men were sentenced to 15 years in prison, the 󈬊th of July Movement” was born.

Fidel spent two years incarcerated on the Isle of Pines, Cuba’s answer to Devil’s Island, reading Marx and becoming ever more radical. Nothing short of true revolution would change Cuba, he concluded, although the chances of his becoming personally involved seemed remote. Then, in 1955, Batista succumbed to popular opinion and included Fidel and his compañeros in an amnesty of political prisoners. It was a moment of over-confidence that the dictator would soon regret.

From exile in Mexico City, Fidel concocted a plan that seemed even more harebrained than the Moncada attack: to return to Cuba in a secret amphibious landing and begin an insurgency in the mountains. He bought a secondhand boat, the Granma, from an American expat and gathered a band of fellow firebrands, among them Ernesto Guevara. A quiet Argentine, quickly nicknamed “Che” (an Argentine term of affection), Guevara had haunting good looks and a steely willpower born of years battling asthma. It was an attraction of opposites with the strapping, extroverted Fidel that would turn into one of history’s great revolutionary partnerships.

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This article is a selection from the October issue of Smithsonian magazine

Travel in Cuba is never straightforward. Airport lines can take three hours, hotels demand mysterious printed “vouchers” and the few eccentric rental car companies are booked three months in advance. The Granma landing site and Sierra base are unusually far-flung, so an enterprising Cuban friend of a friend offered to drive us there in his own car for a tidy sum in U.S. dollars. But just before flying to Santiago, I received a forlorn message: “Bad news, compañeros, very bad news. ” The driver had been given a parking fine in Havana and lost his license. It was time to scramble for Plan B. We soon had a dozen local insiders scouring Cuba for any possible vehicle, with emails flying to expat acquaintances as far away as Toronto and Brussels. At the 11th hour, I received a message from a certain Esther Heinekamp of Cuba Travel Network, an educational agency based in Europe. She had tracked down a rental car in Santiago—“the last rental in the entire country!” I’d like to say it was a 1955 Chevrolet, but it turned out to be a silver MG, circa 2013. Still, on a steamy afternoon I drove us south of Santiago toward the famous Granma landing site, along one of the most spectacular and worst-maintained roads in the Western Hemisphere. On this wild shore, the ocean hits the coast with terrifying force. Much of the route has been wrecked by hurricanes and landslides, becoming a bare expanse of slippery rocks that could only be traversed at five miles an hour.

The Granma landing site, still pristine, is part of a national park, and the lone guide on duty, a jovial woman named Yadi León, seemed astonished to see us. We were the only visitors that day, she admitted, directing us toward a sun-blasted concrete walkway that had been laid across the mangroves. As dozens of tiny black crabs scuttled underfoot, León recounted the legendary story that every Cuban schoolchild knows by heart. The Granma had turned out to be barely seaworthy, more suited for a pleasure cruise than a military operation, and was seriously overloaded. “Fidel had calculated the journey from Mexico to Cuba would take five days,” León marveled. “But with over 80 men crowded onboard, it took seven.” As soon as they hit open ocean, half the passengers became seasick. Local supporters who had planned to meet the boat when it landed gave up when it failed to appear on time. As government air patrols threatened them on December 2, Fidel ordered the pilot to head to shore before sunrise, unaware that he had chosen the most inhospitable spot on the entire Cuban coastline.

At around 5:40 a.m., the Granma hit a sandbank, and the 82 men groggily lurched into the hostile swamp. The guerrillas were basically city slickers, and few had even seen mangroves. They sunk waist-deep into mud and struggled over abrasive roots. When they finally staggered onto dry land, Fidel burst into a farmer’s hut and grandly declared: “Have no fear, I am Fidel Castro and we have come to liberate the Cuban people!” The baffled family gave the exhausted and half-starved men pork and fried bananas. But the army had already gotten wind of their arrival, and three days later, on December 5, the rebels were caught in a surprise attack as they rested by a sugar-cane field. The official figure is that, of the 82 guerrillas, 21 were killed (2 in combat, 19 executed), 21 were taken prisoner and 19 gave up the fight. The 21 survivors were lost in the Sierra. Soldiers were swarming. As Che laconically recalled: “The situation was not good.”

Today, our stroll through the mangroves was decidedly less arduous, although the 1,300-meter path gives a vivid idea of the claustrophobia of the alien landscape. It was a relief when the horizon opened up to the sparkling Caribbean. A concrete jetty was being installed on the landing spot for the upcoming 60th anniversary celebrations, when a replica of the Granma will arrive for the faithful to admire. The gala on December 2 will be a more extravagant version of the fiesta that has been held there every year since the 1970s, León explained, complete with cultural activities, anthems and “acts of political solidarity.” The highlight is when 82 young men jump out of a boat and re-enact the rebels’ arrival. “But we don’t force them to wade through the swamp,” she added.

Workmen today tend to the historic site where the Granma landed in 1956 near Playa Las Coloradas. (João Pina)

A few days after the Granma debacle, the handful of survivors were reunited in the mountains with the aid of campesinos. One of the most beloved anecdotes of the war recounts the moment Fidel met up with his brother Raúl. Fidel asked how many guns he had saved. “Five,” Raúl answered. Fidel said he had two, then declared: “Now we’ve won the war!” He wasn’t joking. His fantastical confidence was unbowed.

As they settled into the Sierra Maestra, the urban intellectuals quickly realized they were now dependent on the campesinos for their very survival. Luckily, there was a built-in reservoir of support. Many in the Sierra had been evicted from their land by the Rural Guards and were virtual refugees, squatting in dirt-floor huts and subsisting by growing coffee and marijuana. Their generations of despair had already been tapped by Celia Sánchez, a fearless young activist for the 26th of July Movement who was at the top of Batista’s most-wanted list in the Oriente. A brilliant organizer, Sánchez would soon become Fidel’s closest confidante and effective second in command. (The romance with Fidel developed slowly over the following months, says biographer Stout. “Fidel was so tall and handsome, and he had a really sweet personality.”)

Young farmhands swelled the rebel ranks as soldiers. Girls carried rebel missives folded into tiny squares and hidden (as Celia mischievously explained) “in a place where nobody can find it.” Undercover teams of mules were organized to carry supplies across the Sierra. A farmer even saved Che’s life by hiking into town for asthma medication. The campesinos also risked the savage reprisals of soldiers of the Rural Guard, who beat, raped or executed peasants they suspected of rebel sympathies.

Today, the Sierra is still a frayed cobweb of dirt roads that lead to a few official attractions—oddities like the Museum of the Heroic Campesino—but my accidental meetings are more vivid. On one occasion, after easing the car across a surging stream, I approached a lonely hut to ask for directions, and the owner, a 78-year-old gentleman named Uvaldo Peña Mas, invited me in for a cup of coffee. The interior of his shack was wallpapered with ancient photographs of family members, and he pointed to a sepia image of a poker-faced, middle-aged man—his father, he said, who had been murdered early in Batista’s rule. The father had been an organizer for the sharecroppers in the area, and one day an assassin walked up and shot him in the face. “I still remember when they brought in his body,” he said. “It was 8 in the morning. People came from all around, friends, relatives, supporters. Of course, we had to kill a pig to feed them all at the funeral.” Although he supported the revolution, he recalled that not everyone who joined Fidel was a hero. “My next-door neighbor joined the guerrillas,” Peña said wryly. “He was a womanizer, a drunk, a gambler. He ran away to join the guerrillas to get out of his debts.”

Uvaldo Peña Mas, now 78, was a child when his father, a local organizer, was murdered. “I still remember when they brought in his body,” he says. (João Pina) A farmer poses near Santo Domingo in the Sierra Mountains. (João Pina) A family farm in Granma province (João Pina)

For six months, Fidel and his battered band lay low, training for combat and scoring unusual propaganda points. The first came when Batista told the press that Fidel had been killed after the landing, a claim the rebels were quickly able to disprove. (To this day, Cubans relish photos of the 1956 newspaper headline FIDEL CASTRO DEAD.) The next PR coup came in February 1957, when New York Times correspondent Herbert Matthews climbed into the Sierra for the first interview with Fidel. Matthews was star-struck, describing Fidel with enthusiasm as “quite a man—a powerful six-footer, olive-skinned, full-faced.” Castro had stage-managed the meeting carefully. To give the impression that his tiny “army” was larger than it was, he ordered soldiers to walk back and forth through the camp in different uniforms, and a breathless messenger to arrive with a missive from the “second front”—a complete fiction. The story was splashed across the front page of the Times, and a glowing TV interview with CBS followed, shot on Cuba’s highest summit, Mount Turquino, with postcard-perfect views. If he had not become a revolutionary, Fidel could have had a stellar career in advertising.

A more concrete milestone came on May 28, 1957, when the guerrillas, now numbering 80 men, attacked a military outpost in the drowsy coastal village of El Uvero. The bloody firefight was led by Che, who was showing an unexpected talent as a tactician and a reckless indifference to his own personal safety his disciplined inner circle would soon be nicknamed “the Suicide Squad.” Today, a monument with a gilded rifle marks Fidel’s lookout above the battle site, although visitors are distracted by the coastal views that unfold like a tropical Big Sur. Elderly residents still like to recount the story of the attack in detail. “It was 5:15 in the afternoon when we heard the first gunshots,” Roberto Sánchez, who was 17 at the time, told me proudly in a break from picking mangoes. “We all thought it was the Rural Guards training. We had no idea! Then we realized it was Fidel. From that day on, we did what we could to help him.”

“This was the victory that marked our coming of age,” Che later wrote of El Uvero. “From this battle on, our morale grew tremendously.” The emboldened guerrillas began to enjoy success after success, descending on the weak points of the vastly more numerous Batista forces, then melting into the Sierra. Their strategies were often improvised. Fidel later said he fell back for ideas on Ernest Hemingway’s novel of the Spanish Civil War, For Whom the Bell Tolls, which describes behind-the-lines combat in detail.

By mid-1958, the rebels had established Comandancia La Plata and a network of other refuges, and even the self-deluded Batista could not deny that the government was losing control of the Oriente. In summer, the dictator ordered 10,000 troops into the Sierra backed with air support, but after three tortuous months, the army withdrew in frustration. When the rebels revealed how many civilians were being killed and mutilated by napalm bombing, the U.S. government stopped Cuban air force flights from refueling at the Guantánamo naval base. Congress ended U.S. arms supplies. The CIA even began feeling out contacts with Fidel.

Sensing victory, Fidel in November dispatched Che and another comandante, Camilo Cienfuegos, to seize the strategic city of Santa Clara, located in the geographical center of Cuba. The 250-mile dash was one of the most harrowing episodes of the campaign, as troops slogged through flat sugar country exposed to strafing aircraft. But by late December, Che had surrounded Santa Clara and cut the island in two. Although 3,500 well-armed government troops were defending the city against Che’s 350, the army surrendered. It was a stunning victory. The news reached Batista back in Havana early on New Year’s Eve, and the panicked president concluded that Cuba was lost. Soon after the champagne corks popped, he was escaping with his cronies on a private plane loaded with gold bullion to the Dominican Republic. He soon moved to Portugal, then under a military dictatorship, and died from a heart attack in Spain in 1973.

