The U.S. continued to maintain political and economic dominance in Cuba throughout the first half of the twentieth century, and Cuba played a strategically vital role for the U.S. since it functionally ceded control of the Panama Canal. Subsequent trade agreements with the U.S. limited Cuba’s market to sugar exportation, a limitation that ultimately left Cuba vulnerable to world market trends. With Cuba’s economic struggles and political instability, corruption became pervasive which only invited further U.S. political intervention. Ultimately, in the power vacuum the military gained additional control over the political government, a shift that culminated to Batista’s golpe, an illegal takeover of the government in 1951. After Batista came to power, Time magazine featured him on the cover with the caption: “Cuba’s Batista: He Got Past Democracy’s Sentries.”

Introducing Castro

When Batista gained political control, Fidel Castro began organizing another political group in the hopes of overthrowing Batista. Castro’s initial military assaults failed, leading to his capture and ensuing imprisonment before ultimately gaining amnesty. Castro continued to gain political power, however, and eventually organized a guerrilla war against Batista that continued for several years as he continued to gain support by the local peasants and international renown. Castro eventually overthrew Batista in 1959.

After his accession, Castro quickly dominated Cuban politics and established the first communist government in the Western Hemisphere. With the ongoing international tensions fostered by the Cold War, the relations between Cuba and the U.S. deteriorated. The continuing suspicions culminated into militant hostility during the U.S.’s doomed attempt to help overthrow Castro in the 1961 Bay of Pigs and nuclear missile crisis of 1962. During this time of Castro’s rule, Cuba’s political relations with the Soviet Union progressed due to their mutually aligned political interests until the Soviet’s presumptive involvement in the Cuban Missile Crisis.

After realizing the political restrictions Cuba’s initial mode of socialism incurred, the Cuban government began to assume a more institutionalized version of socialism from 1970 to the mid-1980s. During this time, Cuba’s relations with the U.S. and the Soviet Union were precarious. In particular, U.S.-Cuba relations were contentious in the late 1970s and early 1980s with Cuba’s support of several developing communist movements throughout South America.

The collapse of communism throughout Europe and the crumbling Berlin Wall signified Cuba’s independence from international powerhouses for the first time in history. This post-Cold War world also brought problems to the home front of Castro’s Cuba. With an aging revolutionary regime and an evolving populace, Cuba’s internal politics were facing new challenges.