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Cuba Travel Guide

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The Republic of Cuba (Spanish: República de Cuba, IPA: [re’pußlika ðe ’kußa]) is a country consisting 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 south of eastern Cuba.

Cuba is a socialist republic, in which the Communist Party of Cuba is the sole legal political party. Cuba is the only state in the western hemisphere that is not a democracy.

Geographic Coordinates: 23°8’N 82°23’W


The recorded history of Cuba began on 28 October 1492, when Christopher Columbus sighted the island during his first voyage of discovery and claimed it for Spain. The island had been inhabited for at least several thousand years by Amerindian peoples known as the Taíno and Ciboney. 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 Sebastian de Ocampo in 1511, and in that year Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar founded the first Spanish settlement at Baracoa. Others towns, including Havana (founded in 1515), soon followed. The Spanish, as they did everywhere in the Americas, oppressed and enslaved the indigenous population, who soon died out as a result of the combined effects of disease and mistreatment. The settlers then introduced African slaves, who soon made up a significant proportion of the population.

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, labourers 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. Southern politicians in the U.S. plotted the island’s annexation as a means of strengthening the pro-slavery forces in the U.S. throughout the 19th century, 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, but Spain always refused to consider ceding its last possession in the Americas.

After the American Civil War apparently ended the threat of pro-slavery annexationism, agitation for independence revived, leading to a rebellion in 1868. This led to a prolonged conflict known as the Ten Years War between pro-independence forces and the Spanish and their local allies. 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 Spanish promises of greater autonomy.

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, fuelled by resentment of the restrictions imposed on Cuban trade by Spain and hostility to Spain’s increasingly oppressive and incompetent administration of Cuba. On 15 July 1895 rebellion broke out, and the independence party, led by Tomás Estrada Palma and the poet José Martí, proclaimed Cuba an independent republic – Martí was killed shortly after and has become Cuba’s undisputed national hero. The Spanish retaliated with a campaign of ruthless suppression, herding the rural population into concentration camps where hundreds died. In Europe and the U.S., there were fierce protests against Spain’s behaviour.

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 after, on 15 February 1898, the U.S. battleship Maine was mysteriously blown up in Havana harbour, killing 266 men. Forces in the U.S. favouring 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 in the Philippines, where events had followed a similar course, there was no outbreak of armed resistance.

Independent Cuba

Theodore Roosevelt, who had fought in the Spanish-American War in Cuba and had some sympathies with the independence movement, succeeded McKinley as President 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 two 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 and made himself Cuba’s first dictator.

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 as President. In September, however, a second coup led by Sergeant Fulgencio Batista overthrew Céspedes and replaced him with Carlos Mendieta y Montefur.

One of the objectives of the "sergeants’ revolt" was to restore Cuban sovereignty, and in 1934 the new administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt agreed to end the formal U.S. role in Cuban affairs as part of its Good Neighbor Policy towards Latin America. Batista and the army became the real centre of power in Cuba, behind a series of transient presidents. 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 labour 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. 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’s administration took Cuba into World War II as a U.S. ally, and he used his wartime powers to increase government spending on health, education and housing. But Grau’s liberals were bitter enemies of the Communists, and Batista opposed most of Grau’s programme.

In 1948 Grau was succeeded by another liberal, Carlos Prío Socarrás, who had been Grau’s minister of labour 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 stabilising the Cuban currency. The influx of North American money fuelled 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

The 1952 election was contested between Roberto Agramonte of the liberals and 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 liberals 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, and his regime tolerated a considerable amount of dissent. By Latin American standards, Batista was a very mild dictator.

This changed in 1956, when a party of rebels, mostly idealistic young nationalists, and 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.

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 Spain. Castro’s rebel forces entered the capital on 1 January 1959.

Castro and Communism

A so-called MAQUINA or YANK TANK

Fidel Castro became Prime Minister of Cuba in February 1959, and has held effective power in the country ever since. (By 2006 he was the world’s longest-ruling head of government.) So far as was known, 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 other 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, 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 Communist and one of Castro’s closest advisers. Guevara formed an alliance with Castro’s ambitious brother, Raúl Castro, 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 gave Castro all the excuse he needed to establish a full-blown Communist state, which he did in May 1961.

