Cuba has been a premier travel destination for hundreds of years. If you're thinking of taking a holiday there, you couldn't make a better choice. Before you go, though, take a minute to learn a few of these interesting facts about Cuba that will make the whole trip come alive.
Interesting Facts About Cuba in History
Cuba has been changing hands for millennia. The first evidence we have of people living there comes from about 3000 BC. A new group of people colonized the area around 2000BC, and then, some time before Christopher Columbus arrived, migrant conquerors from the South American Arawak tribe arrived in Cuba and drove out the indigenous people.
The Arawak were driven away in their turn by the Spanish, who arrived in the late 15th century AD. The Spanish set up plantations to grow sugar and tobacco and imported slaves from Africa to work these plantations.
The first islander to lead a movement for Cuban independence was Joaquín Infante. His idea of a "free Cuba" included continuing slavery, setting into stone a social classification system based entirely on the color of person's skin, and forcing Catholicism in as the official state religion. He was unsuccessful.
Another coup two years later, led by a freed slave, failed quickly as well. Many early coups were unsuccessful because the majority of native Cubans wanted to keep slavery in Cuba, as they saw it as essential to their economic prosperity.
Spain Tightens Her Hold
To keep hold of his power, King Ferdinand VII of Spain ended constitutional rule in Cuba, disbanded the national militia, closed down all newspapers, suppressed most of the liberties the island had won, and set up a military commission to rule the colony with an iron fist.
The British End Slavery
When Spain had to sign a treaty with Britain in 1835, Britain forced them to end slavery in Cuba; though this took time to accomplish. With the slaves officially and completely free by 1886, Cuba needed a cheap workforce if it were to survive. The island's entire economy was dependent on plantation crops, and the world market would not accept a sudden increase in the price of sugar just because plantations now had to pay workers.
One of the most interesting facts about Cuba, and something few people know, is that to fill up the deficit of cheap labor, Cuba began welcoming Chinese and Indian workers as well as colonists from Spain. Today's Cuban population a blended mixture of people from the Arawak tribes, Spain, Africa, China, and India: a true melting pot!
To Be or Not to Be
The native Creole population of Cuba wanted the island to be annexed by the United States, and they proposed this idea frequently. The United States, in turn, was reluctant to have any European powers like Spain holding territory in the Americas and supported either annexing Cuba or helping the island gain free self-rule.
War of Independence
At the end of the 1800s, Cuba had been economically destroyed by the abolition of slavery and depended heavily on investments from the United States while they recovered. A Cuban activist, José Martí, moved to the United States and began stirring up support for revolution.
The Spanish fought desperately to keep Cuba, and, as the Cuban revolution became more successful, set up the world's first acknowledged concentration camps. Between these camps and the starvation the war brought, about a third of the population died.
Americans were cheering on the Cubans, seeing their struggle as analogous to the US Revolutionary War. When riots in Havana in 1898 threatened Americans living in Cuba, the United States sent the USS Maine to pick up citizens who wanted to leave. Off the coast of Cuba, the ship was destroyed in a massive explosion.
To this day, no one knows how the USS Maine was destroyed, but it gave the US reason to enter the war on the side of Cuba. Congress passed a joint resolution in April of that year to send troops; and specifically to disavow any interest in annexing the island.
Spain was fighting wars on too many fronts and finally had to surrender. The island of Cuba was temporarily handed over the US in 1899 while the US helped them set up a stable government. American investment changed Cuba dramatically, improving the standard of living, building infrastructure across the island, and spurring development in previously economically poor areas. While these changes did improve economics, they also transformed many landowners into tenants and workers for large conglomerations, leaving some people very dissatisfied.
Approximately two years later, Cuba was able to set up its own representative government with a constitution, so the US withdrew. Four years later, the duly elected president of Cuba, whose term of office was over, attempted to stay in office unconstitutionally, leading the people to revolt. The US re-occupied to bring peace and ensure free and fair elections. The US remained in Cuba four more years, withdrawing again in 1908.
Turning Up Roses
Things seemed great in 1933, when a young Fulgencio Batista led a movement that ended Cuban dependance upon other nations, gave the vote to women, and established a minimum wage. The US supported Batista in what seemed to be a triumph of Cuban self-rule and democracy.
Batista served as duly elected president and then stepped down, naming a successor in Communist fashion and hoping to avoid an election. The Cuban people disregarded him and elected their own preference; and a few years later Batista initiated a coup to take back power. Once back in power, Batista suspended elections and the constitution.
Rise of Castro
Many were unhappy with Batista's dictatorship, so when a young Fidel Castro came on the scene, he was supported by both the United States and by many Cubans. Once he took power, however, he cancelled the free elections he had promised, executed all his political enemies, and filled the prisons of Cuba with anyone who dared to criticize him.
The press was strictly censored, foreign-owned property was appropriated by the State. Tensions with the US great strained when Russia established a military base in Cuba to use as a jumping off point for their plan to take over all of South America.
The Cuban Missile Crisis
As Castro's grip on Cuba tightened and people began suffering more than ever, thousands fled to the United States. In 1962, the world discovered that the Russians had offensive missiles located in Cuba that were capable of destroying any city in North or South America. With the entire Western Hemisphere in an uproar, the Russians finally backed down and removed their missiles.
The Modern Era
In 1961, the United States severed diplomatic relations and restricted trade with Cuba. In the mid-60s, Castro established new concentration camps, and the standard of living plummeted. 20,000 "dissidents" were tortured, homosexuals were imprisoned and "re-educated," and at least 4,000 people were summarily executed. Things were so dire that about 1.2 million Cubans fled to the US during this time, and at least 30,000 died making the attempt.
Dissolution of the Soviet Union
With the fall of the Soviet Union, Cuba lost much of its financial support and remained in economic poverty and famine for a while. Since then, the island nation's relationship with the US and the rest of the world has improved along with their standard of living and economic situation; and today it is a favorite holiday destination once again and home to a people who are proud of their unusual history.
20 Other Interesting Facts About Cuba
There are many interesting facts about Cuba we could mention in addition to all the fascinating history of this important Caribbean island. Here are just twenty of the most interesting:
Flora and Fauna
Cuba is an amazing destination and well worth your time to explore. Who knows? If you go for a visit, you'll probably be able to add a lot to this list of interesting facts about Cuba.