Cuba is a republic in the Caribbean. The country consists of the island of Cuba, the largest of the Antilles, in addition to the smaller Isla de la Juventud (“Youth Island”) and more than 1000 small islands and islets. The nearest neighboring countries are Haiti, the Bahamas, the United States, Jamaica and Mexico.
The first humans reached Cuba more than 4,000 years ago, and by the arrival of Kristoffer Columbus in 1492, about 300,000 people lived on the island. It has been common to divide this population into three groups: Tainos, Sibonians and Guana Hats. The indigenous population was almost exterminated during the Spanish colonization that began in 1510.
The country was a Spanish colony until 1898, and then under occupation of the United States from 1899 to 1902. In 1902, Cuba got its own constitution, but an addition to this – the Platt Amendment – restricted the country’s autonomy and gave the United States the right to intervene in internal affairs.. The addition was removed in 1934.
Formally, Cuba was a democracy from 1902 to 1952, with the exception of Gerardo Machado’s dictatorship, which lasted from 1929 to 1933. After the former elected president Fulgencio Batista carried out a military coup in 1952, several armed resistance groups emerged, and on January 1, 1959, a guerrilla movement led by Fidel Castro in power and initiated a revolution. This was declared socialist in 1961.
The name Cuba comes from the Taino language, but the meaning is disputed. The national song is called La Bayamesa and was written by Perucho Figueredo.
Geography and environment
Cuba is an archipelago of the Caribbean with a land area of 109 884 km².
Because of its strategic location between North and South America, and well-protected ports, Cuba was long called the “key to the (Mexico) Gulf “. The distance to Florida in the United States is 145 km in the shortest, while 80 km separates Cuba from Haiti. The north coast of the main island measures 3209 km, the south coast 2537 km. At its widest, the island measures 191 km from north to south. The United States controls an area of 117.6 km² around Guantanamo Naval Base in eastern Cuba, based on a lease that Cuba considers invalid.
The western part of the main island is relatively flat, while mountain scenery to a greater extent characterizes central and eastern parts of the island. Pico Turquino (1974 masl), in the Sierra Maestra mountain range, is Cuba’s highest point. The longest rivers are called Cauto (370 km), Sagua La Grande (163 km) and Zaza (155 km). Cuba has some of the world’s largest reserves of nickel and cobalt. According to geological studies, there may be significant oil resources just north of Cuba, but test drilling has yielded few results so far.
Before the colonial period, Cuba was covered by forests that were later cut down, primarily to make room for sugar production. Animal and plant life is considered the most diverse in the Antilles, and no animals or insects pose any direct danger to humans. The up to 50 meters high royal palm and the tocororo bird (in the red, white and blue flag) are well-known national symbols.
The climate is tropical and humid with two seasons, the rainy season (May – October) and the dry season (November – April). The average temperature is 23 ° C in January and 27 ° C in July.
People and society
Cuba has 11,179,995 inhabitants (2016), and is the most populous country in the Caribbean, with Havana and Santiago de Cuba as the largest cities. The number has been declining in recent years, partly due to few births and emigration. Demographic trends differ from the neighbors in the Caribbean and Latin America, as both birth and death rates are very low and the population is aging. Life expectancy is 81.1 years for women and 76.4 years for men (2016).
Today’s Cubans are mainly descendants of Spaniards and Africans (from a number of countries and territories), the latter as a result of the slave trade. But one has also had immigration, for example, from China, the Middle East, and from Caribbean islands such as Haiti and Jamaica. Opportunities for immigration have been limited since the revolution in 1959, but there are smaller groups of Russians and Chileans, among others, and a five-digit number of foreign students who most often take the entire education in the country.
Many Cubans are religious. It is common to combine elements from different religious directions ( syncretism ), most typically elements from Catholicism and African Yoruba ridden religion ( santería ). Other faiths with African roots are Regla Conga and Abakuá. Around fifty Protestant directions and Russian Orthodox Christians are represented, and there are a small number of Jews, Muslims, Baha’is and spiritualists who all have their assembly places.
The authorities were at a time of conflict with several religious communities, including the Catholic Church and Jehovah’s Witnesses, and many religious were subjected to discrimination. The society has become more tolerant in recent years. The publication of the interview book Fidel and Religion (1985), and the Communist Party’s Fourth Congress (1991), in which one opened the doors to believers, marked a line change from the authorities.
