Skip to main content
Select Source:




Republic of Cuba

República de Cuba

CAPITAL: Havana (La Habana)

FLAG: The flag consists of five alternating blue and white horizontal stripes penetrated from the hoist side by a red triangle containing a white five-pointed star.

ANTHEM: Himno de Bayamo (Hymn of Bayamo), beginning "Al combate corred bayameses" ("March to the battle, people of Bayamo").

MONETARY UNIT: The Cuban peso (c$) of 100 centavos is a paper currency with one exchange rate. There are coins of 1, 2, 3, 5, 20, 40, and 100 centavos and notes of 1, 3, 5, 10, 20, 50, and 100 pesos. c$1 = us$1.07527 (or us$1 = c$0.93) as of 2005.

WEIGHTS AND MEASURES: The metric system is the legal standard, but older Spanish units and the imperial system are still employed. The standard unit of land measure is the caballería (13.4 hectares/133.1 acres).

HOLIDAYS: Day of the Revolution, Liberation Day, 1 January; Labor Day, 1 May; Anniversary of the Revolution, 2527 July; Proclamation of Yara, 10 October. Celebration of religious holidays falling during the work-week was prohibited by a 1972 law.

TIME: 7 am = noon GMT.


The Republic of Cuba consists of one large island and several small ones situated on the northern rim of the Caribbean Sea, about 160 km (100 mi) south of Florida. With an area of 110,860 sq km (42,803 sq mi), it extends 1,223 km (760 mi) ew and about 89 km (55 mi) ns. Cuba is the largest country in the Caribbean, accounting for more than one-half of West Indian land area. Comparatively, the area occupied by Cuba is slightly smaller than the state of Pennsylvania. It is separated from Florida by the Straits of Florida, from the Bahamas and Jamaica by various channels, from Haiti by the Windward Passage, and from Mexico by the Yucatán Channel and the Gulf of Mexico. Cuba's total coastline is 3,735 km (2,316 mi). The largest offshore island, the Isle of Youth (Isla de la Juventud), formerly known as the Isle of Pines (Isla de Pinos), lies southwest of the main island and has an area of 2,200 sq km (849 sq mi); the other islands have a combined area of 3,715 sq km (1,434 sq mi).

Cuba's capital city, Havana, is located on its north coast.


Cuba's spectacular natural beauty has earned it the name Pearl of the Antilles. The coastline is marked by bays, reefs, keys, and islets. Along the southern coast are long stretches of lowlands and swamps, including the great Zapata Swamp (Ciénaga de Zapata). Slightly more than half the island consists of flat or rolling terrain, and the remainder is hilly or mountainous, with mountains covering about a quarter of its total area. In general, eastern Cuba is dominated by the Sierra Maestra, culminating in Pico Real del Turquino (2,005 m/6,578 ft); around Camagüey are rolling plains and low mountains; central Cuba contains the Trinidad (Escambray) Mountains in addition to flat or rolling land; and the west is dominated by the Sierra de los Órganos. The largest river, the Cauto, flows westward for 249 km (155 mi) north of the Sierra Maestra but is little used for commercial navigation purposes.


Except in the mountains, the climate of Cuba is semitropical or temperate. The average minimum temperature is 21°c (70°f), the average maximum 27°c (81°f). The mean temperature at Havana is about 25°c (77°f). The trade winds and sea breezes make coastal areas more habitable than temperature alone would indicate. Cuba has a rainy season from May to October. The mountain areas have an average precipitation of more than 180 cm (70 in); most of the lowland area has from 90 to 140 cm (3555 in) annually; and the area around Guantánamo Bay has less than 65 cm (26 in). Droughts are common. Cuba's eastern coast is often hit by hurricanes from August to October, resulting in great economic loss.


Cuba has a flora of striking richness, with the total number of native flowering species estimated at nearly 6,000. The mountainous areas are covered by tropical forest, but Cuba is essentially a palm-studded grassland. The royal palm, reaching heights of 1523 m (5075 ft), is the national tree. Pines like those in the southeastern United States grow on the slopes of the Sierra de los Órganos and on the Isla de Juventud (Isle of Youth). The lower coastal areas, especially in the south, have mangrove swamps. There is a small area around Guantánamo Bay where desert plants grow.

