History of Cuba

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Pre-Columbian Cuba

The archeological record and evidence from mitochondrial DNA studies indicate that Cuba and the Antilles have been inhabited by peoples ancestral to the indigenous inhabitants for at least several thousand years. Some studies ascribe a role to these original inhabitants in the disappearance of the islands' megafauna, including condors [1], giant owls [2] and eventually groundsloths [3].

Before 1492 Cuba was populated by at least two distinct indigenous peoples: Taíno and Ciboney (or Siboney). These two groups were prehistoric cultures in a time period during which humans created tools from stone, yet they were familiar with gold (caona) and copper alloys (guanín). The Taíno agriculturalist and the Ciboney were a self-sufficient society, although their developement was not limited to fishing and hunting, farming and production of wooden structures. Taínos and Ciboney took part in similar customs and beliefs, one being the sacred ritual practiced using, often nasally inhaled, narcotized tobacco vapors and particulates called cohoba, is known in English as smoking.

The Taino (Island Arawak) were part of a cultural group commonly called the Arawak, which extends far into South America. The wide diffusion of this culture is witnessed even today by names of places in the New World; for example localities or rivers called Guama (the Taino name for Lonchocarpus domingens, a leguminous tree, the designation of a chief, a famous Taino who fought the Spanish) are found in Cuba, Venezuela and Brazil.

The Arawaks incorporated readily into the successive invading groups and aculturated almost to the point of disappearance. Residues of their poetry, songs, sculpture, and art are found today throughout the major Antilles. The Arawak and other such cultural groups are responsible for the development of perhaps 60% of crops in common use today and some major industrial materials such as rubber. The Europeans were shown by the Native Cubans how to nurture tobacco and consume it in the form of cigars.

Approximately 16 to 60 thousand natives from the Taino and Ciboney tribes inhabited Cuba before colonization. The Native Cuban Indian population, including the Ciboney and the Taíno, were forced in to reservations during the Spanish subjugation of the island of Cuba. Many Natives were put in reservations. One famous reservation was known as Guanabacoa, today a suburb of Havana. Many indigenous Cuban Indians died due to the brutality of Spanish conquistadores and the diseases they brought with them, such as the measles and smallpox, which were previously unknown to Indians. On the other hand the introduction of smoking and most probably syphilis into Europe as a result of this contact caused uncounted deaths in Europe. Shakespeare's character Caliban is taken by many to represent a Caribbean Shaman. Sir Walter Raleigh's execution is said witnessed by his Caribbean servant. By 1550, many tribes were eradicated. Many of the Conquistadors intermarried with Native Cuban Indians. Their children were called mestizos, but the Native Cubans called them Guajiro, which translates as "one of us". Today, the descendants are maintaining their heritage.

Conquest of Cuba

Spanish Colonial Cuba

Cuba was first visited by Europeans when explorer Christopher Columbus landed on the island of Cuba for the first time on October 28, 1492. Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar led the Spanish invasion, and became governor of Cuba for Spain.

The Spanish established sugar and tobacco as Cuba's primary products. As the native Indian population and the Spanish intermarried and educated, field labor became scarce. Natives from Florida and Bahama were imported as slaves, and as that population became mixed as well, field labor was harder to come by. African slaves were imported to work the plantations in order to replace the field labor. However, restrictive Spanish trade laws made it difficult for Cubans to keep up with the 17th and 18th century advances in processing sugar cane pioneered in British Barbados and French Saint Domingue. Spain also restricted Cuba's access to the slave trade, which was dominated by the British, French, and Dutch. One important turning point came in the Seven Years War, when the British conquered the port of Havana and introduced thousands of slaves in a ten month period. Another key event was the Haitian Revolution in nearby Saint-Domingue, from 1791 to 1804. Thousands of French refugees, fleeing the slave rebellion in Saint Domingue, brought slaves and expertise in sugar refining and coffee growing into eastern Cuba in the 1790 and early 1800s.

