Cuba also became a bulwark against foreign encroachment on the region. Interlopers from England and France were easy prey for Spanish warships based in either Havana or Santiago de Cuba at the opposite end of the island. The smaller islands forced unwelcome raiders to pass close to one or the other of these two ports. Once adequate fortifications were erected on Cuba and sufficient naval and land forces garrisoned there, the New World became a closed empire. That, at least, was the theory.
In practice, neither England nor France paid attention to Spanish assertions, and considered the West Indies to be open waters. The treasure fleets assembled in Havana were fair game to these brazen raiders. They occupied islands that the Spanish had skirted as uneconomical targets. They became economical to pirates as bases for plundering the Spanish.
Inasmuch as the Spanish used Cuba as a garrison only, they never developed settlements there. They had no vision for developing an economy there. Those few Spaniards who braved the elements and the natives to establish commercial operations on the island, received little or no help or protection from their government. Their only defense at the approach of pirates was to defend themselves or flee to the government's fortifications, and return only if they had the will to try again. This attitude prevailed throughout the entire history of Spanish occupation of the island. Thus, there was no love lost between the Spanish who settled their and their cousins who remained on the Iberian Peninsula – referred to as Peninsulares – or their representatives in Havana.
Revolution became the legacy of Spanish neglect of their citizens who settled in Cuba. Fidel Castro's Revolution beginning in 1956 merely capped a long tradition that began in the seventeenth century when Don Francisco Manuel de Roca and 300 armed men seized the Spanish governor and threatened the authorities. It is extremely coincidental that Castro's revolution also was largely carried out by just 300 armed men. Other Creoles, those of Spanish descent who settled on the island, kept the spirit of rebellion alive with numerous other revolts.
Spanish merchants also abandoned their countrymen living in Cuba. They rarely visited, maybe only once every six months, leaving the Creoles feeling completely disconnected from their native country.
Surprisingly, Cuba's only brush with commercial freedom came at the hands of their traditional enemies, the British. Sir George Pocock, leading a naval force, laid siege to Havana in 1762. He destroyed one-third of Spanish shipping that was sheltering there. His officers divided more than 750,000 pounds of booty between themselves. After the suffering of siege ended, the Cubans enjoyed a ten month span of posterity under British rule. Merchants poured into the island's harbors drawn by free trade with islanders who coveted the manufactured goods they brought with them. They left with the agricultural products of the island, especially sugar which was becoming ever more popular in Europe. Almost a thousand ships visited in the brief period. The prosperity ended when England ceded Cuba back to the Spanish in exchange for Florida and Eastern Louisiana in the Treaty of Paris.
With the departure of the British, the revolutionaries returned. The foundation for Fidel Castro's revolution had been laid.