2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Central & South American Countries; Countries

República de Cuba
Republic of Cuba
Flag of Cuba Coat of arms of Cuba
Flag Coat of arms
Motto: Patria o Muerte  (Spanish)
"Homeland or Death" a
Anthem: La Bayamesa  ("The Bayamo Song")
Location of Cuba
(and largest city)
23°8′N 82°23′W
Official languages Spanish
Government Socialist republicb
 - President of the
    Council of State
Fidel Castro
Raúl Castro (acting)
Independence from Spain 
 - Declaredc October 10, 1868 
 - Republic declared May 20, 1902 
 - Castro
   enters Havana

January 1, 1959 
 - Total 110,861 km² ( 105th)
42,803 sq mi 
 - Water (%) negligible
 - 2006 estimate 11,382,820 ( 73rd)
 - 2002 census 11,177,743
 - Density 102/km² ( 97th)
264/sq mi
GDP ( PPP) 2005 estimate
 - Total $39.17 billion ( not ranked)
 - Per capita $3,500 ( not ranked)
HDI  (2006) 0.826 (high) ( 50th)
Currency Peso ( CUP)
Convertible peso d ( CUC)
Time zone EST ( UTC-5)
 - Summer ( DST) (Starts April 1; end date varies) ( UTC-4)
Internet TLD .cu
Calling code +53
a As shown on the obverse of the coins; see this photo of a 1992 coin. Retrieved on 2006- 09-26.. (Note that the Spanish word "Patria" is better translated into English as "Homeland" rather than "Fatherland" or "Motherland".)
b The Cuban constitution states that "Cuba is an independent and sovereign socialist state [Article 1]... the name of the Cuban state is Republic of Cuba [Article 2]". The usage "socialist republic" to describe the style of government of Cuba is nearly uniform, though forms of government have no universally agreed typology. For example, Atlapedia describes it as "Unitary Socialist Republic"; Encyclopedia Britannica omits the word "unitary", as do most sources.
c At the start of the Ten Years' War.
c From 1993 to 2004, the U.S. dollar was used in addition to the peso until the dollar was replaced by the convertible peso.

Cuba, officially the Republic of Cuba (Spanish: Cuba or República de Cuba, IPA: [re'puβlika ðe ˈkuβa]), consists of the island of Cuba (the largest of the Greater Antilles), the Isle of Youth and adjacent small islands. Cuba is located in the northern Caribbean at the confluence of the Caribbean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. Cuba is south of the eastern United States and the Bahamas, west of the Turks and Caicos Islands and Haiti and east of Mexico. The Cayman Islands and Jamaica are to the south.

Cuba is the most populous country in the Caribbean. Its culture and customs draw from several sources including the period of Spanish colonialism, the introduction of African slaves, and to a lesser extent, its proximity to the United States. The island has a tropical climate that is moderated by the surrounding waters; the warm currents of the Caribbean Sea and its location between water bodies also make Cuba prone to frequent hurricanes.


The recorded history of Cuba began on 24 October 1492, when Christopher Columbus sighted the island during his first voyage of discovery and claimed it for Spain. The island had been inhabited by Amerindian peoples known as the Taíno and Ciboney whose ancestors had come from South America several centuries before. The Taíno were farmers and the Ciboney were hunter-gatherers. The name Cuba is derived from the Taíno word cubanacán, meaning "a central place".

The coast of Cuba was fully mapped by Sebastián de Ocampo in 1511, and in that year Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar founded the first Spanish settlement at Baracoa. Other towns, including Havana (founded in 1515), soon followed. The Spanish, as they did throughout the Americas, oppressed and enslaved the approximately 100,000 indigenous people on the island. Within a century they had all but disappeared as a result of the combined effects of disease, forced labor and genocide. The settlers then introduced African slaves, with more resistance to the diseases from the old world, and who soon made up a significant proportion of the inhabitants.

Colonial Cuba

Cuba was a Spanish possession for 388 years, ruled by a governor in Havana, with an economy based on plantation agriculture and the export of sugar, coffee and tobacco to Europe and later to North America. It was seized by the British in 1762, but restored to Spain the following year. The Spanish population was boosted by settlers leaving Haiti when that territory was ceded to France. As in other parts of the Spanish Empire, a small land-owning elite of Spanish-descended settlers held social and economic power, served by a mixed-race population of small farmers, laborers and slaves.

In the 1820s, when the other parts of Spain’s empire in Latin America rebelled and formed independent states, Cuba remained loyal, although there was some agitation for independence. This was partly because the prosperity of the Cuban settlers depended on their export trade to Europe, partly through fears of a slave rebellion (as had happened in Haiti) if the Spanish withdrew and partly because the Cubans feared the rising power of the United States more than they disliked Spanish colonial rule.

Cuba’s proximity to the U.S. has been a powerful influence on its history. Throughout the 19th century, Southern politicians in the U.S. plotted the island’s annexation as a means of strengthening the pro-slavery forces in the U.S., and there was usually a party in Cuba which supported such a policy. In 1848, a pro-annexationist rebellion was defeated and there were several attempts by annexationist forces to invade the island from Florida. There were also regular proposals in the U.S. to buy Cuba from Spain. During the summer of 1848, President James Knox Polk quietly authorized his ambassador to Spain, Romulus Mitchell Saunders, to negotiate the purchase of Cuba and offer Spain up to $100 million, an astonishing sum of money at the time for one territory. Spain, however, refused to consider ceding one of its last possessions in the Americas.

Castillo de los Tres Reyes Magos del Morro (Morro Castle (fortress), built in 1589 to guard the eastern entrance to Havana bay.
Castillo de los Tres Reyes Magos del Morro (Morro Castle (fortress), built in 1589 to guard the eastern entrance to Havana bay.

