Before Christopher Columbus landed in Cuba in 1492, the Taino people had long lived there. In 1511, the first Spanish settlement was founded by Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar in Baracoa, and other towns soon followed, including the future capital San Cristobal de Habana (Havana), founded in 1515.
Cuba remained a Spanish colony from 1511 to 1898, with an economy based on plantations, agriculture, mining and the export of sugar, coffee and tobacco to North America and Europe. The work was mainly done by African slaves brought to the island until their liberation in the late 19th century.
In 1898, Cuba was wrested from Spain by the United States in the Spanish-American War. The US then kept Cuba under military occupation as a protectorate for several decades and then controlled it through a series of corrupt military dictators who were also friends of the mafia.
In the late 1950s, Fidel Castro led a communist guerrilla army to victory over the regime of Fulgencio Batista. After his victory, Cuba became a one-party communist country allied with the Soviet Union and in a state of confrontation with the United States, which attempted to overthrow the Cuban government through a proxy invasion, a blockade, an embargo and several attempts to assassinate Castro through the Central Intelligence Agency. The only thing all these hostile actions have achieved is that they have helped to cripple the Cuban economy. Yet literacy and health care have greatly improved under Fidel’s rule. More recently, Venezuela, under the leadership of Hugo Chávez, has supplied free oil to Cuba in exchange for Cuban doctors and nurses.
There is a big gap between the income of visitors to Cuba and that of local workers. In recent years, since Fidel Castro retired, his brother Raúl has introduced more market-oriented reforms. However, the country remains a communist state and public criticism of the government or the communist party is strongly discouraged.