In the 1800s, Cuban sugar plantations became the most important world producer of sugar, thanks to the expansion of slavery and a relentless focus on improving the island's sugar technology. Use of modern refining techniques was especially important because the British abolished the slave trade in 1807 and after 1815 began forcing other countries to follow suit. Cubans were torn between the profits generated by sugar and a repugnance for slavery, which they saw as morally, politically, and racially dangerous to their society. By the end of the 19th century Slavery was abolished.

However, leading up to the abolition of slavery, Cuba gained great prosperity from their sugar trade. The Spanish had ordered regulations on trade with Cuba, which kept the island from becoming a dominant sugar producer. The Spanish were interested in keeping their trade routes and slave trade routes protected. Nevertheless, Cuba's vast size and abundance of natural resources made it an ideal place for becoming a booming sugar producer. When Spain opened the Cuban trade ports, it quickly became a popular place. New technology allowed a much more effective and efficient means of producing sugar. They began to use water mills, enclosed furnaces, and steam engines to produce a higher quality of sugar at a much more efficient pace than elsewhere in the Caribbean.

The boom in Cuba's sugar industry in the 1800's made it necessary for Cuba to improve its means of transportation. They needed safe and efficient ways to transport the sugar from the plantations to the ports, in order to maximize their returns. Many new roads were built, and old roads were quickly repaired. Railroads were built early and changed the way that perishable sugar cane and processed sugar was transported. It was now possible for plantations all over this large island to have their sugar shipped quickly and easily. The prosperity seen from the boom in sugar production is a major reason that Cuba became predominantly Spanish. Many Spaniards immigrated to Cuba, calling it a place of refuge.

Sugar Plantations

Cuba failed to prosper before the 1760s due to Spanish trade regulations. Spain had set up a monopoly in the Caribbean and their primary objective was to protect this. They did not allow the islands to trade with any foreign ships. Spain was primarily interested in the Caribbean for its gold. The crown thought that if the colonies traded with other countries it would itself not benefit from it. This slowed the growth of the Spanish Caribbean. This effect was particularly bad in Cuba because Spain kept a tight grasp on Cuba. It held great strategic importance in the Caribbean. As soon as Spain opened Cuba's ports up to foreign ships a great sugar boom began that lasted until the 1880s. The Island was perfect for growing sugar. It is dominated by rolling plains, with rich soil, and adequate rainfall. It is the largest island in the Caribbean, its relatively low mountains and large plains are suitable for roads, and railroads, and it has the best ports in the area. By 1860 Cuba was devoted to growing sugar. The country had to import all other necessary goods. They were dependent on the United States who bought 82 percent of the sugar. Cubans resented the economic policy Spain implemented in Cuba, which was to help Spain and hurt Cuba. In 1820 Spain abolished the slave trade, hurting the Cuban economy even more and forcing planters to buy more expensive, illegal slaves. Most Cubans began to support annexation from Cuba to join as a slave state to the United States. This movement ended at the end of the American civil war. Cuba had no interest in abolishing slavery. After the 1868-1878 rebellion Ten Years' War, all slavery was abolished by 1884, making it the second to last country in the Western Hemisphere to abolish slavery (Brazil was last).

Cuban Bandits

Cuba was once perhaps 90% forest. It was still heavily forested at the end of the 19th Century. Buccaneers Alexander Exquemelin and Bandits [4] from an important part of Cuban history. Jose Marti when plotting the 1895-1898 Cuban War of [[Independence from Spain}} fearing the contagion of crime, rejected the most valuable help of Manuel Garcia, the "King" of the Cuban Countryside. Manuel Garcia was killed just before this war started. Batista, apparently feeling the need to rid Oriente Province of those who could support resistance, had Edesio Hernandez killed [5]. Crecencio Perez protected Fidel Castro in the early days in the Sierra Maestra Sierra Maestra and was a major factor in the survival of the Castro revolution.

Castillo Ramos, Ruben 1956 Muerto Edesio, El rey de la Sierra Maestra {Edesio The king of the Sierra Maestra Is Dead 1914-1956} {Photographs by Perez Tamarit and Rudolfo Vasell}, Bohemia XLVIII No. 9 {August 12 1956} pp. 52-54 and 87

Daley, Larry 1997 Context and Significance of the Bandit Edesio Hernandez in the Cuba of the 1950s Revista Guaracabuya http://www.amigospais-guaracabuya.org/oagld001.php

de Paz Sánchez, Manuel Antonio (en colaboración con José Fernández y Nelson López) 1993-1994. El bandolerismo en Cuba (1800-1933). Presencia canaria y protesta rural, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, two , 2 vols.

