Before Columbus landed on Cuba in 1492, the Taíno people had been living there for eons. In 1511, the first Spanish settlement was founded by Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar at Baracoa, and other towns soon followed including the future capital San Cristobal de Habana (Havana) which was founded in 1515.
Cuba remained a Spanish colony from 1511 to 1898 with an economy based on plantations, agriculture, mining and exports of sugar, coffee and tobacco to North America and Europe. The work was done primarily by African slaves brought to the island, until they were liberated in the late 19th century.
In 1898, Cuba was wrested from Spain by the United States in the Spanish-American War. The U.S. subsequently kept Cuba under military occupation as a protectorate for a few decades and then controlled it through a series of corrupt military dictators who were also friendly with the Mafia.
In the late 1950s, Fidel Castro led a Communist guerrilla army to victory over the regime of Fulgencio Batista. Following his victory, Cuba became a one-party Communist country aligned with the Soviet Union, and in a state of confrontation with the United States, which attempted to overthrow the Cuban government by proxy invasion, blockade, embargo, and several assassination attempts on Castro's life by the Central Intelligence Agency. The only thing all these hostile actions succeeded in doing was helping to cripple Cuba's economy. Nevertheless, literacy and health care improved greatly under Fidel's rule. In more recent years, Venezuela under the rule of Hugo Chávez provided free oil to Cuba in exchange for Cuban doctors and nurses.
There is a large gap between the income of visitors to Cuba and what local workers can earn. In recent years, since Fidel Castro retired, his brother, Raúl, has introduced more market-based reforms. However, the country remains a Communist state, public criticism of the government or Communist Party is strongly discouraged.