Christopher Columbus claims Cuba for Spain in 1492. Havana is established in 1514 and named as the island's capital in 1607.

During Cuba's 400 years of Spanish colonial rule, the native inhabitants of the island are wiped out and hundreds of thousands of African slaves are shipped in.

A movement for Cuban independence begins to build at the start of the 19th Century. Several unsuccessful United States-backed attempts at armed insurrection during the 1850s culminate in a full-blown domestic revolution in 1868. The war lasts until May 1878, when the rebel movement accepts a peace settlement with the Spanish authorities.

The struggle for independence continues, flaring again in 1895, when the second war for independence begins. The Spanish are finally ousted following the direct intervention of the US during the Spanish-Cuban-American war of 1898.

The US occupies the island until 20 May 1902, when Cuba is declared an independent republic. Though nominally independent, the US continues to exert significant influence. The US retains the right to intervene in domestic Cuban affairs. A permanent US naval base is established at Guantanamo Bay in the island's south. American business invest heavily in the Cuban economy. In order to protect its interests, the US reoccupies Cuba from 1906 to 1909, and again in 1912 and 1917.

Fulgencio Batista y Zaldívar enters the Cuban political scene in 1933 when he leads a military revolt that overthrows the government. A new revolutionary government introduces social reforms and cancels the provision giving the US the right to intervene in Cuban politics, although the US retains control of Guantanamo Bay.

After the new government announces the nationalisation of the American-owned Electric Bond and Share Company in January 1934, Batista seizes power and installs himself as dictator, ruling until 1940 when he is legitimately elected as president but with the proviso that he can only serve one term.

Finding himself out of power in 1944 following the end of his term as president, Batista bides his time until 10 March 1952, when he overthrows the government in a bloodless coup and cancels planned elections. The US recognises the Batista government on 27 March. Batista rules by decree and presides over a corrupt regime with links to US business and organised crime.