Cuba

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The Republic of Cuba consists of the island of Cuba (the largest of the Greater Antilles), the Isle of Youth and various adjacent small islands. The name Cuba is said to be derived from the Taíno word cubanacán, meaning "a central place." It 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.

Contents

History

Main article: History of Cuba

Cuba was first visited by Europeans when explorer Christopher Columbus made landfall here for the first time on October 28, 1492, at the eastern tip of Cuba, in the Cazigazgo of Baracoa. Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar led the Spanish invasion, subdued the indigenous populations, became governor of Cuba for Spain in 1511 and built a villa in Baracoa, which became the first capital of the island and also in 1518 [2] the seat of the (Diocese) of the first bishop of Cuba.

At that time Cuba was populated by at least two distinct indigenous peoples: Taíno and Ciboney (or Siboney). Both groups were prehistoric neolithic, perhaps copper age, cultures. Some scholars consider it important to distinguish the Taíno from the neo-Taíno nations of Cuba, the Lucaya of the Bahamas, Jamaica, and to a lesser extent from Haiti and Quisqueya (approximately the Dominican Republic), since the neo-Taíno had far more diverse cultural input and a greater societal and ethnic heterogeneity than the true high Taíno of Boriquen (Puerto Rico). Most of pre-Colombian inhabitants of Cuba, including the Siboney, can in first approximation fall under the general group of neo-Taíno. The Taíno were skilled farmers and the Ciboney were a hunter-gatherer society with supplemental farming. Taínos and Ciboney took part in similar customs and beliefs, one being the sacred ritual practiced using tobacco called cohoba, known in English as smoking.

The Taínos (Island Arawak) were part of a cultural group commonly called the Arawak, which extends far into South America. Residues of Taíno poetry, songs, sculpture, and art are found today throughout the major Antilles. The Arawak and other such cultural groups are responsible for the flourishing development of perhaps 60% of crops in common use today and some major industrial materials such as rubber. Europeans were shown by the indigenous Cubans how to cultivate tobacco and to smoke it in various ways.

Approximately 16 to 60 thousand, or perhaps many more, indigenous from the Taíno and Ciboney nations inhabited Cuba before colonization. The Indigenous Cuban population, including the Ciboney and the Taíno, were forced into encomiendas during the Spanish subjugation of the island of Cuba. One famous reservation was known as Guanabacoa, today a suburb of Havana. Many indigenous Cubans fell victim to the brutality of Spanish conquistadores (as witnessed and lamented by Bartolomé de Las Casas) and the diseases they brought with them, which were previously unknown to them. Most Conquistadors took Taínas as brides, common law wives or as was more frequent had casual sexual congress with these island women [3] since few Spanish women crossed the Atlantic in those days of conquest. Their children were called mestizo, but the residents called them Guajiro, which translates as "one of us". Today, Taíno descendants maintain their heritage near Baracoa.

Cuba had first served as base for Spanish conquest of the mainland of the Americas, but the island was almost depopulated in this effort. After the conquest of the Americas the resulting treasure, mined gold and silver, emeralds, chocolate and several then important plant products such as dyes and medicine was transported in the Spanish treasure fleet from the Americas and later from the Philippines to Spain using Cuban ports as safe harbors along the way. In this period there were further indigenous risings most especially that of Guamá, one of the last Taino leaders to organize resistance to Spanish rule.

But once Taino/Ciboney uprisings were no longer a concern, new ones arose from buccaneers, pirates, and privateers (e.g. Jacques de Sores [4]), Alexander Exquemelin and Henry Morgan) and invasions as other countries (e.g. England Guantánamo Bay) tried to take the possessions that the Spanish had gathered for themselves, and their colonial descendents viewed as their own. Attacks on both ships and cities required Spain to respond by organizing convoys to protect the ships and building forts to protect the cities. However, Cuba’s most effective defense was yellow fever which killed off invading forces.