After the American Civil War apparently ended the threat of pro-slavery annexationism, agitation for Cuban independence from Spain revived, leading to a rebellion in 1868. This resulted in a prolonged conflict known as the Ten Years' War between pro-independence forces and the Spanish, allied with their local supporters. There was much sympathy in the U.S. for the independence cause, and some unofficial aid was sent, but the U.S. declined to intervene militarily. In 1878, the Peace of Zanjon ended the conflict, with Spain promising greater autonomy to Cuba.

The island was exhausted after this long conflict and pro-independence agitation temporarily died down. There was also a prevalent fear that if the Spanish withdrew or if there was further civil strife, the increasingly expansionist U.S. would step in and annex the island. Partly in response to U.S. pressure, slavery was abolished in 1886, although the African-descended minority remained socially and economically oppressed, despite formal civic equality granted in 1893. During this period, rural poverty in Spain led to a substantial Spanish emigration to Cuba—among those arriving were the parents of Fidel Castro.

During the 1890s, pro-independence agitation revived, fueled by resentment of the restrictions imposed on Cuban trade by Spain and hostility to Spain’s increasingly oppressive and incompetent administration of Cuba. In April 1895, rebellion broke out led by the poet José Martí and Tomás Estrada Palma who proclaimed Cuba an independent republic—Martí was killed shortly thereafter and has become Cuba’s undisputed national hero. The Spanish retaliated with a campaign of suppression, herding the rural population into what were described by international observers as "fortified towns". Estimates that between 200,000 and 400,000 Cubans died from emaciation and disease during this period. These numbers were verified by both the Red Cross and the U.S. Senator, and former War Secretary, Redfield Proctor. U.S. and European protests against Spanish conduct on the island followed.

In 1897, fearing U.S. intervention, Spain moved to a more conciliatory policy, promising home rule with an elected legislature. The rebels rejected this offer and the war for independence continued. Shortly afterwards, on 15 February 1898, the U.S. battleship Maine was mysteriously blown up in Havana harbour, killing 266 men. Forces in the U.S. favoring intervention in Cuba seized on this incident to accuse Spain of blowing up the ship (although Spain had no motive for doing so and there was no evidence of Spanish culpability). Swept along on a wave of nationalist sentiment, the U.S. Congress passed a resolution calling for intervention and President William McKinley was quick to comply.

The result was the Spanish-American War, in which U.S. forces landed in Cuba in June 1898 and quickly overcame Spanish resistance. In August a peace treaty was signed under which Spain agreed to withdraw from Cuba. Some advocates in the U.S. supported Cuban independence, while others argued for outright annexation. As a compromise, the McKinley administration placed Cuba under a 20-year U.S. trusteeship. The Cuban independence movement bitterly opposed this arrangement, but unlike the Philippines, where events had followed a similar course, there was no outbreak of armed resistance.


Theodore Roosevelt, who had fought in the Spanish-American War and had some sympathies with the independence movement, succeeded McKinley as President of the United States in 1901 and abandoned the 20-year trusteeship proposal. Instead, the Republic of Cuba gained formal independence on 20 May 1902, with the independence leader Tomás Estrada Palma becoming the country’s first president. Under the new Cuban constitution, however, the U.S. retained the right to intervene in Cuban affairs and to supervise its finances and foreign relations. Under the Platt Amendment, Cuba also agreed to lease to the U.S. the naval base at Guantánamo Bay.

Independent Cuba soon ran into difficulties as a result of factional disputes and corruption among the small educated elite and the failure of the government to deal with the deep social problems left behind by the Spanish. In 1906, following disputed elections to choose Estrada Palma’s successor, an armed revolt broke out and the U.S. exercised its right of intervention. The country was placed under U.S. occupation and a U.S. governor took charge for three years. In 1908 self-government was restored when José Miguel Gómez was elected President, but the U.S. retained its supervision of Cuban affairs. Despite frequent outbreaks of disorder, however, constitutional government was maintained until 1925, when Gerardo Machado y Morales, having been elected President, suspended the constitution.

Machado was a Cuban nationalist and his regime had considerable local support despite its violent suppression of critics. During his tenure, Cubans gained greater control over their own economy and some important national development projects were undertaken. His hold on power was weakened by the Great Depression, which drove down the price of Cuba’s agricultural exports and caused widespread poverty. In August 1933, elements of the Cuban army staged a coup which deposed Machado and installed Carlos Manuel de Céspedes (whose father was instrumental in initiating the Ten Years War of independence) as President. In September, however, a second coup led by Sergeant Fulgencio Batista overthrew Céspedes leading to the formation of the first Ramón Grau San Martín government. This government lasted just 100 days, but engineered radical liberal changes in Cuban society and a rejection of the Platt amendment.

Grand Theater of Havana (Teatro Garcia Lorca)
Grand Theatre of Havana (Teatro Garcia Lorca)

In 1934, Batista and the army, who were the real centre of power in Cuba, replaced Grau with Carlos Mendieta y Montefur. In 1940, Batista decided to run for President himself. The leader of the constitutional liberals Ramón Grau San Martín refused to support him, so he turned instead to the Communist Party of Cuba, which had grown in size and influence during the 1930s.

With the support of the Communist-controlled labor unions, Batista was elected President and his administration carried out major social reforms and introduced a new progressive constitution. Several members of the Communist Party held office under his administration. Batista's administration formally took Cuba into World War II as a U.S. ally, declaring war on Japan on Dec 9, 1941, then on Germany/Italy on Dec 11, 1941; Cuba, however, did not significantly participate militarily in World War II hostilities. At the end of his term in 1944, in accordance with the constitution, Batista stood down and Ramón Grau was elected to succeed him. Grau initiated increased government spending on health, education and housing. But Grau’s liberals were bitter enemies of the Communists and Batista opposed most of Grau’s program.