Despite its revolutionary credentials, Santa Clara today is one of the most decrepit provincial outposts in Cuba. The Art Deco hotel in the plaza is pockmarked with bullet holes, relics of when army snipers held out on the tenth floor, and sitting by a busy road in the middle of town are a half-dozen carriages from the Tren Blindado, an armored train loaded with weapons that Che’s men derailed on December 29. A strikingly ugly memorial has been erected by the carriages, with concrete obelisks placed at angles to evoke an explosion. Guards show off burn marks from rebel bombs on the train floors, before cheerfully trying to sell visitors black market Cohiba cigars.

As the site of his greatest victory, Santa Clara will always be associated with Che. His remains are even buried here in the country’s most grandiose memorial, complete with a statue of the hero marching toward the future like Lenin at Finland Station. Still, the story of Che’s last days is a discouraging one for budding radicals. In the mid-1960s, he tried to apply his guerrilla tactics to other impoverished corners of the world with little success. In 1967, he was captured by the Bolivian Army in the Andes and executed. After the mass grave was rediscovered in 1997, Che’s remains were interred with much fanfare in Santa Clara by an eternal flame. The mausoleum is now guarded by cadres of young military women dressed in olive-drab miniskirts and aviator sunglasses, who loll about in the heat like Che groupies. An attached museum offers some poignant exhibits from Che’s childhood in Argentina, including his leather asthma inhaler and copies of schoolbooks “read by young Ernesto.” They include Tom Sawyer, Treasure Island and—perhaps most appropriately—Don Quixote.

A monument to the Cuban revolution marks the place where Fidel Castro fired the first shot in the coastal village of El Uvero. (João Pina) The grand monument to Che in Santa Clara houses his remains and those of 29 fellow rebels executed with him in Bolivia in 1967. (João Pina) In Santa Clara, a detail from the mausoleum of Che Guevara depicts the Argentine revolutionary who assisted Castro. (João Pina) Many roadside billboards (like this one near Yaguajay in Sancti Spiritus province) still offer support for the revolution. (João Pina)

It was around 4:30 a.m. on New Year’s Day, 1959, when news filtered though Havana of Batista’s flight. What happened next is familiar—in broad brushstrokes—to anyone who has seen The Godfather Part II. To many Cubans, the capital had become a symbol of decadence, a seedy enclave of prostitution, gambling and raunchy burlesque shows for drunken foreign tourists. Lured by the louche glamour, Marlon Brando, Errol Flynn and Frank Sinatra took raucous holidays in Havana, actor George Raft became master of ceremonies at the mob-owned Capri Hotel, and Hemingway moved to a leafy mansion on the city outskirts so he could fish for marlin in the Caribbean and guzzle daiquiris in the bar El Floridita.

Batista’s departure let loose years of frustration. By dawn, crowds were taking out their anger on symbols of Batista’s rule, smashing parking meters with baseball bats and sacking several of the American casinos. Fidel ordered Che and Camilo to rush ahead to Havana to restore order and occupy the two main military barracks. The spectacle of 20,000 soldiers submitting to a few hundred rebels was “enough to make you burst out laughing,” one guerrilla, Carlos Franqui, later wrote, while the grimy Camilo met the U.S. ambassador with his boots off and feet on a table, “looking like Christ on a spree.”

Fidel traveled the length of Cuba in a weeklong “caravan of victory.” The 1,000 or so guerrillas in his column, nicknamed Los Barbudos, “the bearded ones,” were greeted as heroes at every stop. The cavalcade finally arrived in Havana on January 8, with Fidel riding a tank and chomping a cigar. “It was like the liberation of Paris,” Anderson says. “No matter your political persuasion, nobody loved the police or the army. People had been terrorized. And here were these baseball-playing, roguish, sexy guys who roll into town and chase them off. By all accounts, it was an orgy.” Fidel rode his tank to the doors of the brand-new Havana Hilton and took the presidential suite for himself and Celia. Other guerrillas camped out in the lobby, treading mud over the carpets, while tourists going to the pool looked on in confusion.

As for us, we too were soon triumphantly speeding along the Malecón, Havana’s spectacular seafront avenue, which looks just as it did when Graham Greene’s novel Our Man in Havana came out the month before Fidel’s victory. (“Waves broke over the Avenida de Maceo and misted the windscreens of cars,” Greene wrote. “The pink, green, yellow pillars of what had once been the aristocrat’s quarter were eroded like rocks an ancient coat of arms, smudged and featureless, was set over the doorway of a shabby hotel, and the shutters of a night club were varnished in bright crude colors to protect them from the wet and salt of the sea.”) Compared with in the countryside, the old revolutionary spirit has only a tenuous hold in Havana. Today, the city has come full circle to the wild 1950s, with bars and restaurants sprouting alongside nightclubs worked by jineteras, freelance prostitutes.

The baroque Presidential Palace now houses the Museum of the Revolution, but it is a shabby affair, its exhibits fraying in cracked, dusty cases. A glimpse of the feisty past is provided by the notorious Corner of the Cretins, a propaganda classic with life-size caricatures of Batista and U.S. presidents Reagan, Bush senior and junior. A new exhibit for Castro’s 90th birthday celebration was unironically titled “Gracias por Todo, Fidel!” (“Thanks for Everything, Fidel!”) and included the crib in which he was born.

Shaking the country dust from my bag, I emulated Fidel and checked into the old Hilton, long ago renamed the Habana Libre (Free Havana). It was perversely satisfying to find that the hotel has defied renovation. It’s now as frayed and gray as Fidel’s beard, towering like a tombstone slab above the seaside suburb of Vedado. The marble-floored lobby is filled with leftover modernist furniture beneath Picasso-esque murals, and the cafe where Fidel came for a chocolate milkshake every night is still serving. My room on the 19th floor had million-dollar views of Havana, although the bath taps were falling off the wall and the air conditioner gave a death rattle every time I turned it on.

I made a formal request to visit the Presidential Suite, which had been sealed up like a time capsule since Fidel decamped after several months. It was a voyage into the demise of the Cuban dream. A portly concierge named Raúl casually hit me up for a propinita as he accompanied me to the 23rd floor, and seconds after we stepped out of the elevator, a blackout hit. While we used the light from my iPhone to find our way, we could hear the increasingly shrill cries of a woman stuck in the elevator a couple of floors down.

When we cracked the double doors, Fidel’s suite exploded with sunlight. With its Eisenhower-era furniture and vintage ashtrays, it looked like the perfect holiday apartment for Don Draper. Celia’s room had floor-to-ceiling copper-toned mirrors, one of which was still cracked after Fidel kicked it in a tantrum. But the suite’s period stylishness couldn’t distract from the creeping decay. A crumbling sculpture in the main hallway was threatened by a pool of brownish water accumulating on the floor part of the railing on the wraparound veranda was missing. As we left, we heard the woman trapped in the elevator still screaming: “Por dios, ayúdame! Help!” I left Raúl yelling to her, “Cálmase, Señora! Calm yourself, madam!” I left, nervously, in another lift.


Contents

Historians believe the name Cuba comes from the Taíno language, however "its exact derivation [is] unknown". [28] The exact meaning of the name is unclear but it may be translated either as 'where fertile land is abundant' (cubao), [29] or 'great place' (coabana). [30]

Fringe theory writers who believe that Christopher Columbus was Portuguese state that Cuba was named by Columbus for the town of Cuba in the district of Beja in Portugal. [31] [32]

Pre-Columbian era Edit

Before the arrival of the Spanish, Cuba was inhabited by two distinct tribes of indigenous peoples of the Americas: the Taíno (including the Ciboney people), and the Guanahatabey.

The ancestors of the Taíno migrated from the mainland of South America, with the earliest sites dated to 5,000 BP. [33]

The Taíno arrived from Hispaniola sometime in the 3rd century A.D. When Columbus arrived, they were the dominant culture in Cuba, having an estimated population of 150,000. [33] It is unknown when or how the Guanahatabey arrived in Cuba, having both a different language and culture than the Taíno it is inferred that they were a relict population of pre-Taíno settlers of the Greater Antilles.

The Taíno were farmers, as well as fishers and hunter-gatherers.

Spanish colonization and rule (1492–1898) Edit

After first landing on an island then called Guanahani, Bahamas, on 12 October 1492, [34] Christopher Columbus commanded his three ships: La Pinta, La Niña and the Santa María, discovering Cuba on 27 October 1492, and landing in the northeastern coast on 28 October. [35] (This was near what is now Bariay, Holguín Province.) Columbus claimed the island for the new Kingdom of Spain [36] and named it Isla Juana after John, Prince of Asturias. [37]

In 1511, the first Spanish settlement was founded by Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar at Baracoa. Other settlements soon followed, including San Cristobal de la Habana, founded in 1515, which later became the capital. The indigenous Taíno were forced to work under the encomienda system, [38] which resembled the feudal system in medieval Europe. [39] Within a century, the indigenous people were virtually wiped out due to multiple factors, primarily Eurasian infectious diseases, to which they had no natural resistance (immunity), aggravated by harsh conditions of the repressive colonial subjugation. [40] In 1529, a measles outbreak in Cuba killed two-thirds of those few natives who had previously survived smallpox. [41] [42]

On 18 May 1539, conquistador Hernando de Soto departed from Havana with some 600 followers into a vast expedition through the American Southeast, starting at what is now Florida, in search of gold, treasure, fame and power. [43] On 1 September 1548, Dr. Gonzalo Perez de Angulo was appointed governor of Cuba. He arrived in Santiago, Cuba, on 4 November 1549, and immediately declared the liberty of all natives. [44] He became Cuba's first permanent governor to reside in Havana instead of Santiago, and he built Havana's first church made of masonry. [45] After the French captured Havana in 1555, the governor's son, Francisco de Angulo, went to the Viceroyalty of New Spain. [46]

Cuba developed slowly and, unlike the plantation islands of the Caribbean, had a diversified agriculture. Most importantly, the colony developed as an urbanized society that primarily supported the Spanish colonial empire. By the mid-18th century, there were 50,000 slaves on the island, compared to 60,000 in Barbados and 300,000 in Virginia as well as 450,000 in Saint-Domingue, all of which had large-scale sugarcane plantations. [47]

The Seven Years' War, which erupted in 1754 across three continents, eventually arrived in the Spanish Caribbean. Spain's alliance with the French pitched them into direct conflict with the British, and in 1762, a British expedition consisting of dozens of ships and thousands of troops set out from Portsmouth to capture Cuba. The British arrived on 6 June, and by August, had placed Havana under siege. [48] When Havana surrendered, the admiral of the British fleet, George Pocock and the commander of the land forces George Keppel, the 3rd Earl of Albemarle, entered the city, and took control of the western part of the island. The British immediately opened up trade with their North American and Caribbean colonies, causing a rapid transformation of Cuban society. [48]