Perez, Louis A. 1989 Lords of the Mountain: Social Banditry and Peasant Protest in Cuba, 1878-1918 (Pitt Latin American Series) Univ of Pittsburgh Press ISBN: 0822936011

Independence from Spain

Cuban independence from Spain was gained by a complex of three larger wars (with the the second La Guerra Chiquita overlapping the end of the first La Querra de los Diez Años) and a number of other actions. On 10 October 1868 Carlos Manuel de Céspedes freed his slaves and thus started the Ten Years' War when other plantation owners and guajiros joined in the guerrilla fighting in the Eastern regions. However, the Spanish used mistrust among the rebels to reach a settlement on 10 February 1878 with the Pact of Zanjón. After that, José Martí, who was exiled after an attempt to back up the rebels in the West, started campaigning in the United States, where there was a sizeable community of Cuban exiles. In 1880, there was another significant rising, the so called "Guerra Chiquita" but bad coordination between Antonio Maceo and Calixto Garcia doomed it to failure. On 24 February 1895 and a little before insurrection was re-started, followed by landings of major Cuban independence fighters near Baracoa, starting the Cuban second major War of Independence, commonly called the War of '95. Soon, Martí was killed, but Máximo Gomez and Antonio Maceo fight on defeating the Spanish Governor Arsenio Martínez Campos victor of the Ten Year War himself and killing his most trusted general at Peralejo, and in a brilliant cavalry campaign "invade," all provinces [6]. This is the campaign in which Winston Churchill receives a medal from the Spanish [7]. Maceo is killed in Havana province while returning from the west [8], but Calixto Garcia, escapes Spain and soon is at it again, taking Spanish strong places with cannon and infantry. As the war goes on the major limit to Cuban success is weapons supply, strangely enough although the weapons and funding come from within the US the major obstacle is the US Coast Guard; of 71 re-supply missions only 27 get through, 5 are caught by the Spanish but 33 by the US Coast Guard [9].

Riots in Havana by dangerously rawdy pro-Spanish "Voluntarios" gave the United States a reason to send in the warship USS Maine (to protect U.S. citizens). When the ship blew up on 15 February 1898 up, the United States, alleging that it had been deliberately destroyed by the Spanish, declared war. Various theories have been proposed for how the ship was sunk, with the two principal ones being an internal explosion sparked by a coal bunker fire and an external mine, variously attributed to being planted by the Spanish who commonly used these devices as protection for their ports, the Cubans, and the United States (to create an excuse to enter the war). While no conclusive evidence has been found to absolutely determine the cause of the ship's sinking, the Spanish-American War that led directly not only to Cuban independence from Spain, but also the loss by Spain of Guam, Puerto Rico, the Philippines to U.S. control. On 17 July 1898 the Spanish surrendered and on 10 December 1898 they signed the Treaty of Paris in which Spain recognized Cuban independence, albeit with considerable U.S. control, which was resented by the Cubans.

Cuba in the Early 20th Century

In 1902, the United States handed over control to a Cuban government that as a condition of the transfer had included in its constitution provisions implementing the requirements of the Platt Amendment, which among other things gave the United States the right to intervene militarily in Cuba. Land that was in ruins was acquired by U.S. investors, leading to the United States soon controlling three-quarters of the Cuban sugar, the main basis for the Cuban economy. Havana and Varadero became tourist resorts, riddled with casinos and strip-clubs. The Cuban population gradually recovered economic power from both Spanish and U.S. interests, and civil rights legislation against discrimination was enacted that ordered minimum employment quotas for Cubans.