File:Cuba modis.jpg
Cuba as seen from space

Spanish mercantilism caused Spain to keep Cuba relatively isolated to external influences, but beginning with the year long occupation of Havana by the British in 1762 at the end of the Seven Years' War, Cuba became more open economically to both the importation of slaves and advances in sugar cultivation and processing. The massive La Cabaña fortress, never taken by assault, which completely dominates Havana Bay was built soon after Havana, exchanged for Florida, was returned to Spain. However, the fortress would later become infamous as a place of execution and imprisonment, not unlike the Bastille in Paris. Cuban colonial forces participated in Spain's efforts during the American Revolutionary War, helping Spain to gain East and West Florida. Between 1791 to 1804, many French fled to Cuba from the Haitian revolution, bringing with them slaves and expertise in sugar refining and coffee growing. As a result Cuba became the world's major sugar producer, but by 1884, slavery was abolished after having been weakened during the struggle to secure independence for Cuba.

The colony's struggle for independence lasted throughout the second half of the 19th century with the first effort with any success being the Ten Years' War beginning in 1868 . The writer and rebel organizer José Martí landed in Cuba with rebel exiles in 1895, but little more than a month later was killed in battle. He remains the major hero in Cuba to this day, and his legacy is claimed by both the supporters and opponents of the current government. While he expressed a preference for the U.S. Constitution and enjoyed some popularity in the United States, he was concerned about U.S. expansionism.

It is notable that some Taíno first fought the Mambi and then joined them to comprise the Hatuey Regiment [5]. Between 1895 and early 1898 revolution controlled most of the countryside and some towns, but the efforts of the Spanish, who held the major cities, to pacify the island did not cease until the United States occupied the island in the Spanish-American War of 1898. Cuban independence was granted in 1902, though limited by the Platt Amendment, which granted the United States a major influence in Cuban affairs and required Cuba to grant the United States a lease for Guantánamo Bay. Tomás Estrada Palma (term 1902-1906) was Cuba's first peacetime and elected president. Using the provisions of the Platt Amendment, U.S. troops occupied Cuba a second time from 1906 to 1909. The Platt Amendment was revoked in 1934, but the lease of Guantánamo Bay was extended against a nominal sum.

Fulgencio Batista a leader of the 1933 Sergeants' Revolt that overthrowing the transitional government after Gerardo Machado’s dictatorship collapsed, became first the Army Chief of Staff and eventually the man in charge under a series of presidents until 1940 when he was elected president himself. He had passed a new progressive constitution and in 1944 left office retiring to Florida for a time. However, in 1952 Batista seized power in an almost bloodless coup three months before the planned election and instituted an oppressive dictatorship. As a result many civil and guerrilla groups started opposing him.

File:Cuba yank tank.jpg
One of many Cuban Maquinas, aka Yank tanks

In 1953, Fidel Castro attacked the Moncada barracks, was exiled to Mexico, but returned to Cuba on November 1956 with 82 fighters trained by Alberto Bayo (a former colonel in the Spanish Republican Army), and with the help of popular discontent managed to overthrow Batista, who fled the country, on 1 January 1959. Castro established a Soviet-leaning one party Communist state, the first in the Western Hemisphere, although Castro did not officially reveal his Marxist-Leninist leanings until 1961.

According to Antonio Núñez Jiménez at the time when Batista was deposed, 75% of Cuba's prime farm land was owned by foreign individuals or foreign (mostly U.S.) companies. Cuba’s main crop was sugar, for the American and to a lesser extent English market. Most of Cuba's sugar was exported to the United States because Cuba was given a large quota, which was paid above world prices in part to help domestic US industry. [6] The new revolutionary government adopted successive "land reforms" and eventually confiscated almost all private property. At first, Castro was reluctant to discuss his plans for the future, but eventually he declared himself a communist, explained that he was trying to build socialism in Cuba, focusing on free health care and education for all, and began close political and economic relations with the Soviet Union.

