USS Maine Explodes, Ignites War
On February 15, 1898, the USS Maine mysteriously exploded in Havana Harbor, leading the U.S. to declare war on Spain two months later.
Christopher Columbus first claimed Cuba for Spain during his voyage there in 1492, though the island was already home to several native groups. Spanish settlers then began to move there in 1511, creating the first permanent European settlement there, Baracoa. Colonists grew sugar cane and tobacco on large plantations, relying on the forced labor of native peoples. Cuba quickly became one of the richest colonies in the West Indies.