Communist 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. 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 modelled 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 organisations 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 Defence Minister and Fidel’s closest confidante 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 always regarded by many outside observers as 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 and anti-Americanism generally. On a more concrete level, he provided invaluable military assistance to pro-Soviet forces in Angola, Ethiopia, Yemen and other African and Middle East 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 buy the entire Cuban sugar crop to provide further economic assistance to Cuba, 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 oil, 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 ‘80s the Soviets were prepared to subsidise all this in exchange for the rather dubious 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.

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 co-operated 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.

In the five years after 1959 around one million (about 10% of the population) Cubans migrated to the U.S., and there was a further surge of emigration in 1980 when Castro temporarily lifted restrictions on emigration (see Mariel Boatlift). Altogether about 2 million Cubans have emigrated since 1959. The Cuban exile community in the U.S. grew in size, wealth and power, and became a potent force preventing any liberalization of U.S. policy towards Cuba, particularly when the Republican Party is in office. But the efforts of the exiles to foment an anti-Castro movement inside Cuba, let alone a revolution there, were consistently unsuccessful. Although many Cubans depended on money sent home by exile relatives in the U.S., Cubans in Cuba appeared to have little liking for the anti-Castro exiles, even if they also opposed Castro. The powerful personality of the Cuban leader, his successful exploitation of anti-American sentiment, and the material benefits which the Cuban version of socialism brought to the Cuban people, particularly the poor, maintained his personal popularity.

Post-Soviet Cuba

After two decades of government without elections, repetitive failures of economic experiments, lack of freedom and respect for basic human rights made discontent among Cuban population to grow. In April 1980 over 10,000 Cubans stormed the Peruvian embassy in Havana seeking political asylum. In response to this, Castro allowed anyone who desired to leave the country to do so through the port of Mariel. Under the Mariel boatlift, over 125,000 Cubans migrated to the United States. Eventually the United States stopped the flow of vessels and Cuba ended the uncontrolled exodus.

The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 dealt Cuba a giant economic blow. This led to another unregulated exodus of asylum seekers to the United States in 1994, which was slowed to a trickle of a few thousand a year by the U.S.-Cuban accords. Now it is increasing again although at a far slower rate than before Castro’s popularity was severely tested by the aftermath of the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. This 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 provided a model that other countries should follow. In Cuba, however, this crisis was not sufficient to persuade Cuban Communists that they should voluntarily give up power, nor was the economic crisis grave enough to bring about the fall of the revolutionary government.

This was a grave disappointment for the anti-Castro exiles, who in the early 1990s believed that their return to Cuba, and (as they hoped) to power, was imminent. By the later 1990s the situation in Cuba had stabilised. 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 a new ally in President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, a major oil exporter. Nevertheless, the economic situation remained precarious, and Cuba’s ability to go on maintaining its elaborate system of state-provided health care and education from its own resources was doubted by many economists.

In other ways Castro was more isolated than ever. In the 1960s and ‘70s defenders of his government had been able to claim that although Cuba might not be a parliamentary democracy, nor were most other countries in Latin America, and the Cuban model at least combined authoritarianism with social justice. On this argument, Castro compared well with such figures as Augusto Pinochet of Chile or the military rulers of Brazil and Argentina. By the turn of the century, however, critics say that this argument had lost its force, since every other country in Latin America had become a democracy (the only partial exception being Haiti), and many were electing moderate left-wingers such as Ricardo Lagos, Nestor Kirchner and Luis Inácio da Silva, who were promising social reform without the need for political repression. With the disappearance of the right-wing dictator as a feature of Latin American politics, Castro seemed to some as an increasingly anachronistic figure.

Government and politics

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

Cuba has a one-party political system where the Communist Party of Cuba holds the monopoly of political power, under the aegis of First Secretary, Fidel Castro. Under the current political system, Castro, concurrently is President of the country, First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba (CPC), Head of the Council of Ministers and Head of the Council of State. Thus, Castro simultaneously is Head of State and Head of Government.