Since Castro came to power, the United States has since progressively enacted legislation intended to isolate Cuba economically via the U.S. embargo and other measures, such as prosecuting US citizens who vacation in Cuba. For more on these issues see the Economy section below

The Bay of Pigs invasion of April 1961 by U.S. backed Cuban expatriates failed because U.S. president John F. Kennedy left the invaders stranded for fear of getting officially involved. The expected urban revolt collapsed when it became clear Brigade 2506 had been abandoned to its fate; and because the Soviet Union warned Castro, who ordered numerous executions and preemptive mass arrests of those thought likely to support a counter-revolution. [7],(Priestland, 2003). Church schools were confiscated, clergy were arrested, [8] and expelled en masse. In the rural central provinces the War Against the Bandits (circa 1959-1965) was suppressed by massed Castro militia, many executions and internal deportations of rebel supporters.

The Cuban Missile Crisis started with the Soviet Union installing nuclear missiles in Cuba in 1962. In response, the United States put up a blockade in international waters. This is generally believed to be the closest the world has come to a nuclear holocaust. The Soviet Union backed down, agreeing to remove the missiles in exchange for United States promises to remove similar nuclear missiles in Turkey and to never invade Cuba again.

After this, the United States never openly threatened Cuba again, but was said to engage in absurdly elaborate covert activities to assassinate Castro, namely The Cuban Project. Castro and the US dueled in Cold War actions. In a 1976 notorious terrorist attack on Cubana Flight 455 in which 73 died was allegedly masterminded by CIA funded Castro opponents operating from Venezuela. The United States has also said to support anti-Castro terrorist groups in Miami in their attacks against Cuba. [9] [10]

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 [11].

Infrastructure

Cuban infrastructure is significant and includes: pre-Colombian cave art; massive Spanish fortifications built in principal ports; railroads; sanitation facilities constructed in the US period; the central highway built by Gerardo Machado; tunnels,and highways built in the second Fulgencio Batista period; a net work of massive dams and underground fortifications 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 importantevents in the history of the island.

Politics

Main articles: Politics of Cuba & Elections in Cuba
File:Revolution square.jpg
Revolution Square: José Martí Monument designed Enrique Luis Varela, sculpture by Juan José Sicre (1958) [1]

The Cuban constitution states that, "the Communist Party of Cuba...is the superior guiding force of society and the state". Members of the Communist Party of Cuba are selected by the party in a thorough process that includes interviews with co-workers and neighbors. Those selected are considered model citizens because they are viewed as strong supporters of the revolution. It makes recommendations concerning the future development of the revolution, and it criticizes tendencies it considers counterrevolutionary. It has a relatively large influence in Cuba, but its authority is moral, not on any legal authority. The Communist Party of Cuba is the sole legal political party, and no other party is legally allowed to exist. However, Human Rights Watch [12] states: "Although Cuba allows voters to elect members of the National Assembly, only one candidate may sit for each seat. The constitution further clarifies that the courts are ‘subordinate in the line of authority to the National Assembly... and the Council of State,’ as is the Office of the Attorney General. The Council of State has authority to issue instructions to both the courts and the Office of the Attorney General. The Council of State is an entity presided over by President Castro, selected by the Cuban National Assembly, and considered the ‘supreme representation of the Cuban State’ under Cuban law."

Elections are held by secret ballot and everyone age 16 or older can vote.

The people nominate and elect candidates for the municipal assemblies. Candidates for the National Assembly are nominated by municipal assemblies and put to a yes/no vote; citizens are to vote for several candidates at both levels of government and may vote for none, some, or all of them. If the candidates do not receive more than 51% of the votes, new elections will be scheduled.

Legislative power is nominally in the hands of the National Assembly of People’s Power. However, save for two sessions a year, legislative power is exercised by the 31 member Council of State which is elected by the National Assembly from itself.

