At first, Cuba did not receive much attention from Spain, because it had only small deposits of gold. Occasionally, Spanish expeditions visited the island in search of able-bodied Indians to work as slaves. The Arawak, however, fought back. Diego de Velázquez, a wealthy landowner in western Hispaniola, led the conquest and early settlement of Cuba.
Cuba experienced two wars of independence during the second half of the nineteenth century. Both conflicts were responses to Spain’s refusal to allow Cubans the right to govern themselves concerning local issues, such as taxation, public works, and trade policy. Cuban rebels in both conflicts used the impassioned political slogan Cuba Libre (Free Cuba) as they fought against Spanish soldiers.
A popular guidebook describes 1902 to 1953 in Cuba as the “Age of Decadence”. During this period, the country had a series of presidents who led corrupt and incompetent governments. Additionally, members of organized crime in the United States rubbed shoulders with the Cuban elite.
The stage for the violent upheaval was set by the existence of striking political, economic and social inequalities with more than one-third of the population considered poor and lacking social mobility, coupled with the growth of a frustrated middle class whose rising expectations could no longer be met by a stagnant, sugar-based economy.
Castro was born on his father’s sugar plantation near Biran on the northern coast of Oriente Province. The province had been under US influence since before Castro’s birth. Angel, Castro’s father, was originally from Galicia, Spain. His mother was a Cuban Creole whose family was also from Galicia.