Timeline of Key Events in Cuban History

Updated February 21, 2017 | Factmonster Staff

These are key dates in Cuban history, from Columbus's arrival in 1492 to the present.


Christopher Columbus arrives in Cuba and claims the territory for Spain.


Spaniards under Diego Velázquez conquer Cuba and its aboriginal groups. Spain establishes settlements, colonizing Cuba. Havana's superb harbor makes it a common transit point to and from Spain.


Havana is founded as San Cristóbal de la Habana by Velázquez.


Sugar, which will eventually become Cuba's largest crop, is first grown.


Slaves from Africa first arrive in Cuba.


Spain's King declares that tobacco, Cuba's main crop, cannot be sold to foreigners. Those who violate the decree could be executed.


Havana becomes the capital of Cuba.


About one-third of Havana's population dies of yellow fever.


Havana is captured by the British under Admiral George Pocock and Lord Albemarle during the Seven Years War. Cuba begins to export sugar to the British colonies.


The occupation of Havana ends as the city is returned under the Treaty of Paris.


Cuban authorities brutally suppress what they believe is plot by free blacks in Cuba to abolish slavery and end colonial rule. The suspected revolt is known as Conspiracy of La Escale. The crackdown is called the Year of the Lash. About 400 blacks were killed, some 600 jailed, and another 400 expelled.


Fed up with high taxes, restricted trade, and the lack of native Cubans in government, Cubans under revolutionary leader Maj. Gen. Calixto Garcia fight for independence from Spain in the Ten Years War. They fail to win independence in the long, bloody war. In the Treaty of Zanjón, Spain promised Cubans more representation in government and reforms, but failed to deliver.


Rebels launch a second bid for independence in the "Little War," which is also led by Maj. Gen. Calixto Garcia. Their resources depleted from the Ten Years War, the rebels suffered defeat.


Sugar prices drop precipitously, causing many Cuban sugar mills to fall into bankruptcy. U.S. businesses invest in the mills.


Slavery is abolished in Cuba.


Under the leadership of poet José Martí and Gen. Máximo Gómez y Báez rebels begin another revolt against Spanish rule.


Under Spanish general Valeriano Weyler y Nicolau, the Spanish military forced Cuba's rural population into concentration camps, where thousands died from disease, starvation, and exposure. This, along with the toll the uprising was taking on U.S. investment in Cuba, "yellow journalism" exaggerating the atrocities committed by Spain in Cuba, and the strategic importance of the island, led the U.S. to consider intervention.


The Spanish-American War begins shortly after the sinking of the battleship Maine in Havana harbor.

In a short war, the U.S. defeats Spain, which cedes control of Cuba to the U.S. The U.S. military begins its occupation of the island.

The Platt Amendment, part of an army appropriations bill, established the conditions that U.S. could intervene in Cuba and allowed the U.S. to lease land to create a naval base in Cuba.


The U.S. ends its military occupation of Cuba. Cuba becomes an independent republic with Estrada Palma as its first president.


The U.S. and Cuba sign the Treaty of Reciprocity, which reduced the duty of products imported and exported between the two nations and set the tariff on certain products, including sugar.


President Estrada Palma defeats Liberal Party candidate José Miguel Gómez in the presidential election. Opponents claim Palma rigged the election to ensure victory.


José Miguel Gómez leads an uprising in Cuba against President Estrada Palma. The tumult prompts the U.S. to occupy Cuba. Charles Magoon, an American attorney, serves as governor of Cuba.


The U.S. occupation ends. José Miguel Gómez becomes president. His tenure is marred by accusations of corruption.


Black Cubans rise up and protest against discrimination. The U.S. military returns to Cuba to quell the uprising.


Conservative politician Mario García Menocal is elected president.


Mario García Menocal is reelected.


Menocal suppresses a liberal revolt led by José Miguel Gómez, called the Chambelona War. The liberals demanded that Menocal observe the constitution and that elections be free of fraud.

Cuba enters World War I on the side of the Allies.


Alfredo Zayas, a liberal who participated in the Chambelona War, is elected president. The elections was widely considered fraudulent.


Gerardo Machado, a businessman, is elected president. He ran on the "Platform of Regeneration," promising to invest in Cuba's infrastructure.


The Cuban Communist Party is established.


Under pressure from Machado, Congress passes an amendment extending the presidential term to six years. President Machado becomes increasingly repressive and several insurgent groups challenge him.


Cuba is affected the economic crisis in the U.S. The U.S. increases the duty on Cuban sugar, causing the market and production to drop. Cuba is hit by an economic depression.


