• Cuban Americans are the third-largest Latino group in the United States. Like Puerto Ricans, this group
has its roots in an important Caribbean island, Cuba, an island with more than a century of close ties to
the United States. Through all the recent decades of political conflict between the U.S. and Cuban
governments, the U.S. government has maintained a major symbol of past colonialism on the island—
the naval base at Guantánamo Bay.
• Most migrations from Cuba to the United States have stemmed from political upheaval or economic
distress on the island. Nineteenth century wars of independence brought the first immigrants to the
United States. Most were from Cuba’s middle and working classes. Some went to New York,
Philadelphia, and Boston, but most settled in Florida because of its proximity to Cuba and its climate. By
1873, Cubans were the majority of the population in Key West, Florida.
• When Cuba finally won its independence, many returned home. Yet, tens of thousands stayed in the
US where they had established homes and held jobs. Theses early Cuban Americans made major
contributions to their adopted homeland; they organized Florida’s first labor union and established Key
West’s first fire department and bilingual school.
• Early Cuban exiles lobbied for official U.S. support of Cuba’s liberation from Spain. Initially, the U.S.
government supported continuing Spanish rule of Cuba. Later, after attempting to purchase the island,
the United States sent troops to Cuba. Spain was driven out in 1898, and the Unites States occupied the
island. In 1902, Cuba became a U.S. protectorate. The Platt Amendment to a 1900-1901 U.S. military
appropriations bill gave the United States the right to military intervention in Cuba to preserve the
island’s “independence” and to protect life and liberty.
• During the first two decades of the twentieth century, U.S. involvement in Cuban politics took the
form of military intervention to settle political disputes. After the 1920s, diplomatic interference
replaced military intervention. So great was U.S. power in Cuban affairs that no elected president of the
island who was opposed by the United States could remain in office long. Cuba was in effect a U.S.
colony from 1898 until the Cuban revolution in the late 1950s.
• During this long period, U.S. financial domination of Cuba was also extensive. Within fifteen years after
Cuba gained independence from Spain, U.S. business investments grew from an estimated $50 million to
an estimated $220 million. By the late 1920s, U.S. firms controlled three-fourths of the island’s sugar
industry. By 1959, U.S. businesses controlled 90 percent of Cuba’s mines, 80 percent of its utilities, half
of its railways, 40 percent of its sugar production, and one-fourth of its bank deposits.
• The political turbulence that accompanied a succession of repressive dictators in Cuba during the first
half of the twentieth century brought political exiles to the United States. During the corrupt
dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista in the 1950s, between 10,000 and 15,000 refugees per year entered the
United States. • Large numbers of Cubans migrated to the United States after Cuba’s 1959 revolution when Fidel
Castro, the young rebel leader of the grass-roots insurrection that overthrew Batista, came to power. To
the majority of Cubans, Castro’s victory brought hope for economic and political reforms. Land grants to
tenant farmers, guaranteed compensation for small sugar growers, and nationalization of utility
companies were among Castro’s stated goals.
• However, these reforms were not welcomed by Cuba’s business, industrial, and political elites or by
U.S. investors. Exaggerated views of the Cuban revolution’s threat to U.S. business and political
interests, suspicions that Castro was a Communist, and Castro’s declarations that he would not tolerate
manipulation of Cuba led to open U.S. government and business hostility toward the new Cuba, a break
in diplomatic relations, and a U.S. policy that welcomed refugees from Cuba’s “Communist oppression.”
Early Cuban Immigration
• The first major immigration after the revolution began with Cuba’s monied elite—former government