Given that Cuba lies less than 100 miles off the coast of the mainland United States, it is inevitable that the histories of the Caribbean island and America have been interwoven almost since the first voyage of discovery by Christopher Columbus in 1492. With what is now the state of Florida also being predominently a Spanish settlement until 1763, when handed to the British under the Peace of Paris, strong trading and slavery connections were quickly forged between Cuba and the American colonies. Following the American Declaration of Indepedence in 1776, the Spanish opened Cuban ports to trade with their new neighbours to the north, and Cuba began to depend on its trade with the U.S. more than with Spain.
Throughout the 19th century, figures in Washington looked towards Cuba as a natural new territory. Thomas Jefferson described Cuba as "the most interesting addition which could ever be made to our system of States" in 1820. In 1854, U.S. diplomats secretly offered $130 million to buy Cuba from Spain, though the deal broke down. Between 1868 and 1878, Cuban settlers waged a war for independence from Spain. The long war saw a decline in the Cuban economy, reducing the value of estates and plantations, many of which were bought up cheaply by American investors, to give the island an ever-more American character.
Cubans rebelled again in 1897, prompting the U.S. President, William McKinley, to offer to buy the island for $300 million. Spain rejected the offer, and when the battleship USS Maine was blown up while in Havana harbour, the Spanish-American War broke out. The Treaty of Paris, signed in December 1898, saw Spain renounce all rights to Cuba, ending their 400-year-long interest in the Americas. The island was granted formal independence in 1902, though it remained firmly under U.S. influence, and armed forces were often sent in, ostensibly to protect the commercial interests of American plantation and business owners.
Not until 1934 did the U.S. government give up on its right to intervene in Cuban internal affairs, although Cuba's economy continued to depend on its bigger neighbour. Relations deteriorated rapidly in 1959 after the Cuban Revolution. Initially, President Dwight D. Eisenhower recognized the new government of Fidel Castro, until the Cuban's seized and nationalized U.S.-owned companies and properties. In 1960, the U.S. imposed a total trade embargo and in 1961 it cut off all diplomatic relations when Castro announced Cuba a communist country allied with the Soviet Union.
The CIA instigated several plots to assassinate Castro, which all failed. The most notorious attempt took place in April 1961 when 1,300 Cuban exiles, armed with U.S. weapons and backed by the American government, landed at the Bay of Pigs. After three days' battle, 90 of the exiles had died, the rest were taken prisoner. In 1962, Cuba allowed the Soviet Union to deploy nuclear missiles on its territory. This prompted the Cuban Missile Crisis, a 12-day stand-off which is widely considered to be the closest the world has come to a nuclear war. The settlement saw the Soviets withdraw its missiles from Cuba and the Americans remove its nuclear weapons from Turkey.
Illegal emigration from Cuba to the United States was a constant feature of the late 20th century - more than 125,000 managing to cross the Straits of Florida in 1980. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Cuba, denied the U.S. as market for 30 years, was thrown into economic crisis: the U.S.S.R. had accounted for 85 percent of its exports. The terms of the U.S. trade embargo were reinforced in 1996 with the Helms-Burton Act, which made it virtually impossible for Cuba to export its main source of income, sugar.
The strict restrictions were lifted in 2001 when Castro requested aid from the U.S. to cope with the aftermath of Hurricane Michelle. In 2003, President George W. Bush announced the reintroduction of the trade and travel ban. Yet for all the American efforts over more than 40 years, Fidel Castro remained firmly in power until August 2006, when after some ill-health, it was announced that his brother, Raul Castro, would take power. A few months after his election as U.S. president in 2008, Barack Obama lifted the restrictions for travel to Cuba, though no changes were made to normalize trading relations before 2011.