Only small animals inhabit Cuba. These include tropical bats, rodents, birds, and many species of reptiles and insects. As of 2002, there were at least 31 species of mammals and 86 species of birds throughout the country.


The Cuban government has formed several agencies to protect the environment. Among them are the National Parks Service, the National Commission of Environmental Protection and Rational Use of Natural Resources (1977), the National Environmental Education Program, the Academy of Sciences of Cuba, and the National Commission for the Protection of the Environment and for Conservation of Natural Resources. In 2003, about 69% of the land was protected by the government. There are two natural UNESCO World Heritage Sites and six Ramsar wetland sites.

As of 2000, Cuba's most pressing environmental problems were deforestation and the preservation of its wildlife. The government has sponsored a successful reforestation program aimed at replacing forests that had gradually decreased to a total of 17% of the land area by the mid-1990s. In 2000, about 21% of the total land area was forested.

Another major environmental problem is the pollution of Havana Bay. In 1994, Cuba had the seventh-largest mangrove area in the world. Altogether, 51% of the country's renewable water sources are used for agricultural purposes. About 95% of Cuba's city dwellers and 77% of its rural people have pure drinking water. In 1996 Cuban industries emitted 31.1 million metric tons of industrial carbon dioxide.

According to a 2006 report issued by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), threatened species included 11 types of mammals, 18 species of birds, 7 types of reptiles, 47 species of amphibians, 23 species of fish, 3 species of invertebrates, and 163 species of plants. Endangered species in Cuba include the Cuban solenodon, four species of hutia (dwarf, Cabera's, large-eared, and little earth), two species of crocodile (American and Cuban), and the Cuban tree boa. The ivory-billed woodpecker, Cuban red macaw, Caribbean monk seal, and Torre's cave rat have become extinct.


The population of Cuba in 2005 was estimated by the United Nations (UN) at 11,275,000, which placed it at number 72 in population among the 193 nations of the world. In 2005, approximately 10% of the population was over 65 years of age, with another 21% of the population under 15 years of age. There were 100 males for every 100 females in the country. According to the UN, the annual population rate of change for 200510 was expected to be 0.4%, a rate the government viewed as satisfactory. To inhibit further growth, the government has put restrictions on migration to Havana. The projected population for the year 2025 was 11,824,000. The population density was 102 per sq km (263 per sq mi).

The UN estimated that 76% of the population lived in urban areas in 2005, and that urban areas were growing at an annual rate of 0.44%. The capital city, Havana (La Habana), had a population of 2,189,000 in that year, accounting for about 20% of the total population. Other important cities and their estimated populations are Santiago de Cuba (554,400), Camagüey (354,400), Holguín (319,300), Guantánamo (274,300), and Santa Clara (251,800).


Before independence, there was a large migration from Spain; the 1899 census reported 129,000 Spanish-born persons living in Cuba. The 1953 census reported about 150,000 persons of foreign birth, of whom 74,000 were Spaniards. From 1959 through 1978, Cuba's net loss from migration, according to official estimates, was 582,742; US figures indicate that during the same period a total of 669,151 Cubans arrived in the United States.

During the 1960s, Cuban emigrants were predominantly of the upper and middle classes, but in the 1970s emigrants were urban blue-collar workers and other less-educated and less-wealthy Cubans. The flow of emigrants declined in the late 1970s, but beginning in April 1980, Cubans were allowed to depart from Mariel harbor; by the end of September, when the harbor was closed, some 125,000 Cubans in small boats (the "freedom flotilla") had landed in the United States. Of that number, 2,746 were classified as "excludable aliens" and were being held in prisons or mental institutions. According to an agreement of December 1984, Cuba agreed to accept the 2,746 back; repatriation began in February 1985, but in May, Cuba suspended the agreement. By the mid-1980s, well over 500,000 Cuban exiles were living in the Miami, Florida, area. In 1990 there were 751,000 Cuban-born persons in the United States. Large numbers have also settled in Puerto Rico, Spain, and Mexico.

Since 1979, the Cuban government has been providing education to a number of students from developing countries. Due to events making return to their homelands difficult, many have become refugees. Sporadically, Cuba receives groups of Haitians who generally return to their homeland voluntarily. Between 1991 and 1994, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) worked with the government to protect and assist more than 1,500 Haitians during a temporary stay in Cuba. In 1995, Cuba was harboring 1,500 refugees from the Western Sahara; in 1999, the government was still working with UNHCR to return them to their country of first asylum. In 2000 there was a total of 82,000 migrants living in Cuba. UNHCR assisted a total of 802 people in Cuba in 2004; 795 were refugees, 5 were asylum seekers, and 2 were returned refugees.

