The Spanish colonization of Cuba began as soon as mass murderer Christopher Columbus landed on the island in 1492. Colonial violence caused the indigenous Taino of the region to decline in great number.
For three years the Taino chief Hatuey and other Taino chieftains waged a guerrilla campaign against the Spanish but were eventually defeated. Following these developments, a Spanish colonial government was set up in Havana 1514. African slaves were introduced to the island in 1526 to toil on sugar and tobacco plantations.
Spanish rule on the island lasted for more than three centuries, only briefly interrupted by the British occupation of Havana in 1762. It was the conflict of the Spanish-American War that officially ended Spanish colonial rule on the island. U.S. troops had invaded Cuba during the war and, following its defeat, Spain left the U.S. in control of the government in Havana. American businesses closed in to take advantage of the arrangement, setting up shop and establishing corporate investments in the Cuban sugar industry.
Cuba however could not be legally annexed by the U.S. and under pressure from the Cuban people free elections were held in 1900. By 1902 Cuba was officially recognized as an independent nation in charge of its own administration. Yet, the specter of United States imperialism did not go away with independence. The U.S. maintained corporate investments in Cuba despite the transition, reserved the right to intervene militarily in Cuba, and still held imperial control of Guantanamo Bay as apart of the transition agreement. Not to mention the conversion of many areas of Havana into tourist destinations specifically geared towards American tourists. After some years of political challenges, social unrest, and U.S. intervention, Fulgencio Batista, a military leader and former president of Cuba, seized political power during a bloodless coup in 1952 three months before elections. The U.S. backed Batista administration suspended the Constitution of 1940 and established a brutal dictatorship that lasted for about eight years.
The regime was characterized by an intensely autocratic right-wing military rule that generously supported U.S. business investments and activity on the island. Corruption and organized crime continued to thrive under Batista. The Cuban plantation system remained relatively in tact, despite the abolition of slavery on the island, and segregation still persisted in the public sector. In the employment sector Black and mulatto Cubans were largely regulated to service work, agricultural labor, and the manufacturing industries. U.S. imperialism found a comfortable position in the country under Batista, and U.S. demands hindered Cuba's economic development.
Batista's 1952 coup prevented one Fidel Castro from running under the Partido Orthodoxo ticket. The young lawyer, disillusioned with the Batista dictatorship petitioned the court to remove Batista on the grounds that he violated the 1940 Constitution. When this effort failed, Castro decided to used armed force. On July 6, 1953, Castro led an attack on the Moncada army garrison in Santiago de Cuba. Though the attack was unsuccessful, the July 6th Movement became the name of the revolutionary campaign to end the Batista regime. Many of the participants in the July 6th attack were killed or thrown in jail. Castro himself was jailed and then deported to Mexico. There, in Mexico City, the survivors of the attack were able to regroup.
Meanwhile, a young Argentine doctor by the name of Che Guevara was busy backpacking through Latin America. During his journey he encountered the aftermath of revolution in Bolivia, studied Marxist theory, and met revolutionary fighters, many of whom were survivors of the July 6th attack in Cuba. While in Guatemala, Che witnessed the CIA backed 1954 coup that removed democratically elected Jacobo Arbenz in order to install Jorge Ubico. This more than anything greatly politicized Che and by the time he fled Guatemala for Mexico City in September of that same year, he was prepared to wage revolutionary struggle. Che and Fidel met in 1955 and Guevara enthusiastically agreed to take part in the second attempt to liberate Cuba.
On November 25, 1956 Fidel along with eighty-two combatants including Che, set-sailed for Cuba on a small cruiser called the Granma. Before they were even able to land they were spotted by Batista's troops and were ambushed at Alegria de Pio. A number of combatants were killed before they were able to fight in the revolution. Fidel's forces hastily dispersed and headed into mountains of the Sierra Maestra. The loss was more than a rocky start to the campaign which threaten to generally cripple the morale of the July 6th Movement. However, within the Sierra Maestra Fidel's forces were able to regroup.
The guerrillas spent months recuperating, time that they used to build a relationship with the local peasants. Eventually the guerrillas were able to bring on a few new recruits to even the losses at Alegria de Pio. With the help of the peasant recruits the Rebel Army successfully defeated Batista's forces in the Battle of La Plata. The guerrillas took over the army outpost at La Plata and engaged in a few small battles that resulted in victories. On July 12, 1957 the Rebel Army issued the Manifesto of the Sierra Maestra, which called on the people of Cuba to wage revolutionary struggle against the Batista army and support the efforts of the guerrillas. Once their first permanent supply base was secured at El Hombrito, the rebels were officially well entrenched in the Sierra Maestra.
The guerrilla movement in the Sierra Maestra would have been impossible without the help of the local peasants, who supported the rebels with lodging, supplies, and a pool of recruits. Rebels practiced the guerrilla tactic of ambush in order to steal enemy resources and ammunition. Psychological warfare was also a staple of the guerrillas and was used to keep enemy troops up at all hours of the night. Che Guevera, who functioned as a combatant and the group's medical doctor, was especially talented in these guerrilla tactics. Che quickly rose to the level of commander in charge of his own rebel column. He later theorized the tactics used in the revolution in the handbook Guerrilla Warfare . The handbook became a canon text used by third world guerrilla movements across the globe in the fight against colonization and imperialism.
A aggressive offensive by Batista's army in October of 1957 saw the loss of many combatants. That winter the rebels responded with a winter offensive. A key victory at Pino del Agua in February, 1958 allowed the guerrillas to expand themselves into the Oriente province. By April 9th the pieces were in place to organize a national general strike. The April 9th strike was eventually suppressed by the Batista army, and prompted Batista to launch a more aggressive offensive the following month. After two months of fighting Batista's second offensive failed. The turning point in the revolution came on July 21, 1958 during the battle of El Jigue. Batista's defeat allowed the rebels to significantly expand themselves in the Sierra Maestra. Che and Camilo Cienfuegos led columns to invade central Cuba. Fidel joined them for the final battle of Guisa on November 15th. On January 1, 1959 Batista fled Cuba as the guerrillas closed in on Santa Clara .