In 1948, Grau was succeeded by Carlos Prío Socarrás, who had been Grau’s minister of labor and was particularly hated by the Communists. Prío was a less principled liberal than Grau and, under his administration, corruption increased. This was partly a result of the postwar revival of U.S. wealth and the consequent influx of gambling money into Havana, which became a centre of mafia operations. Nevertheless Prío carried out major reforms such as founding a National Bank and stabilizing the Cuban currency. The influx of North American money fueled a boom which did much to raise living standards, although the gap between rich and poor became wider and more obvious.

From Batista to Castro

Bullet ridden truck used in the attack on the Presidential Palace in Havana by the Directorio Revolucionario and the Organizacion Autentica in 1957
Bullet ridden truck used in the attack on the Presidential Palace in Havana by the Directorio Revolucionario and the Organizacion Autentica in 1957

The 1952 election was a three-way race. Roberto Agramonte of the Ortodoxos party led in all the polls, followed by Dr. Aurelio Hevia of the Auténtico party, and running a distant third was Batista, who was seeking a return to office. When it became apparent that Batista had no chance of winning, he staged a coup on 10 March 1952 and held power with the backing of a nationalist section of the army and of the Communists, as a “provisional president” for the next two years. In 1954, under pressure from the U.S., he agreed to elections. The Partido Auténtico put forward ex-President Grau as their candidate, but he withdrew amid allegations that Batista was rigging the elections in advance. Batista could now claim to be an elected President. His regime was marked by severe corruption and poverty. Batista's police force was well-known for their harsh tactics and violence against the population.

This changed in 1956, when a party of rebels, mostly idealistic young nationalists, including Fidel Castro, landed in a boat from Mexico and tried to start a resistance movement in the Sierra Maestra Mountains (Castro had gone to Mexico after being released from prison, where he was serving a sentence for his part in a 1953 rebel attack on the Moncada Barracks in Santiago de Cuba). Batista’s forces killed most of the rebels, but enough survived to maintain a low-level insurgency in the mountains. In response, Batista made the mistake of launching a campaign of repression against the opposition, which only served to increase support for the insurgency.

Presidential Palace in Havana, now the Museum of the Revolution
Presidential Palace in Havana, now the Museum of the Revolution

Through 1957 and 1958, opposition to Batista grew, among the middle class and the students, in the Catholic Church and in the rural areas. The United States government imposed an arms embargo on the Cuban government on March 14, 1958. The urban trade unions, however, were under the control of either Communists or the mafia, both strong supporters (for different reasons) of Batista’s regime and attempts to organise general strikes against Batista always failed. By late 1958, the rebels had succeeded in breaking out of the Sierra Maestra and launched a general insurrection, joined by hundreds of students and others fleeing Batista’s crackdown on dissent in the cities. When the rebels captured Santa Clara, east of Havana, Batista decided the struggle was futile and fled the country to exile in Portugal and, later, Spain. Castro’s rebel forces entered the capital on 1 January 1959.

Cuba Following Revolution

Fidel Castro became Prime Minister of Cuba, in February 1959, and has held effective power in the country until he temporarily handed over power to his brother for medical reasons in July 2006. (As of 2006 he is the world’s longest-ruling current head of government.) He was a constitutional liberal and nationalist, even if a radical one and his victory was generally welcomed both in Cuba and in the U.S., although the summary execution of about 500 police officers and others accused of being agents of the Batista regime, aroused immediate disquiet. During 1959, Castro’s government carried out popular measures such as land reform, the nationalization of public utilities and the ruthless suppression of corruption, including closing down the gambling industry and evicting the American mafiosi.

Unbeknown to most outsiders, however, was the powerful influence within Castro’s government of Ernesto “Che” Guevara, an Argentinian Marxist and one of Castro’s closest advisers. Guevara formed an alliance with Castro’s ambitious brother, Raúl to persuade Fidel Castro to align himself with the Communists and thus with the Soviet Union. Guevara also played the key role in persuading the Cuban Communist leader Blas Roca Calderío to abandon his hostility to Castro and work instead to gain control of the revolutionary government from within. Roca was persuaded and he informed the Soviet leadership of the possibility of winning Castro over. The Soviets at once seized the chance of gaining a political foothold in the Americas and promised unlimited aid and support if Castro declared himself for Communism.

Meanwhile, attitudes towards the Cuban revolution in the U.S. were changing rapidly. While the Eisenhower administration had initially welcomed Batista’s fall, the nationalization of U.S. owned companies (to an estimated value of US$1 billion) and the expulsion of many political conservatives with influential friends in the U.S., aroused immediate hostility and the Cuban exiles soon became the powerful lobby group in the U.S. that they have been ever since. Although Castro himself was not believed to be a Communist, the U.S. was well informed about the role of Guevara and the rapid warming of relations between Castro and the Cuban Communists. Thus, the U.S. became increasingly hostile to Castro during 1959. This, in turn, served to drive Castro away from the liberal elements of his revolutionary movement and into the arms of the Communists.

