History Files

The Americas

Central American Colonial Settlements


AD 1510 - 1607

When Christopher Columbus first landed in the Bahamas on 12 October 1492 he began a process of colonisation and empire-building on the part of Spain. By 5 December 1492, Columbus had arrived at western Hispaniola, where he founded the colony of La Navidad and became its first viceroy. Then he sailed to eastern Cuba. This became the launch-pad for the creation of New Spain, created when the greatest Aztec city, Tenochtitlan, was defeated in 1521. European colonisation of central and South American could begin in earnest.

Lying to the west of the early Spanish colony of Hispaniola, Cuba was closely linked to it. While Hispaniola was the administrative centre of the Indies colonies, Cuba was the launch-pad for the conquest of New Spain, the colonial territory which became modern Mexico. After the Spanish occupation of Hispaniola became less friendly, the native Taino people generally rose in revolt. That revolt spread to Cuba, where several Taino rebel chiefs led the fight, until the last of the revolts was put down around 1533. Christopher Columbus named the island Juana after the crown prince when it was first discovered in 1492, but this name was gradually displaced. 'Cuba' is Taino in origin, meaning something like 'great place', although the exact meaning is uncertain.

(Additional information from The New Islamic Dynasties: A Chronological and Genealogical Manual, C E Bosworth (2004).)

c.AD 600?

The seafaring Taino people, a division of the Arawak group of American natives, probably arrive on the island around this date, mixing with Ciboney (Siboney) farmers and hunter-gatherers.

Taino native peoples
The Taino natives lived on Cuba for over nine hundred years before the coming of the Spanish colonists


After making landfall in the Bahamas and at Hispaniola, Christopher Columbus lands in eastern Cuba on 27 October in a three-ship expedition from Spain.


The Treaty of Tordesillas of 7 June 1494 effectively divides half the known world, including the New World, into Spanish and Portuguese areas of influence. It ignores all other European powers in the process, so they ignore the treaty in return. It gives Portugal the opportunity to exploit Brazil, and also serves to confirm Portuguese domination in Morocco, amongst many other places, while meaning that the Spanish can pursue their own New World interests without interruption (or so they think).


Hernan Cortes takes part in the Spanish conquest of Hispaniola and Cuba, receiving a large estate as his reward. The natives put up a level of resistance to the Spanish, however, and Chief Hatuey, who flees from Hispaniola, leads the fight against the settlers. He is eventually captured and burnt at the stake.

? - 1512

Chief Hatuey

Taino chief from Hispaniola.

1510 - 1511

Cortes supports Diego Velazquez de Cuellar, aide to the governor of Hispaniola, in completing the conquest of Cuba. Manoeuvring himself out of the viceroy's control, Diego Velazquez is made the first governor of Cuba on 15 August 1511. He founds the island's first European capital at Baracoa in what becomes the Guantanamo Province of the extreme eastern edge of Cuba, probably located on the spot where Christopher Columbus had first made landfall in 1492.

1510 - 1521

Diego Velazquez de Cuellar

Spanish lieutenant-governor of Cuba (and Hispaniola 1518-1524).

1517 - 1518

Two expeditions are sent by Diego Velazquez de Cuellar in 1517 and 1518 towards the Yucatan peninsula to discover and then trade with the Mayans. The first expedition, under Francisco Hernández de Córdoba, is perhaps surprised to witness the sophistication of the Mayans in comparison to the less developed natives the Spanish have so far encountered on the islands.

Within four years the focus of Spanish attentions passes to the west and New Spain is born, with Hernan Cortes initially governing it from Mexico City. In 1521, Velazquez is removed from his post, although no replacement governor appears to have been appointed, but is restored in 1523.

1519 - 1521

The somewhat unreliable Spanish conquistador Hernan, or Hernando, Cortes is elected captain of the third expedition to the mainland from the colony of Cuba, just west of Hispaniola, an expedition which he partially funds. He and his force of 600 land in the Yucatan peninsula in Mayan territory in 1519, but they soon arrive at Tenochtitlan where they show their true nature and are chased out amid heavy fighting.

Within four years the focus of Spanish attentions passes to the west and New Spain is born, with Hernan Cortes initially governing it from Mexico City. In 1521, Velazquez is removed from his post, although no replacement governor appears to have been appointed, but is restored in 1523.

? - c.1532

Chief Guama

Taino rebel chief. From Hispaniola?

? - c.1540

Chief Brizuela of Baitiquiri

Taino rebel chief.

