Thursday, November 8, 2007
Cuba, officially the Republic of Cuba (Spanish: or /re'puβlika ðe ˈkuβa/), consists of the island of Cuba (the largest of the Greater Antilles), the Isle of Youth and several adjacent small islands. Cuba is located in the northern Caribbean at the confluence of the Caribbean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. Cuba is south of the eastern United States and the Bahamas, west of the Turks and Caicos Islands and Haiti and east of Mexico. The Cayman Islands and Jamaica are to the south.
Cuba is the most populous country in the Caribbean. Its people, culture and customs draw from several sources including the aboriginal Taíno and Ciboney peoples, the period of Spanish colonialism, the introduction of African slaves, and its proximity to the United States. The island has a tropical climate that is moderated by the surrounding waters; however, the warm temperatures of the Caribbean Sea and the fact that Cuba itself almost completely blocks access to the Gulf of Mexico, make Cuba prone to frequent hurricanes.
Cuba was a Spanish possession for 388 years, ruled by a governor in Havana, with an economy based on plantation agriculture and the export of sugar, coffee and tobacco to Europe and later to North America. It was seized by the British in 1762, but restored to Spain the following year. The Spanish population was boosted by settlers leaving Haiti when that territory was ceded to France. As in other parts of the Spanish Empire, a small land-owning elite of Spanish-descended settlers held social and economic power, supported by a population of plebian creoles, mixed-race (Mestizo) small farmers, laborers and African-descended slaves.
In the 1820s, when the other parts of Spain's empire in Latin America rebelled and formed independent states, Cuba remained loyal, although there was some agitation for independence. This was partly because the prosperity of the Cuban settlers depended on their export trade to Europe, partly through fears of a slave rebellion (as had happened in Haiti) if the Spanish withdrew and partly because the Cubans feared the rising power of the United States more than they disliked Spanish colonial rule.
An additional factor was the continuous migration of Spaniards to Cuba from all social strata, a demographical trend that had ceased to exist in other Spanish possessions decades before and which contributed to the slow development of a Cuban national identity.
Cuba's proximity to the U.S. has been a powerful influence on its history. Throughout the 19th century, Southern politicians in the U.S. plotted the island's annexation as a means of strengthening the pro-slavery forces in the U.S., and there was usually a party in Cuba which supported such a policy. In 1848, a pro-annexationist rebellion was defeated and there were several attempts by annexationist forces to invade the island from Florida. There were also regular proposals in the U.S. to buy Cuba from Spain. During the summer of 1848, President James Knox Polk quietly authorized his ambassador to Spain, Romulus Mitchell Saunders, to negotiate the purchase of Cuba and offer Spain up to $100 million, an astonishing sum of money at the time for one territory. Spain, however, refused to consider ceding one of its last possessions in the Americas.
After the American Civil War apparently ended the threat of pro-slavery annexationism, agitation for Cuban independence from Spain revived, leading to a rebellion in 1868 led by Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, a wealthy lawyer landowner from Oriente province who freed his slaves, proclaimed a war and was named President of the Cuban Republic-in-arms. This resulted in a prolonged conflict known as the Ten Years' War between pro-independence forces and the Spanish Army, allied with local supporters. There was much sympathy in the U.S. for the independence cause, but the U.S. declined to intervene militarily or to even recognize the legitimacy of the Cuban government in arms, despite the fact that many European and Latin American nations had done so.
The result was the Spanish-American War, in which U.S. forces landed in Cuba in June 1898 and quickly overcame the exhausted Spanish resistance. In August a peace treaty was signed under which Spain agreed to withdraw from Cuba. Some advocates in the U.S. supported Cuban independence, while others argued for outright annexation. As a compromise, the McKinley administration placed Cuba under a 20-year U.S. treaty. The Cuban independence movement bitterly opposed this arrangement, but unlike the Philippines, where events had followed a similar course, there was no outbreak of armed resistance.
Theodore Roosevelt, who had fought in the Spanish-American War and had some sympathies with the independence movement, succeeded McKinley as President of the United States in 1901 and abandoned the 20-year treaty proposal. Instead, the Republic of Cuba gained formal independence on 20 May 1902, with the independence leader Tomás Estrada Palma becoming the country's first president. Under the new Cuban constitution, however, the U.S. retained the right to intervene in Cuban affairs and to supervise its finances and foreign relations. Under the Platt Amendment, Cuba also agreed to lease to the U.S. the naval base at Guantánamo Bay. Cuba today does not celebrate May 20 as their date of independence, but instead October 10, as the first declaration of independence and the day Castro and his army entered Havana, January 1, 1959, as "the triumph of the revolution".
Independent Cuba soon ran into difficulties as a result of factional disputes and corruption among the small educated elite and the failure of the government to deal with the deep social problems left behind by the Spanish. In 1906, following disputed elections to choose Estrada Palma's successor, an armed revolt broke out and the U.S. exercised its right of intervention. The country was placed under U.S. occupation and a U.S. governor, Charles Edward Magoon, took charge for three years. Magoon's governorship in Cuba was viewed in a negative light by many Cuban historians for years thereafter, believing that much political corruption was introduced during Magoon's years as governor. In 1908 self-government was restored when José Miguel Gómez was elected President, but the U.S. retained its supervision of Cuban affairs. Despite frequent outbreaks of disorder, however, constitutional government was maintained until 1925, when Gerardo Machado y Morales, having been elected President, suspended the constitution.
Machado was a Cuban nationalist and his regime had considerable local support despite its violent suppression of critics. During his tenure, Cubans gained greater control over their own economy and major national development projects were undertaken. His hold on power was weakened by the Great Depression, which drove down the price of Cuba's agricultural exports and caused widespread poverty. In August 1933, elements of the Cuban army staged a coup which deposed Machado and installed Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, son of Cuba's founding father, as President. In September, however, a second coup led by Sergeant Fulgencio Batista overthrew Céspedes leading to the formation of the first Ramón Grau San Martín government. This government lasted just 100 days, but engineered radical liberal changes in Cuban society and a rejection of the Platt amendment.
In 1934, Batista and the army, who were the real center of power in Cuba, replaced Grau with Carlos Mendieta y Montefur. In 1940, Batista decided to run for President himself. The leader of the constitutional liberals Ramón Grau San Martín refused to support him, so he turned instead to the Communist Party of Cuba, which had grown in size and influence during the 1930s.
With the support of the Communist-controlled labor unions, Batista was elected President and his administration carried out major social reforms and introduced a new progressive constitution. Several members of the Communist Party held office under his administration. Batista's administration formally took Cuba into World War II as a U.S. ally, declaring war on Japan on December 9, 1941, then on Germany and Italy on December 11, 1941; Cuba, however, did not significantly participate militarily in World War II hostilities. At the end of his term in 1944, in accordance with the constitution, Batista stepped down and Ramón Grau was elected to succeed him. Grau initiated increased government spending on health, education and housing. Grau's liberals were bitter enemies of the Communists and Batista opposed most of Grau's program.
In 1948, Grau was succeeded by Carlos Prío Socarrás, who had been Grau's minister of labor and was particularly hated by the Communists. Prío was a less principled liberal than Grau and, under his administration, corruption increased notably. This was partly a result of the postwar revival of U.S. wealth and the consequent influx of gambling money into Havana, which became a safe haven for mafia operations. Nevertheless Prío carried out major reforms such as founding a National Bank and stabilizing the Cuban currency. The influx of North American money fueled a boom which did much to raise living standards and create a prosperous middle class in most urban areas, although the gap between rich and poor became wider and more obvious.