The Cuban constitution states that, "the Communist Party of Cuba... is the superior guiding force of society and the state." No other political parties are permitted. The Party leadership profess that Cuba is a centralized democracy, meaning that decision-making and popular participation occurs within mass organizations, institutionalized by the state. The Constitution and the Penal Code allow for severe sanctions against activities deemed "counter-revolutionary" and a "threat to national security". Political dissidents are pursued by the authorities.

Cuba elects a national legislature, the National Assembly of People’s Power (Asamblea Nacional de Poder Popular), which has 609 members, every five years in elections. Municipal assemblies are elected every two and a half years. No political party, including the Communist Party of Cuba, is permitted to nominate or campaign for any candidate. Candidates are nominated at local levels by the local population at small "Town Hall" type meetings. Suffrage is afforded to Cuban citizens resident for two years on the island who are aged over sixteen years and who have not been found guilty of a criminal offence. In later years independent candidates have been nominally allowed to participate. Involvement in decision-making and implementation through non-political actors has been institutionalised through national organisations, linked to the Communist Party, representing farmers, youth groups, students, women, industrial workers, etc.

There is much speculation in Cuba and abroad over what will happen to the revolution when Castro dies. Officially, there is a line of succession in place, and the Cuban government repeatedly proclaims that the transition will be smooth. Cuban dissidents in Cuba and Florida warn that there will be tremendous unrest and bloodshed. The Bush administration has appointed Caleb McCarry "transition coordinator" for Cuba, and given him a budget of $59 million, with the task of overthrowing the Communist regime after Castro’s death. Official Cuban news service Granma alleges that these transition plans were created at the behest of the Miami Mafia, and that McCarry is responsible for engineering the overthrow of the Aristide government in Haiti.


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, mostly 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.

Present State of Cuban Literature

Cuban authors continue to produce large amounts of government-supported printed and electronic work inside the island. However, according to the US State Department’s website, the present Cuban constitution states that all print and electronic media are inalienably state property". The Cuban government also funds a large number of booths at book fairs in Latin America. A good number of university presses in the United States continually present scholarly volumes on various Cuban topics. Authors both for and against the present Cuban government present their views in the U.S. Cuba/Printed sources.

Compendia of Cuban Literature

  • García, Calixto 1973 El Negro en la Narrativa Cubana. PhD. Thesis. The City University of New York. UMI Dissertation Services, Ann Arbor, Michigan. This Calixto García Iñiguez, was grandson of Calixto Garcia and was very familiar with the political and ethnic scene of Cuba in the 1940s and 1950s especially in Oriente Province.
  • Lazo, Rodrigo 2005 Writing to Cuba Filibustering and Cuban Exiles in the United States. University of North Carolina Press, ISBN 0807855944

Cuban music

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 salsa and mambo and a slower derivation of mambo, the cha-cha-cha. The Tres was also invented in Cuba, but other traditional Cuban instruments are of African and/or Neo-Taíno nations, multination indigenous origins such as the maracas, güiro, marímba and various wooden drums such as the mayohuacan (’Zayas y Alfonso, 1914) Alfredo Zayas. 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 won international thanks to composers like Ernesto Lecuona.


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. The Roman Catholic Church is made up of the Cuban Catholic Bishops’ Conference (COCC), led by Jaime Cardinal Ortega, Archbishop of Havana. It has eleven dioceses, 56 orders of nuns and 24 orders of priests. In January 1998, Pope John Paul II paid an 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, Cuba’s patron saint) is a syncretism with the Santería goddess Ochún. The important religious festival "Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre" (the Virgin of Cobre, Cuba’s patron saint) 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 mid 18th century, has seen a steady increase in popularity. 300,000 Cubans belong to the nation’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. Cuba has small Jewish, Muslim and Bahá’í populations. Havana has three active synagogues and one mosque. Most Cuban Jews are descendants of Polish and Russian Jews who fled pogroms at the turn of the century. In the 1960s approximately 8,000 Jews left for Miami. During the 1990’s around 400 Cuban emigrated to Israel in a complex exodus with visas provided by countries sympathetic to their desire to move to Israel: France, Canada and Spain.



School attendance is compulsory from ages 6 to 16 and all students regardless of age and gender wear school uniforms with the color denoting grade level. The curriculum in primary and secondary schools is based upon principles of hard work, self-discipline and love of country. Students are required to work in agriculture three times a week. At the end of basic secondary education, pupils can choose between pre-university education and technical and professional education.