In October 1959, Castro declared himself to be friendly towards Communism, though not yet a Communist himself, and the liberal and other anti-Communist elements of the government were purged, with many who had initially supported the revolution fleeing the country to join the growing exile community in Miami. In March 1960, the first aid agreements were signed with the Soviet Union. In the context of the Cold War, the U.S. saw the establishment of a Soviet base of influence in the Americas as intolerable and plans were approved to remove Castro from power (see The Cuban Project). In late 1960, a trade embargo was imposed, which naturally drove Castro further towards the Soviet alliance. At the same time, the administration authorized plans for an invasion of Cuba by Florida-based exiles, timed to coincide with an anti-Castro rising. The result was the Bay of Pigs Invasion of April 1961—the rising did not take place and the invasion force was routed. This prompted Castro to clearly declare Cuba a socialist republic, and himself a Marxist-Leninist, which he did in May 1961.

Marxist-Leninist Cuba

A so-called 'yank tank', one of the many remaining US cars in Cuba, imported prior to the United States embargo against Cuba.
A so-called ' yank tank', one of the many remaining US cars in Cuba, imported prior to the United States embargo against Cuba.

The immediate result of the Cuban-Soviet alliance was the Soviet decision to place intermediate range ballistic missiles in Cuba, which precipitated the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, during which President John F. Kennedy threatened the Soviet Union with nuclear war unless the missiles were withdrawn. Castro urged the Soviets to take an aggressive stance. Eventually the Soviets backed down. In the aftermath of this, there was a resumption of contacts between the U.S. and Castro, resulting in the release of the anti-Castro fighters captured at the Bay of Pigs in exchange for a package of aid. But during 1963, relations deteriorated again as Castro moved Cuba towards a fully-fledged Communist system modeled on the Soviet Union. The U.S. imposed a complete diplomatic and commercial embargo on Cuba. At this time U.S. influence in Latin America was strong enough to make the embargo very effective and Cuba was forced to direct virtually all its trade to the Soviet Union and its allies.

In 1965, Castro merged his revolutionary organizations with the Communist Party, of which he became First Secretary, with Blas Roca as Second Secretary—later to be succeeded by Raúl Castro, who as Defense Minister and Fidel’s closest confidant became and has remained the second most powerful figure in the government. Raúl Castro’s position was strengthened by the departure of Che Guevara to launch an unsuccessful attempt at an insurrectionary movement in Bolivia, where he was killed in 1967. Osvaldo Dorticós Torrado, President of Cuba from 1959 to 1976, was a figurehead of little importance. Castro introduced a new constitution in 1976 under which he became President himself, while remaining chairman of the Council of Ministers.

During the 1970s, Castro moved onto the world stage as a leading spokesperson for Third World “anti-imperialist” governments. On a more concrete level, he provided invaluable military assistance to pro-Soviet forces in Angola, Ethiopia, Yemen and other African and Middle Eastern trouble spots. Cuban forces were decisive in helping the MPLA forces win the Angolan Civil War in 1975. Although the bills for these expeditionary forces were paid by the Soviets, they placed a considerable strain on Cuba’s economy and manpower resources. Cuba was also hampered by its continuing dependency on sugar exports. The Soviets were forced to provide further economic assistance by buying the entire Cuban sugar crop, even though the Soviet Union grew enough sugar beet to meet its own needs. In exchange the Soviets had to supply Cuba with all its fuel, since it could not import oil from any other source.

Cuba’s economic dependence on the Soviet Union was deepened by Castro’s determination to build his vision of a socialist society in Cuba. This entailed the provision of free health care and education for the entire population. Through the 1970s and 1980s, the Soviets were prepared to subsidise all this in exchange for the strategic asset of an ally under the noses of the United States and the undoubted propaganda value of Castro’s considerable prestige in the developing world.

Fidel Castro and Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau join together in song, January 1976.
Fidel Castro and Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau join together in song, January 1976.

By the 1970s, the ability of the U.S. to keep Cuba isolated was declining. Cuba had been expelled from the Organization of American States in 1962 and the OAS had cooperated with the U.S. trade boycott for the next decade, but, in 1975, the OAS lifted all sanctions against Cuba and both Mexico and Canada defied the U.S. by developing closer relations with Cuba. Both countries said that they hoped to foster liberalization in Cuba by allowing trade, cultural and diplomatic contacts to resume—in this they were disappointed, since there was no appreciable easing of repression against domestic opposition. Castro did stop openly supporting insurrectionary movements against Latin American governments, although pro-Castro groups continued to fight the military dictatorships which then controlled most Latin American countries.

The Cuban exile community in the U.S. grew in size, wealth and power and politicized elements effectively opposed liberalization of U.S. policy towards Cuba. However, the efforts of the exiles to foment an anti-Castro movement inside Cuba, let alone a revolution there, met limited success. On Sunday, April 6, 1980, 7,000 Cubans stormed the Peruvian embassy in Havana seeking political asylum. On Monday, April 7, Fidel Castro granted permission for the emigration of Cubans seeking refuge in the Peruvian embassy. On April 16 500 Cuban citizens left the Peruvian Embassy for Costa Rica. On April 21 many of those Cubans started arriving in Miami via private boats and were halted by the State Department on April 23. The boat lift continued, however, since Castro allowed anyone who desired to leave the country to do so through the port of Mariel and this emigration became known as the Mariel boatlift. In all, over 125,000 Cubans emigrated to the United States before the flow of vessels ended on June 15.

Post-Cold War Cuba

The fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 dealt Cuba a giant economic blow. It led to another unregulated exodus of asylum seekers to the United States in 1994, but was eventually slowed to a trickle of a few thousand a year by the U.S.-Cuban accords. It has again increased in 2004-06 although at a far slower rate than before. Castro’s popularity was severely tested by the aftermath of the Soviet collapse, which led to a cutoff in aid, the loss of a guaranteed export market for Cuban sugar and the loss of a source of cheap imported oil. It also caused, as in all Communist countries, a crisis in confidence for those who believed that the Soviet Union was successfully “building socialism” and providing a model that other countries should follow. In Cuba, however, these events were not sufficient to persuade Cuban Communists that they should voluntarily give up power.

