Before traveling anywhere it’s always good to read up on the history of your destination. This is especially true for Cuba as its current state of economic depression can be traced to very recent history.
In 1898, Spain ceded control of Cuba to the United States and the next sixty years of Cuban history is based on a strong American presence. The US Navy established a base Guantanamo Bay and American tourists flocked to Havana, which greatly influenced the politics and culture of Cuba.
In the 1950s, Cuba was ruled by the unpopular military dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. A resistance movement led by Fidel Castro and Che Guevara gained increasing support and power. In 1959 Castro gained control of Cuba and revolutionized Cuban society by instituting land reform, investing in health care, education, and athletics. It was at this point that the country moved into a close relationship with the Soviet Union. In the early 1960’s Castro’s regime executed or imprisoned many political opponents, which among other unpopular policies fueled tensions with the United States. A failed invasion by CIA trained forces in April 1961 pushed Cuba more firmly towards the Soviet Union.
When the USSR established nuclear missile bases in Cuba in 1962, the United States and the Soviet Union came to the brink of war, a tense 14 days known as the Cuban Missile Crisis. A tragic unfolding of cold war history on Cuba was averted when the USSR agreed to dismantle its nuclear bases in return for an American pledge not to invade Cuba or depose Castro. At this time the United States embargo on Cuba was implemented.
The next thirty years of Cuban history included a close alliance with the Soviet communist bloc. Soviet imports of Cuban sugar propped up the island’s economy. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989, Cuba was faced with devastating hardship. This “special period” of Cuban history saw the island become increasingly self-sufficient.
Cuba’s economic fortunes were eventually aided by the opening of the island to international tourists in the early 1990s. Today, millions of tourists, including Americans, travel Cuba to appreciate the unique culture and history of this relatively untouched island.