In order to be able to understand the dynamics of today’s Cuba, you’ll need to brush up on Cuban history and its relations with Spain, America and Russia. If you’re a non-Spanish speaker, you’ll be glad you did a little research when you realize just how little literature there is at the local museums and sites around the country.
We’ve put together a timeline for you to be able to quickly wrap your head around some 500 years of Cuban history. If you would like a more detailed rundown of Cuban history, read our piece on the Cuban Revolution – Fidel Castro & Che Guevara & Communism
Spanish Colonization: A New Era of Cuban History
1492 – Christopher Columbus declares that Cuba is part of Spain, and marks the beginning of a new era in Cuba’s history.
1511 – Spain begins conquering Cuba under the leadership of Diego de Velazquez, who established Baracoa.
1526 – Purchasing of slaves from Africa begins, which starts a long-lived tradition of mixing religion and cultures throughout Cuban history.
1762 – Havana is captured by English forces under the leadership of Admiral George Pocock and Lord Albemarle.
1763 – Havana is returned to Spain under the terms of the Treaty of Paris.
Cuban War of Independence from the Spanish
1868-78 – Ceasefire is signed with the Spanish for more autonomy and commitment to reform, ending 10 years of the independence war.
1886 – Slavery is abolished.
1895-98 – Second independence war led by Jose Marti begins, and America declares war on Spain.
1898 – America defeats Spain, and Spain gives up any claim to Cuba.
American Tutelage over Cuba
1902 – Cuba becomes somewhat independent under new President Tomas Estrada Palma. The Platt Amendment ends US military presence in Cuba but allows the US to intervene in Cuban affairs. The US has a large impact on Cuban history.
1906-09 – Resignation of Estrada closely followed by a US occupation after an uprising carried out by Jose Miguel Gomez.
1909 – Jose Miguel Gomez becomes president in an election held under the supervision of the US. He was later charged with corruption.
1912 – US forces return to Cuba to help put down a rebellion against discrimination held by a segment of Cuba’s black population.
1924 – Gerardo Machado puts in place strict measures to improve mining, agricultural and public works. He establishes a ruthless dictatorship.
1925 – The founding of the Socialist Party, which would form the foundations of the Community Party later on.
1933 – Fulgencio Batista carries out a coup d’etat against Machado.
1934 – The US renounces its right to interfere in Cuban affairs and revises Cuba’s sugar quota, bringing in a new era of changes for Cuban history and economy.
1944 – Batista retires, and Ramon Gray San Martin enters the political arena.
1952 – Batista retakes power as president and rules over an oppressive and corrupt regime, which adds fuel to the fire for revolutionaries to take back control, changing the trajectory of Cuban history.
1953 – Fidel Castro stages a revolt against Batista, but it fails.
1956 – Castro leaves Mexico and heads to Cuba, taking control of the Sierra Maestra mountains, where he begins a guerrilla war alongside Ernesto “Che” Guevara.
1958 – The US cuts off military support to Batista.
Revolution & Communism
1959 – Castro and a guerrilla army of 9,000 people enter Havana. Batista flees the country, Castro becomes prime minister, and he appoints his brother Raul, Che Guevara, and other comrades to various positions in the cabinet.
1960 – Cuba nationalizes all US businesses in Cuba without paying any compensation.
1961 – Diplomatic relations between Washington and Havana end. In the same year, the US helps Cuban exiles in the Bay of Pigs. Castro declares Cuba a communist state and becomes allies with the Soviet Union.
Cuban Missile Crisis
1962 – The nuclear missile crisis between the US and Cuba erupts, which is an important milestone in Cuban history. After the US tried to invade Cuba, Castro allows for the Soviet Union to deploy nuclear missiles on the island. The crisis was resolved with the Americans agreeing to remove their missiles in Turkey if the Soviet Union removed the ones in Cuba. The Organization of American States suspends Cuba’s membership over its Marxism-Leninism leanings.
1965 – Cuba’s political party is given a different name: Cuban Communist Party.
1972 – Cuba becomes a member of Soviet-backed Council for Mutual Economic Assistance.
Efforts to Export Cuba’s Revolution to Africa
1976 – The new constitution is approved by the Cuban Communist Party, and Castro becomes president of Cuba.
1976-81 – Cuba sends soldiers to aid the left-wing militants fighting in Angola’s civil war. Later, Cuba sends troops to help overthrow the regime in Ethiopia.
1980 – About 125,000 flee to the US, most of whom are prisoners released from Cuban prisons.
1982 – Along with other Latin American countries, Cuba provides moral support to Argentina during its disputes with the UK over the Falkland Islands.
1988 – Cuba signs an agreement with South Africa to withdraw its troops from Angola.
