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The history of Cuba is a highly complex and controversial topic. Beginning in the sixteenth century it has been the locus of repeated encounters between diverse cultures and subcultures. The sixteenth century witnessed devastating contacts between Europeans and the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean. As the Spanish presence expanded in subsequent centuries, so did the role of Cuba as a economic and political linchpin of the Spanish empire. Armadas loaded with goods and riches from the Spanish colonies throughout the hemisphere rendezvoused in Cuba prior to their departure for Spain in an effort to reduce the depredations of European competitors. The increased importation of Africans as slave labor in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries diversified Cuba demographically and culturally even more, as did Cuba’s increasing reception of Haitians, Jamaicans, Mexicans, Chinese, and North Americans, among others. Proximity to the emerging power to the North resulted in increased US influence to the extent that Cuban independence from Spain was circumscribed by the Platt Amendment (1903-34) written into its constitution. This limited Cuban sovereignty and helped feed movements throughout the 20th and 21st centuries to eliminate US influence. This struggle culminated in the 1959 emergence of a revolutionary government that resulted in ongoing tensions between the island and the US. The complexities of Cuban history, including its relationship with the US continues to ensnare the two countries. This University Seminar will focus on the political, economic, social, and cultural issues and complexities of the island, as well as its relationship with the US.
Margaret E. Crahan