The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean estimated that remittances to Cuba in 2000 amounted to $750 million, 90% from Cubans living in the United States. By 2003, remittances to Cuba were $1.2 billion. In 2004, the United States revised its regulations restricting cash remittances to Cuba by restricting remittances to members of the remitter's immediate family. In addition, the amount of remittance that an authorized traveler may carry was reduced from $3000 to $300. The Cuban government takes 20% of US remittances.

In 2004, 11,821 Cubans sought asylum in the United States. The net migration rate for Cuba in 2005 was estimated as -1.58 migrants per 1,000 population. The government views the migration levels as satisfactory.


About 51% of the total Cuban population are described as mulattos. Whites (primarily of Spanish descent) make up about 37% of the total; blacks account for 11%; and Chinese for 1%. Virtually the entire population is native-born Cuban.


Spanish is the national language of Cuba.


The Roman Catholic Church has never been as influential in Cuba as in other Latin American countries. In the 1950s, approximately 85% of all Cubans were nominally Roman Catholic, but the Church itself conceded that only about 10% were active members. From the early 1980s into the 1990s, Roman Catholics represented about 40% of the population. A 2004 report indicated that only about 4045% of the population were nominally Catholic. Some sources indicate that a large number of the population adhere to varying degrees of syncretic Afro-Caribbean, such as Santería. The Baptists are believed to be the largest Protestant denomination. Other denominations include Jehovah's Witnesses, Methodists, Episcopalians, the Assembly of God, and Presbyterians. There is a very small Jewish population.

Fidel Castro originally established an atheist state in accordance with the beliefs of the Communist Party. As a result, his government has closed more than 400 Catholic schools, claiming that they taught dangerous beliefs, and the number of people who attend churches has diminished during Castro's reign since many churches are closely monitored by the state and church members face harassment. In 1992, the constitution was amended to label the state as secular rather than atheist. However, according to a 2004 report, Christian churches, particularly the Catholic Church, have still been viewed suspiciously by members of the Communist Party who have claimed that the organizations are undermining public policies and laws. Separate religious schools are forbidden, though churches can provide religious instruction to their members.

There are 22 denominations that are members of the Cuban Council of Churches. Membership in the Council means that the religion is officially recognized by the government and so is shown a higher degree of tolerance by the government. All registered denominations must report to the Ministry of Interior's Office of Religious Affairs. Nonregistered groups face various degrees of government harassment and repression.


In 2002, Cuba had about 60,858 km (37,817 mi) of roads, of which 29,820 km (18,530 mi) were paved, including 638 km (396 mi) of expressways. The first-class Central Highway extends for 1,223 km (760 mi) from Pinar del Río to Guantánamo, connecting all major cities. An extensive truck and bus network transports passengers and freight. In 2003, there were 184,980 registered motor vehicles, of which 210,300 were passenger vehicles.

Nationalized railways connect the east and west extremities of the island by 4,807 km (2,986 mi) of standard-gauge track, of which 140 km (87 mi) were electrified as of 2004. In addition, large sugar estates have 7,162 km (4,451 mi) of lines of various gauges.

Cuba first began to develop a merchant marine under the revolutionary government. The USSR had supplied oceangoing vessels and fishing boats and, in the mid-1960s, built a huge fishing port in Havana Bay to service Cuban and Soviet vessels. By 2005, the Cuban merchant fleet had 15 vessels of at least 1,000 GRT, totaling 54,818 GRT. Cuba's major portsHavana, Cienfuegos, Mariel, Santiago de Cuba, Nuevitas, and Matanzasare serviced mainly by ships of the former Soviet republics, with ships from Spain, the United Kingdom, and Eastern Europe making up the bulk of the remainder. Cuba also has 240 km (140 mi) of navigable inland waterways.

