Three main native groups inhabited Cuba when Columbus reached the island in 1492. Spanish refusal to deal with the growing independence movement in the late 19th century led to two wars of independence. The first, between 1868 and 1878, ended in stalemate; the second, in which the poet and revolutionary, José Martí, inspired the rebels, began in 1895 and ended when the USA was drawn into the war in 1898. Although nominally independent thereafter, Cuba was initially occupied for two years by US forces. After their withdrawal in 1901, the USA maintained effective political and economic control of the island. In 1959, after a guerrilla campaign, Fidel Castro overturned the Batista government and established a socialist state.
Castro accelerated the development of close relations with the USSR. In 1962, Soviet missiles were installed on Cuba and subsequently, US President Kennedy ordered a naval blockade against the island. The confrontation escalated to the threshold of nuclear war, before Kennedy and Soviet leader Khrushchev reached a settlement. After the crisis, Cuba, for the most part, proved a loyal Soviet ally and was the largest recipient of Soviet foreign aid. The other main plank of Cuba's foreign policy was military assistance to African countries.
Since the demise of the USSR and the economic retrenchment at home, Cuba's foreign adventures have ended. The death of Castro in 2016 has not led to the major changes manu Cubans have been longing to see for decades and a basic socialist system is still in tact.
The birth of the Cuerpo Aéreo del Ejército happened in March 1915. From 1918, a group of 33 Cubans was sent to France in support of the allied powers during the First World War. The Escuadrille Cubaine was subsequently formed on May 15, 1918. After the war the escuadrille turned to Cuba and formed the nucleus of the air corps. A new base at Campo de Colombia was inaugurated soon after. In 1928, the Escuela de Aviacion Militar was founded, where many student pilots from Latin America obtained their wings.
The Cuban Eight
The Cuerpo Aéreo del Ejército attended an air show in Miami in 1936 with a Curtis Hawk II, piloted by Len Povey. During his aerial demonstration Povey made an extra manoeuvre with three aileron rolls in the top of a loop. He realized that in the top of the loop his aircraft was still at 140 mph and he decided to continue the loop, followed by a half roll. He repeated the manoeuvre in order to make a flat "8". Upon landing, James Doolittle, who was one of the judges, questioned Povey about this manoeuvre and thus, "the Cuban Eight" was born.
Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, Cuba declared war to Japan, Italy and Germany immediately. Deliveries of US aircraft commenced under lend-lease contracts and eventually about 48 aircraft went to the air corps. In September 1942, a military agreement wled to the construction of two airbases in San Antonio de los Baños and San Julian. After WW II the revolutionaries of El Legion del Caribe acquired a fleet of aircraft to oust Dominican dictator Trujillo. The Cuban government confiscated the aircraft and pressed many into service.
Fuerza Aérea Ejército de Cuba
In 1953 the air corps was renamed Fuerza Aérea Ejército de Cuba (FAEC). The Mutual Defense Air Program (MDAP) resulted in the arrival of new equipment and Cuban pilots were sent to the United States, in order to receive pilot courses offered, flying modern equipment like the PA-18, AT-6, B-25 and T-33. As from 1956, several uprisings started against the Batista regime and air power was sometimes called upon. On 1 January 1959, about ten P-47s, fourteen B-26s, seven T-33s, ten C-47s, four C-46s, two C-54s, twelve Sea Furies and training aircraft such as AT-6, PA-18, PA-22, Beavers and various helicopters were still in flying condition and taken over by the revolutionaries.
Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias
The main task of the DAAFAR is to preserve the integrity of Cuban airspace, to give tactical and logistical support to the army and navy. By the quantity of combat aircraft and experience the DAAFAR was once one of the best-equipped air forces in Latin America. However, after the end of the Cold War things changed dramatically. Support from the former USSR decreased to zero and spareparts and kerosine had to be paid in hard currency. Subsequently, dramatic cutbacks took place at the beginning of the nineties. The DAAFAR fired half of its personnel, all older fighter types retired. Most older MiG-21s were written from use by the end of 1993. The DAAFAR nowadays operates one active fighter squadron based at San Antonio de los Baños with a handful of old MiG-21bis, after many found their way to North Korea. One helicopter squadron flies mainly Mi-17s given as a payment by Angola for Cuban military assistance in the eighties. All but one transport aircraft were transferred to the commerical branch of the air force, Aerogaviota. Pilots maintain their flying skills mostly on simulators and a handful of L-39 Albatrosses.