The official language is Spanish (Castilian), which in the spoken language has a distinct Cuban character. None of the native population’s language has survived, but some words have been preserved.
State and politics
Cuba is a socialist republic. Politically and administratively, the country is divided into 16 provinces and 168 municipalities.
The Constitution defines the Communist Party as the “leading force” of society. About seven percent of the population is members.
In addition to the party are elected bodies that were created during the institutionalization process in the 1970s: The National Assembly (one chamber, 612 seats) is at the top. It meets twice a year and is responsible, among other things, for passing budgets and laws, and is represented by the so-called Council of Ministers between its sessions. In practice, one can say that Parliament translates the party’s policy into administrative guidance. The municipal ( municipal ) and provincial assemblies are responsible, among other things, for adopting budgets, and administer many public services and companies within their territory.
At the local level, there are nomination processes in which the entire population participates, and there are several competing candidates on the ballots, although electoral campaigns are not allowed. In elections to the provincial and national assembly, electoral committees control the nomination process; these are made up of representatives from the so-called mass organizations. The ballot papers have as many candidates as there are vacant seats, so in practice the population chooses between accepting or not accepting the proposed candidates.
Since 1992, the Communist Party has not been allowed to interfere in the nomination process, and many are elected without being a member of it. The elected bodies, however, work within the framework of overall goals set by the party, and the government members are usually high-ranking party members, including the country’s president Raúl Castro, who is also the party’s first secretary. His brother Fidel Castro dominated political life in Cuba for 50 years. It was recently decided that no one can hold higher political office for more than two five-year periods.
The mass organizations – such as the trade union movement (CTC), the women’s union (FMC), the smallholder team (ANAP) and the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR) – are supposed to act as a link between the party and the population, but have been criticized for mostly following instructions that come from above. The Artists and Writers Association (UNEAC) is seen by many as a somewhat more independent and critical force.
It is not possible to register political opposition groups in Cuba. Those who still organize such seem to be faced with everything from relative tolerance to hard reprisals. According to Amnesty International, opposers are subjected to harassment, threats and arbitrary arrests.
Cuba is a member of the UN and most of the UN’s special organizations, including the World Trade Organization. The country was suspended from the Organization of American States in 1962. Cuba was a member of the Eastern bloc’s Comecon cooperative from 1972 until the organization disbanded in 1991. Between 1961 and 2015, the country had no diplomatic relations with the United States, but had contact through the Swiss Embassies in Washington DC. and Havana. On July 20, 2015, diplomatic relations were re-established.
The first people came to Cuba more than 4,000 years ago. None of the dominant population groups on the island (taino, siboney, guanahatabey) were close to achieving technological development on a par with the great pre-colonial Latin American civilizations.
Kristoffer Columbus discovered Cuba in 1492 and Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar began colonization in 1510. With the exception of Chief Hatuey, who organized armed combat against the conquerors, they encountered relatively little resistance.
The Spaniards established the so-called encomienda, a system whereby the colonists were allocated labor from the indigenous people towards providing clothing, food and Christianity to their subordinates. Hard labor was an important reason for the original population to be almost extinct. Then began the import of African slaves, which grew sharply from the late 18th century. Slavery was abolished in 1886, only Brazil later came out with this change in Latin America.
The Spaniards had originally hoped to find large quantities of gold in Cuba, but the small reserves that existed were emptied within a few decades. Then the colonists focused on cattle farming and agriculture. Tobacco production grew gradually, one having a short period of great coffee production from the 1790s. However, sugar was to become the dominant export commodity. Havana was also an important trading station for the Spanish fleet and its strategic importance is emphasized by its numerous, impressive fortifications. With the exception of a short-lived British occupation of Havana in 1762, Cuba was under Spanish control for nearly 400 years and was therefore nicknamed “the always loyal island”.
The first war of liberation against Spain (1868-1878) begins with the landlord Carlos Manuel de Céspedes del Castillo freeing his slaves and organizing them militarily. In 1895, the poet and philosopher José Martí organized another attempt from his exile in the United States. The Second Liberation War (1895–1898) took a new turn in the USS Maine ship exploding at the port of Havana, which the United States used as a basis for entering the war and occupying the country.
In 1902, Cuba got its first constitution. Independence was limited by the so-called Platt supplement that gave the United States the right to intervene in internal affairs. Cuba had two dictators in the period from the liberation until the 1959 revolution: Gerardo Machado (1928–1933) and Fulgencio Batista (1952–1959). The country was financially dependent on the United States.