1521 - 1535

Cuba experiences an exodus of settlers as they flood into New Spain's mainland territories. By 1535 a political reorganisation of the Indies places Cuba under the direct administration of New Spain, ending the governorship of the Indies from Hispaniola. The remaining governors of Cuba hold authority over the island alone.

1523 - 1524

Diego Velazquez de Cuellar


1524 - 1526

Juan Altamirano

1526 - 1531

Gonzalo de Guzman

Later first full governor of Cuba (1535).

1531 - 1532

Juan de Vadillo

1532 - 1535

Manuel de Rojas


The position of lieutenant-governor of Cuba is upgraded to full governor.

1535 - 1538

Gonzalo de Guzman

Second term.

1538 - 1542

Hernando de Soto

Died on the banks of the Mississipi.


De Soto had arrived with Pedrarias Davila, first governor of Panama, in 1514. Then, in 1533, he had served as one of Francisco Pizarro's captains during the conquest of Peru. In 1538 he is given the governorship of Cuba and charged with the task of colonising the North American continent for Spain within four years (territory that later forms part of the modern United States). He leads the first European expedition deep into the territory of North America where, in a great arcing journey, he traverses Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, and Arkansas. After encountering greater and greater difficulties, de Soto dies of a fever on 21 May 1542.

1544 - 1546

Juan de Avila

1546 - 1548

Antonio de Chaves

1549 - 1555

Gonzalo Perez de Angulo

1556 - 1565

Diego de Mazariegos

1565 - 1567

Francisco Garcia Osorio

1567 - 1574

Pedro Menendez de Aviles

Previously Spanish governor of Florida. Died in office.

1575 - 1577

Gabriel Montalvo

1577 - 1579

Francisco Carreno

1579 - 1584

Gaspar de Torres

1584 - 1589

Gabriel de Lujan

1589 - 1593

Juan de Tejeda

1593 - 1602

Juan Maldonaldo Barnuevo

1602 - 1607

Pedro Vades

Promoted to captain-general of Cuba.


The position of governor of Cuba becomes a captaincy general when more authority and autonomy is granted to the island's chief authority.

Captaincy General of Cuba
AD 1607 - 1899

In 1607 the Spanish governor of Cuba was promoted when the island became a captaincy general. The move proved to be necessary due to the increased threat of piracy from the Caribbean, and the hope was that granting it (and many other provinces) administrative and military autonomy would effectively counter that threat. In general, though, the island was ruled in relative peace.

1607 - 1608

Pedro Vades

Promoted from governor of Cuba.

1608 - 1616

Gaspar Ruiz de Pereda

1616 - 1619

Sancho de Alquiza

1620 - 1624

Francisco de Venegas

1624 - 1626

Damian Velasquez de Contreras

1626 - 1630

Lorenzo de Cabrera y Corbera

1630 - 1634

Juan Bitrian de Viamonte y Navarra

1634 - 1639

Francisco Riano y Gamboa

1639 - 1647

Alvaro de Luna y Sarmiento

1647 - 1653

Diego de Villalba y Toledo

Spanish captain general of Cuba (and of New Granada 1667-1671).

1653 - 1654

Francisco Xelder

1654 - 1656

Juan de Montanos Blazquez

1656 - 1658

Diego Rangel

1658 - 1663

Juan de Salamanca

1663 - 1664

Rodrigo de Flores y Aldana

1664 - 1670

Francisco Oregon y Gascon

1670 - 1680

Francisco Rodriguez de Ledesma

1680 - 1685

Jose Fernandez Cordoba Ponce de Leon

1685 - 1687

Manuel de Murguia y Mena

1687 - 1689

Diego Antonio de Viana y Hinojosa

1689 - 1696

Severino de Manzaneda Salinas y Rozas

1697 - 1702

Diego de Cordoba Lasso de la Vega

1702 - 1705

Pedro Nicolas Benitez de Lugo

1705 - 1706

Luis Chirino Vandevale

1706 - 1708

Pedro Alvarez de Villamarin

1708 - 1711

Laureano Jose de Torres Ayala y Quadros Castellanos

1711 - 1718

Vicente de Raja


Gomez Mazaver Ponce de Leon

Provisional governor.

1718 - 1724

Gregorio Guazo Fernandez de la Vega

1724 - 1734

Dionisio Martinez de la Vega

1734 - 1746

Francisco de Guemes y Horcasitas Gordon de Saenz de Villamolinedo


Juan Antonio Tineo y Fuertes

1746 - 1747

Diego Penalosa

1747 - 1760

Francisco Antonio Cagigal de la Vega

Also interim viceroy of New Spain (1760).

1760 - 1761

Pedro Alonso

1761 - 1762

Juan de Prado Mayera Portocarrero

Died in prison in about 1770.