Cuba Tries to Survive without the Soviet Union
1991 – After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Soviets pull their military advisers out of Cuba.
1993 – The US ramps up restrictions on the embargo against Cuba and imposes reforms, such as the legalization of the greenback, turning state farms into semi-autonomous cooperatives, and legalizing limited individual state enterprises.
1994 – Cuba and the US reach an agreement that allows for 20,000 Cubans to migrate to the US every year, which was a first in Cuban history.
1996 – Cuba shoots down two US jets, making the trade embargo permanent.
1998 – Pope John Paul II visits Cuba.
1998 – The US eases restrictions on Cubans in the US being able to send money to family in Cuba.
2000 October – US House of Representatives approves of food and medicine sales to Cuba.
2000 December – Russian President Vladimir Putin visits Cuba, and the two countries sign a series of bilateral agreements.
2001 October – Cuba criticizes Russia for shutting down the Lourdes radio station in the country, claiming that Putin did it as a “special gift” to President George W. Bush.
2001 November – The US sends food to Cuba after the devastation of Hurricane Michelle.
Crisis at Guantanamo Bay
2002 January – The US sends prisoners captured during operations in Afghanistan to Guantanamo Bay for questioning of Al-Qaeda suspects. In the same month, Russia closes down its last military base in Cuba at Lourdes.
2002 April – Cuba enters into a diplomatic crisis with Uruguay, Mexico and other allies after a report published by the UN Human Rights Commission criticizes human rights in Cuba. Uruguay completely breaks off relations with Cuba after Castro claims the country is a US lackey.
2002 May – US Undersecretary of State John Bolton claims that Cuba is making biological weapons. In the same month, former US president Jimmy Carter goes to Cuba as a goodwill trip to put an end to the claims. Carter was the first president to visit Cuba since the revolution in 1959.
2002 June – The National Assembly in Cuba reforms the constitution so that the socialist regime is permanent and cannot be changed.
2003 March-April – International audiences speak against the government’s “Black Spring” crackdown on dissidents. Seventy-five people are sentenced to 28 years in prison.
2003 June – The European Union stops high-level visits over the recent crackdown in the country.
2004 May – The US tightens the reins on sanctions and limits family visits and cash remittances from Cubans in the US.
2004 October – Castro makes it illegal to perform transactions in US dollars and implements a 10% tax on any local currency conversion to the greenback.
2005 January – Cuba says that it will kick-start talks with the EU after diplomatic relations were stalled during the “Black Spring.”
2005 May – Around 200 dissidents are allowed to have a meeting in public, a first since the 1959 revolution.
Castro in the Hospital
2006 July – President Castro has gastric surgery and power is temporarily handed over to his brother Raul, foreshadowing a break in Cuban history.
2006 December – Castro’s absence during the 50th anniversary of his return to Cuba after being exiled draws speculation about his health.
2007 May – Castro is unable to attend the May 1 celebrations. It’s later made public that he underwent a number of surgeries.
The US drops the case against Luis Posada Carriles, angering denizens in Cuba as he is dubbed the country’s “Public Enemy No. 1.” Carriles was a CIA operative and is suspected of downing a Cuban plane.
2007 July – For the first time in history, Castro is not present at the revolution celebrations.
2007 December – Castro announces on TV that he does not plan to stay in power much longer.
2008 February – Raul Castro becomes president. This happens a few days after Fidel announces his retirement.
2008 May – Raul lifts bans on owning computers and cell phones.
2008 June – Announcement made to undo salary equality measurement. This is seen as a radical split from the fundamental economic tenets spouted by orthodox Marxists.
The EU does away with diplomatic sanctions imposed during the “Black Spring.”
2008 July – The government eases restrictions on private ownership of land for farmers so the country can become less dependent on food imports.
2008 September – Hurricanes Gustav and Ike break the country’s record in wreaking the most havoc, leaving 200,000 Cuban homeless.
2008 October – The EU and Cuba restore their diplomatic relationship.
Relations with Russia Revived
2008 November – During Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s visit to Cuba, the two countries ink a series of trade and economic agreements to enhance relations. In return, Raul Castro goes to Russia in November 2009.
In the same month, Chinese President Hu Jintao and Cuba also sign a number of agreements in a high-level visit to continue purchasing nickel and sugar from Cuba.
2008 December – Russia sends warships to Cuba for the first time since the Cold War.
Economy growth in Cuba stalled by about 4.3%, making it the most challenging year in Cuban history since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
2009 March – Cabinet Secretary Carlos Lage and Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Rogue hand in their resignations after admitting to “errors,” which marks the first of any cabinet changes since the Fidel retired.
