Three weeks after Cuban revolutionaries claimed victory, Fidel Castro declared that the island wanted not only political freedom but also freedom from an economic system that at the time was intertwined with the United States.
It was Cuban sugar that Americans stirred into their morning coffee and U.S. industrial and consumer goods that steamed to the island.
Castro called Cuba a ''colony of the United States'' -- and made it clear he wanted to break with old ways. But over the past five decades, Cuba has traded a sugar quota and trade and investment dependence on the United States for massive handouts from the former Soviet Union and, now, for big subsidies from oil-rich Venezuela.
''You have 50 years of the revolution, and, despite all the subsidies, Cuba has been incapable of changing the structure of the economy to be self-sufficient,'' said Carmelo Mesa-Lago, professor emeritus of economics at the University of Pittsburgh.
In the early years following their Jan. 1, 1959, triumph, Castro and his followers set out to create a ''new man,'' who would respond to moral incentives rather than the profit motive.
But through the years, especially when times have been tough, Havana has invited back foreign investors, allowed self-employment, legalized and then prohibited the American greenback and courted foreign tourists who were shunned for most of the 1960s and 1970s. In 1968, a mere 3,000 tourists -- mostly Eastern Europeans -- visited Cuba. This year, Cuba is expected to host a record 2.34 million visitors.
''Cuba has had an awful economic policy, which has changed every four or five years -- but always within the economic parameters of socialism,'' said Mesa-Lago.
Jorge Piñon, an energy fellow at the University of Miami's Center for Hemispheric Policy, said the problem isn't so much Cuba's centralized economic model as ``inefficiency and lack of strategic planning. Instead of setting the basic umbrella policy for the economy and bringing in the experts for day-to-day operations, Fidel Castro has always wanted to micro-manage.''
Sugar is a case in point.
In 1970, Castro staked the honor of the revolution on achieving a 10-million-ton sugar harvest. Cuba managed a record 8.53 million tons but the huge mobilization of workers to bring in the cane disrupted other economic goals.
Then in 2002, Cuba announced that it was closing 71 of its 156 sugar mills and laying off 90,000 sugar workers. By 2006, Cuba was once again trying to increase sugar production.
Even though Fidel Castro's younger brother, Raúl, succeeded him as president in February, the elder Castro still casts a long shadow over Cuban policy.
Here's a short list of some of the most significant events that have shaped the economy since the revolution:
Expropriation of U.S. property: In 1959, five U.S. sugar companies controlled more than two million acres in Cuba and foreigners owned about 75 percent of arable land. The first agrarian reform law announced in May 1959 put limits on private land holdings. What remained was distributed to landless peasants. Over the next year, Cuba nationalized U.S.-owned oil companies, banks, industries and other businesses.
The embargo: As political, diplomatic and economic relations with Cuba continued to deteriorate, the Eisenhower administration imposed a partial trade embargo against Cuba on Oct. 19, 1960, prohibiting all U.S. exports except food, medicine and medical supplies and a few other things requiring special licenses. But Cuban imports -- including sugar -- were allowed. In 1961, President Kennedy cut the Cuban sugar quota to zero but it wasn't until 1962, after the Bay of Pigs invasion of the previous fall, that Kennedy announced a total embargo of Cuba would begin.