1762 - 1763

Spain had entered the Seven Years' War on the side of France in 1756. In 1762 Havana is seized and looted on 13 August by the British. The island is governed by first George Keppel, Third Earl of Albemarle (until 1 January 1763), and then William Keppel in 1763, but is restored to Spain on 6 July, in exchange for Florida. Juan de Prado and his surviving troops are transported back to Spain and the former governor is sentenced to death by court martial. The sentence is commuted to ten years in prison, where he dies.

1763 - 1765

Ambrosio Funes Villalpando

1765 - 1766

Diego Manrique

1766 - 1771

Antonio María de Bucareli y Ursúa

Later viceroy of New Spain (1771-1779).

1771 - 1777

Felipe de Fondesviela y Ondeano

1777 - 1780

Diego Jose Navarro Garcia de Valladares

1781 - 1782

Juan Manuel de Cagigal y Monserrat

1782 - 1785

Luis de Unzaga y Amezaga

Governor of Louisiana, captain general of Venezuela.


Now appointed governor, Unzaga had previously taken part in the defence of Havana in 1762. He had also served as the first Spanish governor of Louisiana (1769-1777), supplying gunpowder to the revolutionary forces in the British Colonies (1776), and as captain general of Venezuela (1777-1782).

Havana Cathedral, Cuba
Havana Cathedral was begun by Jesuits in 1748, and completed in 1777, by which time the Jesuits had been expelled by King Carlos III (in 1767)


Bernardo Troncoso Martinez del Rincon

Became captain general of Guatemala (1789-1794).

1785 - 1789

Jose Manuel de Ezpeleta

Spanish captain general of Cuba (and of New Granada 1789-1797).

1789 - 1790

Domingo Cabello y Robles

1790 - 1796

Luis de las Casas y Arragorri

1796 - 1799

Juan Procopio Bassecourt y Bryas

1799 - 1812

Salvador de Muro y Salazar

1812 - 1816

Juan Ruiz de Apodaca

Spanish captain general of Cuba (and of New Spain 1816-1821).

1816 - 1819

Jose Cienfuegos


Juan Maria Echeverri

1819 - 1821

Juan Manuel de Cagigal y Nino

Spanish captain general of Cuba (and of Venezuela 1814-1819).

1820 - 1821

MapIn 1820, Cagigal oversees the restoration of the Spanish Constitution of 1812, but the following year Spain loses vast sections of New Spain to revolution and newly independent states. Cuba remains loyal, despite some murmurings for independence. The same year, Cagigal resigns from his post due to health problems.

1821 - 1822

Nicolas de Mahy y Romo

1822 - 1823

Sebastian Kindelan y Oregon

Provisional governor.

1823 - 1832

Francisco Dionisio Vives

1832 - 1834

Mariano Ricafort Palacin y Abarca

1834 - 1838

Miguel Tacon

1838 - 1840

Joaquin de Ezpeleta

1840 - 1841

Pedro de Alcantara Tellez Giron

1841 - 1843

Jeronimo Valdes


Francisco Javier de Ulloa

Provisional governor.

1843 - 1848

Leopoldo O'Donnell

Later three times prime minister of Spain.


Following plotting by several US politicians in the southern states to annexe Cuba in order to strengthen the pro-slavery bloc, a pro-annexation rebellion is defeated. Several attempts to invade from Florida are subsequently also defeated.

1848 - 1850

Federico Roncali

1850 - 1852

Jose Gutierrez de la Concha

1852 - 1853

Valentin Canedo

1853 - 1854

Juan Gonzalez de la Pezuela

1854 - 1859

Jose Gutierrez de la Concha

Second term.

1859 - 1862

Francisco Serrano y Dominguez


Cuba is initially used as the base of operations for Spain's support of a French invasion of Mexico, but Spanish involvement ends when it becomes clear that France wants to conquer the country.

1862 - 1866

Domingo Dulce


Francisco de Lersundi y Ormaechea

1866 - 1867

Joaquin del Manzano


Blas Villate

Provisional governor.

1867 - 1869

Francisco de Lersundi y Ormaechea

Second term.

1868 - 1878

On 10 October, Cuba declares its independence from Spain in a rebellion led by wealthy lawyer and landowner, Carlos Manuel de Cespedes. He frees his slaves, proclaims a war and is named president of the Cuban Republic-in-arms. The Ten Years' War sees his pro-independence forces fighting the Spanish, and he gains the sympathy of the USA, although it does not intervene militarily. Ultimately they lose, but Spain promises reform for the island.


Domingo Dulce

Second term.