Though Havana, which had become the third-largest city in the Americas, was to enter an era of sustained development and increasing ties with North America during this period, the British occupation of the city proved short-lived. Pressure from London to sugar merchants, fearing a decline in sugar prices, forced negotiations with the Spanish over the captured territories [ clarification needed ] . Less than a year after Britain captured Havana, it signed the 1763 Treaty of Paris together with France and Spain, ending the Seven Years' War. The treaty gave Britain Florida in exchange for Cuba. The French had recommended this to Spain, advising that declining to give up Florida could result in Spain instead losing New Spain and much of their colonies on South American mainland in the future. [48] Many in Britain were disappointed, believing that Florida was a poor return for Cuba and Britain's other gains in the war. [48]

The largest factor for the growth of Cuba's commerce in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century was the Haitian Revolution. When the enslaved peoples of what had been the Caribbean's richest colony freed themselves through violent revolt, Cuban planters perceived the region's changing circumstances with both a sense of fear and opportunity. They were afraid because of the prospect that slaves might revolt in Cuba as well, and numerous prohibitions during the 1790s of the sale of slaves in Cuba who had previously been enslaved in French colonies underscored this anxiety. The planters saw opportunity, however, because they thought that they could exploit the situation by transforming Cuba into the slave society and sugar-producing "pearl of the Antilles" that Haiti had been before the revolution. [49] As the historian Ada Ferrer has written, "At a basic level, liberation in Saint-Domingue helped entrench its denial in Cuba. As slavery and colonialism collapsed in the French colony, the Spanish island underwent transformations that were almost the mirror image of Haiti's." [50] Estimates suggest that between 1790 and 1820 some 325,000 Africans were imported to Cuba as slaves, which was four times the amount that had arrived between 1760 and 1790. [51]

Although a smaller proportion of the population of Cuba was enslaved, at times, slaves arose in revolt. In 1812, the Aponte Slave Rebellion took place, but it was ultimately suppressed. [52]

The population of Cuba in 1817 was 630,980 (of which 291,021 were white, 115,691 were free people of color (mixed-race), and 224,268 black slaves). [53] This was a much higher proportion of free blacks to slaves than in Virginia, for instance, or the other Caribbean islands. Historians such as Magnus Mõrner, who have studied slavery in Latin America, found that manumissions increased when slave economies were in decline, as in 18th-century Cuba and early 19th-century Maryland in the United States. [47] [54]

In part due to Cuban slaves working primarily in urbanized settings, by the 19th century, the practice of coartacion had developed (or "buying oneself out of slavery", a "uniquely Cuban development"), according to historian Herbert S. Klein. [55] Due to a shortage of white labor, blacks dominated urban industries "to such an extent that when whites in large numbers came to Cuba in the middle of the nineteenth century, they were unable to displace Negro workers." [47] A system of diversified agriculture, with small farms and fewer slaves, served to supply the cities with produce and other goods. [47]

In the 1820s, when the rest of Spain's empire in Latin America rebelled and formed independent states, Cuba remained loyal to Spain. Its economy was based on serving the empire. By 1860, Cuba had 213,167 free people of color (39% of its non-white population of 550,000). [47] By contrast, Virginia, with about the same number of blacks, had only 58,042 or 11% who were free the rest were enslaved. [47]

Independence movements Edit

Full independence from Spain was the goal of a rebellion in 1868 led by planter Carlos Manuel de Céspedes. De Céspedes, a sugar planter, freed his slaves to fight with him for an independent Cuba. On 27 December 1868, he issued a decree condemning slavery in theory but accepting it in practice and declaring free any slaves whose masters present them for military service. [57] The 1868 rebellion resulted in a prolonged conflict known as the Ten Years' War. A great number of the rebels were volunteers from Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, and the United States, as well as numerous Chinese indentured servants. [58] A battalion of 500 Chinese fought under the command of General Máximo Gómez in the 1874 Battle of Las Guasimas. [59] A monument in Havana honors the Cuban Chinese who fell in the war. [60]

A group of Dominican exiles, led by Máximo Gómez, Luis Marcano, and Modesto Díaz, utilizing the experience they had gained in the Dominican Restoration War (1863–65), became instructors of military strategy and tactics. With reinforcements and guidance from the Dominicans, the Cubans defeated Spanish detachments, cut railway lines, and gained dominance over vast sections of the eastern portion of the island. [61] On 19 February 1874, Gómez and 700 other rebels marched westward from their eastern base and defeated 2,000 Spanish troops at El Naranjo. The Spaniards lost 100 killed and 200 wounded and the rebels a total of 150 killed and wounded. [58] The most significant rebel victory came at the Battle of Las Guasimas, 16–20 March 1874, when 2,050 rebels, led by Antonio Maceo and Gómez, defeated 5,000 Spanish troops with 6 cannons. The five-day battle cost the Spanish 1,037 casualties and the rebels 174 casualties. [58]

The United States declined to recognize the new Cuban government, although many European and Latin American nations did so. [62] In 1878, the Pact of Zanjón ended the conflict, with Spain promising greater autonomy to Cuba. Spain sustained 200,000 casualties, mostly from disease the rebels sustained 100,000–150,000 dead. [63] In 1879–80, Cuban patriot Calixto García attempted to start another war known as the Little War but failed to receive enough support. [64] Slavery in Cuba was abolished in 1875 but the process was completed only in 1886. [65] [66]

An exiled dissident named José Martí founded the Cuban Revolutionary Party in New York in 1892. The aim of the party was to achieve Cuban independence from Spain. [67] In January 1895 Martí traveled to Monte Cristi and Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic to join the efforts of Máximo Gómez. [67] Martí recorded his political views in the Manifesto of Montecristi. [68] Fighting against the Spanish army began in Cuba on 24 February 1895, but Martí was unable to reach Cuba until 11 April 1895. [67] Martí was killed in the Battle of Dos Rios on 19 May 1895. [67] His death immortalized him as Cuba's national hero. [68]

Around 200,000 Spanish troops outnumbered the much smaller rebel army, which relied mostly on guerrilla and sabotage tactics. The Spaniards began a campaign of suppression. General Valeriano Weyler, the military governor of Cuba, herded the rural population into what he called reconcentrados, described by international observers as "fortified towns". These are often considered the prototype for 20th-century concentration camps. [69] Between 200,000 [70] and 400,000 Cuban civilians died from starvation and disease in the Spanish concentration camps, numbers verified by the Red Cross and United States Senator Redfield Proctor, a former Secretary of War. American and European protests against Spanish conduct on the island followed. [71]

The U.S. battleship USS Maine was sent to protect American interests, but soon after arrival, it exploded in Havana harbor and sank quickly, killing nearly three-quarters of the crew. The cause and responsibility for the sinking of the ship remained unclear after a board of inquiry. Popular opinion in the U.S., fueled by an active press, concluded that the Spanish were to blame and demanded action. [72] Spain and the United States declared war on each other in late April 1898. Over the previous decades, five U.S. presidents—Polk, Pierce, Buchanan, Grant, and McKinley—had tried to buy the island of Cuba from Spain. [73] [74]

The Battle of Santiago de Cuba, on 3 July 1898, was the largest naval engagement during the Spanish–American War, and resulted in the destruction of the Spanish Caribbean Squadron. Resistance in Santiago consolidated around Fort Canosa, while major battles between Spaniards and Americans took place at Las Guasimas on 24 June, and at El Caney and San Juan Hill on 1 July, after which the American advance ground to a halt. The Americans lost 81 killed and 360 wounded in taking El Caney, where the Spanish defenders lost 38 killed, 138 wounded and 160 captured. At San Juan, the Americans lost 216 killed and 1,024 wounded Spanish losses were 58 killed, 170 wounded and 39 captured. [75] Spanish troops successfully defended Fort Canosa, allowing them to stabilize their line and bar the entry to Santiago. The Americans and Cubans began a brutal siege of the city, which surrendered on 16 July after the defeat of the Spanish Caribbean Squadron.

Spain had sacrificed more of its sons to hold on to Cuba than she had in attempting to cling on to Mexico and South America, [76] and suffered over 62,000 dead in the 1895–98 war.

Republic (1902–1959) Edit

First years (1902–1925) Edit

After the Spanish–American War, Spain and the United States signed the Treaty of Paris (1898), by which Spain ceded Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Guam to the United States for the sum of US$20 million [77] and Cuba became a protectorate of the United States. Cuba gained formal independence from the U.S. on 20 May 1902, as the Republic of Cuba. [78] Under Cuba's new constitution, the U.S. retained the right to intervene in Cuban affairs and to supervise its finances and foreign relations. Under the Platt Amendment, the U.S. leased the Guantánamo Bay Naval Base from Cuba.

Following disputed elections in 1906, the first president, Tomás Estrada Palma, faced an armed revolt by independence war veterans who defeated the meager government forces. [79] The U.S. intervened by occupying Cuba and named Charles Edward Magoon as Governor for three years. Cuban historians have characterized Magoon's governorship as having introduced political and social corruption. [80] In 1908, self-government was restored when José Miguel Gómez was elected president, but the U.S. continued intervening in Cuban affairs. In 1912, the Partido Independiente de Color attempted to establish a separate black republic in Oriente Province, [81] but was suppressed by General Monteagudo with considerable bloodshed.

In 1924, Gerardo Machado was elected president. [82] During his administration, tourism increased markedly, and American-owned hotels and restaurants were built to accommodate the influx of tourists. [82] The tourist boom led to increases in gambling and prostitution in Cuba. [82] The Wall Street Crash of 1929 led to a collapse in the price of sugar, political unrest, and repression. [83] Protesting students, known as the Generation of 1930, turned to violence in opposition to the increasingly unpopular Machado. [83] A general strike (in which the Communist Party sided with Machado), [84] uprisings among sugar workers, and an army revolt forced Machado into exile in August 1933. He was replaced by Carlos Manuel de Céspedes y Quesada. [83]

Revolution of 1933–1940 Edit

In September 1933, the Sergeants' Revolt, led by Sergeant Fulgencio Batista, overthrew Céspedes. [85] A five-member executive committee (the Pentarchy of 1933) was chosen to head a provisional government. [86] Ramón Grau San Martín was then appointed as provisional president. [86] Grau resigned in 1934, leaving the way clear for Batista, who dominated Cuban politics for the next 25 years, at first through a series of puppet-presidents. [85] The period from 1933 to 1937 was a time of "virtually unremitting social and political warfare". [87] On balance, during the period 1933–1940 Cuba suffered from fragile politic structures, reflected in the fact that it saw three different presidents in two years (1935–1936), and in the militaristic and repressive policies of Batista as Head of the Army.

