Cuba is the largest island in the Caribbean, 144km (90 miles) from the shores of the United States. It was home to the Taino and Ciboney peoples before they were wiped out following the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492 and the ensuing Spanish Conquest.
The island became an important asset for Spain, which brought in African slaves to work the coffee and sugar plantations.
Map of Cuba
A series of strongmen held power in the years that followed independence in 1902, including two-time coup leader Fulgencio Batista.
Batista fled Cuba after an insurgency by nationalist rebels, including Fidel Castro, took Havana on 1 January 1959. Castro went on to become president in a single-party state.
Relations with the US have been openly antagonistic, with crises ranging from the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 and the 1962 Cuban missile crisis to the 2000 custody battle over five-year-old refugee Elian Gonzalez.
Guantanamo Bay Map
On February 19, 2008, Cuban President Fidel Castro announced he would retire from his post and not seek re-election. Cuba has survived more than 40 years of US sanctions intended to topple the government of Fidel Castro. It also defied predictions that it would not survive the collapse of its one-time supporter, the Soviet Union.
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