Under pressure from the Cuban military and the U.S. government, President Machado resigns. Carlos Manuel de Céspedes becomes provisional president, but he is ineffectual and overthrown in a student-led coup led by Sgt. Fulgencio Batista. The uprising is called the "sergeant's revolt." The students form the Provincial Revolutionary Government with Ramon Grau San Martin as president. Batista becomes head of the army and in that capacity, the de facto leader of Cuba. The Provincial Revolutionary Government considers the Platt Amendment, which allowed the U.S. to intervene in Cuba, no longer valid.


Amid the growing sense of nationalism in Cuba, the U.S. abrogates the Platt Amendment.

The Provincial Revolutionary Government is overthrown by members of the military and civilians loyal to Batista, who is backed by the U.S. He remains in control of the country behind a series of puppet presidents.


Democratic elections are held, and Batista wins the presidency. He implements a new constitution but runs a corrupt police state.


Batista leaves office. Former president Ramon Gray San Martin wins the presidential election. He implements a series of social and economic reforms before facing allegations of corruption.


With the backing of the army, Fulgencio Batista orchestrates another coup, ousting Carlos Prío Socarrás, who took office in 1948. He becomes increasingly repressive during his second term of office.


Fidel Castro leads a liberal uprising against the right-wing dictatorship of Batista.


Fidel Castro and Ernesto "Che" Guevara join forces in what they called the 26th of July Movement and launch a guerilla war against Batista's repressive regime. They are defeated by Batista's forces, but the movement gains in strength, numbers, and organization.


The U.S. halts military aid to Cuba.


Some 9,000 guerilla fighters led by Castro drive Batista out of Cuba. Castro becomes prime minister, his brother Raul Castro is named minister of the armed forces, and Guevara is third in command. within a few months, Castro established military tribunals for political opponents and jailed hundreds.


Castro confiscates U.S. assets, nationalizes U.S. businesses, and establishes Soviet-style collective farms.


A U.S.-backed group of Cuban exiles invades Cuba. Planned during the Eisenhower administration, the invasion is given the go-ahead by President John Kennedy, although he refuses to give U.S. air support. The landing at the Bay of Pigs was a fiasco. The invaders do not receive popular Cuban support and are easily repulsed by the Cuban military.


The Organization of American States expels Cuba.

The Cuban Missile Crisis brings the U.S. and Cuba to the brink of nuclear war. The Soviets attempt to install medium-range missiles in Cuba—capable of striking targets in the United States with nuclear warheads. Denouncing the Soviets for "deliberate deception," President Kennedy promised a U.S. blockade of Cuba to stop the missile delivery. Six days later, Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev ordered the missile sites dismantled and returned to the USSR in return for a U.S. pledge not to attack Cuba.


Cuba's only political party, the Integrated Revolutionary Organizations, is renamed the Communist Party of Cuba.


Guevara is executed in Bolivia.


Cuba joins the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance, an international economic organization led by the Soviets.


Cuba sends troops to Angola to support the Marxist Movement for the Popular Liberation of Angola, one of three rebel groups fighting for independence from Portugal.


The Cuban Communist Party adopts a socialist constitution. Fidel Castro becomes president of Cuba.


Castro sends about 12,000 troops and aid to Ethiopia to support Communist dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam in his campaign against against Eritrean secessionists, Somali rebels, and political opponents.

The U.S. establishes limited diplomatic ties with Cuba on Sept. 1, 1977, making it easier for Cuban Americans to visit the island.

Contact with Cuban Americans prompts a wave of discontent in Cuba, producing a flood of asylum seekers. In response, Castro opened the port of Mariel to a "freedom flotilla" of boats from the U.S., allowing 125,000 to flee to Miami. After the refugees arrive, it's discovered that their ranks were swelled with prisoners, mental patients, and others unwanted by the Cuban government.


Russian aid, which had long supported Cuba's failing economy, ends when Communism collapsed in eastern Europe. Cuba's foreign trade also plummets, producing a severe economic crisis.


The U.S. tightens its embargo against Cuba. In an attempt to revive the economy, Castro permits limited private enterprise, allows Cubans to possess convertible currencies, and encourages foreign investment in its tourist industry.


In an attempt to stem the flow of refugees from Cuba to the U.S., the two countries reach an accord that calls on Cuba to stop the exodus and for the U.S. to legally admit at least 20,000 Cubans each year.

The Cuban military shoots down two U.S. civilian planes operated by Cuban exiles. In repsonse, the U.S. makes permanent its embargo against Cuba with the Helms-Burton Act.


Pope John Paul II visits Cuba. He is the first pope to do so.


