Cuba was the last major Spanish colony to gain independence, following a 50-year struggle begun in 1850. Jose Marti, Cuba's national hero, began the final push for independence in 1895. In 1898, after the USS Maine sunk in Havana Harbor on February 15 due to an explosion of undetermined origin, the United States entered the conflict. In December of that year Spain relinquished control of Cuba to the United States with the Treaty of Paris. On May 20, 1902, the United States granted Cuba its independence, but retained the right to intervene to preserve Cuban independence and stability under the Platt Amendment. In 1934, the amendment was repealed and the United States and Cuba reaffirmed the 1903 agreement which leased the Guantanamo Bay naval base to the United States.
Cuba was often ruled by military figures, who either obtained or remained in power by force. Fulgencio Batista, an army sergeant, organized a non-commissioned officer revolt in September 1933 and wielded significant power behind the scenes until he was elected president in 1940. Batista was voted out of office in 1944. Running for president again in 1952, Batista seized power in a bloodless coup three months before the election was to take place, suspended the balloting, and began ruling by decree.
Fidel Castro, who was running for a seat in the Chamber of Representatives, circulated a petition to depose Batista's government on the grounds that it had illegitimately suspended the electoral process. On July 26, 1953 Castro led a failed attack on the Moncada army barracks near Santiago de Cuba and was jailed and subsequently went into exile in Mexico. While in Mexico, Castro organized the 26th of July Movement with the goal of overthrowing Batista, and the group sailed to Cuba on board the yatch Granma landing in the eastern part of the island in December 1956.
Batista's dictatorial rule fueled increasing popular discontent and the rise of active urban resistance groups, a fertile political environment for Castro's 26th of July Movement. Faced with a corrupt and ineffective military itself dispirited by a U.S. Government embargo on weapons sales to Cuba and public indignation and revulsion at his brutality toward opponents, Batista fled on January 1, 1959. Within months of taking control, Castro moved to consolidate power by marginalizing other resistance figures and imprisoning or executing opponents. As the revolution became more radical, hundreds of thousands of Cubans fled the island.
Castro declared Cuba a socialist state on April 16, 1961. For the next 30 years, Castro pursued close relations with the Soviet Union until the demise of the U.S.S.R. in 1991. Relations between the U.S. and Cuba deteriorated rapidly as the Cuban regime expropriated U.S. properties and moved towards adoption of a one-party Communist system. In response, the United States imposed an embargo on Cuba in October 1960, and broke diplomatic relations on January 3, 1961. Tensions between the two governments peaked during the October 1962 missile crisis.
According to the Cuban Constitution, the National Assembly of People's Power, and its Council of State when the body is not in session, has supreme authority in the Cuban system. Since the National Assembly meets only twice a year for a few days each time, the 31-member Council of State wields power. The Council of Ministers, through its nine-member executive committee, handles the administration of the of the state-controlled economy. Fidel Castro is President of the Council of State and Council of Ministers and his brother Raul serves as First Vice President of both bodies in addition to being Minister of Defense.
Although the constitution theoretically provides for independent courts, it explicitly subordinates them to the National Assembly and to the Council of State. The People's Supreme Court is the highest judicial body. Due process is routinely denied to Cuban citizens, particularly in cases involving political offenses. The constitution states that all legally recognized civil liberties can be denied to anyone who opposes the "decision of the Cuban people to build socialism."
The Communist Party is constitutionally recognized as Cuba's only legal political party. The party monopolizes all government positions, including judicial offices. Though not a formal requirement, party membership is virtually a de facto prerequisite for high-level official positions and professional advancement in most areas, although non-party members are sometimes allowed to serve in the National Assembly.
Cuba appears to have largely abandoned the support for guerrilla movements that typified its involvement in regional politics in Latin America and Africa. In the past, Cuba's support for Latin guerrilla movements, its Marxist-Leninist government, and its alignment with the U.S.S.R., had contributed to its isolation in the hemisphere. In January 1962, the Organization of American States (OAS) suspended Cuba. Cuba now has diplomatic or commercial relations with most countries in Latin American and the Caribbean.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Cuba expanded its military presence abroad, spending millions of dollars in exporting revolutions; deployments reached 50,000 troops in Angola, 24,000 in Ethiopia, 1,500 in Nicaragua, and hundreds more elsewhere. In Angola, Cuban troops, supported logistically by the U.S.S.R., backed the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) in its effort to take power after Portugal granted Angola its independence. Cuban forces played a key role in Ethiopia's war against Somalia and remained there in substantial numbers as a garrison force for a decade. Cubans served in a non-combat advisory role in Mozambique and the Congo. Cuba also used the Congo as a logistical support center for Cuba's Angola mission.
In the late 1980s, Cuba began to pull back militarily. Cuba unilaterally removed its forces from Ethiopia; met the timetable of the 1988 Angola-Namibia accords by completing the withdrawal of its forces from Angola before July 1991; and ended military assistance to Nicaragua following the Sandinistas' 1990 electoral defeat. In January 1992, following the peace agreement in El Salvador, Castro stated that Cuban support for insurgents was a thing of the past.
Support for the Cuban people is the central theme of our policy. New measures announced by President Clinton on January 5, 1999, will strengthen this support while continuing to deny the regime the means to maintain its repressive system. These measures -- broadening remittances, expanding people-to-people contacts, increasing direct flights, authorizing food sales to independent entities, and establishing direct mail service -- respond to Pope John Paul II's call to open up to Cuba.
U.S. policy also pursues a multilateral effort to press for democratic change by urging our friends and allies to actively promote a democratic transition and respect for human rights. The U.S. opposes consideration of Cuba's return to the OAS or inclusion in the Summit of the America's process until there is a democratic Cuban Government. The U.S. has repeatedly made clear however, that it is prepared to respond reciprocally if the Cuban Government initiates fundamental, systematic democratic change and respect for human rights.