All higher education and university education is public and available free of charge. The University of Havana, Cuba’s oldest university, was founded in 1721; prior to 1959 there were other official universities including: Universidad de Oriente (founded in 1947) and Universidad Central de Las Villas (founded in 1857); private universities included: Universidad Católica de Santo Tomás de Villanueva (founded in 1946); Universidad Masónica, and the Universidad de la Salle in Nuevo Vedado. In 1961 private schools and universities were nationalized (without reimbursement).

Historically, Cuba has had some of the highest rates of education and literacy in Latin America, both before and after the revolution. Before the revolution its literary rate of 76% ranked fourth in the region (50 percent in rural areas). By 1995, and after a literacy campaign coordinated by the Cuban government, rates had risen to 96%. Alongside Argentina, this was the highest of the thirteen Latin American countries surveyed. A 1998 study by UNESCO reported that Cuban students showed a high level of educational achievement. Cuban third and fourth graders scored 350 points, 100 points above the regional average in tests of basic language and mathematics skills. The report indicated that the test achievement of the lower half of students in Cuba was significantly higher than the test achievement of the upper half of students in other Central and South American countries in the study group.

Public health

Fidel Castro has long made the promise of free, universal health care an important part of the case for his government. Cuba’s healthcare system is widely regarded as one of the best in the world; however WHO data cited here comes directly from national health authorities of each country. Thus, there are some who do not trust this data.

Health history

Cuban traditional medicine has existed since before the Spanish conquest, these high status practitioners were called Bohiques (e.g. Zayas, 1914). Chinese medicine was practiced in Cuba, the most famous was a 19th century doctor Cham Bom Biam "El Medico Chino". Then it was said of those who were hopelessly terminal "no le salve ni el medico chino." In Cuba, the Spanish tradition of medicine, was inherited from the Moors who had access to ancient Greek and Roman traditions rescued duringthe destruction of the ancient Egyptian Library of Alexandria. Dr Chanca of Seville was Columbus’s own doctor. This tradition continued in Cuba. Modern Western Medicine has been practiced in Cuba by formally trained doctors since at least the beginning of the 19th Century Cuba has had world class doctors for centuries such as Carlos Finlay, who determined how yellow fever was spread. Under the direction of Walter Reed, James Carroll, and Aristides Agramonte during the 1898-1902 US presence in Cuba with much heroic sacrifice such as that of Clara Louise Maas and surgeon Jesse W. Lazear yellow fever was essentially eliminated. The massive Havana hospital, "Calixto Garcia" as well as 72 others were operating well before 1959. However, like the rest of the Cuban economy, Cuban medical care has suffered from severe material shortages following the end of Soviet subsidies. Support from the Venezuelan government of Hugo Chávez has alleviated some of those problems.

Health present

Today, according to Cuban government statistics, Cuba has over 71,000 doctors, with 20,000 health workers in Venezuela, and 5,000 more spread around the world in over 60 additional countries, as it views such missions an important part of its foreign policy. They offer medical services to 85,154,748 people; 34,700,000 in Latin America and the Caribbean and 50,400,000 in Africa and Asia.

Cuba has sent doctors to underdeveloped nations and educated foreign doctors since the early 1960s. It dispatched physicians to help Nicaragua and Peru, then hostile to Cuba, recover from earthquakes.

Cuban doctors played a vital role in the health-care system of Sri Lanka in the 1980s, particularly in the war-torn North-east province, when a crisis in that country’s education system limited the number of doctors coming out of universities.

Cuba has also given treatment on the island to more than 14,000 children and 4,000 adults damaged by radiation in Chernobyl, which is actually more than the rest of the world combined has done for the victims during that catastrophe.

During the UN’s general assembly in 2000, Fidel Castro offered the United Nations 6,000 doctors for service in the third world.

"But one of Castro’s most respected achievements is the establishment of a comprehensive health system producing one doctor for every 170 people, compared to 188 in the US and 250 in the UK. Teams of Cuban doctors assess applicants for eye surgery before sending patients to Havana on special flights from ten Caribbean countries and more than 15 Latin American nations. On August 20, Cuba achieved what is almost certainly a world record - performing 1,648 eye operations at 20 hospitals in a single day."