Felipe Ginoves del Espinar

Provisional governor.

1869 - 1870

Antonio Caballero y Fernandez de Rodas

1870 - 1872

Blas Villate

Second term.

1872 - 1873

Francisco Ceballos y Vargas


Candido Pieltain

1873 - 1874

Joaquin Jovellar y Soler

1874 - 1875

Jose Gutierrez de la Concha

Third term.


Buenaventura Carbo

Provisional governor.

1875 - 1876

Blas Villate

Third term.


Joaquin Jovellar y Soler

Second term.

1876 - 1879

Arsenio Martinez Campos


Caetano Figueroa

Provisional governor.

1879 - 1881

Ramon Blanco y Erenas

1881 - 1883

Luis Prendergast y Gordon


Tomas y Regna

Provisional governor.

1883 - 1884

Ignacio Maria del Castillo

1884 - 1886

Ramon Fajardo


Following pressure from other countries, most notably the USA, slavery is abolished.

1886 - 1887

Emilio Calleja

1887 - 1889

Sabas Marin

1889 - 1890

Manuel Salamanca y Negrete


Jose Sanchez Gomez

Provisional governor.


Jose Chinchilla

1890 - 1892

Camilo Garcia de Polavieja y del Castillo

1892 - 1893

Alejandro Rodriguez Arias


Jose Arderius

Provisional governor.

1893 - 1895

Emilio Calleja

Second term.

1895 - 1896

Arsenio Martinez Campos

Second term.


Spain fails to implement the promised reform so on 24 February a new independence war is declared, with uprisings taking place across the island. On 1 and 11 April, the main revolutionary leaders land two expeditions on Cuba, although they are heavily outnumbered. Fighting is mostly at a guerrilla level, using machetes.


Sabas Marin

Second term as provisional governor.

1896 - 1897

Valeriano Weyler

1897 - 1898

Ramon Blanco y Erenas

Second term.

1898 - 1899

Adolfo Jimenez Castellanos


With the independence war continuing, the USA becomes involved after the sinking of the USS Maine in the Havanan harbour. War is declared against Spain on 20-21 April 1898, with the USA undertaking to withdraw all forces from Cuba once it is restored to peace under an independent government.

Spanish-American War 1898
The USA was seemingly goaded into war against Spain by feverish claims by the press that the Spanish were behind the loss of the USS Maine off the coast of Cuba, but it was a war that Spain was unlikely to win


Spain loses the Spanish-American War, and with that it also loses much of the Spanish Caribbean, including Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Spanish East Indies (including the Marianna Islands and the Philippines). As promised, Cuba initially remains under US supervision.

Cuba Under US Suzerainty
AD 1899 - 1902

Cuba achieved independence following Spain's defeat in the Spanish-American War in 1898. The last Spanish troops left the island in December of that year. From 1 January 1899, as the main provider of independence, the USA supervised the country's finances and foreign affairs, and reserved the right to intervene in Cuban affairs. Cuba also 'agreed' to lease the naval base at Guantanamo Bay in the far south-east of the island to the US. The country achieved full independence in 1902.


John Ruller Brooke

Governor 1 Jan-23 Dec.

1899 - 1902

Leonard Wood

Governor 23 Dec 1899-20 May 1902.

1901 - 1902

The USA backs presidential elections in the country in 1901, but the only opposition to the pro-American candidate withdraws amid accusations of favouritism. The new president arrives on the island four months after his election and a republic is declared on 20 May 1902.

Modern Cuba
AD 1902 - Present Day

Cuba achieved full independence from the USA in 1902 with its first elected president taking office on 20 May. Lying directly south of Florida in the USA, with the Cayman Islands and Jamaica to its south, the island is now the second-most populous of the Greater Antilles chain. The Taino chief, Hatuey, is celebrated on the island as its first national hero for leading the fight against the Spanish settlers, while the very name of Cuba comes from the Taino language. The capital is Havana, the largest city in the Caribbean, which was granted the title in 1592 by King Philip II of Spain.

(Additional information from External Links: Fidel Castro, Cuba's leader of revolution, dies at 90 (BBC News), and Miguel Diaz-Canel named as Castro successor (The Week), and Raúl Castro confirms he is resigning (The Guardian), and Cubans greet the end of 62 years of Castro rule (The Guardian).)

1906 - 1908

The elections of 1902 are disputed and lead to a revolt and US intervention. US provisional governors take charge of Cuba for three years (the first being William Howard Taft, soon to be US president). An elected government resumes Cuban control of their affairs, but the US retains its right to intervene.


William Howard Taft

First US prov governor of Cuba. Later US president (1909-1913).

