Before the arrival of the Europeans, the island was inhabited by the Ciboney, Taino and Arawak tribes. The Ciboneys made their homes in caves and survived by fishing. The Tainos and Arawaks were farmers who lived in settled communities.
In 1511, Diego Velázquez claimed the island for Spain. The Spanish forced the indigenous people to work for them on plantations and in gold mines. In the 16th century, the Spanish brought Africans to Cuba to work as slaves on sugar plantations. Spain finally abolished slavery in Cuba in 1886.
In the 19th century, Cubans fought for independence from Spain. The first major revolt (1868-78) was called the Ten Years’ War. The rebels received help from Cubans in the United States. Between 1895 and 1898, the Cubans again rebelled against Spain. In 1898, the United States intervened in the conflict and declared war on Spain. Although Spain lost the war, the conflict did not bring independence to Cuba, because the United States occupied Cuba from 1898 to 1902. Cuba achieved formal independence in 1902, but the country was forced to accept the Platt Amendment, which gave the United States the right to establish naval bases (including one that still exists at Guantánamo) and to intervene in Cuban internal affairs.
The regimes that followed were often corrupt and violent. In 1953, a student revolutionary, Fidel Castro Ruz, tried to overthrow President Fulgencio Batista. On July 26, 1953, Fidel and 200 others tried to attack a military base in eastern Cuba but failed. Castro was captured and imprisoned. When he was released in 1955, he moved to Mexico to train a small military force. He returned to Cuba in 1956. His guerilla army grew rapidly. Batista’s army surrendered when Castro took Santiago in 1959.
Once in power, Castro transformed Cuba into a Communist country with help from the Soviet Union. The government controlled all parts of the economy and nationalized private property.
The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 caused great difficulties for Cuba, since the Soviets could no longer send money to support the Cuban economy. Since 1993, Castro’s government has introduced economic reforms in an effort to attract foreign currency and investments.