Executive authority is formally vested in the Council of Ministers, a large cabinet comprised of 8 members of the Council of State, the heads of the national ministries, and other persons. A smaller Executive Committee consisting of the more important members of the Council of Ministers oversees normal business.

Fidel Castro has been the head of government since 1959, first as prime minister and, after the abolition of that office with the adoption of the 1976 Constitution, as President of the Council of State, which also serves as head of state. He is also First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba, and since 1976 a member of the National Assembly from the municipality of Santiago de Cuba. (The 1976 Consitution and its 1992 revision require that the President of the Council of State be a member of the National Assembly).

Human rights

Main article: Human rights in Cuba

The Cuban government has in the past been accused of numerous human rights abuses, including torture, arbitrary imprisonment, unfair trials, and extra-judicial executions. Many argue that only a few thousands of unjustified deaths have occurred under Castro's leadership. Yet, others report that from 1959-1987 there have been from 35,000 to 141,000 [13] (table is in thousands) executions. Dissidents currently complain of harassment; others claim torture [14]. The Castro administration "officially" banned capital punishment in 2001, making an exception for perpetrators of an armed hijacking 2 years later. However, since Castro, in power for the last 47 years, denies access to many humanitarian organizations, it is difficult to determine exact numbers. It is believed by many that the customary "accidental death" of opponents continues. Military Units to Aid Production (or UMAPs) were labor camps established in 1965, according to Castro, for "people who have committed crimes against revolutionary morals" in order to work counter-revolutionary influences out of certain segments of the population.

Groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch also criticize the alleged censorship, the lack of press freedom in Cuba, the lack of civil rights, the outlawing of political opposition groups and unions, and the lack of free and democratic elections. The government recognizes only one labor union, the Worker's Central of Cuba (Central de Trabajadores de Cuba, CTC). Independent labor unions are denied formal status and their members are harassed. No local human rights groups enjoy legal status. Cuba remains one of the few countries in the world, and the only one in the Western Hemisphere, to deny the International Committee of the Red Cross access to its prisons. [15]

Supporters of the Cuban government argue that the human rights record, living standards and health care in Cuba are better than those which existed under Castro's predecessor, Fulgencio Batista, and would have continued improving were it not for U.S. sanctions. They also argue that the electoral system in today's Cuba is more democratic than when Cuba was essentially a satellite state of the United States. Opponents argue that many measures of living standards have decreased since the revolution, that health care has improved in many other Latin American countries, and that Cuba is the only Latin American country not to have democratized in a post-Cold War environment.

Provinces

Main article: Provinces of Cuba

Cuba is now divided into 14 provinces, and one special municipality (the Isla de la Juventud). Cuba in the Early 20th Century, (see History of Cuba) was divided into six much larger provinces. The present subdivisions closely resemble those of Spanish military provinces during the Cuban Wars of Independence.

File:CubaSubdivisions.png
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

Geography

Main article: Geography of Cuba
File:Cu-map.png
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 [16]. Cuba, 65 million years ago, also received part of the impact of Chicxulub Crater with tsunami kilometers high reaching at least 500 Km away to the middle provinces [17], [18] and beyond. The elongated island (aprox. 760 miles 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). 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 m. The local climate is tropical, though moderated by trade winds. 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.

Society

Demographics

Main article: Demographics of Cuba
File:Cuba-demography.png
Cuba's 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.

The Chinese population in Cuba derives mostly from Chinese taken to Cuba during the 19th century to build railroads and work in the mines, as was also occurring in the United States at this time. Once the work was completed, however, most of them could not afford the passage back to China and remained in the Island. Historical papers show that, while considered inferior to Cubans of European descent, they were considered to be superior to blacks because they had lighter skin.

In Cuba there is little racial tension in the attitude of people towards each other. Still, in Santiago de Cuba there is a sizeable Jamaican population that suffers from an image of being lazy. Also, lighter skinned people often have 'higher' jobs (although in socialist Cuba this does not translate in 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 called "palestinos."