In 2004 there were an estimated 170 airports, 78 of which had paved runways as of 2005. The principal airport is José Martí at Havana. There are daily flights between Havana and the major Cuban cities, and weekly flights to Spain, Mexico, Moscow, Prague, and Jamaica. Cubana Airlines is the national air carrier. The number of air passengers increased from 140,000 in 1960 to 1,117,000 in 1997. However, by 2003 passenger traffic declined to around 611,000. Between 1975 and 1980, airports at Havana and Camagüey were renovated, and new airports were built at Bayamo, Manzanillo, and Las Tunas.


Cuba was originally inhabited by about 50,000 Ciboney and Taíno Amerindians who are related to the Arawak peoples; they were hunter-gatherer and agricultural societies. Christopher Columbus made the European discovery of Cuba in 1492 on his first voyage to the Americas. Many died from disease and maltreatment soon after. The African slave trade began about 1523 as the Amerindian population declined, and grew thereafter, especially with the development of coffee and sugar on the island. During the early colonial years, Cuba served primarily as an embarkation point for such explorers as Hernán Cortés and Hernando de Soto. As treasure began to flow out of Mexico, Havana became a last port of call and a target for French and English pirates. In 1762, the English captured Havana, holding Cuba for almost a year. It was ceded to Spain in exchange for Florida territory in the Treaty of Paris (1763). Spanish rule was harsh, and intermittent rebellions over the next century all ended in failure.

Cuba's first important independence movement came in 1868, when Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, a wealthy planter, freed his slaves and called for a revolution against Spain. For the next 10 years, guerrillas (mambises ), mainly in eastern Cuba, fought in vain against the Spanish colonial government and army. Although eventually subdued, Céspedes is nevertheless viewed as the father of Cuban independence. A second hero was added in the 1890s when poet and journalist José Martí founded the Cuban Revolutionary Party during exile in the United States. The call to arms (Grito de Baire) on 24 February 1895 initiated a new war. After landing with a group of recruits gathered from throughout the region, Martí was killed at Dos Ríos, in eastern Cuba. The Spanish had the insurrection under control within a year.

In the end, the Cubans had to rely on the United States to defeat the Spanish. Anti-Spanish sentiment, fueled by US newspapers, erupted after the battleship Maine mysteriously blew up in Havana harbor on 15 February 1898. The United States declared war on Spain on 25 April, and in a few months, the Spanish-American War was over. The Treaty of Paris (10 December 1898), established Cuban independence. During the interim period 18991902, the US army occupied Cuba. It instituted a program that brought about the eradication of yellow fever, but it was more fundamentally concerned with the establishment of US political and commercial dominance over the island.

On 21 February 1901, a constitution was adopted, and Cuba was nominally a free nation. But the United States insisted that Cuba include in its constitution the Platt Amendment, which gave the United States the right to intervene in Cuban affairs and maintain a naval base at Guantánamo.

For the next 30 years, Cuba lived through a succession of governments, constitutional and otherwise, all under the watchful eye of the United States. American companies owned or controlled about half of Cuba's cultivated land, its utilities and mines, and other natural resources. The US Marines intervened in 19069, in 1912, and again in 1920. The period culminated in the brutal dictatorship of Gerardo Machado y Morales (192533).

Cuba entered another unstable phase in 1933. A nationalist uprising chased Machado from office. After the United States attempted to install a regime, a "sergeants' revolt" headed by 32-year-old Fulgencio Batista y Zaldívar assumed power and named Ramón Grau San Martín provisional president. Grau, a physician and university professor noted for his nationalist zeal, was never recognized by the United States, and his regime lasted only four months. From 1934 until 1940, Batista ruled through a series of puppet presidents. During these years, Batista made two major contributions to Cuba. In 1934, President Franklin D. Roosevelt allowed Cuba to abrogate the Platt Amendment, although the United States did retain its naval base at Guantánamo Bay. Batista also allowed the drafting of a new constitution, passed in 1940, under which he became president. In 1944, Batista permitted Grau San Martín, now his political enemy, to take office. The eight years of rule by Grau and his ally, Carlos Prío Socarrás, were ineffective and corrupt, and in 1952, a reform party was expected to win the election.

That election was subverted, however, on 10 March 1952, when Batista seized power in a military coup. During the seven years of Batista's second administration, he used increasingly savage suppressive measures to keep himself in office. Under the Batista regime, the United States dominated the economy, social services suffered, poverty, and illiteracy were widespread, and the bureaucracy was flagrantly corrupt. It was at this point that Fidel Castro came on the scene.

