The Cuban Experience in Florida


1513: Juan Ponce de León sails to Florida from Puerto Rico and becomes the first European to make landfall in what is now the United States.

1520-1550s: Several Spanish expeditions (Pánfilo de Narváez; Hernando de Soto; Tristán de Luna y Arellano) traveled to Florida from Cuba. Although Spanish conquistadors failed to conquer Florida’s indigenous peoples, they introduced diseases, plants and animals that reshaped the landscape, altered the ecology, and over time decimated the Native American population.

Late 1500s: Spaniards introduce citrus, sugarcane and livestock to Florida via Cuba and other Spanish colonies.

Late 1500s-1763: Florida supplies Cuba with agricultural products, livestock and trade items obtained from Native Americans.

1600s-early 1800s

Late 1500s-1800s: Cuban fishermen operate in the waters off southwestern Florida. Fish caught in Florida help to supply the demand for seafood in Cuba. 

1763: Following the Seven Years War (1754-1763), Spanish and Apalachee refugees flee to Cuba from St. Augustine.

1783: Florida is returned to Spanish control following the Treaty of Paris.

1783-1821: During the Second Spanish Period (1783-1821), Cuban merchants trade with Native Americans living on the Florida peninsula. These peoples, known as Creeks and Seminoles, also interact with English and Americans merchants. The center of the Florida Indian trade throughout this period was Pensacola, and to a lesser extent St. Marks and St. Augustine.


1821: Spain sells Florida to the United States for $5 million; many Spaniards leave Florida for Cuba, however, a small number stay in Pensacola and St. Augustine.

1868-1878: The first Cuban war for independence, also known as the Ten Years War, stimulates immigration to Florida. Many Cuban immigrants work in the Key West-based cigar industry.

1886: Vicente Martinez Ybor and his business partners bring the cigar industry to the Tampa Bay area. The new settlement of Ybor City becomes home to thousands of Cubans and other Latin immigrants working in the cigar industry.

1880s-1890s: Cubans struggle for independence from Spain. Many Cubans migrate to Florida in order to escape political persecution in their homeland. The Cuban population of Key West and Tampa (Ybor City) swells.

1895-1898: The Cuban War for Independence ends Spanish control over the island of Cuba. This conflict, also known as the Spanish American War, prompts massive U.S. investment in Cuba.


1903: The Platt Amendment, a provision of the Cuban constitution, creates an American military base at Guantanamo Bay and also grants the United States some influence over Cuba’s domestic affairs.

Early 20th Century: Despite independence from Spain, political problems continue to plague Cuba. During the early 20th century, Cubans continue to resettle in Florida and elsewhere in the United States.

1933: A revolutionary movement led by Fulgencio Batista overthrows the dictatorship of Gerardo Machado.

1940: Continued social unrest stemming from the unresolved Revolution of 1933 results in the creation of the Constitution of 1940.

1952: Fulgencio Batista stages a military coup of the constitutional government and installs himself as dictator of Cuba.

1953: Armed revolutionaries led by Fidel Castro attack the Moncada military barracks near Santiago de Cuba. Their attempted rebellion is crushed by the Batista government. Castro and his followers are eventually released from prison and go into exile in Mexico.

1956: Revolutionaries under the command of Fidel Castro and Ernesto “Che” Guevara land in western Cuba and initiate a guerilla war against the Batista dictatorship.

1959: After nearly three years of fighting, the July 26th Movement (Movimiento Julio de 26) overthrows the government of Fulgencio Batista.  

1959-1962: Approximately 250,000 refugees leave Cuba and seek exile in the United States. Many arrive and stay in Broward and Dade Counties in South Florida.

October 1960: Fidel Castro proclaims the socialist nature of the Cuban Revolution and nationalizes American-owned businesses in Cuba. This prompts the United States to enact a trade embargo against Cuba which remains in effect to the present day.

1961: President John F. Kennedy authorizes the Cuban Refugee Assistance Program. Its headquarters are located at the Freedom Tower in downtown Miami.

April 1961: Cuban exiles, backed by the United States, attempt to overthrow the revolutionary government. The invasion, known as the Bay of Pigs, fails.

October 1962: American spy planes discover Soviet-built missile sites on Cuba. Diplomacy results in the avoidance of nuclear war. This event, known as the Cuban Missile Crisis, sets the stage for U.S.-Cuban relations during the Cold War.

1965-1974: The Freedom Flights bring an additional 297,000 refugees to the United States.

1980: 125,000 Cubans leave the island during the Mariel Boatlift.

1994-1995: Over 35,000 attempt to leave Cuba during the Balsero crisis. Most brave the 90 mile journey in rafts or small boats. These refugees, known as Balseros, are initially detained at Guantanamo Bay before gaining entry into the United States.