After independence from Spain in 1899 and periods of rebellion and U.S. occupation, the administration of president José Miguel Gómez, installed in 1909, becomes rife with corruption, mismanagement, and discrimination towards Cubans of African descent.
Despite its corrupt political regimes, Cuba is popular with American investors, and its economy flourishes. Foreigners come to control most of Cuba's land and services and 40 percent of its sugar industry. Tourism and gambling join sugar as mainstays of the island's economy.
U.S. Prohibition (1919-33) is a boon for Havana hotels, bars, and restaurants. Meanwhile, rural Cubans continue to live in poverty. Two national labor unions emerge, but the labor movement suffers after an unsuccessful strike against Cuban president Carlos Mendieta.
With the support of communist labor leaders, Fulgencio Batista, a former army sergeant and savvy political operative, is elected president in 1940. He is defeated four years later by Carlos Prío Socarrás. Three months before scheduled 1952 elections, Batista seizes power in a bloodless coup.
Fidel Castro, a candidate for Cuba's Chamber of Representatives, accuses Batista of subverting the electoral process and circulates a petition to depose the Batista government. When the measure fails, Castro leads a small band of rebels in an ill-fated attack on the Moncada army barracks near Santiago de Cuba. Most of the rebels are killed. Castro is jailed and goes into exile in Mexico.
With its sugar industry and strong trade ties with the U.S., Cuba is one of Latin America's strongest economies. Labor unions wield power in business and politics. In December '56, Castro and 81 armed exiles invade Cuba and wage guerilla war from the mountains. Their mounting victories fuel frustration with Batista's corrupt regime. Batista flees Cuba on January 1, 1959.
Fidel Castro's moderate rhetoric gives way to more radical policies once he is in office. When he expropriates American assets, the United States imposes a trade embargo and breaks diplomatic ties. Hundreds of thousands of Cubans emigrate. In April 1961, 1,500 U.S.-backed Cuban exiles land at the Bay of Pigs in a failed attempt to overthrow Castro.
Cuba courts the Soviet Union, which becomes the island's principal supporter and trade partner. The USSR's secret placement of nuclear missiles in Cuba brings the world close to nuclear war. The Cuban missile crisis ends when Soviets agree to withdraw their weapons in exchange for President Kennedy's pledge to remove U.S. missiles from Turkey and abandon attempts to overthrow Castro.
The Communist Party's Central Planning Board directs the economy, setting strict wage and price controls and production quotas. Expanded social services provide free education and health care for all. Cuba grows more dependent on Soviet subsidies as its economy, handicapped by the U.S. embargo, stagnates. Middle- and upper-class Cubans continue to leave. The majority of clergy are gone by 1970.
Cuba joins the Eastern Bloc Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (Comecon). Billions of dollars in Soviet aid upgrade Cuba's military and help export its communist revolution to Latin America and Africa. A new Ministry of Culture supports the arts. In 1976 a new constitution splits Cuba into 14 provinces whose provincial assemblies elect representatives to the National Assembly.
Cubans continue to try to flee the island. In 1980 Castro opens the port of Mariél for five months, and 125,000 immigrants, including criminals, flood into the United States. U.S.-Cuban relations deteriorate further when U.S. forces invade Grenada in 1983, killing several Cubans and ousting Cuban aid workers. Meanwhile, Castro's relations with the Catholic Church improve.
Mikhail Gorbachev becomes Soviet premier in 1985. Gorbachev's liberal reform policies put Castro increasingly at odds with his longtime patrons. In 1986 Cuba defaults on most of its international loans. Castro gradually withdraws Cuban troops from Ethiopia, Angola, and Nicaragua.
The withdrawal of Soviet support (as much as US$6 billion annually) plunges Cuba into a severe recession that worsens when the USSR dissolves in 1991. Castro rations food and energy and cuts public services and employees. He also opens Cuba to tourism, legalizes the dollar, and sanctions self-employment for about 150 occupations, including restaurant owner.
Cuba's economic slump ends. Tough times spark demonstrations in Havana and another wave of migration. Some 30,000 Cubans set sail for the U.S. The dollar becomes the primary currency, and tourism surpasses sugar as the main source of dollars. To keep the economy afloat, Cuba courts foreign investment in the form of joint ventures with the Cuban government.
The downing of two civilian planes by Cuban fighter pilots kills three U.S. citizens and speeds congressional approval of the Helms-Burton Act, which punishes those who "traffic" in property expropriated from U.S. citizens. The legislation discourages some of Cuba's foreign investors. After inviting the pope to Cuba, Castro reinstates Christmas as a national holiday and frees 300 prisoners.
Annual economic growth exceeds 5 percent, thanks to tourism and foreign investment. The government counts on tourism to drive the economy and invests in new facilities and historic renovation. President Clinton authorizes limited food sales and expands two-way exchanges of academics, athletes, and scientists. Cuban culture and music become fashionable in the United States and Europe.
U.S. political and business leaders pressure the Bush administration to ease sanctions against Cuba, but the embargo stands. Cubans ratify a constitutional amendment to make the socialist political and economic system permanent. The state employs 75 percent of workers; the private sector remains minimal. Living standards are well below the 1989 level, and illegal migration to the U.S. continues.
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