ABOUT Cuba’s recorded history goes back more than 500 years. In 1492, Christopher Columbus reported the existence of what he called “the most beautiful land that human eyes have ever seen.” He set foot on the northern shore of Cuba, which was inhabited by Guanahatabey, Siboney and Taino Indians at the time. Two decades later, Diego Velázquez headed the Europeans’ conquest and colonization of the island, with the founding of the first Spanish settlements here. In 1526, after most of the original inhabitants had been killed, the Spanish landowners began to bring in African slaves, and slavery remained in force until the latter half of the 19th century. The period of Spanish colonialism was also one of pirate attacks; an invasion by a British fleet, which resulted in England controlling Havana briefly (1762-63); and scandalous corruption. As a result of Spain’s pillaging of the island’s tobacco and sugar riches, Cuba entered the 19th century with a spirit of rebellion, expressed by such eminent figures as Father Félix Varela, a teacher and tireless promoter of Cuba’s independence.