"Since July 25, more than 3,000 people from ten Caribbean countries have had eye operations in Cuba funded by oil-rich Venezuela. Other patients from Central and South America bring the total to 100,000 free eye operations this year."

Like a number of countries, Cuba has developed a hospital system for health tourists, taking advantage of a combination of low labor costs, an educated work force, and the ability of such tourists to pay in much desired hard currency for their care.

The country is now able to operate and provide services in all branches of ophthalmology to hundreds of thousands of patients. As part of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA, an alternative to the Free Trade Area of the Americas), Cuba promises that one hundred thousand Venezuelans will receive these services this year, and until July 2005, 25,024 patients from said country, and a similar number of Cubans will have been operated on. 15,000 citizens of the Caribbean community will receive this form of medical care between the second half of June 2005 and June 2006. Venezuela and Cuba have offered to provide another 100,000 Latin Americans with this service within the same period. Cuba has been able to reduce reported infant mortality to zero in certain remote rural areas.

The Cuban American National Foundation claims that Cuba masks the truth behind the Cuban health care system. They argue that real Cuban healthcare is abysmal and that what is shown to non-Cuban foreigners is a healthcare system unavailable to the average Cuban.


Cubas population in thousands(1961-2003)

According to the CIA’s World Factbook, Cuba is 51% mulatto (mixed white and black), 37% white, 11% black, and 1% Chinese. Although this is not commonly accepted in the western areas of Cuba, DNA studies suggest that the contribution of indigenous neo-Taíno Nations to the general population is more significant than formally believed.

The Chinese population in Cuba derives 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 a return passage to China. Historical papers show that, while considered inferior to Cubans of European descent, they were considered superior to blacks due to their paler skin, and were considered more docil until their stubbon resistance in the Wars of Independence erased that notion e.g. (e.g. Jimenez Pastrana 1983 in Cuba/Printed sources).

In Cuba there is relatively little racial tension. Nevertheless, the sizeable Jamaican population in Santiago de Cuba is frequently stereotyped as lazy. Also, lighter skinned people often have more prestigious jobs (although in socialist Cuba this does not translate to a high difference in income). The melting pot is expressed not only in a racial sense, but also in religion (see below) and the music of Cuba. There is internal illegal immigration to Havana seeking greater opportunities, these internal illegals are known as "palestinos." Cuba also shelters a population of non-Cubans of unknown size. This population includes political refugees from the US e.g. Phillip Agee and foreign activists of various radical causes.In addition there are a several thousand number of North African teen and pre-teen refugees undergoing military training.

Cuba has a low birth rate. The fertility rate of 1.66 children per woman is the lowest of any country in the western hemisphere (tied with Canada and Barbados). A contributing cause is Cuba’s policy of abortion on demand. Cuba has a high abortion rate of 77.7 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-44 in 1996, 3rd highest in the world among 55 countries whose abortion rate was available to be compiled in a 1999 UN study. Selective termination of high-risk pregnancies is one factor contributing to the low official infant mortality rate in Cuba of 5.8 per thousand births. (State of the World’s Children 2005) However, this high abortion rate and very low birth rate, reminiscent of former Communist Eastern Europe and Russia, threatens to cause the population to shrink significantly in the coming decades, although this has not happened yet due to relatively small numbers of elderly.

Immigration and emigration have had noticeable changes in the demographic profile of Cuba during the 20th century. Between 1900 and 1930 close to a million Spaniards arrived from Spain. Cuba has historically been more heavily European than other Caribbean islands, and in 1950 was said to have a 75% white majority. Since 1959, over a million Cubans have left the island, primarily to Miami, Florida where a vocal, well educated and economically very successful anti-Castro 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 among the various ethnic groups. After the chaos that accompanied the Mariel boatlift, Cuba and the United States (commonly called the 1994 Clinton-Castro accords) have agreed 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. However, U.S. law grants U.S. residency to any Cuban who arrives on U.S. soil without a visa, thus there is still an unofficial exodus; 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" "Unlike most countries, Cuba requires its citizens to obtain exit permits when leaving the country;" there are 533 Cubans with valid US visas not allowed to leave. Escapes from Cuba are once again enforced by lethal gunfire.


