The history of Cuba is fascinating. From its pre-Columbian inhabitants to today's Communist regime, Cuba history has seen more than its fair share of major events and pivotal people. A strategic possession during the time when European ships first took to crossing the oceans, Cuba’s location was so crucial that it was known as the Key to the New World. 

Recent history has been just as significant—the Cuban Revolution is regarded as one of the influential events of the twentieth century, and even as the Communist government in Cuba has become more relaxed since Raul Castro took power, the symbols of the revolution and Cuban culture, including Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, and Jose Marti, can still be seen throughout the country in monuments, posters, and books about the watershed moments in the history of Cuba.

The first inhabitants of Cuba were believed to have come from South America 5,000 to 6,000 years ago, and the Taino Indians ultimately became one of Cuba's primary pre-Columbian civilizations, arriving some time later from other Caribbean islands. 

Although Christopher Columbus sighted the island on his famous trip to the New World, it wasn’t until the early 1500s that Cuba was claimed for Spain, by the conquistador Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar. Few pieces of the indigenous heritage survived the centuries of Spanish rule. 

Historic structures from those days mostly include buildings constructed by the Spanish, such as the Castillo de la Real Fuerza, which dates to the sixteenth century.


In the 1800s, the Spanish began to lose their grip on the island. The Cubans staged their first war of independence (the Ten Years’ War) in 1868, and though they were defeated by the Spanish military, they delivered a heavy blow to the colonial rule. 

The most famous revolutionary of the period is Jose Marti, still regarded as a national hero in Cuba. Born in Havana, Marti is known for his poetry, essays, and political activism, and his unifying the Cuban emigrants in the US and elsewhere was critical to the revolutionaries’ eventual success. Killed in military action in 1895, Marti is now honored by a massive monument at the Plaza de la Revolucion in central Havana.

After the United States defeated the Spanish in the Spanish-American War of 1898, they took charge of the island and ceded control to a Cuban government in 1902, with numerous conditions that continued a long history of close ties between the two countries. 

Many of these benefited the United States, including allowing the US military the right to intervene in Cuban affairs. Cuba soon held elections and was declared independent, though Guantanamo remained—and still remains—leased to the United States. The country had strong trade ties to the US, and several Cuban cities, especially Havana and Varadero, became popular vacation destinations for Americans.

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