On January 1, 1959, Fidel Castro defeated the guerrilla movement and embarked on a nationalist-democratic revolution, which would later take on a socialist and prosovetic character. The United States repeatedly tried to remove Castro from power, including by supporting a military attack in the Bay of Pigs in 1961 and through an embargo that is still in place.
Economy and business
Cuba is a developing country with a socialist planning economy, where the strategic businesses are state-owned. In 2014, according to the CIA World Factbook, the country had a per capita GDP of $ 11,600.
In 1989, Cuba’s economy was one of the most centralized of all communist countries, and over 95 percent of the working population was employed by the state, a proportion that dropped somewhat in the 1990s and is now to be reduced to around 60 percent. In line with this, one has in recent years opened up the establishment of several small businesses, workers’ cooperatives and private farmers to apply for the right to use state land. In the 1980s, private overseas investment in specific sectors of the economy began to open, a trend that accelerated in the 1990s. In 2014, a new and more flexible investment law was established. Almost all companies with foreign capital are joint ventures, with the state as the majority owner. In the free trade zone Mariel is given favorable tax conditions.
With the fall of the Soviet Union, Cuba lost about 85 percent of its foreign trade almost “overnight,” resulting in a deep economic crisis. The United States maintained its embargo on the country and expanded it in 1994 and 1996. This contributed to a very critical situation in the country, often referred to as the “special period”. Although it has never been formally declared closed, Cuba is in a better financial situation than it was ten or twenty years ago. This is partly due to the fact that one has gained new trading partners (Venezuela, China, Russia, Spain and Brazil, etc.) and that one has developed new branches of the economy: health care exports, money transfers from abroad, tourism, nickel and biotechnology. The sugar industry has lost importance since the 1990s, but is now trying to be revitalized.
Cuba has low unemployment, but also the lowest wage level in Latin America. A number of services and goods are free or heavily subsidized. This applies, for example, to health, education, housing, and a few basic foods.
Knowledge and culture
Cuba was declared free of illiteracy in 1962, and has a generally high level of education, with the best primary school in Latin America according to the UN, and a high number of people taking higher education. Almost two thirds of those taking university education are women.
Historically, as a meeting point for European and African culture, Cuba has given rise to a number of music genres and dances. Among the latter may be mentioned cha-cha-cha, danzón, bolero, mambo, rumba and salsa.
The production of visual arts and literature was small until the 19th century. Famous names from the colonial era are the authors Cirilo Villaverde (1812–1894), José María Heredia (1803–1839) and José Martí (1853–1895), the latter being one of the foremost representatives of the Latin American modernism movement. The theater was an important community institution and a well-known event is the massacre at the Teatro Villanueva in 1869, which followed the slogan of the Stage in support of Cuban independence.
During the 20th century, a number of Cuban artists and intellectuals gained international reputation, such as the visual artist Wifredo Lam (1902–1982), the ethnologist and anthropologist Fernando Ortíz Fernández (1881–1969), and the anthropologist Lydia Cabrera (1899–1991). Some outstanding writers are Virgilio Piñera (1912–1979), Dulce María Loynaz (1902–1997), José Lezama Lima (1910–1976), and Alejo Carpentier (1904–1980).
Shortly after the revolution, Cuba became a leading film nation in Latin America, with Tomás Gutiérrez Alea (1928–1996) as a rough figure. The Cuban national ballet gained great international prestige under Alicia Alonso (1921–), one of the world’s leading ballet dancers.
During what is known as the Five Gray Years (1971–76), many artists were subjected to marginalization and censorship, including José Lezama Lima. The arrest of the poet Heberto Padilla in 1971 created international controversy. In practice, the period of strong marginalization and censorship extended further. Among cultural figures who have left the country after the revolution are, for example, musician Celia Cruz (1925–2003), and the authors Guillermo Cabrera Infante (1929–2005) and Reinaldo Arenas (1943–1990).
Today’s Cuba has a rich cultural life. Theatrical performances, concerts and festivals are numerous and usually have audience friendly prices. Books are subsidized and accessible to a wide audience, but the number of publications fell during the crisis of the 1990s. The state has a monopoly on printing and imports. Most major media in Cuba are state-owned and controlled directly or indirectly by the Communist Party.