By the later 1990s the situation in the country had stabilized. By then Cuba had more or less normal economic relations with most Latin American countries and had improved relations with the European Union, which began providing aid and loans to the island. China also emerged as a new source of aid and support, even though Cuba had sided with the Soviets during the Sino-Soviet split of the 1960s. Cuba also found new allies in President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela and President Evo Morales of Bolivia, major oil and gas exporters.

Temporary transfer of duties

On July 31 2006, Fidel Castro delegated his duties as President of the Council of state, President of the Council of Ministers, First Secretary of the Cuban Communist Party and the post of commander in chief of the armed forces to his brother Raúl Castro. This transfer of duties has been described as temporary while Fidel recovers from surgery he underwent due to an "acute intestinal crisis with sustained bleeding".


The courtyard of one of the free museums in Havana, the 'Casa de Simón Bolívar'
The courtyard of one of the free museums in Havana, the 'Casa de Simón Bolívar'

Cuban culture is much influenced by the fact that it is a melting pot of cultures, primarily from Spain and Africa. It has produced more than its fair share of literature, including the output of non-Cubans Stephen Crane, and Ernest Hemingway.

Sport is Cuba's national passion. Due to historical associations with the United States, many Cubans participate in sports which share popularity in North America, rather than sports traditionally promoted in other Latin American nations. Baseball in Cuba is by far the most popular; other sports and pastimes in Cuba include basketball, volleyball and athletics. Cuba is the dominant force in amateur boxing, consistently achieving high gold medal tallies in major international competitions.

Cuban music is very rich and is the most commonly known expression of culture. The "central form" of this music is Son, which has been the basis of many other musical styles like samba, salsa, rumba and mambo and a slower derivation of mambo, the cha-cha-cha. Rumba music originated in early Afro-Cuban culture. The Tres was also invented in Cuba, but other traditional Cuban instruments are of African and/or Taíno origin such as the maracas, güiro, marímba and various wooden drums including the mayohuacan. Popular Cuban music of all styles has been enjoyed and praised widely across the world. Cuban classical music, which includes music with strong African and European influences, and features symphonic works as well as music for soloists, has also received international acclaim thanks to composers like Ernesto Lecuona.

Literature in Cuba began to find its voice in the early 19th century. Dominant themes of independence and freedom were exemplified by José Martí, who led the Modernist movement in Cuban literature. Writers such as Nicolás Guillén and Jose Z. Tallet focused on literature as social protest. The poetry and novels of José Lezama Lima have also been influential. Writers such as Reinaldo Arenas, Guillermo Cabrera Infante, Leonardo Padura Fuentes, and Ronaldo Menedez have earned international recognition in the postrevolutionary era, though many writers have felt compelled to continue their work in exile due to perceived censorship by the Cuban authorities.

Cuban cuisine is a fusion of Spanish and Caribbean cuisines. Cuban recipes share spices and techniques with Spanish cooking, with some Caribbean influence in spice and flavor. A traditional Cuban meal would not be served in courses; rather all food items would be served at the same time. The typical meal could consist of plantains, black beans and rice, ropa vieja ( beef), cuban bread, pork with onions, and tropical fruits. Black beans and rice, referred to as moros y cristianos (or moros for short), and plantains are staples of the Cuban diet. Many of the meat dishes are cooked slowly with light sauces. Garlic, cumin, oregano and bay leaves are the dominant spices.

Government and politics

Revolution Square: José Martí Monument designed by Enrique Luis Varela, sculpture by Juan José Sicre and finished in 1958.
Revolution Square: José Martí Monument designed by Enrique Luis Varela, sculpture by Juan José Sicre and finished in 1958.

The Republic of Cuba is constitutionally defined as a " socialist state guided by the principles of José Martí, and the political ideas of Marx, Engels and Lenin". The present constitution also ascribes the role of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) to be the "leading force of society and of the state". The first secretary of the Communist Party, Fidel Castro, is concurrently President of the Council of State ( President of Cuba) and President of the Council of Ministers (sometimes referred to as Prime Minister of Cuba). Members of both councils are chosen by the National Assembly of People’s Power. The President of Cuba serves for a five-year term and there is no limit to the number of terms of office. Castro has been President since the adoption of the current Constitution in 1976 when he replaced Osvaldo Dorticós Torrado. The Supreme Court of Cuba serves as the nation's highest judicial branch of government. It is also the court of last resort for all appeals from convictions in provincial courts.

Cuba's national legislature, the National Assembly of People's Power (Asamblea Nacional de Poder Popular), has 609 members who serve five-year terms. Candidates for the Assembly are approved by public referendum. All Cuban citizens over sixteen years of age who have not been found guilty of a criminal offense can vote. Article 131 of the Constitution states that voting shall be "through free, equal and secret vote". Article 136 states: "In order for deputies or delegates to be considered elected they must get more than half the number of valid votes cast in the electoral districts". Votes are cast by secret ballot and are counted in public view. Individual vote totals, which are invariably high, are not verified by non-partisan, independent, or non-state organs and observers. Nominees are chosen at local gatherings from multiple candidates before gaining approval from election committees. In the subsequent election, there is just one candidate for each seat, who must gain a majority to be elected.