The US Congress lifts the restrictions imposed by President Bush on allowing Cubans to visit relatives and sending remittances.
2009 April – US President Barack Obama announces that he wants to redefine the US’ relationship with Cuba.
Measures Taken to Avoid a Crisis
2009 May – The government announces an austerity program to save energy and help the local economy recover from the global financial crisis.
2009 June – The Organization of American States allows Cuba to become a member. However, Cuba does not want to join.
2009 July – Cuba and Russia ink an agreement regarding oil exploration on the Cuban side of the Gulf of Mexico.
2010 February – Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who was a political prisoner, passes away on his 85th day of hunger strike.
2010 May – After the intervention of Archbishop Jaime Ortega, the spouses and mothers of political prisoners are allowed to demonstrate.
2010 July – Raul Castro decides to free 52 dissidents in a deal between the Church and Spain, and several go into exile.
2010 September – The government announces plans for job cuts in the public sector to restore the country’s economy. Experts say this is the most significant shift to the private sector since 1959.
2011 January – President Barack Obama eases restrictions on travel to Cuba for US citizens.
2011 March – The last two prisoners who were detained during the “Black Spring” crackdown in 2003 are released from prison.
A New Era of Reforms
2011 April – The Communist Party Congress announces that it will consider lifting a travel ban on Cuban citizens leaving the country as a tourist.
2011 August – The National Assembly approves a raft of reforms to foster private sector development and ease red tape.
2011 November – For the first time in half a century, Cuba passes a law that allows citizens to buy and sell private property.
2011 December – The Cuban government gives amnesty to 2,500 prisoners, some of which were political prisoners before the pope was scheduled to visit.
2012 March – Pope Benedict visits Cuba and criticizes the US embargo on Cuba.
2012 April – Cuba celebrates Good Friday as a public holiday. This was the first time that a religious holiday is recognized since the revolution in 1959.
2012 June – In a move to bolster the local agricultural market, Cuba reinforces tariffs on all food imports.
2012 October – The government does away with exit permits, which had been required for Cuban citizens to purchase at high prices. Citizens in certain professions such as doctors and engineers need permission to travel to prevent highly-qualified professionals from leaving the country.
2012 October – Raul Castro announces that the eastern part of Santiago received the worst of Hurricane Sandy, leaving 11 people dead and inflicting damage on 188,000 homes. According to the United Nations, the hurricane demolished nearly 100,000 hectares of crops.
Raul’s Second Term
2013 February – Raul Castro is reelected as president by the National Assembly.
2013 July – Five veteran politicians, including former parliament leader Ricardo Alarcon, are forced to resign from the Communist Party’s central committee. Raul Castro claimed it was a regular part of changing personnel in the party.
2014 January – Cuba inaugurates the first phase of a port project, which is a massive foreign investment initiative on the island.
2014 March – Cuba announces that it will work to improve relations and improve economic partnership with the EU; diplomatic ties were suspended in 1996.
2014 July – During a high-level visit, Russian President Vladimir Putin says that billions of dollars of debt owed by Cuba will be nullified. Chinese President Xi Jinping signs a number of agreements during his trip to Cuba.
2014 September – October – Cuba deploys hundreds of doctors and medical staff to help with the Ebola epidemic in Western Africa.
Restoring US Relations
2014 December – US President Barack Obama and Raul Castro begin to repair ties and diplomatic relations after being at a standstill for 50 years, a major milestone in Cuban history.
2015 January – Washington lifts some restrictions on trade and travel with Cuba.
Cuba hosts a team of diplomats in Havana for two days of talks focusing on reviving diplomatic relations. Raul Castro asks for President Obama to use executive powers to lift the trade embargo.
2015 February – Both Cuba and the US announce that they have advanced in their talks.
2015 May – The US removes Cuba from its list of governments that sponsors terrorism and establishes banking ties.
2015 July – Both the US and Cuba reopen their embassies.
2015 December – Both countries begin official talks on mutual compensation.
2016 January – The US continues to ease the number of trade restrictions imposed by the embargo.
2016 March – Cuba and the EU both agree to normalize relations.
US President Barack Obama visits Cuba. The last time a sitting US president had visited the island was 88 years prior.
2016 May – Cuba makes progress in legalizing small and medium-sized enterprises as part of their economic reforms.
Death of Fidel Castro
2016 November – Fidel Castro dies at the age of 90. Cuba has nine days of mourning following his death.
2017 January – Washington decides to end a long-standing policy that grants Cuban immigrants the right to remain in the US without a visa.
2017 June – US President Donald Trump overturns parts of Obama’s policy opening up to Cuba.
2018 April – Miguel Diaz-Canel becomes president, ending the Castro family’s 60-year reign.