Constitution of 1940 Edit

A new constitution was adopted in 1940, which engineered radical progressive ideas, including the right to labor and health care. [88] Batista was elected president in the same year, holding the post until 1944. [89] He is so far the only non-white Cuban to win the nation's highest political office. [90] [91] [92] His government carried out major social reforms. Several members of the Communist Party held office under his administration. [93] Cuban armed forces were not greatly involved in combat during World War II—though president Batista did suggest a joint U.S.-Latin American assault on Francoist Spain to overthrow its authoritarian regime. [94] Cuba lost 6 merchant ships during the war, and the Cuban Navy was credited with sinking the German submarine U-176. [95]

Batista adhered to the 1940 constitution's strictures preventing his re-election. [96] Ramon Grau San Martin was the winner of the next election, in 1944. [89] Grau further corroded the base of the already teetering legitimacy of the Cuban political system, in particular by undermining the deeply flawed, though not entirely ineffectual, Congress and Supreme Court. [97] Carlos Prío Socarrás, a protégé of Grau, became president in 1948. [89] The two terms of the Auténtico Party brought an influx of investment, which fueled an economic boom, raised living standards for all segments of society, and created a middle class in most urban areas. [98]

Coup d'état of 1952 Edit

After finishing his term in 1944 Batista lived in Florida, returning to Cuba to run for president in 1952. Facing certain electoral defeat, he led a military coup that preempted the election. [99] Back in power, and receiving financial, military, and logistical support from the United States government, [100] Batista suspended the 1940 Constitution and revoked most political liberties, including the right to strike. He then aligned with the wealthiest landowners who owned the largest sugar plantations, and presided over a stagnating economy that widened the gap between rich and poor Cubans. [101] Batista outlawed the Cuban Communist Party in 1952. [102] After the coup, Cuba had Latin America's highest per capita consumption rates of meat, vegetables, cereals, automobiles, telephones and radios, though about one-third of the population was considered poor and enjoyed relatively little of this consumption. [103] However, in his "history will absolve me" speech, Fidel Castro mentioned that national issues relating to land, industrialization, housing, unemployment, education, and health were contemporary problems. [104]

In 1958, Cuba was a relatively well-advanced country by Latin American standards, and in some cases by world standards. [105] Cuba was also affected by perhaps the largest labor union privileges in Latin America, including bans on dismissals and mechanization. They were obtained in large measure "at the cost of the unemployed and the peasants", leading to disparities. [106] Between 1933 and 1958, Cuba extended economic regulations enormously, causing economic problems. [90] [107] Unemployment became a problem as graduates entering the workforce could not find jobs. [90] The middle class, which was comparable to that of the United States, became increasingly dissatisfied with unemployment and political persecution. The labor unions, manipulated by the previous, government since 1948, through union "yellowness", supported Batista until the very end. [90] [91] Batista stayed in power until he resigned in December 1958 under the pressure of the US Embassy and as the revolutionary forces headed by Fidel Castro were winning militarily (Santa Clara city, a strategic point in the middle of the country, fell into the rebels hands on December 31st) [108] [109] . [110]

Revolution and Communist party rule (1959–present) Edit

In the 1950s, various organizations, including some advocating armed uprising, competed for public support in bringing about political change. [111] In 1956, Fidel Castro and about 80 supporters landed from the yacht Granma in an attempt to start a rebellion against the Batista government. [111] It was not until 1958 that Castro's July 26th Movement emerged as the leading revolutionary group. [111]

By late 1958 the rebels had broken out of the Sierra Maestra and launched a general popular insurrection. After Castro's fighters captured Santa Clara, Batista fled with his family to the Dominican Republic on 1 January 1959. Later he went into exile on the Portuguese island of Madeira and finally settled in Estoril, near Lisbon. Fidel Castro's forces entered the capital on 8 January 1959. The liberal Manuel Urrutia Lleó became the provisional president. [112]

Dominican Republic strongman Rafael Trujillo and Castro both supported attempts to overthrow each other. On 14 June 1959, a Cuban-supported invasion force [113] landed from an airplane at Constanza, Dominican Republic, only to be immediately massacred. [114] A week later, two yachts offloaded 186 invaders onto Chris-Craft launches for a landing on the North coast. Dominican Air Force pilots fired rockets from their Vampire Jets into the approaching launches, killing all but 30 men, who managed to make it to the beaches at Maimon and Estero Hondo. Trujillo ordered his son, Ramfis, to lead the hunt for the survivors, and soon they were captured. The leaders of the invasion were taken aboard a Dominican Air Force plane and then pushed out in mid-air, falling to their deaths. [115] Militant anti-Castro groups, funded by exiles, by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and by Trujillo's Dominican government, carried out armed attacks and set up guerrilla bases in Cuba's mountainous regions. This led to the six-year Escambray rebellion (1959–65), which lasted longer and involved more soldiers than the Cuban Revolution. [116] [117]

According to Amnesty International, official death sentences from 1959 to 1987 numbered 237 of which all but 21 were actually carried out. [118] Other estimates for the total number of political executions go up to as many as 4,000. [119] The vast majority of those executed directly following the 1959 revolution were policemen, politicians, and informers of the Batista regime accused of crimes such as torture and murder, and their public trials and executions had widespread popular support among the Cuban population. [120]

The United States government initially reacted favorably to the Cuban revolution, seeing it as part of a movement to bring democracy to Latin America. [122] Castro's legalization of the Communist party and the hundreds of executions of Batista agents, policemen and soldiers that followed caused a deterioration in the relationship between the two countries. [122] The promulgation of the Agrarian Reform Law, expropriating thousands of acres of farmland (including from large U.S. landholders), further worsened relations. [122] [123] In response, between 1960 and 1964 the U.S. imposed a range of sanctions, eventually including a total ban on trade between the countries and a freeze on all Cuban-owned assets in the U.S. [124] In February 1960, Castro signed a commercial agreement with Soviet Vice-Premier Anastas Mikoyan. [122]

In March 1960, U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower gave his approval to a CIA plan to arm and train a group of Cuban refugees to overthrow the Castro government. [125] The invasion (known as the Bay of Pigs Invasion) took place on 14 April 1961, during the term of President John F. Kennedy. [123] About 1,400 Cuban exiles disembarked at the Bay of Pigs, but failed in their attempt to overthrow Castro. [123] In January 1962, Cuba was suspended from the Organization of American States (OAS), and later the same year the OAS started to impose sanctions against Cuba of similar nature to the U.S. sanctions. [126] The Cuban Missile Crisis (October 1962) almost sparked World War III. By 1963, Cuba was moving towards a full-fledged Communist system modeled on the USSR. [127]

In 1963, Cuba sent 686 troops together with 22 tanks and other military equipment to support Algeria in the Sand War against Morocco. [128] In 1964, Cuba organized a meeting of Latin American communists in Havana and stoked a civil war in the Dominican Republic in 1965 that prompted the U.S. military to intervene there. [129] Che Guevara engaged in guerrilla activities in Congo and was killed in 1967 while attempting to start a revolution in Bolivia. [129] During the 1970s, Fidel Castro dispatched tens of thousands of troops in support of Soviet-supported wars in Africa. He supported the MPLA in Angola and Mengistu Haile Mariam in Ethiopia. [130]

In November 1975, Cuba poured more than 65,000 troops and 400 Soviet-made tanks into Angola in one of the fastest military mobilizations in history. [131] South Africa developed nuclear weapons due to the threat to its security posed by the presence of large numbers of Cuban troops in Angola and Mozambique. [132] In 1976 and again in 1988 at the Battle of Cuito Cuanavale, the Cubans alongside its MPLA allies defeated UNITA rebels and apartheid South African forces. [133] An estimated 5,000 Cubans were killed in action during the Angolan Civil War. [134] In March 1978, Cuba sent 12,000 regular troops to Ethiopia, assisted by mechanized Soviet battalions, to help defeat a Somali invasion (see Ogaden War). Ethiopians backed by Cubans and Soviets pushed the Somalis back to their original borders. [135] The presence of a substantial number of blacks and mulattoes in the Cuban forces (40–50 percent in Angola) helped give teeth to Castro's campaign against racism and related prejudice like xenophobia. [136]

Despite Cuba's small size and the long distance separating it from the Middle East, Castro's Cuba played an active role in the region during the Cold War. In 1972, a major Cuban military mission consisting of tank, air, and artillery specialists was dispatched to South Yemen. The Cubans were also involved in the Yom Kippur War (1973). [137] Israeli sources reported the presence of a Cuban tank brigade in the Golan Heights, which was supported by two brigades. [138] The Israelis defeated the Cuban-Syrian tank forces on the Golan front Cuban losses were 180 killed and 250 wounded. [139]

The standard of living in the 1970s was "extremely spartan" and discontent was rife. [140] Fidel Castro admitted the failures of economic policies in a 1970 speech. [140] In 1975, the OAS lifted its sanctions against Cuba, with the approval of 16 member states, including the U.S. The U.S., however, maintained its own sanctions. [126] In 1979, the U.S. objected to the presence of Soviet combat troops on the island. [129] U.S. forces invaded the Caribbean island of Grenada in 1983, killing 24 Cuban soldiers and expelling the remainder of the Cuban aid force from the island. [129] Cuba gradually withdrew its troops from Angola in 1989–91.

Soviet troops began to withdraw from Cuba in September 1991, [129] and Castro's rule was severely tested in the aftermath of the Soviet collapse in December 1991 (known in Cuba as the Special Period). The country faced a severe economic downturn following the withdrawal of Soviet subsidies worth $4 billion to $6 billion annually, resulting in effects such as food and fuel shortages. [141] [142] The government did not accept American donations of food, medicines, and cash until 1993. [141] On 5 August 1994, state security dispersed protesters in a spontaneous protest in Havana. From the start of the crisis to 1995, Cuba saw its gross domestic product (GDP) shrink 35%. It took another five years for its GDP to reach pre-crisis levels. [143]

Cuba has since found a new source of aid and support in the People's Republic of China. In addition, Hugo Chávez, then-President of Venezuela, and Evo Morales, former President of Bolivia, became allies and both countries are major oil and gas exporters. In 2003, the government arrested and imprisoned a large number of civil activists, a period known as the "Black Spring". [144] [145]

In February 2008, Fidel Castro announced his resignation as President of the State Council following the onset of his reported serious gastrointestinal illness in July 2006. [146] On 24 February his brother, Raúl Castro, was declared the new president. [147] In his inauguration speech, Raúl promised that some of the restrictions on freedom in Cuba would be removed. [148] In March 2009, Raúl Castro removed some of his brother's appointees. [149]

On 3 June 2009, the Organization of American States adopted a resolution to end the 47-year ban on Cuban membership of the group. [150] The resolution stated, however, that full membership would be delayed until Cuba was "in conformity with the practices, purposes, and principles of the OAS". [126] Fidel Castro restated his position that he was not interested in joining after the OAS resolution had been announced. [151]

Effective 14 January 2013, Cuba ended the requirement established in 1961, that any citizens who wish to travel abroad were required to obtain an expensive government permit and a letter of invitation. [152] [153] [154] In 1961 the Cuban government had imposed broad restrictions on travel to prevent the mass emigration of people after the 1959 revolution [155] it approved exit visas only on rare occasions. [156] Requirements were simplified: Cubans need only a passport and a national ID card to leave and they are allowed to take their young children with them for the first time. [157] However, a passport costs on average five months' salary. Observers expect that Cubans with paying relatives abroad are most likely to be able to take advantage of the new policy. [158] In the first year of the program, over 180,000 left Cuba and returned. [159]

As of December 2014 [update] , talks with Cuban officials and American officials, including President Barack Obama, resulted in the release of Alan Gross, fifty-two political prisoners, and an unnamed non-citizen agent of the United States in return for the release of three Cuban agents currently imprisoned in the United States. Additionally, while the embargo between the United States and Cuba was not immediately lifted, it was relaxed to allow import, export, and certain limited commerce. [160]

The Republic of Cuba is one of the few socialist countries following the Marxist–Leninist ideology. The Constitution of 1976, which defined Cuba as a socialist republic, was replaced by the Constitution of 1992, which is "guided by the ideas of José Martí and the political and social ideas of Marx, Engels and Lenin." [5] The constitution describes the Communist Party of Cuba as the "leading force of society and of the state". [5]

The First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba is the most senior position in Cuba. [161] The First Secretary leads the Politburo and the Secretariat, making the office holder the most powerful person in Cuban government. [162] Members of both councils are elected by the National Assembly of People's Power. [5] The President of Cuba, who is also elected by the Assembly, serves for five years and since the ratification of the 2019 Constitution, there is a limit of two consecutive five-year terms. [5]

The People's Supreme Court serves as Cuba's highest judicial branch of government. It is also the court of last resort for all appeals against the decisions of provincial courts.

