Discovered by Columbus in 1492, the island remained under Spanish rule until 1898, when it became independent with the help of the United States whose influence became predominant. 40% of the sugar production, i.e. 80% of the island's exports, was under US control.
The Monroe doctrine made Central America a US preserve. Military bases were established, among which Guantánamo. US troops intervened in Cuba in 1906, 1912 and 1917. Military support was given to the Machado (1925-1933) and Batista (1934-1958) dictatorships.
In 1953, Fidel Castro, a young nationalist leader helped by peasants, took arms against Batista who was finally ousted in January 1959. From then on, Cuba became a hot issue in the Cold War, since the Castro revolution challenged US influence in Latin America where it could easily spread.
In May 1960, Cuba and the Soviet Union resumed diplomatic relations. In July, Ernesto "Che" Guevara, by then Castro's second-in-command, declared that Cuba had joined the Socialist bloc. In August, the US imposed a trade embargo on the island; in October Castro retaliated by nationalizing all US assets. The climax came on 17 April 1961, when anti-Castro forces were routed after landing at the Bay of Pigs. As Castro thought that the US would try again and intervene directly, he drew closer to the Soviet Union which provided ample economic and military backing.