Cuba was ceded to the U.S. by Spain as part of the treaty that ended the Spanish American War, in 1898. Indeed, the main impetus for the war was U.S. support of Cuba, which had been seeking its independence from Spain since 1885. While most Americans have heard of the famous surge of Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders up San Juan Hill, perhaps not as many understand that it ended the Spanish-American War and led to Cuba's independence from Spain and tight association with the U.S.
Fulgencio Batista, who had served as Cuban president between 1940 and 1944, seized control of the Cuban government in a 1952 coup d’etat. The Batista regime, which maintained close relation with the United States, was corrupt and unpopular with the Cuban population.
Fidel Castro led a nationalistic movement against Batista, launching an armed attack on the Moncada Barracks on July 26, 1953. The assault was put down and many of the revolutionaries were imprisoned.
Batista released Castro in 1955 at the urging of the Cuban public. Castro retreated to Mexico to train his guerrilla force along with famed revolutionary Che Guevara. He returned to his homeland in December aboard the ship Granma, surviving a bloody encounter upon landing. He retreated to the Sierra Madre mountains and began military operations.
On January 1, 1959, Castro seized control of the country from Fulgencio Batista (Spanish version here).
On Oct. 19, 1960, the Eisenhower administration placed an embargo on exports to Cuba, setting in motion an uneasy political relationship that continues to this day. Read the full story, in English or Spanish.
Seminal events in Cuba-U.S. relations since the embargo include the Cuban Missile Crisis, the disastrous Bay of Pigs Invasion, (Spanish version here) the Mariel Boatlift of 1980 (Spanish version here), and a lengthy series of airplane hijackings in the 1960s.
While campaigning, now-President Barack Obama promised unlimited rights for American to travel to Cuba, leading to hopes for elimination of the trade embargo once he became President. However, a January 2009 speech by Raul Castro on the 50th anniversary of the revolution in Cuba dimmed hopes for an immediate thaw in Cuba-U.S. relations. In March 2009, Obama did indeed ease, but not eliminate, (for Spanish version click here) travel restrictions. Many in the U.S., particularly conservatives, continue to call for the end to the embargo.
In an uncanny parallel to the situation in Cuba, at the same time that Castro was first challenging Batista in Cuba, the U.S. was assisting Mohammed Reza Pahlavi in a coup that led him to becoming the Shah of Iran. Twelve years later, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, like Castro, would be exiled for his outspoken resistance to the Shah. And like Castro, he returned to overthrow his nemesis; and, as with the Bay of Pigs, the U.S. reaction included a humiliating military operation.
Today, the coup in Iran is blamed for removing a democratically elected leader and ushering in 26 years of authoritarian rule. In 2000, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright issued an apology to Iran, saying, “the coup was clearly a setback for Iran's political development.” In June 2009, President Obama, in a speech in Cairo, became the first president to publicly acknowledge the United States’ role in the coup.