No political party is permitted to nominate candidates or campaign on the island, though the Communist Party of Cuba has held five party congress meetings since 1975. In 1997, the party claimed 780,000 members, and representatives generally constitute at least half of the Councils of state and the National Assembly. The remaining positions are filled by candidates without party affiliation. Other political parties campaign and raise finances internationally, whilst activity within Cuba by oppositional groups is minimal and mostly illegal. While the Cuban constitution has language pertaining to freedom of speech, rights are limited by Article 62, which states that "None of the freedoms which are recognized for citizens can be exercised contrary to... the existence and objectives of the socialist state, or contrary to the decision of the Cuban people to build socialism and communism. Violations of this principle can be punished by law". Almost all adult Cubans participate in the community-based Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, which play a central role in daily life. These groups are designed to coordinate public projects, protect and ensure socialist ideology among the citizenry, and act as a neighbourhood watchdog against " counter-revolutionary" activity.

Since Cuba became a declared socialist republic in 1961, the United States Government has initiated various policy measures against Cuba which have had a considerable political and economic effect on the island; these have variously been designed to remove the leadership and to encourage Cuba to undertake political change towards a multi-party electoral process. The most significant of these measures is the United States embargo against Cuba and the subsequent Helms-Burton Act of 1996. Many believe the Cuban government does not meet minimal standards of a democracy, especially in lacking multi-party contests for seats. The Cuban government, its supporters and other observers within and outside Cuba argue that Cuba has a form of democracy citing the extensive participation in the nomination process at national and municipal level.

Human rights

The Cuban government has been accused of numerous human rights abuses, including torture, arbitrary imprisonment, unfair trials, and extra-judicial executions. Dissidents complain of harassment and torture. While the Cuban Government placed a moratorium on capital punishment in 2001, it made an exception for perpetrators of an armed hijacking 2 years later. Groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have issued reports on Cuban prisoners of conscience. The Cuban government denies the International Committee of the Red Cross access to its prisons and many human rights groups including Amnesty International are denied entry to Cuba.

Trade unions

There are nineteen trade unions in Cuba, with a membership totalling 98% of the island's workforce. Unions do not register with any state agency, and are self financed from monthly membership dues. Their supporters claim that union officers are elected on an open basis, and differing political views are found within each of the unions. However, all unions are part of an organization called the Confederación de Trabajadores Cubanos (Confederation of Cuban Workers, CTC), which does maintain close ties with the state and the Communist Party. Supporters claim that the CTC allows workers to have their voice heard in government; opponents claim that the government uses it to control the trade unions and appoint their leaders. The freedom of workers to express independent opinions is also a subject of debate. Supporters of the system argue that workers' opinions have in fact shaped government policy on several occasions, as in a 1993 proposal for tax reform, while opponents, citing studies by international labor organizations, point out that workers are required to pledge alliegeance to the ideals of the Communist Party, and argue that the government systematically harasses and detains labor activists, while prohibiting the creation of independent (non-CTC affiliated) trade unions, that the leaders of attempted independent unions have been imprisoned, and that the the right to strike in recognized in the law.


Fourteen provinces and one special municipality (the Isla de la Juventud) now comprise Cuba. These in turn were formerly part of six larger historical provinces: Pinar del Río, Habana, Matanzas, Las Villas, Camagüey and Oriente. The present subdivisions closely resemble those of Spanish military provinces during the Cuban Wars of Independence, when the most troublesome areas were subdivided.

1 Isla de la Juventud (Isle of Youth)
2 Pinar del Río 9 Ciego de Ávila
3 La Habana (Havana) 10 Camagüey
4 Ciudad de la Habana (Havana City) 11 Las Tunas
5 Matanzas 12 Granma
6 Cienfuegos 13 Holguín
7 Villa Clara 14 Santiago de Cuba
8 Sancti Spíritus 15 Guantánamo


Map of Cuba
Map of Cuba

Cuba is an archipelago of islands located in the Caribbean Sea, with the geographic coordinates 21°3N, 80°00W. Cuba is the principal island, which is surrounded by four main groups of islands. These are the Colorados, the Camagüey, the Jardines de la Reina and the Canarreos. The main island of Cuba constitutes most of the nation's land area (105,006 km² or 40,543 square miles) and is the seventeenth-largest island in the world by land area. The second largest island in Cuba is the Isla de la Juventud (Isle of Youth) in the southwest, with an area of 3056 km² (1180 square miles). Cuba has a total land area of 110,860 km².

The main island consists mostly of flat to rolling plains. At the southeastern end is the Sierra Maestra, a range of steep mountains whose highest point is the Pico Real del Turquino at 2,005 metres (6,578 ft). The local climate is tropical, though moderated by trade winds. In general (with local variations), there is a drier season from November to April, and a rainier season from May to October. The average temperature is 21 °C in January and 27 °C in July. Cuba lies in the path of hurricanes, and these destructive storms are most common in September and October. Havana is the largest city and capital; other major cities include Santiago de Cuba and Camagüey. Better known smaller towns include Baracoa which was the first Spanish settlement on Cuba, Trinidad, a UNESCO world heritage site, and Bayamo.



School children playing jump-rope in between classes at an elementary school in the Cuban countryside
School children playing jump-rope in between classes at an elementary school in the Cuban countryside

Historically, Cuba has had some of the highest rates of education and literacy in Latin America, both before and after the revolution. All education is free to Cuban citizens including university education. Private educational institutions are not permitted. School attendance is compulsory from ages six to sixteen and all students, regardless of age or gender, wear school uniforms with the colour denoting grade level. Primary education lasts for six years, secondary education is divided into basic and pre-university education. Higher education is provided by universities, higher institutes, higher pedagogical institutes, and higher polytechnic institutes. The Cuban Ministry of Higher Education also operates a scheme of Distance Education which provides regular afternoon and evening courses in rural areas for agricultural workers. The University of Havana was founded in 1728 and there are a number of other well established colleges and universities.