Cuba's national legislature, the National Assembly of People's Power (Asamblea Nacional de Poder Popular), is the supreme organ of power 609 members serve five-year terms. [5] The assembly meets twice a year between sessions legislative power is held by the 31 member Council of Ministers. Candidates for the Assembly are approved by public referendum. All Cuban citizens over 16 who have not been convicted of a criminal offense can vote. [163] Article 131 of the Constitution states that voting shall be "through free, equal and secret vote". [5] Article 136 states: "In order for deputies or delegates to be considered elected they must get more than half the number of valid votes cast in the electoral districts". [5]

No political party is permitted to nominate candidates or campaign on the island, including the Communist Party. [164] The Communist Party of Cuba has held six party congress meetings since 1975. In 2011, the party stated that there were 800,000 members, and representatives generally constitute at least half of the Councils of state and the National Assembly. The remaining positions are filled by candidates nominally without party affiliation. Other political parties campaign and raise finances internationally, while activity within Cuba by opposition groups is minimal.

Cuba is considered an authoritarian regime according to The Economist's Democracy Index [25] and Freedom in the World reports. [27]

In February 2013, President of the State Council Raúl Castro announced he would resign in 2018, ending his five-year term, and that he hopes to implement permanent term limits for future Cuban Presidents, including age limits. [165]

After Fidel Castro died on 25 November 2016, the Cuban government declared a nine-day mourning period. During the mourning period Cuban citizens were prohibited from playing loud music, partying, and drinking alcohol. [166]

Miguel Díaz-Canel was elected president on 18 April 2018 after the resignation of Raúl Castro. On 19 April 2021, Miguel Díaz-Canel became First Secretary of the Communist Party, the most powerful position in one party ruling Cuba. He is the first non-Castro to be in such top position since the Cuban revolution of 1959. [167]

Foreign relations Edit

Cuba has conducted a foreign policy that is uncharacteristic of such a minor, developing country. [168] [169] Under Castro, Cuba was heavily involved in wars in Africa, Central America and Asia. Cuba supported Algeria in 1961–1965, [170] and sent tens of thousands of troops to Angola during the Angolan Civil War. [171] Other countries that featured Cuban involvement include Ethiopia, [172] [173] Guinea, [174] Guinea-Bissau, [175] Mozambique, [176] and Yemen. [177] Lesser known actions include the 1959 missions to the Dominican Republic. [178] The expedition failed, but a prominent monument to its members was erected in their memory in Santo Domingo by the Dominican government, and they feature prominently at the country's Memorial Museum of the Resistance. [179]

In 2008, the European Union (EU) and Cuba agreed to resume full relations and cooperation activities. [180] Cuba is a founding member of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas. [181] At the end of 2012, tens of thousands of Cuban medical personnel worked abroad, [182] with as many as 30,000 doctors in Venezuela alone via the two countries' oil-for-doctors programme. [183]

In 1996, the United States, then under President Bill Clinton, brought in the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act, better known as the Helms–Burton Act. [184] In 2009, United States President Barack Obama stated on 17 April, in Trinidad and Tobago that "the United States seeks a new beginning with Cuba", [185] and reversed the Bush Administration's prohibition on travel and remittances by Cuban-Americans from the United States to Cuba. [186] Five years later, an agreement between the United States and Cuba, popularly called "The Cuban Thaw", brokered in part by Canada and Pope Francis, began the process of restoring international relations between the two countries. They agreed to release political prisoners and the United States began the process of creating an embassy in Havana. [187] [188] [189] [190] [191] This was realized on 30 June 2015, when Cuba and the U.S. reached a deal to reopen embassies in their respective capitals on 20 July 2015 [192] and reestablish diplomatic relations. [193] Earlier in the same year, the White House announced that President Obama would remove Cuba from the American government's list of nations that sponsor terrorism, [194] [195] which Cuba reportedly welcomed as "fair". [196] On 17 September 2017, the United States considered closing its Cuban embassy following mysterious sonic attacks on its staff. [197]

Military Edit

As of 2009 [update] , Cuba spent about US$91.8 million on its armed forces. [198] In 1985, Cuba devoted more than 10% of its GDP to military expenditures. [199] In response to American aggression, such as the Bay of Pigs Invasion, Cuba built up one of the largest armed forces in Latin America, second only to that of Brazil. [200]

From 1975 until the late 1980s, Soviet military assistance enabled Cuba to upgrade its military capabilities. After the loss of Soviet subsidies, Cuba scaled down the numbers of military personnel, from 235,000 in 1994 to about 60,000 in 2003. [201]

In 2017, Cuba signed the UN treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. [202]

Law enforcement Edit

All law enforcement agencies are maintained under Cuba's Ministry of the Interior, which is supervised by the Revolutionary Armed Forces. In Cuba, citizens can receive police assistance by dialing "106" on their telephones. [203] The police force, which is referred to as "Policía Nacional Revolucionaria" or PNR is then expected to provide help. The Cuban government also has an agency called the Intelligence Directorate that conducts intelligence operations and maintains close ties with the Russian Federal Security Service. [ citation needed ]

Administrative divisions Edit

The country is subdivided into 15 provinces and one special municipality (Isla de la Juventud). These were formerly part of six larger historical provinces: Pinar del Río, Habana, Matanzas, Las Villas, Camagüey and Oriente. The present subdivisions closely resemble those of the Spanish military provinces during the Cuban Wars of Independence, when the most troublesome areas were subdivided. The provinces are divided into municipalities.

Human rights Edit

The Cuban government has been accused of numerous human rights abuses including torture, arbitrary imprisonment, unfair trials, and extrajudicial executions (also known as "El Paredón"). [204] [205] Human Rights Watch has stated that the government "represses nearly all forms of political dissent" and that "Cubans are systematically denied basic rights to free expression, association, assembly, privacy, movement, and due process of law". [206]

In 2003, the European Union (EU) accused the Cuban government of "continuing flagrant violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms". [207] It has continued to call regularly for social and economic reform in Cuba, along with the unconditional release of all political prisoners. [208] The United States continues an embargo against Cuba "so long as it continues to refuse to move toward democratization and greater respect for human rights", [209] though the UN General Assembly has, since 1992, passed a resolution every year condemning the ongoing impact of the embargo and claiming it violates the Charter of the United Nations and international law. [210] Cuba considers the embargo itself a violation of human rights. [211] On 17 December 2014, United States President Barack Obama announced the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba, pushing for Congress to put an end to the embargo. [212]

Cuba had the second-highest number of imprisoned journalists of any nation in 2008 (China had the highest) according to various sources, including the Committee to Protect Journalists and Human Rights Watch. [213] [214]

Cuban dissidents face arrest and imprisonment. In the 1990s, Human Rights Watch reported that Cuba's extensive prison system, one of the largest in Latin America, consists of 40 maximum-security prisons, 30 minimum-security prisons, and over 200 work camps. [215] According to Human Rights Watch, Cuba's prison population is confined in "substandard and unhealthy conditions, where prisoners face physical and sexual abuse". [215]

In July 2010, the unofficial Cuban Human Rights Commission said there were 167 political prisoners in Cuba, a fall from 201 at the start of the year. The head of the commission stated that long prison sentences were being replaced by harassment and intimidation. [216] During the entire period of Castro's rule over the island, an estimated 200,000 people had been imprisoned or deprived of their freedoms for political reasons. [16]

The Cuban state asserts its adherence to socialist principles in organizing its largely state-controlled planned economy. Most of the means of production are owned and run by the government and most of the labor force is employed by the state. Recent years have seen a trend toward more private sector employment. By 2006, public sector employment was 78% and private sector 22%, compared to 91.8% to 8.2% in 1981. [217] Government spending is 78.1% of GDP. [218] Any firm that hires a Cuban must pay the Cuban government, which in turn pays the employee in Cuban pesos. [219] The average monthly wage as of July 2013 [update] is 466 Cuban pesos—about US$19. [220] However, after an economic reform in January 2021, the minimum wage is about 2100 CUP (84 USD) and the median wage is about 4000 CUP (166 USD). [ citation needed ]

Cuba has a dual currency system, whereby most wages and prices are set in Cuban pesos (CUP), while the tourist economy operates with Convertible pesos (CUC), set at par with the US dollar. [220] Every Cuban household has a ration book (known as libreta) entitling it to a monthly supply of food and other staples, which are provided at nominal cost. [221]

Before Fidel Castro's 1959 revolution, Cuba was one of the most advanced and successful countries in Latin America. [222] Cuba's capital, Havana, was a "glittering and dynamic city". [222] The country's economy in the middle part of the 20th century, fuelled by the sale of sugar to the United States, had grown wealthy. [ citation needed ] Cuba ranked 5th in the hemisphere in per capita income, 3rd in life expectancy, 2nd in per capita ownership of automobiles and telephones, and 1st in the number of television sets per inhabitant. [ citation needed ] Cuba's literacy rate, 76%, was the fourth highest in Latin America. [ citation needed ] Cuba also ranked 11th in the world in the number of doctors per capita. [ citation needed ] Several private clinics and hospitals provided services for the poor. Cuba's income distribution compared favorably with that of other Latin American societies. [ citation needed ] However, income inequality was profound between city and countryside, especially between whites and blacks. [ citation needed ] Cubans lived in abysmal poverty in the countryside. [ citation needed ] According to PBS, a thriving middle class held the promise of prosperity and social mobility. [222] According to Cuba historian Louis Perez of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, "Havana was then what Las Vegas has become." [223] In 2016, the Miami Herald wrote, ". about 27 percent of Cubans earn under $50 per month 34 percent earn the equivalent of $50 to $100 per month and 20 percent earn $101 to $200. Twelve percent reported earning $201 to $500 a month and almost 4 percent said their monthly earnings topped $500, including 1.5 percent who said they earned more than $1,000." [224]