President Tomás Estrada Palma was elected in 1902, but resigned after he tried to extend his constitutional term under internal and U.S. pressure. In 1906 the United States negotiated an end of the successful revolt led by General Enrique Loynaz del Castillo [10], who served under Antonio Maceo in the final war of independence. The United States Governor Charles E. Magoon [11] assumed temporary control until 1909. Also as part of the Platt Amendment, Guantanamo Bay was leased to the United States, but the contemplated retention of the Isle of Pines as U.S. territory was not undertaken. For three decades, the country was led by former War of Independence leaders, who after being elected did not serve more than two constitutional terms. The Cuban presidential succession: José Miguel Gómez (1908-1912); Mario Garcia Menocal (1913 to 1920); Alfredo Zayas (1921-25) [12]. The Castro government would later describe this period as a "pseudo-republic."

President Gerardo Machado, was elected by popular vote in 1925, but he was constitutionally barred from reelection. Also in 1925, Abraham Semjovitch, code name Fabio Grobart [[13]], [[14]] a Kremlin Agent helps formally link the Cuban Communist Party to the Communist International [15] PCC. Machado, who determined to modernize Cuba set in motion a massive civil works with projects as the Central Highway, but at the end of his constitutional term held on to power; the United States, despite the Platt Amendment decided not to interfere militarily. The communists of the PCC did very little to resist Machado in his dictator phase; however, practically everybody else did. In the late 1920s and early 1933s a number of Cuban action groups, including some Mambí, staged a series of uprisings that either failed or did not affect the Capital. After much complex rebellion Machado was asked to leave by the Cuban Army and senior Cuban Civil Leaders in 1933 ISBN 1593880472. After Machado was deposed there was a confused short interregnum.

About six months later still in September 1933 there was a successful enlisted man and non-commissioned officer mutiny, taking the lower ranks of the Cuban Army to power. A key figure in the process was Fulgencio Batista, an army sergeant holding a key post as a telegraph officer. Then Batista with his straight Taíno hair and very dark skin, often lightened in later photographs, was known at "El Mulato Lindo;" he was probably the first noticibly colored ruler of Cuba since the Spanish conquest. He gradually assumed total command. As this revolutionary process, and because it would limit Batista’s power, the Platt Amendment was repealed. Still, American pressure forced Cuba to reaffirm the agreement which was imposed on the country in 1903 which leased the Guantanamo Bay naval base to the United States for a nominal sum, under terms which many Cubans at the time found (and some still find) objectionable and colonialistic.

To consolidate power, Batista heavy handedly suppressed a series of revolts. With encouragement from U.S. Ambassador Sumner Welles, he separated the Cuban military from the student-labor component of the new revolutionary government, and as army of chief of staff became the country's de facto leader behind a series of puppet presidents. In 1940, he became the country's official president in an election which many people considered to be rigged. During his tenure, he implemented several progressive policies regarding welfare and unemployment. Batista was voted out of office in 1944.

He was succeeded by Dr. Ramón Grau San Martín, a populist physician who had briefly held the presidency in the 1933 revolutionary process. President Grau passed a number of populist measures favoring workers and also had been instrumental in passing the 1940 Constitution, which has been widely regarded as one of the most progressive ever written in terms of worker protection and human rights.

Grau was followed by Carlos Prío Socarrás, also elected democratically, but whose government was tainted by increasing corruption and violent incidents among political factions. Fidel Castro appears on the public scene at the University of Havana, as a student-gangster, one of the "trigger happy boys" (los muchachos del gatillo alegre)Enrique Ros and is widely believed responsible for several murders. Eduardo Chibás was the leader of the Partido Ortodoxo (Orthodox Party), a liberal democratic group, who was widely expected to win in 1952 on an anticorruption platform. Chibás, entangled in an accusation that proved false, committed suicide before he could run for the presidency, and the opposition was left without its major leader.

Taking advantage of the opportunity, Batista, who was running for president in the 1952 elections, but had only a small minority of votes, seized power in an almost bloodless coup three months before the election was to take place. President Prío did nothing to stop the coup, and therefore was forced to leave the island. Due to the corruption of the past two administrations, the general public reaction to the coup was somewhat accepting at first. However, Batista soon encountered stiff opposition when he suspended the balloting and the constitution, beginning to rule by decree. After a very promising start in his first (elected) term his policy was now very hard on the people and discontentment grew.