Public health

The Cuban government operates a national health system and assumes full fiscal and administrative responsibility for the health care of its citizens. Historically, Cuba has long ranked high in numbers of medical personnel and has made significant contributions to world health since the 19th century. According to World Health Organization statistics, life expectancy and infant mortality rates in Cuba have been comparable to Western industrialized countries since such information was first gathered in 1957, including before the revolution.


According to the CIA's World Factbook, Cuba is 51% mulatto (mixed white and black), 37% white, 11% black, and 1% Chinese. DNA studies have suggested that the contribution of indigenous neo-Taíno Nations to the general population may be more significant than formerly believed. The Chinese population in Cuba is descended mostly from laborers who arrived in the 19th century to build railroads and work in mines. Most stayed in Cuba, as they could not afford return passage to China.

The Cuban government controls the movement of people into Havana on the grounds that the Havana metropolitan area (home to nearly 20% of the country's population) is overstretched in terms of land use, water, electricity, transportation, and other elements of the urban infrastructure. There is a population of internal migrants to Havana nicknamed "Palestinos" (Palestinians); these mostly hail from the eastern region of Oriente. Cuba also shelters a population of non-Cubans of unknown size. There is a population of several thousand North African teen and pre-teen refugees undergoing military training.

Cuba's birth rate (11.6 births per thousand population in 2003) is one of the lowest in the Western Hemisphere. Its overall population has increased continuously from around 7 million in 1961 to over 11 million now, but the rate of increase has slowed in the last decades. The decrease in fertility rate - from 3.2 children per woman in 1970 to 1.5 in 1992 - is the third greatest in the Western Hemisphere, with only Guadeloupe and Jamaica showing larger decreases. Cuba, which has unrestricted access to legal abortion, has an abortion rate of 58.6 per 1000 pregnancies in 1996 compared to a Caribbean average of 35, a Latin American average of 27 (the latter mostly illegally performed), and a European average of 48. Additionally, contraceptive use is estimated at 79% (in the upper third of countries in the Western Hemisphere).

Immigration and emigration have had noticeable effects on the demographic profile of Cuba during the 20th century. Between 1900 and 1930, close to a million Spaniards arrived from Spain. Since 1959, over a million Cubans have left the island, primarily to Miami, Florida, where a vocal, well-educated and economically successful exile community exists ( Cuban-American lobby). The emigration that occurred immediately after the Cuban Revolution was primarily of the upper and middle classes that were predominantly white, thus contributing to a demographic shift along with changes in birth rates and racial identifications among the various ethnic groups. Seeking to normalize migration between the two countries - particularly after the chaos that accompanied the Mariel boatlift - Cuba and the United States in 1994 agreed (in what is commonly called the 1994 Clinton-Castro accords) to limit emigration to the United States. Under this, the United States grants a specific number of visas to those wishing to emigrate (20,000 since 1994) while those Cubans picked up at sea trying to emigrate without a visa are returned to Cuba. U.S. law gives the Attorney General the discretion to grant permanent residence to Cuban natives or citizens seeking adjustment of status if they have been present in the United States for at least 1 year after admission or parole and are admissible as immigrants; these escapes are often daring and most ingenious. The number of Cubans who leave by sea is still about 2,000 a year, but the trend is upward at present. In 2005 an additional 7,610 Cuban emigrants from Cuba entered through the "southern border in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30". According to the Miami Herald, "Unlike most countries, Cuba requires its citizens to obtain exit permits when leaving the country; there are 533 Cubans with valid U.S. visas not allowed to leave". Human Rights Watch has criticized the Cuban restrictions on emigration and its alleged keeping of children as "hostages" in order to prevent defection by Cubans traveling abroad.


Catedral de San Cristóbal de la Habana (Cathedral of Saint Christopher of Havana)
Catedral de San Cristóbal de la Habana (Cathedral of Saint Christopher of Havana)

Cuba has a multitude of faiths reflecting the island’s diverse cultural elements. Catholicism, which was brought to the island by Spanish colonialists at the beginning of the 16th century, is the most prevalent professed faith. After the revolution, Cuba became an officially atheistic state and restricted religious practice. Since 1991, restrictions have been eased and direct challenges by state institutions to the right to religion have all but disappeared. Though the church still faces restrictions of written and electronic communication, and can only accept donations from state-approved funding sources. The Roman Catholic Church is made up of the Cuban Catholic Bishops' Conference (COCC), led by Jaime Lucas Ortega y Alamino, Cardinal Archbishop of Havana. It has eleven dioceses, 56 orders of nuns and 24 orders of priests. In January 1998, Pope John Paul II paid a historic visit to the island, invited by the Cuban government and Catholic Church.

The religious landscape of Cuba is also strongly marked by syncretisms of various kinds. This diversity derives from West and Central Africans who were transported to Cuba, and in effect reinvented their African religions. They did so by combining them with elements of the Catholic belief system. Catholicism is often practised in tandem with Santería, a mixture of Catholicism and other, mainly African, faiths that include a number of cult religions. Cuba’s patron saint, La Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre (the Virgin of Cobre) is a syncretism with the Santería goddess Ochún. The important religious festival "La Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre" is celebrated by Cubans annually on 8 September. Other religions practised are Palo Monte, and Abakuá, which have large parts of their liturgy in African languages.