After the Cuban revolution and before the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba depended on Moscow for substantial aid and sheltered markets for its exports. The loss of these subsidies sent the Cuban economy into a rapid depression known in Cuba as the Special Period. Cuba took limited free-market oriented measures to alleviate severe shortages of food, consumer goods, and services. These steps included allowing some self-employment in certain retail and light manufacturing sectors, the legalization of the use of the US dollar in business, and the encouragement of tourism. Cuba has developed a unique urban farm system called organopónicos to compensate for the end of food imports from the Soviet Union. The U.S. embargo against Cuba was instituted in response to nationalization of U.S.-citizen-held property and was maintained at the premise of perceived human rights violations. It is widely viewed that the embargo hurt the Cuban economy. In 2009, the Cuban Government estimated this loss at $685 million annually. [225]

Cuba's leadership has called for reforms in the country's agricultural system. In 2008, Raúl Castro began enacting agrarian reforms to boost food production, as at that time 80% of food was imported. The reforms aim to expand land use and increase efficiency. [226] Venezuela supplies Cuba with an estimated 110,000 barrels (17,000 m 3 ) of oil per day in exchange for money and the services of some 44,000 Cubans, most of them medical personnel, in Venezuela. [227] [228]

In 2005, Cuba had exports of US$2.4 billion , ranking 114 of 226 world countries, and imports of US$6.9 billion , ranking 87 of 226 countries. [229] Its major export partners are Canada 17.7%, China 16.9%, Venezuela 12.5%, Netherlands 9%, and Spain 5.9% (2012). [230] Cuba's major exports are sugar, nickel, tobacco, fish, medical products, citrus fruits, and coffee [230] imports include food, fuel, clothing, and machinery. Cuba presently holds debt in an amount estimated at $13 billion , [231] approximately 38% of GDP. [232] According to the Heritage Foundation, Cuba is dependent on credit accounts that rotate from country to country. [233] Cuba's prior 35% supply of the world's export market for sugar has declined to 10% due to a variety of factors, including a global sugar commodity price drop that made Cuba less competitive on world markets. [234] It was announced in 2008 that wage caps would be abandoned to improve the nation's productivity. [235]

In 2010 [update] , Cubans were allowed to build their own houses. According to Raúl Castro, they could now improve their houses, but the government would not endorse these new houses or improvements. [236] There is virtually no homelessness in Cuba, [237] [238] and 85% of Cubans own their homes [239] and pay no property taxes or mortgage interest. Mortgage payments may not exceed 10% of a household's combined income. [ citation needed ] .

On 2 August 2011, The New York Times reported that Cuba reaffirmed its intent to legalize "buying and selling" of private property before the year's end. According to experts, the private sale of property could "transform Cuba more than any of the economic reforms announced by President Raúl Castro's government". [240] It would cut more than one million state jobs, including party bureaucrats who resist the changes. [241] The reforms created what some call "New Cuban Economy". [242] [243] In October 2013, Raúl said he intended to merge the two currencies, but as of August 2016 [update] , the dual currency system remains in force.

In August 2012, a specialist of the "Cubaenergia Company" announced the opening of Cuba's first Solar Power Plant. As a member of the Cubasolar Group, there was also a mention of ten additional plants in 2013. [244]

In May 2019, Cuba imposed rationing of staples such as chicken, eggs, rice, beans, soap and other basics. (Some two-thirds of food in the country is imported.) A spokesperson blamed the increased U.S. trade embargo although economists believe that an equally important problem is the massive decline of aid from Venezuela and the failure of Cuba's state-run oil company which had subsidized fuel costs. [245]

In 2019, on June, the government announce increase the wages in the public sector, specially for the teachers and health personnel. The increase was about 300 %. [246] Also, in october, the government open stores to by, through electronic cards, house equipment and similar using USD, Euros or other international currency, sendit to Cuba by the cuban emigration. The leaders of the government recognized that the new measures were impopular but necesary to contain the capital flight to other countries as Panamá where cuban citizens traveled and imported items to resell on the island.

Other measures were the facilities to the private sector tod start to export and import, through state companies, resources to produce products and services on Cuba.

On January 1, 2021, the government launch the "Tarea Ordenamiento" (Ordenance Task) (previously announced on national tv transmisson by the cuban president Miguel Diaz-Canel, with the presence of Gen. Raùl Castro Ruz, then the first secretary of the Cuba Communist Party) , an effort thought by years, to finally end the use of the cuban convertible peso (CUC) and only use the cuban peso (CUP) in all the economy and to elevate the eficieny of the cuban economy. Also, on february, the government dicted new measures to the private sector, with prohitions for only 124 activities [247] , in areas like national security, health and educational services [248] . The wages were increase again, between 4 and 9 times, for all the sectors. Also, new facilites were allow to the state companies, which much more autonomy. [249]

The first problems of the new reform, for the public opinion, were with the electricity prices, but that was amendend quickly. Other measures corrected were in the prices to the private farmers. In july 2020, the cuban stores in USD were increase and start to sell also food [250] , as a consequence of the problems with the loss of the tourism and international commerce by the impact of the Covid19 in the entire world and the economic sanctions of the administration of Donald Trump [251] [252] , sustain by the Biden administration [253]

Resources Edit

Cuba's natural resources include sugar, tobacco, fish, citrus fruits, coffee, beans, rice, potatoes, and livestock. Cuba's most important mineral resource is nickel, with 21% of total exports in 2011. [254] The output of Cuba's nickel mines that year was 71,000 tons, approaching 4% of world production. [255] As of 2013 [update] its reserves were estimated at 5.5 million tons, over 7% of the world total. [255] Sherritt International of Canada operates a large nickel mining facility in Moa. Cuba is also a major producer of refined cobalt, a by-product of nickel mining. [256]

Oil exploration in 2005 by the US Geological Survey revealed that the North Cuba Basin could produce about 4.6 billion barrels (730,000,000 m 3 ) to 9.3 billion barrels (1.48 × 10 9 m 3 ) of oil. In 2006, Cuba started to test-drill these locations for possible exploitation. [257]

Tourism Edit

Tourism was initially restricted to enclave resorts where tourists would be segregated from Cuban society, referred to as "enclave tourism" and "tourism apartheid". [258] Contact between foreign visitors and ordinary Cubans were de facto code: lat promoted to code: la illegal between 1992 and 1997. [259] The rapid growth of tourism during the Special Period had widespread social and economic repercussions in Cuba, and led to speculation about the emergence of a two-tier economy. [260]

1.9 million tourists visited Cuba in 2003, predominantly from Canada and the European Union, generating revenue of US$2.1 billion . [261] Cuba recorded 2,688,000 international tourists in 2011, the third-highest figure in the Caribbean (behind the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico). [262]

The medical tourism sector caters to thousands of European, Latin American, Canadian, and American consumers every year.

A recent study indicates that Cuba has a potential for mountaineering activity, and that mountaineering could be a key contributor to tourism, along with other activities, e.g. biking, diving, caving. Promoting these resources could contribute to regional development, prosperity, and well-being. [263]

The Cuban Justice minister downplays allegations of widespread sex tourism. [264] According to a Government of Canada travel advice website, "Cuba is actively working to prevent child sex tourism, and a number of tourists, including Canadians, have been convicted of offences related to the corruption of minors aged 16 and under. Prison sentences range from 7 to 25 years." [265]

Some tourist facilities were extensively damaged on 8 September 2017 when Hurricane Irma hit the island. The storm made landfall in the Camagüey Archipelago the worst damage was in the keys north of the main island, however, and not in the most significant tourist areas. [266]

Cuba is an archipelago of islands located in the northern Caribbean Sea at the confluence with the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. It lies between latitudes 19° and 24°N, and longitudes 74° and 85°W. The United States (Key West, Florida) lies 150 km (93 miles) across the Straits of Florida to the north and northwest, and The Bahamas (Cay Lobos) 21 km (13 mi) to the north. Mexico lies 210 km (130 miles) across the Yucatán Channel to the west (to the closest tip of Cabo Catoche in the State of Quintana Roo).

Haiti is 77 km (48 mi) to the east, Jamaica (140 km/87 mi) and the Cayman Islands to the south. Cuba is the principal island, surrounded by four smaller groups of islands: the Colorados Archipelago on the northwestern coast, the Sabana-Camagüey Archipelago on the north-central Atlantic coast, the Jardines de la Reina on the south-central coast and the Canarreos Archipelago on the southwestern coast.

The main island, named Cuba, is 1,250 km (780 mi) long, constituting most of the nation's land area (104,556 km 2 (40,369 sq mi)) and is the largest island in the Caribbean and 17th-largest island in the world by land area. The main island consists mostly of flat to rolling plains apart from the Sierra Maestra mountains in the southeast, whose highest point is Pico Turquino (1,974 m (6,476 ft)).

The second-largest island is Isla de la Juventud (Isle of Youth) in the Canarreos archipelago, with an area of 2,200 km 2 (849 sq mi). Cuba has an official area (land area) of 109,884 km 2 (42,426 sq mi). Its area is 110,860 km 2 (42,803 sq mi) including coastal and territorial waters.

Climate Edit

With the entire island south of the Tropic of Cancer, the local climate is tropical, moderated by northeasterly trade winds that blow year-round. The temperature is also shaped by the Caribbean current, which brings in warm water from the equator. This makes the climate of Cuba warmer than that of Hong Kong, which is at around the same latitude as Cuba but has a subtropical rather than a tropical climate. In general (with local variations), there is a drier season from November to April, and a rainier season from May to October. The average temperature is 21 °C (69.8 °F) in January and 27 °C (80.6 °F) in July. The warm temperatures of the Caribbean Sea and the fact that Cuba sits across the entrance to the Gulf of Mexico combine to make the country prone to frequent hurricanes. These are most common in September and October.

Hurricane Irma hit the island on 8 September 2017, with winds of 260 km per hour, [267] at the Camagüey Archipelago the storm reached Ciego de Avila province around midnight and continued to pound Cuba the next day. [268] The worst damage was in the keys north of the main island. Hospitals, warehouses and factories were damaged much of the north coast was without electricity. By that time, nearly a million people, including tourists, had been evacuated. [266] The Varadero resort area also reported widespread damage the government believed that repairs could be completed before the start of the main tourist season. [269] Subsequent reports indicated that ten people had been killed during the storm, including seven in Havana, most during building collapses. Sections of the capital had been flooded. [269] Hurricane Jose was not expected to strike Cuba. [270]

Biodiversity Edit

Cuba signed the Rio Convention on Biological Diversity on 12 June 1992, and became a party to the convention on 8 March 1994. [271] It has subsequently produced a National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan, with one revision, that the convention received on 24 January 2008. [272]

The country's fourth national report to the CBD contains a detailed breakdown of the numbers of species of each kingdom of life recorded from Cuba, the main groups being: animals (17,801 species), bacteria (270), chromista (707), fungi, including lichen-forming species (5844), plants (9107) and protozoa (1440). [273] The bee hummingbird or zunzuncito is the world's smallest bird with 5.5 cm (2.2 in), and it is native to Cuba. The tocororo or Cuban trogon is the national bird of Cuba. It is endemic of this country. Hedychium coronarium, named Mariposa in Cuba, is the national flower. [274]

Cuba is home to six terrestrial ecoregions: Cuban moist forests, Cuban dry forests, Cuban pine forests, Cuban wetlands, Cuban cactus scrub, and Greater Antilles mangroves. [275] It had a 2019 Forest Landscape Integrity Index mean score of 5.4/10, ranking it 102nd globally out of 172 countries. [276]

According to the official census of 2010, Cuba's population was 11,241,161, comprising 5,628,996 men and 5,612,165 women. [279] Its birth rate (9.88 births per thousand population in 2006) [280] is one of the lowest in the Western Hemisphere. Although the country's population has grown by about four million people since 1961, the rate of growth slowed during that period, and the population began to decline in 2006, due to the country's low fertility rate (1.43 children per woman) coupled with emigration. [281]

Indeed, this drop in fertility is among the largest in the Western Hemisphere [282] and is attributed largely to unrestricted access to legal abortion: Cuba's abortion rate was 58.6 per 1000 pregnancies in 1996, compared to an average of 35 in the Caribbean, 27 in Latin America overall, and 48 in Europe. Similarly, the use of contraceptives is also widespread, estimated at 79% of the female population (in the upper third of countries in the Western Hemisphere). [283]

Ethnoracial groups Edit

Cuba's population is multiethnic, reflecting its complex colonial origins. Intermarriage between diverse groups is widespread, and consequently there is some discrepancy in reports of the country's racial composition: whereas the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami determined that 62% of Cubans are black using the one drop rule, [285] the 2002 Cuban census found that a similar proportion of the population, 65.05%, was white.