Cuba has a low birth rate. The fertility rate of 1.5 children per woman (in 1995-2000) 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. [19] Selective terminiation 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). [20] 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 [21]) 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 [22] grants U.S. residency to any Cuban who arrives on U.S. soil without a visa, thus there is still an unofficial exodus [23]; these escapes are often most ingenious e.g. [24]. The numbers of Cubans who leave by sea is still about 2,000 a year but the trend is upward at present [25], [26].

Education

Main article: Education in Cuba

The University of Havana, Cuba's oldest university, was founded in 1721; prior to 1959 there were two other official universities 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); in 1961 private schools and universities were nationalized (without payment), [27], [28]. Historically, Cuba has had some of the highest rates of education and literacy in Latin America [29]. Yet, before the revolution, the illiteracy was at 23,6 percent (50 percent in rural areas). Due to a massive campaign coordinated by the government but executed by the population, illiteracy was said eradicated a few years after the Cuban revolution; however, sometimes information on child labor in Cuba is missing [30].

In a 1998 study by UNESCO [31], and as explained by Fidel Castro, Havana, on September 16, 2002 [32] Cuban education progress is excellent. Cuban third and fourth graders were reported better educated in basic language and mathematics skills than children in other Latin American countries that took part in the study, with the "test achievement of the lower half of students in Cuba is significantly better than the test achievement of the upper half of students in the countries that (fell) immediately behind Cuba" in the study group [33]. [34]. UNESCO data is reported as “estimates compiled from national population censuses and household surveys and updated to 2005” [35]. Cuba’s literacy rates by this criteria at 15 to 24 years of age (both male and female) is 100% [36]. This less than credible perfect percentage suggests data manipulation.

In Cuba, recruitment to secondary school is 99,7 percent, while in the rest of Latin America it is 52 percent.

In the year 2000, Cuba offered free education to 5000 students from Latin America.

All students regardless of age and gender wear school uniforms with the color denoting grade level.

Public health

Main article: Public health in Cuba
WHO health statistics for Cuba
Source: WHO country page on Cuba
Life expectancy at birth m/f: 75.0/79.0 (years)
Healthy life expectancy at birth m/f: 67.1/69.5 (years)
Child mortality m/f: 8/6 (per 1000)
Adult mortality m/f: 137/87 (per 1000)
Total health expenditure per capita: $236
Total health expenditure as % of GDP: 7.5

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 [37]. Cuba has had good doctors for centuries such as Carlos Finlay, who determined how yellow fever was spread. The massive Havana hospital, "Calixto Garcia" as well as 72 others were operating well before 1959. [38], [39] 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.

Today, according to Cuban government statistics, Cuba has over 71,000 doctors [40], 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. [41]

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.

And 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." [42]

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. Castro 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 [43]. 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.[44].

Economy

Main article: Economy of Cuba

Cuba's socialist economy is based on state ownership with some small scale private enterprise allowed. For 2005, 68% of the state budget spending is to be directed to raising the levels of education, public health, social security, culture, sports and science and technology. [45] According to Cuban statistics, during the first half of the year the Cuban economy grew by 7.3% and an increase of around 9% is expected by the end of the year, as a result of the positive tendencies that have been observed. [46]

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." [47]

Historically, sugar, tobacco and (later) nickel were the main sources of foreign trade income for Cuba. But in the 1990s tourism saw an explosive growth, becoming the second most popular tourist destination in the Caribbean to the Dominican Republic. Until recently Cubans also receive an estimated $850 million annually from Cubans in the U.S. who send money to relatives or friends. 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. [48] 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.

File:Cuba cienfuegos palacio azul.jpg
A Cuban state hotel, from 30 € per night

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; 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 and imprisonment if discovered and prosecuted by the U.S. government.