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.


Map of Cuba

Geologically Cuba was once in the Pacific, and crossing between North and South America before they were joined, "crashed" into what is now Florida. Cuba, 65 million years ago, also received part of the impact of Chicxulub Crater with tsunami kilometers high reaching at least 500 kilometres (300 mi) away to the middle provinces and beyond.

The Cayman Islands south of Cuba and not part of the country is built up by coral growing over a submerged western extension of the Sierra Maestra is north on the Cuban side of the Deep of Bartlett Cayman Trough and Jamaica an independent state is on the Caribbean plate is on the other side of this great "trench" south of seismically active eastern Cuba.

The elongated island (aprox. 760 miles or 1,220 km long) of Cuba is the largest island in the Caribbean and is bounded to the north by the Straits of Florida and the greater North Atlantic Ocean, to the northwest by the Gulf of Mexico, to the west by the Yucatan Channel, to the south by the Caribbean Sea, and to the east by the Windward Passage. The Republic comprises the entire island, including many outlying islands such as the Isla de la Juventud (Isle of Youth), previously known as the Isla de los Pinos (Isle of Pines). The Cayman Islands mainly coral reefs covering submerged ice age peaks of the Sierra Maestra range) and Jamaica which is geologically related to Central America are south of eastern Cuba. Guantánamo Bay, is a naval base that has been leased by the United States since 1903, a lease that has been contested since 1960 by Castro.

The main island is the world’s 16th largest. The island consists mostly of flat to rolling plains, with more rugged hills and mountains primarily in the southeast and the 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.

Havana is the largest city and capital; other major cities include Santiago de Cuba and Camagüey. Some of the well-known smaller towns are Baracoa which was the first Spanish settlement on Cuba, as well as Trinidad and Bayamo.

  • Rojas-Consuegra, R., M. A. Iturralde-Vinent, C. Díaz-Otero y D. García-Delgado (2005). "Significación paleogeográfica de la brecha basal del Límite K/T en Loma Dos Hermanas (Loma Capiro), en Santa Clara, provincia de Villa Clara. I Convención Cubana de Ciencias de la Tierra.". GEOCIENCIAS 8 (6): 1-9. ISBN 959-7117-03-7


Cuba’s socialist economy is primarily based on state ownership — exceptions to this include microscale private enterprises. Economic activity is thereby maintained largely by government spending. Such federal spending in 2005 budgeted 68% towards education, healthcare, social security, cultural programs, sports, and scientific research. According to Cuban statistics, during the first half of the year the Cuban economy grew by 7.3%, with 9% growth expected by the end of the year.

According to the Heritage Foundation and the Wall Street Journal, the Cuban government consumes nearly 35% of the GDP, employs 73% of the labor force, and investment of capital has large restrictions including required apporval by the government. The Cuban government sets most prices and rations goods to citizens, has decreased inflation by restraining its monetary policy, but "State salaries average $15 to $20 per month in Cuban pesos... Cuba is chronically dependent on credit accounts that rotate from country to country. Typical imports are food, fuel, clothing, and machinery. Exports include nickel, cigars, and state-sponsored labor, for which the government charges many times what it pays in state salaries. Lacking investment, Cuba’s sugar industry is no longer viable"

Since the triumph of the Cuban Revolution, the Ministerio de Recuperación de Bienes Malversados (Ministry of recovery of stolen goods), much of Cuban art and libraries formerly held by more prosperous Cubans now in exile has been confiscated by the state. This art work which has increased greatly in value can now be sold abroad to raise hard currency for the needs of the Cuban government.