In fact, the Minority Rights Group International determined that "An objective assessment of the situation of Afro-Cubans remains problematic due to scant records and a paucity of systematic studies both pre- and post-revolution. Estimates of the percentage of people of African descent in the Cuban population vary enormously, ranging from 34% to 62%". [286]

A 2014 study found that, based on ancestry informative markers (AIM), autosomal genetic ancestry in Cuba is 72% European, 20% African, and 8% Indigenous. [287] Around 35% of maternal lineages derive from Cuban Indigenous People, compared to 39% from Africa and 26% from Europe, but male lineages were European (82%) and African (18%), indicating a historical bias towards mating between foreign men and native women rather than the inverse. [287]

Asians make up about 1% of the population, and are largely of Chinese ancestry, followed by Japanese and Filipino. [288] [289] Many are descendants of farm laborers brought to the island by Spanish and American contractors during the 19th and early 20th century. [290] The current recorded number of Cubans with Chinese ancestry is 114,240. [291]

Afro-Cubans are descended primarily from the Yoruba people, Bantu people from the Congo basin, Kalabari tribe and Arará from the Dahomey [292] as well as several thousand North African refugees, most notably the Sahrawi Arabs of Western Sahara. [293]

Migration Edit

Immigration Edit

Immigration and emigration have played a prominent part in Cuba's demographic profile. Between the 18th and early 20th century, large waves of Canarian, Catalan, Andalusian, Galician, and other Spanish people immigrated to Cuba. Between 1899 and 1930 alone, close to a million Spaniards entered the country, though many would eventually return to Spain. [294] Other prominent immigrant groups included French, [295] Portuguese, Italian, Russian, Dutch, Greek, British, and Irish, as well as small number of descendants of U.S. citizens who arrived in Cuba in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As of 2019, the foreign-born population in Cuba was 4,886 inhabitants in UN data. [ citation needed ]

Emigration Edit

Post-revolution Cuba has been characterized by significant levels of emigration, which has led to a large and influential diaspora community. During the three decades after January 1959, more than one million Cubans of all social classes — constituting 10% of the total population — emigrated to the United States, a proportion that matches the extent of emigration to the U.S. from the Caribbean as a whole during that period. [296] [297] [298] [299] [300] Prior to 13 January 2013, Cuban citizens could not travel abroad, leave or return to Cuba without first obtaining official permission along with applying for a government issued passport and travel visa, which was often denied. [301] Those who left the country typically did so by sea, in small boats and fragile rafts. On 9 September 1994, the U.S. and Cuban governments agreed that the U.S. would grant at least 20,000 visas annually in exchange for Cuba's pledge to prevent further unlawful departures on boats. [302] As of 2013 the top emigration destinations were the United States, Spain, Italy, Puerto Rico, and Mexico. [303]

Religion Edit

In 2010, the Pew Forum estimated that religious affiliation in Cuba is 59.2% Christian, 23% unaffiliated, 17.4% folk religion (such as santería), and the remaining 0.4% consisting of other religions. [304] In a survey sponsored by Univision, 44% of Cubans said they were not religious and 9% did not give an answer while only 34% said they were Christian. [305]

Cuba is officially a secular state. Religious freedom increased through the 1980s, [306] with the government amending the constitution in 1992 to drop the state's characterization as atheistic. [307]

Roman Catholicism is the largest religion, with its origins in Spanish colonization. Despite less than half of the population identifying as Catholics in 2006, it nonetheless remains the dominant faith. [233] Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI visited Cuba in 1998 and 2011, respectively, and Pope Francis visited Cuba in September 2015. [308] [309] Prior to each papal visit, the Cuban government pardoned prisoners as a humanitarian gesture. [310] [311]

The government's relaxation of restrictions on house churches in the 1990s led to an explosion of Pentecostalism, with some groups claiming as many as 100,000 members. However, Evangelical Protestant denominations, organized into the umbrella Cuban Council of Churches, remain much more vibrant and powerful. [312]

The religious landscape of Cuba is also strongly defined by syncretisms of various kinds. Christianity is often practiced in tandem with Santería, a mixture of Catholicism and mostly African faiths, which include a number of cults. La Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre (the Virgin of Cobre) is the Catholic patroness of Cuba, and a symbol of Cuban culture. In Santería, she has been syncretized with the goddess Oshun. A breakdown of the followers of Afro-Cuban religions showed that most practitioners of Palo Mayombe were black and dark brown-skinned, most practitioners of Vodú were medium brown and light brown-skinned, and most practitioners of Santeria were light brown and white-skinned. [313]

Cuba also hosts small communities of Jews (500 in 2012), Muslims, and members of the Baháʼí Faith. [314]

Several well-known Cuban religious figures have operated outside the island, including the humanitarian and author Jorge Armando Pérez.

Languages Edit

The official language of Cuba is Spanish and the vast majority of Cubans speak it. Spanish as spoken in Cuba is known as Cuban Spanish and is a form of Caribbean Spanish. Lucumí, a dialect of the West African language Yoruba, is also used as a liturgical language by practitioners of Santería, [315] and so only as a second language. [316] Haitian Creole is the second most spoken language in Cuba, and is spoken by Haitian immigrants and their descendants. [317] Other languages spoken by immigrants include Galician and Corsican. [318]

Education Edit

The University of Havana was founded in 1728 and there are a number of other well-established colleges and universities. In 1957, just before Castro came to power, the literacy rate was fourth in the region at almost 80% according to the United Nations, higher than in Spain. [105] [319] Castro created an entirely state-operated system and banned private institutions. School attendance is compulsory from ages six to the end of basic secondary education (normally at age 15), and all students, regardless of age or gender, wear school uniforms with the color denoting grade level. Primary education lasts for six years, secondary education is divided into basic and pre-university education. [320] Cuba's literacy rate of 99.8 percent [230] [321] is the tenth-highest globally, due largely to the provision of free education at every level. [322] Cuba's high school graduation rate is 94 percent. [323]

Higher education is provided by universities, higher institutes, higher pedagogical institutes, and higher polytechnic institutes. The Cuban Ministry of Higher Education operates a distance education program that provides regular afternoon and evening courses in rural areas for agricultural workers. Education has a strong political and ideological emphasis, and students progressing to higher education are expected to have a commitment to the goals of Cuba. [320] Cuba has provided state subsidized education to a limited number of foreign nationals at the Latin American School of Medicine. [324] [325]

Health Edit

Cuba's life expectancy at birth is 79.2 years (76.8 for males and 81.7 for females). This ranks Cuba 59th in the world and 5th in the Americas, behind Canada, Chile, Costa Rica and the United States. [327] Infant mortality declined from 32 infant deaths per 1,000 live births in 1957, to 10 in 1990–95, [328] 6.1 in 2000–2005 and 5.13 in 2009. [321] [230] Historically, Cuba has ranked high in numbers of medical personnel and has made significant contributions to world health since the 19th century. [105] Today, Cuba has universal health care and despite persistent shortages of medical supplies, there is no shortage of medical personnel. [329] Primary care is available throughout the island and infant and maternal mortality rates compare favorably with those in developed nations. [329] That a developing nation like Cuba has health outcomes rivaling the developed world is referred to by researchers as the Cuban Health Paradox. [330] Cuba ranks 30th on the 2019 Bloomberg Healthiest Country Index, which is the only developing country to rank that high. [331]

Disease and infant mortality increased in the 1960s immediately after the revolution, when half of Cuba's 6,000 doctors left the country. [332] Recovery occurred by the 1980s, [91] and the country's health care has been widely praised. [333] The Communist government asserted that universal health care was a priority of state planning and progress was made in rural areas. [334] Like the rest of the Cuban economy, medical care suffered from severe material shortages following the end of Soviet subsidies in 1991, and a tightening of the U.S. embargo in 1992. [335]

Challenges include low salaries for doctors, [336] poor facilities, poor provision of equipment, and the frequent absence of essential drugs. [337] Cuba has the highest doctor-to-population ratio in the world and has sent thousands of doctors to more than 40 countries around the world. [338] According to the World Health Organization, Cuba is "known the world over for its ability to train excellent doctors and nurses who can then go out to help other countries in need". [ citation needed ] As of September 2014 [update] , there are around 50,000 Cuban-trained health care workers aiding 66 nations. [339] Cuban physicians have played a leading role in combating the Ebola virus epidemic in West Africa. [340]

Import and export of pharmaceutical drugs is done by the Quimefa Pharmaceutical Business Group (FARMACUBA) under the Ministry of Basic Industry (MINBAS). This group also provides technical information for the production of these drugs. [341] Isolated from the West by the US embargo, Cuba developed the successful lung cancer vaccine, Cimavax, which is now available to US researchers for the first time, along with other novel Cuban cancer treatments. The vaccine has been available for free to the Cuban population since 2011. [342] According to Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center CEO Candace Johnson: "They've had to do more with less, so they've had to be even more innovative with how they approach things. For over 40 years, they have had a preeminent immunology community." [343] During the thaw in Cuba–U.S. relations starting in December 2014 under the Obama administration, a growing number of U.S. lung cancer patients traveled to Cuba to receive vaccine treatment. The end of the thaw under the Trump Administration has resulted in a tightening of travel restrictions, making it harder for U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba for treatment. [344]

In 2015, Cuba became the first country to eradicate mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis, [345] a milestone hailed by the World Health Organization as "one of the greatest public health achievements possible". [346]

Largest cities Edit

The mass media in Cuba consist of several different types: television, radio, newspapers, and internet. The Cuban media are tightly controlled by the Cuban government led by the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) in the past five decades. The PCC strictly censors news, information and commentary, and restricts dissemination of foreign publications to tourist hotels. Journalists must operate within the confines of laws against anti-government propaganda and the insulting of officials, which carry penalties of up to three years in prison. Private ownership of broadcast media is prohibited, and the government owns all mainstream media outlets. [348]