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. Plans to repair the majority of homes partially affected by Hurricane Dennis and others [49] 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. However, it is wise to keep in mind that Cuban government is said by some to be less than open about agricultural abuses [50]. 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 50% from around 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 [51] [52]; to 1.6 million tons in 2004 [53]. Today, Cuba is a leading nation in biotechnology, and Cuban expertise is exported to Iran [54]; however some claim that this relates to biowar potential [55]. More than 100 million USD are currently being invested in the pharmaceutical industry.

On a total population of 11 million, Cuba has 250,000 educators, 67,500 medical doctors, and 34,000 physical education and sports professors and technicians.[56]

Culture

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File:Cuba habana vieja casa de simon bolivar.jpg
The courtyard of one of the free museums in Havana, the 'Casa de Simón Bolívar'
Main article: Culture of Cuba

Cuban culture is much influenced by the fact that it is a melting pot of cultures, mostly from Spain and Africa. It has produced its fair share of literature, including the output of non-Cuban Ernest Hemingway. But best known is Cuban music, the most central form of which is Son, which has been the basis of many other musical styles like salsa. chachachá was invented to make it possible for 'Yankees' to dance to Cuban music. A musical instrument invented in Cuba is the Tres.

The Cuban mass media are under state control and are uniformly pro-government in their outlook. The Cuban media often portray a contrast between contented Cuban children and children dealing in drugs, dragged into prostitution, or living in the shantytowns of Bogotá, Los Angeles, Buenos Aires, the pueblos jóvenes of Peru, or the favelas of Brazil.

The Cuban government restricts the books that are available in the country. Castro's critics claim this is to prevent counter-revolutionary books from being available. Castro claims instead that "In Cuba there are no prohibited books, only those we do not have money to buy." However, there exist persecuted underground libraries which the Cuban government alleges are organized and financed by the U.S. Interests Section in Cuba.

Religion

Main articles: SanteríaPalo Monte & Catholicism

The religious landscape of Cuba is strongly marked by syncretisms of various kinds. In the post-revolutionary era religious practice was discouraged, and Cuba, from 1962, was officially an atheist state until 1992 which it amended its constitution to become formally a secular state. While the papal visit to Cuba has strengthened official Catholicism, most Cubans share a motley of faiths that include popular Catholicism, over 50 versions of Protestantism, spiritism, African-derived beliefs. The most important currents of these are Regla de Ocha (known as Santería), which derives from Yoruban religion, Regla de Palo Monte, which derives from Congo-based religions, and the Sociedad Secreta Abakuá, which derives from the secret men's societies in the region of Calabar, in south-eastern Nigeria.

It is assumed that Santería and popular Catholicism are the most widely followed religious beliefs in Cuba, though these are by no means exclusive, and one can easily be a follower of several religious currents at the same time, as well as being a member of the communist party. Pentecostalism is also growing rapidly, and the Assemblies of God alone claims a membership of over 100,000 people.

Cuba has small but vibrant Jewish, Muslim and Bahá'í populations. Havana still has one or two active synagogues and mosques. In the 1960s about 8,000 Jews left for Miami [57]. Around 1999 over several years almost 400 Cuban Jews, from a population once numbering about ten thousand [58],[59], left for Israel [60].

Freemasonry is also practised (although this is not a religion).

In Cuba 6 January is the "Día de los Reyes Magos" which in English means "Day of Kings" is celebrated to commemorate the day that the Three Wise Men came to visit Jesus according to the Gospels. As in most Latin American countries as well as Spain, this day is celebrated in conjunction with, or sometimes instead of Christmas Day.

Important religious festivals include various days dedicated to the saints such as the "Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre" (the Virgin of Cobre, Cuba's patron saint, syncretised with Santería's Ochún) on September 8, and San Lázaro (Lazarus) (syncretised with Babalu Ayé), on December 17.

See also

Main article: List of Cuba-related topics

External links

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General

Printed sources

(very incomplete list please add)

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