Since the fall of Cuba’s many trading partners, the island has focused on urban communal farms. "Last year alone we produced 27 kilograms of vegetables per square metre. When we first started this farm three years ago it stood at 18 kilograms. And we expect this year’s harvest to yield no less than 30 kilograms. That’s an increase of around 30% year on year.", says Senora Hernandes, in charge of one of hundreds of small urban farms dotted around Havana. "A recent report by the American agency for sustainable farming, Food First, said annual production of fruit and vegetables is growing at 250% a year.". While "Locally grown fruit and vegetables can significantly augment a country’s commercial production and imports, but will not, however, provide long-run food and agricultural solutions." (Kost, 2004) Cuba/Printed sources. The reason for this is that the first limiting factor for production is nitrogen. While green "manures" (Ramos, et al. 2001), endophytic, microrhizzal and other associated organisms (Loiret et al. 2004; Tejera et al, 2006), and animal manures (Travieso, 2006) Cuba/Printed sources can supplement this to some extent this circumstance will require wider plantings of the type required before inorganic fertilizers became widely available (Ortiz, 1995)

A Cuban state hotel

Historically, sugar, tobacco and (later) nickel were the main sources of foreign trade income for Cuba. In the 19th Century, until the richer ores of Chile were found, it was common to export some of Cuba’s long mined copper ore to Wales History of Swansea and England. But in the 1990s tourism saw an explosive growth.

Until recently Cubans also receive an estimated $850 million annually from Cubans in the U.S. who send money to relatives or friends. However, State Security is reportedly able to confiscate this money from individuals when it deems that appropriate. In 1993 the U.S. dollar was made legal tender (the country operated under a dual-currency system); this arrangement was, however, revoked on 25 October 2004. At that time, use of the dollar in business was officially banned, and a 10% surcharge was introduced for the conversion of dollars (in cash) to convertible pesos, the island’s new official currency. Other currencies, including the euro, were not affected. See details at the Ludwig Van Mises Institute.

The Cuban economy was hit hard in the early 1990s following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Comecon economic bloc, with which it had traded predominantly. For several decades, Cuba received what was effectively a Soviet subsidy, whereby Cuba provided the Soviet Union with sugar and the Soviets provided Cuba with petroleum at below market prices. In response, Cuba opened up to tourism, which is now a major source of income. Since 2003, both tourism levels and nickel prices increased. One other factor in the proclaimed recovery of the Cuban economy were the remittances from Cuban-Americans, now much diminished, which for a while constituted a large part of the external inputs into the Cuban Economy.

Cuba currently trades with almost every nation in the world, albeit with restrictions from the U.S. embargo. Trade with the United States is restricted to cash-only transactions for food and medicine. Any company that deals with Cuba risks problems dealing with the United States, so internationally operating companies may be forced to choose between Cuba and the United States, which is a far larger market. This extraterritorial U.S. legislation is considered highly controversial, and the U.S. embargo was condemned for the 13th time in 2004 by the General Assembly of the United Nations, by 179 countries (out of 183 voting). The main current trading partners of Cuba are: Venezuela, China, Spain, Canada and, the Netherlands.

Cuba owes approximately $5.4 billion in foreign debt to Paris Club nations such as France, Japan and Germany. Cuba also has other sources of debt including approximately $25 billion in debt disputed with Russia dating from the era of the Soviet Union. The lack of domestic sources of capital financing, an inherent by-product of its socialist economic system, makes Cuba’s debt extremely vulnerable to disruptions in trade.

Although U.S. citizens are not officially banned from travelling to Cuba, they are generally prohibited from spending money there (exceptions are made for students studying in Cuba, diplomats, certain business people, and people with family members in Cuba), which amounts to a de facto travel ban, as Cuba requires that foreign visitors spend a minimum of three nights in a hotel and require the payment of an airport tax; moreover, the only direct flights from the United States are strictly for those with family members in Cuba, or others with licences from OFAC. Nevertheless, U.S. citizens can visit Cuba by travelling through other countries (like Mexico, Canada or the Bahamas) because Cuban immigration does not stamp the passports (the visum is a separate leaflet). However, U.S. citizens are liable to fines for violating the embargo, and potentially imprisonment for perjury, if discovered and prosecuted by the U.S. government. Several Americans have been caught by US pre-clearance agents when getting off flights in Toronto, Montreal and Nassau, so Cuban travel agents advise Americans to avoid these routes.

Although struggling with its economy since the fall of the Soviet Union, Cuba has seen substantial improvements since the early 1990s. The economy has been helped in recent years by strong tourism, international investment in nickel production and oil exploration as well as beneficial oil purchases from Venezuela, in exchange for medical services.

