There were known to be indigenous tribes on Cuba long before the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1494. Nevertheless it was the arrival of Columbus and the subsequent colonisation of Cuba by the Spanish which has left a lasting mark on the country.
Cuba rapidly became a Spanish colony and apart from a brief period in 1762 when the British invaded the island it was in the hands of the Spanish until 1898. The island was far from peaceful though; it was the subject of attacks by pirates and buccaneers throughout the 16th, 17th and 18th Centuries, part of the reason why the coastline is dotted with fortified positions.
The Spanish American War of the late 1890s along with a War of Independence between 1895 and 1898 saw the Spanish leave and the Americans arrive as the new governors on 1st January 1899. The Americans weren’t there long and handed over to the Cubans with the country becoming an independent state on 20th May 1902.
President Tomás Estrada Palma was elected in 1902 and became the first president. Relations with America were mainly peaceful over the next fifty years but became increasingly strained with the rise of Fulgencio Batista in 1940.
Batista was to be president on two occasions, but it was in the 1950s that his corrupt government came under attack by forces led by a young Fidel Castro. Castro made a number of attempts to overthrow Batista but only succeeded in 1959 when Batista fled the country.
Fidel Castro became supreme leader and the Communist Party of Cuba became the sole legitimate party in the country.
Castro rapidly dealt with all opponents and built a political system around his leadership. Over the next few years the Americans turned against Castro and supported the Bay of Pigs Invasion in April 1961 when American trained Cuban insurgents tried to retake the country; they were defeated within three days.
The Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962 where Castro allowed the Soviets to place nuclear armed missiles on the island came very close to starting a third world war. President John F. Kennedy and the Soviets pulled back at the last moment and a deal was struck.
Castro was not afraid to get involved in other people’s wars either, with Cuban troops or military advisors getting involved in Angola, Algeria, Ethiopia, Mozambique and Congo-Brazzaville in the 1960s and 1970s.
At home a change in the constitution in 1992 allowed for political parties in addition to the Communist Party of Cuba to exist. However, they do not have the right to campaign or to publicise their existence.
In 2006 President Fidel Castro was taken ill and in 2008 he handed over power to his brother Raúl Castro. Since then there have been some reforms particularly to allow some private ventures to exist. The reforms are, however, taking place very slowly.
The President and Vice Presidents are elected by the National Assembly for a five year term.
The unicameral National Assembly of People’s Power has 614 members elected directly from slates approved by special candidacy commissions to serve five-year terms.
The Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) 2016 places Cuba at joint 60th out of 176 countries with a CPI 2016 score of 47 (where 100 is least corrupt).