After its independence from Spain in 1898, Cuba became a de facto colony of the USA. US commercial interests outweighed anything else and several military occupations kept the Cubans in check.
Cuba’s first armored vehicle, the Marmon-Herrington CTMS-ITB1, was obtained from the US in 1942. Through Lend-Lease and other US military aid programs, Cuba also received M3A1 Scout Cars, M3A1 Stuarts, M8 Greyhounds, and M4A3E8 Shermans over the following decade and a half.
Fulgencio Batista had played a key role in Cuban politics since 1940 and he took power in a coup in 1952. His political repression and human rights abuses gave rise to substantial and organized opposition. In 1956, Fidel Castro led a group of 82 fighters into Cuba to topple the US-backed Batista. Despite having dwindled down to 12, including Raul Castro, Camilo Cienfuegos, and Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara, this band of guerrilla fighters succeeded in their objective in 1959.
Although officially a member of the Non-Aligned Movement, Cuba was a Communist country linked with the USSR. This led to direct confrontation with the US, with the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion, Operation Mongoose, and the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Cuba’s close ties with the USSR resulted in the building up of a respectable armored pool, with T-34/85s, SU-100s, IS-2s, BTR-152s, PT-76s, T-54/55s, BTR-60, T-60s, etc. Cuba used its military might to support revolutionary and liberation movements around the world. Cuban personnel were sent to Algeria, the Congo, Guinea-Bissau, Nicaragua, and Syria, to participate in the Yom Kippur War. The most notable Cuban deployment was in support of the MPLA against South Africa in the Angolan Civil War and with Ethiopia in the Ogaden War against Somalia. These external interventions were occasionally contrary to Soviet wishes.