The Cuban Revolution

Fidel Castro, a young lawyer from a wealthy family, and a history of political violence, who was running for a seat in the Chamber of Representatives for the Partido Ortodoxo, circulated a petition to depose Batista's government on the grounds that it had illegitimately suspended the electoral process. However, the petition was not acted upon by the courts.

On July 26, 1953 Castro led a historical attack on the Moncada Barracks near Santiago de Cuba, but failed and was jailed until 1955, when amnesty was given to many political prisoners, including the ones that assaulted the Moncada barracks. Castro subsequently went into exile in Mexico. While in Mexico, he organized the 26th of July Movement with the goal of overthrowing Batista. A group of over 80 men sailed to Cuba on board the yacht "Granma", landing in the eastern part of the island in December 1956. Despite a pre-landing rising in Santiago by Frank Pais and his followers of the urban pro-Castro movement, most of Castro's men were promptly killed, dispersed or taken prisoner by Batista's forces. Castro managed to escape to the Sierra Maestra mountains with about 12-17 effectives, aided by the urban and rural opposition, including Celia Sanchez and the bandits of Cresencio Perez's family, he began a guerrilla campaign against the regime. Castro's main forces supported by numerous poorly armed escopeteros, and with support from the well armed fighters of the Frank Pais urban organization who at times went to the mountains the rebel army grew more and more effective. The country was soon driven to chaos [16], particularly by a very effective sabotage and urban warfare campaign conducted in the cities by diverse groups of the anti-Batista resistance and notably a bloody crushed rising by the Batista Navy personel in Cienfuegos. At the same time rival guerrilla groups in the Escambray mountains also grew more and more effective.

Faced with a corrupt and ineffective military, dispirited by a U.S. Government embargo on weapons sales to Cuba and public indignation and revulsion at his brutality toward opponents, Batista fled on January 1, 1959. Within months of taking control, Castro moved to consolidate power by marginalizing other resistance groups and figures and imprisoning or executing opponents and former supporters. As the revolution became more radical, many hundreds of thousands of Cubans fled the island.

In July 1961, the Integrated Revolutionary Organizations (ORI) was formed by the merger of Fidel Castro's 26th of July Revolutionary Movement, the People's Socialist Party (the old Communist Party) led by Blas Roca and the Revolutionary Directory March 13th led by Faure Chomón. On March 26, 1962 the ORI became the United Party of the Cuban Socialist Revolution (PURSC) which, in turn, became the Communist Party of Cuba on October 3, 1965 with Castro as First Secretary.

See also: Cuban Revolution

Communist Cuba

Relations between the United States and Cuba deteriorated rapidly as the Cuban government, in reaction to the U.S refusal to refine Soviet oil in refineries located in Cuba, expropriated U.S. properties, notably those belonging to the International Telephone and Telegraph Company (ITT) and the United Fruit Company. This was in line with Castro's anti-U.S. ideologies used to gain support at home and abroad. In the Castro government's first agrarian reform law on May 17, 1959 it sought to limit the size of land holdings, and to distribute that land to agricultural workers in "Vital Minimum" tracts. In compensation, the Cuban government offered to pay the landholders based on the tax assessment values for the land, in reality little or no compensation was paid. Reasons for this include that actual payment would be with twenty-year bonds paying 4.5% interest (instead of the then U.S. investment grade corporate bond rate of 3.8%). Landholders from most other countries settled on this basis. The problem was with the tax assessed values. Most of the large landholdings had been acquired in the 1920 period when world sugar prices were depressed, and the land could be bought at bargain-basement prices. In the intervening period, former Cuban governments friendly to these interests had kept these bargain prices as the basis for calculating property taxes, thus insuring that those taxes would be kept low. However, as Castro's control of the island's assets tightened and more nationalization campaigns took place, promises such as these were not honored.

