According to archeologists, Cuba's first inhabitants canoed their way to the island across the ocean. When Columbus stepped ashore in 1492, he was convinced he had discovered the eastern Point of Asia (Las Indias). This miscalculation explains how the Caribbean became known as the 'West Indies' and how its inhabitants came to be known as 'Los Indios' or Indians. It was only in 1509, three years after Columbus’ death, that it was discovered that Cuba is in fact an island! With the arrival of Columbus, a long period of Spanish rule began that lasted until 1898. After a long battle for independence, the United States intervened in April of the same year and finally beat the Spanish troops after a three month battle.
An American military administration took over the position vacated by the Spanish monarchy, which was not exactly what the Cubans had in mind when they had asked for help. In 1901, an amendment was passed that stipulated that the US hold a monopoly on the sugar cane and cigar industries and that Cuba cede land to the US for military purposes. The last president of this pseudo-republic, as the Cubans refer to the period of 1902-1959, was Fulgencio Batista. He came into power in 1934 by a military coup and ruled as a true tyrant. American business had almost complete control over the economy. The only Cubans to have benefited were Batista and his family. While the people suffered from unemployment and malnutrition, Havana grew into the 'brothel of America', attracting gangsters and casinos.
It was at this point that a young lawyer named Fidel Castro emerged to breathe new life into the battle for full independence. After a failed armed robbery on the Moncada barracks near Santiago de Cuba, he and his supporters were tried and convicted. Released by amnesty in 1955, they travelled to Mexico to organize and train for the revolution. Together with his brother Raul and the young Argentinian doctor Ernesto 'Che' Guevara, who he met in Mexico, they assembled a group of 80 men who arrived in Cuba on December 2nd 1956 in a small boat named the Granma.
After two years of fierce battle in the Sierra Maestra, Che Guevara’s group captured the town of Santa Clara on Christmas day 1958. Batista fled on New Year's Eve to Santo Domingo and on January 8 1959, the triumphant guerrillos under Castro’s command arrived in Havana. Relations with the US deteriorated fast. The US stopped buying Cuban sugar and called for an embargo. Soon, the Soviet Union was absorbing all Cuban exports instead. In 1961, Castro, driven ever further into Russian arms after cutting off all diplomatic relations with the US, declared his revolution a socialist one. After the Bay of Pigs invasion, bonds with the Soviet Union were strengthened again and Russian missiles were installed in the province of Pinar del Rio, aimed at the US. A nuclear war was only avoided at the very last moment. It was not until 1975 that the icy relations between Cuba and the US defrosted a little. From 1977 and 1979 respectively, Americans and American Cubans were allowed back into Cuba. In 1980, a flood of Cubans emigrated to the United States. It was then agreed that 20,000 Cubans would be admitted into the US each year. In 1990 the economy began to collapse. Political changes in Eastern Europe hit Cuba hard and a period of extreme shortages began. Recently, the policy has been more liberal. Private companies are now permitted and Cubans are allowed to possess dollars and even go shopping in the so-called dollarshops.