Elian Gonzalez, 5, is rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard in waters off Miami. The boy, his mother, her boyfriend, and 14 other Cubans had attempted to flee Cuba in a small aluminum motorboat. Gonzalez, who floated on an inner tube for two days before he was found, is one of three survivors. Relatives in Miami took in the boy and pleaded with the government to allow him to remain in the U.S. Gonzalez returned to Cuba in 2000 after the Supreme Court declined to hear an emergency appeal filed by the boy's Miami relatives, who desperately tried to keep the boy in the U.S.


The U.S. passes legislation allowing the sale of food and medicine to Cuba.

Russia and Cuba sign a deal to increase ties between the countries.


For the first time in 40 years, the U.S. sends food to Cuba. Cuba had requested the aid after the country was hit by Hurricane Michelle.


Terror suspects apprehended in Afghanistan in the U.S.-led war on terror are detained at the Guantanamo Bay prison.

U.S. Under Secretary of State John Bolton accuses Cuba of trying to develop biological weapons. He adds the country to the list of nations President George W. Bush said form the "axis of evil."

Former president Jimmy Carter visits Cuba. He criticizes the U.S. embargo against Cuba as well as Cuba's human rights record.


In March and April, Castro sends nearly 80 dissidents to prison with long sentences, prompting an international condemnation of Cuba's harsh supression of human rights.


The Bush administration again tightens its embargo against Cuba in June, allowing Cuban Americans to return to the island only once every three years (instead of every year) and restricting the amount of U.S. cash that can be spent there to $50 per day. In response, Cuba bans the use of dollars, which had been legal currency in the country for more than a decade.


Castro is hospitalized because of an illness and temporarily turns over power to his brother Raúl. In October, it is revealed that Castro has cancer and will not return to power.


Fidel Castro, 81, announces his retirement in February. He held power for 49 years. Raúl Castro succeeds his brother, becoming the 21st president of Cuba.

Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque in February signs the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. The Covenants ensure citizens' political and civil freedom, and gaurantee the right to work, fair wages, social security, education, and high standards of physical and mental health.

The government relaxes land restrictions for private farmers in July, in an effort to boost the country's poor food production and reduce dependence on food imports.

Hurricanes Gustav and Ike strike Cuba in August and September, causing devastating damage across the island.


The U.S. Congress votes in March to repeal restrictions on Cuban-Americans visiting Havana and sending money into the country.

In a government shake-up, Cabinet Secretary Carlos Lage and Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque, veterans of the Fidel Castro era, resign.

The Organization of American States lifts its 47-year suspension of Cuba. Cuba, however, said it would not resume membership in the organization.


Castro makes a surprise announcement in July that he plans to release 52 political prisoners. The prisoners—activists and journalists—have been held since a 2003 crackdown on dissidents.

With the economy in tatters largely a result of the 2008 hurricanes and the world financial crisis, the government announces massive cuts to public sector jobs.


Cuba makes the most significant change to its leadership in over 50 years in April, appointing José Ramón Machado to fill the second-highest position in the Communist Party. It is the first time since the 1959 revolution that someone other than the Castro brothers has been named to the position.

In October, buying and selling cars becomes legal. Raul Castro also starts allowing Cubans to go into business for themselves in a variety of approved jobs. The next month, government allows real estate to be bought and sold for the first time since the revolution.

The government pardoned more than 2,900 prisoners in December.


Pope Benedict XVI visits Cuba in March. He calls on Cuban officials to further expand human rights and on the U.S. to lift the trade embargo.

The government announces that beginning in early 2013 Cubans will no longer be required to acquire a costly exit visa when leaving the country.


Raul Castro is re-elected president in February. He says he will step down in 2018, the end of his second term in office.


In December, the Cuban government frees U.S. aid contractor Alan Gross, who had been in captivity for five years. Gross had been sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2011 after his effort to create a way to communicate outside of the Cuban government's control. In response, President Barack Obama announces that the U.S. would resume full diplomatic relations with Cuba, which includes opening an embassy in Havana. There hasn't been any diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba since 1961.


The U.S. lifts the ban on Americans traveling to Cuba.

The State Department sends a recommendation to the president that Cuba be removed from the State Sponsors of Terrorism List, a major hurdle in the path toward normalizing relations.

In April, President Obama and Cuban president Raul Castro meet at the Summit of the Americas in Panama. It is the first time the countries' leaders hold a face-to-face meeting in more than 50 years. According to news reports, Obama and Castro vow to open embassies in both countries. "Our governments will continue to have differences," Obama says. "At the same time, we agreed that we can continue to take steps forward that advance our mutual interests."

President Obama announces in July that Cuba and the U.S. have reached an agreement to open embassies in Washington D.C. and Havana. The U.S. Embassy in Havana is scheduled to open by the end of July.

by Beth Rowen
More about Cuba
Sources +