In response to the seizure of American properties and the increased repression carried out by Castro's government on the people, the U.S. broke diplomatic relations on January 3, 1961 and imposed the U.S. embargo against Cuba on February 3 1962. The embargo is still in effect as of 2005, although some humanitarian trade in food and medicines is now allowed. At first, the embargo didn't extend to other countries and Cuba trades with most European, Asian and Latin American countries and especially Canada. But now the United States pressures other nations and U.S. companies with foreign subsidiaries to restrict trade with Cuba. This hinders Castro's historic argument of blaming the United States for Cuba's grave economic situation. Then again, due to Cuba's location, such trade is hindered by high transportation costs. Also, the Helms-Burton Act of 1996 makes it very difficult for companies that do business with Cuba to also do business in the United States, effectively forcing internationals to choose between the two. Another consideration here is that Cuba already was a very poor country in 1959 and hardly any poor countries, capitalist or socialist, have managed to escape poverty in the 20th century, so political orientation can't be conclusively said to be the determining factor.

The establishment of a Marxist system in Cuba led to the fleeing of many hundreds of thousands of Cuban exiles to the United States and various other countries since Castro's rise to power. One major exception to the embargo was made on November 6, 1965 when Cuba and the United States formally agreed to start an airlift for Cubans who wanted to go to the United States. By 1971 these so-called Freedom Flights took 250,000 Cubans to the United States. Currently, there is an immigration lottery allowing 20,000 Cubans seeking political asylum to go to the United States legally every year. Perhaps a thousand or more take the terrible risks of escaping by sea.

Bay of Pigs Invasion

Main article: Bay of Pigs Invasion

The United States then sponsored an unsuccessful attack on Cuba, using conservative political groups as the main source of support. The attack began on April 15, 1961, when exiles, flying planes provided by the United States bombed several Cuban air force bases. This attack did not succeed in destroying all of Castro's air force. In response, Castro declared Cuba a socialist state in a speech on April 16, 1961.

On April 17, 1961, a force of about 1,500 Cuban exiles, financed and trained by the CIA, landed in the south at the Bay of Pigs. The CIA's assumption was that the invasion would spark a popular rising against Castro. Castro's forces were forewarned of the invasion and had arrested many thousands of suspected "subversives," before the invasion landed. Castro executed high level defectors from his own ranks notably William Morgan and Sori Marin. There was no popular uprising. Most of the invasion force made it ashore, however all their supplies did not, despite some initial advances in which thousands of Castro militia died was quickly defeated as President Kennedy did not allow the US Navy already on site to provide the air support he had promised. Many believe that the invasion, instead of weakening Castro, actually helped him consolidate his grip on power.

For the next 30 years, Castro pursued closer relations with the Soviet Union until its demise in 1991. Castro cast a big shadow in the Cold War. Castro’s enemies often died mysterious violent deaths. Castro-directed overt and covert operations were undertaken throughout much of the world.

The Organization of American States, under pressure from the United States, suspended Cuba's membership in the body on January 22, 1962 and the U.S. Government banned all U.S-Cuban trade a couple of weeks later on February 7. The Kennedy administration extended this on February 8, 1963 making travel, financial and commercial transactions by U.S. citizens to Cuba illegal.

The Cuban Missile Crisis

Main article: Cuban missile crisis

Tensions between the two governments peaked again during the October 1962 Cuban missile crisis. The United States had a much stronger arsenal of long-range nuclear weapons than the Soviet Union, as well as some medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBMs) in Turkey, whereas the Soviet Union had a large stockpile of medium-range nuclear weapons which were primarily located in Europe. Cuba agreed to let the Soviets to place secretly place MRBMs on their territory. Reports from in Cuba to exile sources questioned the need for large amounts of ice going to rural areas, and such lead to the discovery of the missiles, which was confirmed by U-2 flights. When the United States saw what was happening they put up a cordon in international waters to stop Soviet ships from bringing in any more missiles (named a quarantine rather than a blockade to avoid issues with international law). At the same time, Castro was getting a little too fanatic for the liking of Moscow, so, at the last moment, the Soviets decided to call back the ships. In addition, they agreed to remove the missiles that were already placed, in exchange for an agreement that the United States would not invade Cuba. Only after the fall of the Soviet Union it came out that another part of the agreement was the removal of the missiles in Turkey. It also turned out that some submarines that the U.S. Navy blocked were carrying nuclear missiles and that communication with Moscow was scarce, effectively leaving the decision of firing the missiles at the discretion of the captains of those submarines.

