How does religion influence politics in Cuba?

History of Cuba until 1959

Columbus discovers Cuba

"The most beautiful island that human eyes have ever seen," wrote Christopher Columbus in his on-board diary. On October 27, 1492, he discovered Cuba when he was supposed to find a sea route to India on behalf of the Spanish crown. Cuba is the largest island in the Antilles and is centrally located at the entrance to the Gulf of Mexico, just 90 miles from Florida. Haiti, the Bahamas and Jamaica are in the neighborhood.

So the island was not only beautiful, but also strategically located for the conquest of America. Cuba was quickly seen as the "key to the new world". Before Columbus discovered the island, it is estimated that 200,000 indigenous people lived on Cuba. Archaeological finds indicate that the first inhabitants set foot on the island more than 10,000 years ago. Columbus called the inhabitants "Indians" because he believed he was in India.

The Spanish conquerors

In 1510, Diego Velázquez began subjugating Cuba on behalf of the Spanish Crown. He set out with only 300 men, but with brutality and superior technology, the conquerors managed to defeat the Cubans. Most residents were killed, forced into labor, or died of introduced diseases such as smallpox. After four years the island was conquered.

The main goal of the Spaniards was now to find gold and silver on the island - without success. On the other hand, tobacco growing flourished for the first time in the 17th century. But it was not until the second half of the 18th century that sugar cane should bring the island to its special bloom. The workforce for this came from Africa and so the number of slaves on the island increased enormously from the second half of the 18th century.

Slavery on the sugar plantations

The overseas demand for sugar was great at the end of the 18th century and Cuba was able to supply. The Spanish crown paved the way for the expansion of sugar production and mass slavery. By 1840 the Antilles island had already become the world's largest producer of refined sugar.

The number of slaves on the sugar plantations rose just as rapidly. In 1841 there were over 435,000. It is true that there were occasional uprisings by the slaves. But mostly they stayed on the plantations, lived in huts and toiled under inhumane conditions until their early death. Slaves were also used in other areas, for example in housekeeping and in railway construction.

The African roots of the slaves shaped the Cuban culture enormously - not least through their gods. The so-called Santerie, a mixture of African patron gods and saints as well as Christian elements, is still widespread today.

Under the influence of the American Civil War of 1865, in which the northern states defeated the slave-holding southern states, human trafficking to Cuba also subsided. In 1886 slavery was finally abolished. The country and its economy had to be reorganized.

The first war of independence

In the second half of the 19th century, the local ruling class of the "Criollos" (born in Cuba, but of Spanish descent) tried to wrest reforms from the Spanish government. More freedom of trade and more political autonomy for the island as well as the abolition of slavery were demands. But diplomatic efforts failed.

In 1868 the first war of independence began in Cuba. It all started with a plantation owner who gave his slaves freedom and who proclaimed Cuba's independence in a speech. The war continued to spread on the island. It took ten years for Spain to finally defeat the Cuban rebels. The reasons were the numerical superiority of the Spaniards, but also internal conflicts among the rebels, exhaustion and hunger.

Only one person did not want to accept the terms of the Spaniards and end the war: the half-African Antonio Maceo. He defied the Spanish colonial rulers for two more years. That brought him and continues to bring him fame among the Cubans.

The second war of independence

After the first War of Independence from 1868 to 1878, the economy and the country initially fared badly. However, the common struggle had welded people of different origins together. In the second war of independence, for example, the rebels immediately found greater popular support.

One of the central figures was José Martí. Because he rebelled against Spain, he was sentenced to forced labor at a young age and eventually went into exile. The poet, writer and journalist Martí led the Cubans in exile in the USA. He mobilized his compatriots for the military liberation of Cuba.

On the island, Spain continued to deny the Cubans more autonomy. So the uprising broke out on February 24, 1895, with Martí as civil leader and key strategist. However, he was killed on May 19, 1895 in a battle with Spanish troops. Martí finally became a hero and martyr, and a myth was born.

After three years, the second war of independence ended, but neither with a victory for the Spaniards nor with that of the Cubans. The US intervened. The Americans had been keeping an eye on the neighboring island for a long time and now saw the opportunity to exert more influence there. The Spanish fleet was fought down, and on July 17, 1898, the colonial rulers finally gave up in Santiago de Cuba.

But the Cubans who had supported the US in the fight had no reason to be happy. The US simply excluded the Cubans from the process of reorganization. Not a single Cuban was invited to the Spanish surrender in Havana; the American flag was flown. Cuba was transferred to the USA at the peace negotiations in Paris, in which no Cuban representatives took part either.

Independence with a bland aftertaste

From 1899 to 1902, Cuba was under the military administration of the USA before the independent republic was founded in 1902 and the Cuban Estrada Palma became president.

But a bad aftertaste remained: The USA reserved considerable rights of intervention with a constitutional amendment, the so-called "Platt Amendment". The USA dominated the island politically and economically, and also influenced the Cuban presidential elections, for example.

The relationship between Cuba and the USA did not change for the long term until 1959 with Fidel Castro. With his revolution, the meanwhile resigned "Máximo Líder" went on a course of confrontation with the neighboring superpower that had lasted for decades.

Author: Martina Schuch