Internet in Cuba has some of the lowest penetration rates in the Western hemisphere, and all content is subject to review by the Department of Revolutionary Orientation. [349] ETECSA operates 118 cybercafes in the country. [349] The government of Cuba provides an online encyclopedia website called EcuRed that operates in a "wiki" format. [350] Internet access is limited. [351] The sale of computer equipment is strictly regulated. Internet access is controlled, and e-mail is closely monitored. [352]

Since 2018, access to Internet by mobile data is available. In 2019, 7.1 millions of Cubans could access to Internet. [353] The prices of connections, since [ clarification needed ] WiFi zones, or mobile data, or from houses through "Nauta Hogar" service have been decreasing, specially since the economic reform of january 2021, when all the salaries increased by at least 5 times, and the prices of Internet remain in the same point. [354] [355] In 2021, 7.7 millions of cuban people accesing to Internet were reported. [356] . There were 6.14 million mobile connections in Cuba in January 2021. [357]

Cuban culture is influenced by its melting pot of cultures, primarily those of Spain, Africa and the indigenous Tainos of Cuba. After the 1959 revolution, the government started a national literacy campaign, offered free education to all and established rigorous sports, ballet, and music programs. [358]

Music Edit

Cuban music is very rich and is the most commonly known expression of Cuban culture. The central form of this music is son, which has been the basis of many other musical styles like "Danzón de nuevo ritmo", mambo, cha-cha-chá and salsa music. Rumba ("de cajón o de solar") music originated in the early Afro-Cuban culture, mixed with Hispanic elements of style. [359] The Tres was invented in Cuba from Hispanic cordophone instruments models (the instrument is actually a fusion of elements from the Spanish guitar and lute). Other traditional Cuban instruments are of African origin, Taíno origin, or both, such as the maracas, güiro, marímbula and various wooden drums including the mayohuacán.

Popular Cuban music of all styles has been enjoyed and praised widely across the world. Cuban classical music, which includes music with strong African and European influences, and features symphonic works as well as music for soloists, has received international acclaim thanks to composers like Ernesto Lecuona. Havana was the heart of the rap scene in Cuba when it began in the 1990s.

During that time, reggaetón grew in popularity. In 2011, the Cuban state denounced reggaetón as "degenerate", directly reducing "low-profile" airplay of the genre (not banning it entirely), and banned the song "Chupi Chupi" by Osmani García, characterizing its description of sex as "the sort which a prostitute would carry out." [360] In December 2012, the Cuban government officially banned sexually explicit reggaeton songs and music videos from radio and television. [361] [362]

Recognized Cuban artists include Los Van Van orchestra, known as "the music machinery of Cuba" [363] , pianists Chucho Valdés [364] and Frank Fernández (the latter won the Golden title [ clarification needed ] at the Tchaikovsky Conservatory), [365] and Omara Portuondo, member of the Buenavista Social Club. Many Cuban artists have won Grammy Awards. [366] Between the youth, Buena Fe is a popular group. [367]

Cuisine Edit

Cuban cuisine is a fusion of Spanish and Caribbean cuisines. Cuban recipes share spices and techniques with Spanish cooking, with some Caribbean influence in spice and flavor. Food rationing, which has been the norm in Cuba for the last four decades, restricts the common availability of these dishes. [368] The traditional Cuban meal is not served in courses all food items are served at the same time.

The typical meal could consist of plantains, black beans and rice, ropa vieja (shredded beef), Cuban bread, pork with onions, and tropical fruits. Black beans and rice, referred to as moros y cristianos (or moros for short), and plantains are staples of the Cuban diet. Many of the meat dishes are cooked slowly with light sauces. Garlic, cumin, oregano, and bay leaves are the dominant spices.

Literature Edit

Cuban literature began to find its voice in the early 19th century. Dominant themes of independence and freedom were exemplified by José Martí, who led the Modernist movement in Cuban literature. Writers such as Nicolás Guillén and José Z. Tallet focused on literature as social protest. The poetry and novels of Dulce María Loynaz and José Lezama Lima have been influential. Romanticist Miguel Barnet, who wrote Everyone Dreamed of Cuba, reflects a more melancholy Cuba. [369]

Alejo Carpentier was important in the magic realism movement. Writers such as Reinaldo Arenas, Guillermo Cabrera Infante, and more recently Daína Chaviano, Pedro Juan Gutiérrez, Zoé Valdés, Guillermo Rosales and Leonardo Padura have earned international recognition in the post-revolutionary era, though many of these writers have felt compelled to continue their work in exile due to ideological control of media by the Cuban authorities. [ citation needed ] However, several Cuban writers continue living and writing in Cuba, including Miguel Barnet, [ citation needed ] Nancy Morejón, [370] Marta Rojas, [371] [ failed verification ] Fina García Marruz, [372] [ failed verification ] and Carilda Oliver Labra. [373] [ failed verification ]

Dance Edit

Dance holds a privileged position in Cuban culture. [ according to whom? ] Popular dance is considered [ by whom? ] an essential part of life, and concert dance is supported by the government and includes internationally renowned companies such as the Ballet Nacional de Cuba. [374]


The Invasion

The counterrevolutionary forces, known as Brigade 2506, were assembled at Retalhuleu, on the west coast of Guatemala, where U.S. engineers refurbished the airport especially for the mission. Six ships sailed from Nicaragua's Puerto Cabezas on April 14, cheered by Nicaraguan president and U.S.-friendly dictator Luis Somoza, who jokingly urged the soldiers to bring him some hairs from Castro's beard.

The Cuban government knew an invasion was coming, but could not guess exactly when or where the attack would take place. When teams of U.S. B-26 bombers began attacking four Cuban airfields simultaneously on Saturday, April 15, the Cubans were prepared. Castro later testified that the few planes belonging to the Cuban Air Force had been dispersed and camouflaged, with some obsolete, unusable planes left out to fool the attackers and draw the bombs.

As part of the CIA cover story, the attacking B-26 planes were disguised to look as if they were Cuban planes flown by defecting Cubans. An exile Cuban pilot named Mario Zúñiga was presented to the media as a defector, and photographed next to his plane. The photo was published in most of the major papers, but the surprising omission of several serious details, and the overwhelming amount of information already gathered by reporters, helped bring out the truth much sooner than anyone expected.

Before the operation began, CIA operatives were sent to Cuba to aid the invading forces. Their task was to blow up key bridges and perform other acts of terrorism that would make it appear as if the people of Cuba were joining the invasion. José Basulto was one of those operatives. He flew straight into Havana airport posing as a student from Boston College coming home on vacation.

Shortly after the attack started, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Adlai Stevenson, flatly rejected Cuba's report of the attack, telling the General Assembly that the attacking planes were from the Cuban Air Force and presenting a copy of the photograph published in the newspapers. In the photo, the plane shown has an opaque nose, whereas the model of the B-26 planes used by the Cubans had a Plexiglas nose. Within a few hours the truth was revealed, and Stevenson was extremely embarrassed to learn that Kennedy had referred to him as "my official liar."

The landing began shortly before midnight on Sunday, April 16, after a team of frogmen went ashore and set up landing lights to guide the operation. The invading force consisted of 1,500 men divided into six battalions, with Manuel Artime as the political chief.

Two battalions came ashore at Playa Girón and one at Playa Larga, but the operation didn't go as smoothly as expected. The razor-sharp coral reefs, identified as seaweed by U2 spy photos, delayed the landing enough to expose it to air attacks the following morning. Two ships sank about 80 yards from shore, and some heavy equipment was lost.

Cuban militia commander José Ramón González Suco was one of five men stationed in Playa Larga when the invasion began, and the first to report the invasion.

On Monday, April 17, as the invasion was well under way, U.S. Secretary of State Dean Rusk gave a press conference. "The American people are entitled to know whether we are intervening in Cuba or intend to do so in the future," he said. "The answer to that question is no. What happens in Cuba is for the Cuban people to decide."

Basulto was never told when the invasion would begin. He was surprised to hear the attack had started and didn't have time to get around to completing his assignment. Instead he drove out to Guantánamo and jumped the fence into the U.S. Naval Base.

By 3 a.m. Monday morning Castro knew about the landing, and the Cuban government responded almost immediately, taking a superior position in the air during the early morning hours. Cuban pilot Captain Enrique Carreras Rojas was able to quickly sink the command vessel "Maropa" and the supply ship "Houston."

After Ambassador Stevenson became aware of the true facts, he was so outraged that he publicly urged Washington to stop the attack and avoid further embarrassment. Soviet Ambassador Zorin said, "Cuba is not alone today. Among her most sincere friends the Soviet Union is to be found."

At 12:15 Kennedy received a letter from Khrushchev in which the Soviet leader stated: "It is a secret to no one that the armed bands invading this country were trained, equipped and armed in the United States of America. The planes which are bombing Cuban cities belong to the United States of America the bombs they are dropping are being supplied by the American Government.

"…It is still not late to avoid the irreparable. The government of the USA still has the possibility of not allowing the flame of war ignited by interventions in Cuba to grow into an incomparable conflagration.

"As far as the Soviet Union is concerned, there should be no mistake about our position: We will render the Cuban people and their government all necessary help to repel an armed attack on Cuba."


Film, Video U.S. troops landing at Daiquirí, Cuba United States troops landing at Daiquirí, Cuba / U.S. troops landing at Baiquiri, Cuba

The Library of Congress is providing access to the Spanish-American War in Motion Pictures for educational and research purposes. The Library is not aware of any copyrights or other rights associated with this Collection. However, users should note that the written permission of the copyright owners and/or other rights holders (such as publicity and/or privacy rights) is required for distribution, reproduction, or other use of protected items beyond that allowed by fair use or other statutory exemptions. Responsibility for making an independent legal assessment of an item and securing any necessary permissions ultimately rests with persons desiring to use the item.

U.S. Troops Landing at Daiquirí, Cuba Troops Making Military Road in Front of Santiago Pack Mules with Ammunition on the Santiago Trail, Cuba and 25th Infantry are reproduced here courtesy of the Theodore Roosevelt Association.

Credit Line: Library of Congress, Motion Picture, Broadcasting, and Recorded Sound Division.


In retrospect, it is somewhat surprising that what is today considered one of the most important voyages in history was something of a failure at the time. Columbus had promised to find a new, quicker route to the lucrative Chinese trade markets and he failed miserably. Instead of holds full of Chinese silks and spices, he returned with some trinkets and a few bedraggled Indigenous people from Hispaniola. Some 10 more had perished on the voyage. Also, he had lost the largest of the three ships entrusted to him.

Columbus actually considered the Indigenous people his greatest find. He thought that a new trade of enslaved people could make his discoveries lucrative. Columbus was hugely disappointed a few years later when Queen Isabela, after careful thought, decided not to open the New World to the trading of enslaved people.

Columbus never believed that he had found something new. He maintained, to his dying day, that the lands he discovered were indeed part of the known Far East. In spite of the failure of the first expedition to find spices or gold, a much larger second expedition was approved, perhaps in part due to Columbus’ skills as a salesman.


Watch the video: History of Cuba


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