The United States have honored this agreement by not openly attacking Cuba anymore, but the CIA continued to support anti-Castro groups by mounting an extensive international campaign and several botched assassination attempts throughout the 1960s. And the agreement was specifically about Cuban territory. But Cuba provided military support to revolutions in Angola, Nigeria and South America. During one such campaign, Ernesto Che Guevara was captured by U.S. trained commandos in Bolivia in 1967 and then executed. A low quality copy of the photograph that was taken of him after his death became very popular on t-shirts and posters, which, along with his selfless ideology and untimely death, but ignoring his Sierra Maestra blood purges and his role in executions after Castro gained power, has helped 'el Che' become a symbol of revolution in the world.

Cuba after the Soviet Union

When the Soviet Union broke up in late 1991, a major boost to Cuba's economy was lost, leaving it essentially paralyzed because the Cuban economy had a very narrow basis, focused on just a few products with just a few buyers. Also, supplies (including oil) almost dried up. Over 80% of Cuba's trade was lost and living conditions worsened. A periodo especial (special period) was declared, which included cutbacks on transport and electricity and even food rationing. In response, the United States tightened up the trade embargo even further, thinking this would surely mean the downfall of Castro. But Castro tapped into a pre-revolutionary source of income and opened the country to tourism, and entered into several joint ventures with foreign companies for hotel, agricultural and industrial projects. As a result, the use of U.S. dollars was legalized in 1994, with special stores being opened which only sold in dollars. Thus, there were now two separate economies, the dollar-economy and the peso-economy, creating a social split in the island because those in the dollar-economy made much more money (such as in the tourist-industry). However, in October 2004 the Cuban government announced an end to this policy: from November dollars would no longer be legal tender in Cuba, but would instead be exchanged for convertible pesos, with a 10% commission payable to the state.

Extreme shortages of food and other goods as well as electrical blackouts led to a brief period of unrest, including numerous anti-government protests and widespread increases in crime. In response the Cuban Communist party government formed hundreds of “rapid-action brigades” to confront protesters. According to the Communist Party daily, Granma, "delinquents and anti-social elements who try to create disorder and an atmosphere of mistrust and impunity in our society will receive a crushing reply from the people,".

Some non-violent initiatives have been launched by Cubans in the island, aiming at political reform. In 1997, a group led by Vladimiro Roca, a decorated veteran of the Angolan war and the son of the founder of the Cuban Communist Party, sent a petition, entitled La Patria es de Todos ("the homeland belongs to all") to the Cuban general assembly requesting democratic and human rights reforms. As a result, Roca and his three associates were sentenced to jail, from which they were eventually released.

In 2001, a group backed by the Catholic church collected thousands of signatures for the Varela Project, a petition requesting a referendum on the island's political system. The process was openly supported by former U.S. president Jimmy Carter during his historic 2002 visit to Cuba. The petetion gathered sufficent signatures, but was rejected on an alleged technicality. Instead. a plebiscite then was held in which it was formally proclaimed that Castro's brand of socialism would be perpetual.

In 2003 seventy-five anti-government activists were arrested and summarily sentenced to heavy jail terms. Cuban officials described it as a response to provocative actions by the head of the U.S. interests section in Cuba, who had been travelling around the country holding publicized meetings and press conferences with the dissidents. Castro's action was widely criticised by mainstream human rights organizations and even by U.S. leftists generally sympathetic to his government.

In an unrelated matter six men were sentenced to death for hijacking a ferry with guns and knives, steering it into international waters where it ran out of fuel, and threatening to kill the passengers. Some accounts confused the two and accused Castro of sentencing dissidents to death, something which did not happen. A second ferry was hijacked, several days later and this time the hijackers were apprehended and executed within 24 hours of capture.

See also

External links

de:Geschichte Kubas es:Historia de Cuba fr:Histoire de Cuba gl:Historia de Cuba pt:História de Cuba