A major problem is damage from hurricanes. All Caribbean islands suffer from hurricanes and the Cuban government uses this as an argument to urge the islands to cooperate, promoting an agreement of mutual self-insurance, so that if one island gets hit, the other islands will help it out. He says that if the United States get hit, the economy of the rest of the country will take the blow, but if a Caribbean island gets hit, that may devastate the entire economy.

Over 7,300 homes have been completed in 2005, thus it is expected (estimating five people per residence) that in about three hundred years all housing destroyed in the hurricanes will be replaced. Plans to repair the majority of homes partially affected by Hurricane Dennis and others are said underway. The Cuban government predicts that no less than 10,000 of the homes destroyed will be built again as new and the plans to finish and construct new homes to cover the most urgent requirements will continue, up to at least 30,000 additional housing.

Cuba is notable for its national organic agriculture initiative. In the early 1990s, post-Soviet Union, Cuba lost over 70% of agricultural chemical imports, over 50% of food imports, and an equally significant amount of oil. Its agricultural sector, built on a large-scale, mechanized, chemical-based model, was instantly crippled. By restructuring its agricultural industry, and focusing scientific efforts on organic solutions, Cuba managed to rapidly and successfully convert the country to entirely organic production. Currently, only organic agriculture is permitted by law, which while having the effect of reducing the need for imports, has also led to lower yields. Combined with the removal of marginal land from sugar farming, this led to a reduction in total sugar production of over 70% from around 7 millions tons anually in the late 1980s to around 3 million tons annually in the late 1990s to 1.6 million tons in 2004. Today, Cuba is a leading nation in biotechnology, and Cuban expertise is exported to Iran however some claim that this relates to biowar potential. More than 100 million USD are currently being invested in the pharmaceutical industry.

On a total population of 11 million, Cuba’s government states that it has 250,000 educators, 67,500 medical doctors, and 34,000 physical education and sports professionals and technicians.


Cuban infrastructure has suffered greatly after almost five decades of communism regime. Before 1959, sugar production averaged some 7.5 million tons of sugar per year, produced in roughly 150 sugar cane mills. In 2005, more than 80 of those sugar mills had been dismantled by the regime. The rest of industrial facilities have suffered a similar fate. Oil refinerieshave shut down. Power plants are in total dissaray and at the bringe of collapse. So critical is the situation, that the regime has resourced to the idea of installing portable generators to supply the very minimum electrical power to critical tourism, military, and hospital facilities. Cuban infrastructure is significant and includes: massive Spanish fortifications built in principal ports (e.g. El Morro castles in Havana (1589) and Santiago; Castillo San Salvador de la Punta (finished by 1630); La Fuerza (finished 1577); San Carlos de La Cabaña the largest in the Americas; El Principe; Atares around Havana Bay).

Railroads were first built in the late colonial period and finished in the first part of the 20th Century. Vital sanitation facilities were constructed in the US period. The Presidential Palace was built between 1913 and 1919 under presidents Gómez y de Menocal, and designed by a group that included architect Rodolfo Maruri.

The Cuban Capitol was built on older foundations in 1926 during Gerardo Machado’s presidency, the building contains the third largest indoor statue in the world; this is the statue= of the Cuban Republic, which represents La Patria the motherland, which in the Latin American tradition is female. This statue was sculpted Angelo Zanelli, and the model was "habanera" Lily Válty.

The central highway, which starts in Pinar del Rio and ends in the former province of Oriente, was also constructed during the Gerardo Machado administration. There are tunnels in Havana under the bay and under the Almendares River, and some highways in the old Oriente Province, Via Azul and Via Mulata, and Havana-Matanzas Via Blanca, all of which were completed in the second Fulgencio Batista period. The main road into Baracoa was completed in the 1960s, whilst in the since the late 1980s, causeways have been built out to neighbouring cays in order to open them up for tourist development. However, these causeways do not allow seawater to circulate freely and in consequence this has causud significant ecological damage. A complex network of massive dams and complex semi-secret underground fortifications were built in the present Fidel Castro period.

In addition there are significant numbers of historic buildings and reinforced concrete high rises built in the Republican period. Statues and other monuments dot the Island. Each construction has its own particular story that often relate to important events in the history of the island. For instance, some of the cobblestones that surround the Havana docks were brought in from Sweden, on the return trips of ships smuggling sugar into Britain during WWI.

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