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History of Cuba

Hatuey, a Taino chieftain, is burned alive by Spanish soldiers.After the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492, Cuba became a Spanish colony. The Spanish massacred many of the Taino natives, despite the efforts of local chiefs, such as Hatuey, to repel the invaders. The natives also suffered from diseases brought from Spain, such as measles and smallpox, to which they had no immunity. The new colony was ruled by a Spanish governor in Havana, a settlement founded in 1514. African slaves were imported to work on the plantations, firstly of tobacco, then of sugar cane.

A 1736 map of New Spain, including Cuba (centre), West Indies and Mexico

Sugar plantation workers photographed in 1899

Sugar and slavery

In 1762, after British victory over France and Spain in the Seven Years' War, Havana was briefly occupied by Great Britain, before being returned to Spain in exchange for Florida. Thousands of slaves from West Africa were transported to the island to work on the sugar plantations, especially after the Haitian Revolution in the 1790s. By the late 19th century, Cuba had become the world’s most important world producer of sugar. Following a rebellion, known as the Ten Years' War (1868–1878), all slavery was abolished.
A painting showing the British fleet entering Havana, August 1762
A battle between US and Spanish forces during the Spanish-American War in 1898


Despite being virtually wiped out by Spanish colonists, the Taino population of Cuba and other Caribbean islands left their legacy. Tobacco, hurricane, barbecue and canoe are all words of Taino origin, as are the names of Cuba itself, Havana and many other places in the region.

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