The largest island of the West Indies, located south of Florida. Under Spanish rule from 1511-1898, Cuba was the scene of intense revolutionary activity after 1868. In 1898, the sinking of the USS Maine in Havana harbor precipitated the Spanish-American War, which ended with the U.S. assuming trusteeship of the island. In 1902, the Cuban republic became independent, although the United States actively intervened in Cuban affairs until the 1930s. In 1959 a liberal guerrilla movement, led by Fidel Castro, overthrew the repressive government of Fulgencio Batista, who had ruled Cuba since 1952. Castro, influenced by his brother Raul and Che Guevera, soon began to purge the revolution of its non-Marxist elements. The regime nationalized foreign holdings and began the program of collectivization that took most of the agricultural sector out of private hands. A large number of Cubans preferred exile to the new order, and many hundreds of thousands have fled the island, most settling in the United States.
Castro linked Cuban policy closely with that of the Soviet Union, which soon established a strong military presence on the island. U.S.-Cuban relations deteriorated rapidly. In 1961, the United States backed an abortive invasion by a Cuban exile force, and in 1962 the discovery of nuclear missiles at Soviet bases in Cuba brought the United States and the Soviet Union to the brink of war. The United States imposed a total trade embargo on Cuba in 1962, which was supported by the Organization of American States in 1963. In the years since, the Castro regime has improved the standard of living in Cuba and has largely overcome illiteracy. Long dependent on massive Soviet economic support, the Cuban economy was badly shaken when the collapse of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s ended economic aid. Tightened U.S. trade restrictions in 1992 and 1996 have made matters worse. Increasing popular discontent has forced the government to take steps to liberalize the economy and to loosen some restrictions on emigration. The U.S. Treasury Department prohibits the importation of Cuban postage stamps into the United States through the mail.
UNITED STATES ADMINISTRATION