Cuba lies at the mouth of the Gulf of Mexico and is both the largest and most populated island in the Caribbean. Pre-revolutionary Cuba suffered under imperialist rule, first by the Spanish and later by the USA, which led to deep inequality and oppression. In the decade prior to the revolution, Cuba was led by army sergeant and dictator Fulgencio Batista, who ran a USA-supported regime characterised by corruption, repression and organised crime.
The Cuban socialist revolution triumphed on 1 January 1959, following almost ten years of revolutionary resistance. The new revolutionary government focused on agrarian reform, land redistribution, nationalisation, establishing national unions and organisations, reducing illiteracy and increasing access to health care.
In the 1990s, the strength of the Cuban revolution was tested during what is known as the ‘Special Period’. Following the fall of the Soviet Union, Cuba lost 5 billion dollars worth of trade, almost overnight. Cuba was forced into an economic crisis as oil supplies from the Soviet Union disappeared and Cuban industry ground to a halt. If you would like to find out more about how the Cuban government overcame the difficulties of the Special Period, watch Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil, a one hour documentary found here.
In 1960, the USA cut off diplomatic relations with Cuba and began a complete economic blockade of Cuba. US efforts to topple the revolutionary government during this period culminated in the Bay of Pigs invasion on 17 April 1961 by 1400 CIA-trained Cuban expatriates. The invasion failed miserably. Despite recent improvements in the diplomatic relationships between the US and Cuba, the US blockade of Cuba remains in place.
For a more detailed account of Cuban history, including pre-revolutionary Cuba and the gains made by the Cuban revolution, please read Cuban History in a Coconut Shell.