Cuba So Close Yet So Far

The island of Cuba has been inhabited for thousands of years by indigenous peoples known as the Taíno and Ciboney. The name Cuba in fact is derived from the Taíno word Cubanacan, which means "central". Christopher Columbus sighted the island during his first voyage of discovery October 24, 1492, and immediately claimed for Spain.

Spain possessed the island of Cuba for 388 years, ruled by the governor of Havana. British seized the island in 1762, but returned to Spain the following year. Like most of the Spanish Empire, a small elite of settlers landed held all social and economic power. They were served by a population of small farmers, laborers and slaves.

During the 1820s, when the rest of the Spanish empire in South America rebelled and seceeded, Cuba remained loyal, although some campaigned for independence. Partly because fears of a slave rebellion (as had happened in Haiti) if the Spanish withdrew, partly because the prosperity of Cuban settlers depended on its exports to Europe, and partly because Cuba feared the growing power United States more than they disliked Spanish colonial rule.

Due to the fact that Cuba is only 90 miles from the United States had a profound impact on developing countries. In 1848 a pro-annexationist uprising was defeated after several failed invasion was atemps Florida vain. After the United States tried to buy Cuba from Spain, but always refused.

Rural poverty in Spain led to a substantial Spanish emigration to Cuba. During the 1890s pro-independence agitation revived, fueled by resentment of the restrictions on trade with Cuba by Spain and hostility to the administration increasingly oppressive and incompetent of Cuba from Spain. The July 15, 1895, rebellion broke out and the Independence Party, led by Tomás Estrada Palma and the poet José Martí, proclaimed Cuba an independent republic. Martí was killed shortly after and became undisputed national hero of Cuba.

The Spanish-American War resulted when the US battleship Maine was mysteriously exploded in Havana harbor, killing 266 men. The war started when US forces landed in Cuba in June 1898 and quickly overcame Spanish resistance. In August a peace treaty was signed in which Spain agreed to withdraw Cuba.

Some advocates in the US supported Cuban independence, while others supported the outright annexation. As a compromise, the McKinley administration placed Cuba under American tutelage 20 years. Theodore Roosevelt, who had fought in the Spanish American War and had some sympathies with the independence movement, succeeded McKinley as US President in 1901 and abandoned the proposed guardianship 20 years. Instead, the Republic of Cuba got its formal independence May 20, 1902, with the independence leader Tomás Estrada Palma becoming the country's first president. Under the new Cuban constitution, however, the United States retain the right to intervene in Cuban affairs and to supervise its finances and foreign relations. Under the Platt Amendment, Cuba also agreed to lease to the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay.

Independent Cuba soon encountered difficulties because of disputes between factions and corruption among the small educated elite and the government's inability to deal with the deep social problems left by the Spaniards. In 1906, following disputed elections to choose Estrada Palma's successor, an armed revolt broke out and the US exercised their right to intervene. In 1908, self-government was restored when José Miguel Gómez was elected President, but the US retained its supervision of Cuban affairs.

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