Protestantism, introduced from the United States in the 18th century, has seen a steady increase in popularity. 300,000 Cubans belong to the island’s 54 Protestant denominations. Pentecostalism has grown rapidly in recent years, and the Assemblies of God alone claims a membership of over 100,000 people. The Episcopal Church of Cuba claims 10,000 adherents. Cuba has small communities of Jews, Muslims and members of the Bahá'í faith. Havana has three active synagogues and one mosque. Most Jewish Cubans are descendants of Polish and Russian Jews who fled pogroms at the beginning of the 20th century. There is, however, a sizeable number of Sephardic Jews in Cuba, who trace their origin to Turkey (primarily Istanbul and Tarakya). Most of these Sephardic Jews live in the provinces, although they do maintain a synagogue in Havana. In the 1960s, almost 8,000 Jews left for Miami. In the 1990s, approximately 400 Jewish Cubans relocated to Israel in a co-ordinated exodus using visas provided by nations sympathetic to their desire to move to Israel.


A Cuban state hotel
A Cuban state hotel

The Cuban Government adheres to socialist principles in organizing its largely state-controlled planned economy. Most of the means of production are owned and run by the government and most of the labor force is employed by the state. Recent years have seen a trend towards more private sector employment. By the year 2000, public sector employment was 77.5% and the private sector at 22.5% compared to the 1981 ratio of 91.8% to 8.2%. Capital investment is restricted and requires approval by the government. The Cuban government sets most prices and rations goods to citizens.

In the early 1990s, the end of Communist rule in Eastern Europe meant the end of Soviet subsidies for Cuba's state-run economy. Before the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba depended on Moscow for sheltered markets for its exports and substantial aid. The Soviets had been paying above-market prices for Cuban sugar, while providing Cuba with petroleum at below-market prices. The removal of these subsidies sent the Cuban economy into a rapid depression known in Cuba as the Special Period. In 1992, the United States tightened the trade embargo contributing to a drop in Cuban living standards which approached crisis point within a year.

Like some other Communist and post-Communist states following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba took limited free market-oriented measures to alleviate severe shortages of food, consumer goods, and services to make up for the ending of Soviet subsidies. These steps included allowing some self-employment in certain retail and light manufacturing sectors, the legalization of the use of the U.S. dollar in business, and the encouragement of tourism. In 1996 tourism supassed the sugar industry as the largest source of hard currency for Cuba. Cuba has tripled its market share of Caribbean tourism in the last decade, with large investment in tourism infrastructure this growth rate is predicted to continue. 1.9 million tourists visited Cuba in 2003 predominantly from Canada and the European Union, generating revenue of $2.1 billion. The rapid growth of tourism during the Special Period had widespread social and economic repercussions in Cuba. This has led to speculation of the emergence of a two-tier economy and the fostering of a state of tourist apartheid on the island.

At one time, Cuba was the world’s most important sugar producer and exporter. Production has fallen due to a series of hurricanes and droughts, which have devastated its crop area. In addition, a lack of investment in infrastructure has forced the closing of many mills.

In recent years, since the rise of Venezuela's democratic socialist President Hugo Chávez, Venezuelan economic aid has enabled Cuba to improve economically. Venezuela's assistance of the Cuban economy comes chiefly through its supply of up to 80,000 barrels of oil per day in exchange for professional services and agricultural products. In the last several years, Cuba has rolled back some of the market oriented measures undertaken in the 1990s. In 2004, Cuban officials publicly backed the Euro as a "global counter-balance to the U.S. dollar", and eliminated the US currency from circulation in its stores and businesses. Increased US government restrictions on travel by Cuban-Americans and on the numbers of dollars they could transport to Cuba strengthened Cuban government control over dollars circulating in the economy. In the last decade, Cubans had received between US$600 million and US$1 billion annually, mostly from family members in the U.S.

As late as 2001, studies have shown that the average Cuban's standard of living was lower than before the downturn of the post-Soviet period. Paramount issues have been state salaries failing to meet personal needs under the state rationing system chronically plagued with shortages. As the variety and amount of rationed goods available declined, Cubans increasingly turned to the black market to obtain basic food, clothing, household, and health amenities. In addition, petty corruption in state industries, such as the pilferage of state assets to sell on the black market, is still common.

Cuba, the largest of the Caribbean holiday islands, is becoming an increasingly popular tourist destination
Cuba, the largest of the Caribbean holiday islands, is becoming an increasingly popular tourist destination

In 2005 Cuba exported $2.4 billion, ranking 114 of 226 world countries, and imported $6.9 billion, ranking 87 of 226 countries. Its major export partners are the Netherlands, Canada and China; major import partners are Venezuela, Spain and the United States. Cuba's major exports are sugar, nickel, tobacco, fish, medical products, citrus, coffee and skilled labor; imports include food, fuel, clothing, and machinery. Cuba presently holds debt in an amount estimated to be $13 billion, approximately 38% of GDP. According to the Heritage Foundation, Cuba is dependent on credit accounts that rotate from country to country. Cuba's prior 35% supply of the world's export market for sugar has declined to 10% due to a variety of factors, including a global sugar commodity price drop making Cuba less competitive on world markets. Cuba holds 6.4% of the global market for nickel which constitutes about 25% of total Cuban exports. Recently, large reserves of oil were found in the North Cuba Basin leading US congress members Jeff Flake and Larry Craig to call for a repeal of the US embargo of Cuba.


Under Fidel Castro, Cuba became a highly militarized society. From 1975 until the late 1980s, massive Soviet military assistance enabled Cuba to upgrade its military capabilities. Since the loss of Soviet subsidies Cuba has dramatically scaled down the numbers of military personnel, from 235,000 in 1994 to about 60,000 in 2003. The government now spends roughly 1.8% of GDP on military expenditures. The present Minister for the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR) is Raúl Castro.

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