1915 - 1918

Cuba supports the British First World War effort by smuggling great quantities of sugar past the German U-boats which patrol the Atlantic. It actively declares for the allies against Germany and the Austro-Hungarian empire in April 1917.


Two coups and a short-lived government force great changes on Cuban society before an elected government (albeit one with communist support) is returned to power. One of those coups is the 'Revolt of the Sergeants' which overthrows the authoritarian government of Gerardo Machado. Fulgencio Batista rises to prominence at this time, appointing himself chief of the armed forces despite being a lowly colonel. A little over a hundred days after a stable government is formed, Batista forces the president to step down and appoints a replacement whom he controls. His government now recognised by the USA, he maintains power through a string of puppet presidents until he manages to get himself elected in 1940, seemingly on a genuine basis.

1933 - 1940

Fulgencio Batista

Military leader. The power behind several presidents.

1941 - 1945

With Fulgencio Batista as the country's elected president since 1940, Cuba enters the Second World War as an ally of the USA on 9 December. Firstly support is declared against Japan, and then against Germany and Italy on 11 December. President Batista loses the 1944 general elections and spends the next seven years in the United States, returning only for the 1952 elections.

1952 - 1956

When defeat looks inevitable in the presidential election, Fulgencio Batista stages a coup on 10 March and gains power with the backing of the nationalist section of the army. Elections are agreed in 1954, but rigging is claimed, and a coup on 4 April 1956 is defeated.

1952 - 1959

Fulgencio Batista

Military leader. Overthrown.

1956 - 1959

The Cuban Revolution is sparked on 2 December 1956 when Fidel Castro, aided by his brother, Raul, and by Ernesto Che Guevara, leads a rebel movement which eventually breaks out from the mountains and gains control of Cuba on 1 January 1959. Castro becomes prime minister a month later. Increasing US hostility towards him during the course of 1959 drives him to make an alliance with Soviet Russia.

1959 - 2008

Fidel Castro

Unelected 'prime minister'. Born 13.08.1926. Died 25.11.2016.

1961 - 1962

An invasion of Cuba on 17 April 1961 by US and Guatemalan-trained Cuban exiles, backed by the CIA, fails in the Bay of Pigs when the force runs out of materials. One immediate result of the Cuban-Soviet alliance had been the placement of ballistic missiles on the island, and this precipitates the Cuban Missile Crisis in the following year. The USA 'blockades' Cuba, and only a last-minute climb-down by the Soviets avoids the spectre of nuclear war.


Castro becomes president of both the councils of state and ministers thanks to an election by Cuba's National Assembly. He continues to hold the military rank of commander-in-chief of Cuban forces.


The fall of Soviet Russia deals Cuba a heavy economic blow, as Russia had been its only source of oil and cheap foodstuffs. An exodus of people to the USA follows in 1994, and there are numerous uprisings in the country, but all are put down.

Modern Havana
Modern Havana is slowly recovering from the revolutionary period

2004 - 2006

There is another exodus of Cubans to the USA, although not as large as previously. In August-September 2004, President Moscoso of Panama pardons four Cuban exiles which Havana had accused of plotting to kill President Castro. Angry at the pardons, Cuba severs ties with Panama. Newly-inaugurated Panamanian President Martin Torrijos pledges to repair relations, and in November both countries agree to restore ties. By 2006, Castro's health has become fragile enough that he is forced to hand executive control to his brother, Raul.


Fidel Castro announces his resignation as president on 19 February. Five days later Raul Castro is 'elected' as the new president of Cuba, and he immediately announces that some of the restrictions on everyday life will be lifted. Fidel largely retires from public life and office. Apart from making the odd appearance, his retirement lasts until his death at the age of ninety, on 25 November 2016.

2008 - 2018

Raul Castro

Brother. Unelected 'president'.


In mid-April 2018, Cuba's National Assembly names first vice-president, Miguel Diaz-Canel, as the sole candidate to replace Raul Castro as the country's president. Taking office as the first non-member of the Castro family to rule Cuba in nearly sixty years, Diaz-Canel is still to be overseen by Castro as the continuing head of the communist party until its next congress in 2021.

2018 - Present

Miguel Díaz-Canel

Unelected 'president'.


On Friday 16 April, a now-eighty-nine year-old Raul Castro announces his intention to resign as head of Cuba's communist party. Miguel Díaz-Canel is announced as his successor in that role too, with a focus on introducing more social and economic reforms into the country and at a faster pace. Most of the population is more interested in where its next meal will come from following economic hardship caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and the yet-to-be-reversed Trumpian USA's retightening of relaxed sanctions.