Castro's insurrection began inauspiciously on 26 July 1953 with an abortive raid on the Moncada Army Barracks in Santiago de Cuba. Captured, jailed, and then exiled, Castro collected supporters in Mexico, and in 1956 landed in Cuba. Routed by Batista's troops, Castro escaped into the Sierra Maestra mountains with a mere dozen supporters. The force never grew to more than a few thousand, but clever use of guerrilla tactics evened the score with Batista's poorly trained army. Moreover, there was almost no popular support for Batista, and in 1958 the United States ended its military aid to the falling government. On 1 January 1959, the Batista regime collapsed, and Batista and many of his supporters fled the country. Castro's 26th of July Movement took control of the government, and began to rule by decree. The revolutionary government confiscated property that had been dishonestly acquired, instituted large-scale land reforms, and sought to solve Cuba's desperate financial and economic problems by means of a bold revolutionary program.

After June 1960, Cuban-US relations deteriorated at an accelerated pace. Largely in retaliation for the nationalization of about $2 billion in US-owned property in Cuba, the United States severed diplomatic relations with the Castro government. Tensions increased when the revolutionary regime nationalized US oil refinery companies after they refused to process Soviet crude oil. The United States response was to eliminate Cuba's sugar quota. In April 1961, a group of 1,500 Cuban exilesfinanced, trained, organized, and equipped by the CIAinvaded Cuba at the Bay of Pigs on the southern coast. The brigade was defeated within 72 hours, and the 1,200 surviving invaders were captured. They were eventually released after US officials and private sources arranged for a ransom of $50 million in food and medical supplies.

However, the United States did continue its attempt, through the OAS and other international forums, to isolate Cuba politically and economically from Latin America and the rest of the non-Communist world. All Latin American governments were pressured to break off diplomatic relations with Cuba. Castro responded with an attempt to destabilize certain Central and South American governments. Inspired by the Sierra Maestra campaign, guerrilla movements became active throughout the region, often with Cuban support. However, by 1967, when Ché Guevara (an Argentinean collaborator of Castro), was killed in Bolivia, these movements had collapsed. The United States was only slightly more successful in its campaign of isolation. The OAS suspended Cuba in 1962, but in July 1975 passed the "freedom of action" resolution allowing countries to deal with Cuba as they pleased. Meanwhile, Communist influence was growing in the Cuban government. Castro declared Cuba to be a Socialist country in late 1960, and the following year declared himself to be a Marxist-Leninist and a part of the Socialist world. All major means of production, distribution, communication, and services were nationalized. Soviet-style planning was introduced in 1962, and Cuba's trade and other relations turned from West to East. In October 1962, US planes photographed Soviet long-range-missile installations in Cuba. The United States blockaded Cuba until the USSR agreed to withdraw the missiles, in exchange for a US government pledge to launch no more offensive operations against the island.

During the Carter administration, there were moves to normalize relations with Cuba. In 1977, the United States and Cuba resumed diplomatic contacts (but not full relations) and concluded fishing and maritime rights agreements. However, the advent of the Reagan administration brought increased tensions between the two countries. Citing Cuban involvement in Angola, Ethiopia, Nicaragua, and Grenada, the United States took up a more intransigent stance toward Cuba.

Domestically, Castro's administration has had its successes and failures. A strong social welfare system, including free health care and subsidized housing, was implemented in the 1960s and 1970s. However, an attempt to produce 10 million metric tons of sugar by 1970 seriously crippled the island's economy. Other mismanaged projects have led to economic stagnation or chaos. Cubans live frugally under a highly controlled system of rationing.

Cuba was dealt a serious blow in the late 1980s with the collapse of the Soviet Union, which meant a cutoff of economic and military aid on which Cuba had come to rely heavily over the years. The USSR had been Cuba's most important trading partner and provided the major market for Cuban sugar. The few consumer goods the USSR had supplied in the past were no longer available.

Most Cubans that fled since Castro came to power settled in southern Florida, and many have had hope of returning to a Castro-free Cuba. There have been sporadic attempts to reunite families broken up by the emigration, but political circumstances often curtail these programs. For example, in February 1985 the repatriation of 2,746 "undesirables" from the United States began, but after Radio Martí (sponsored by Voice of America) began broadcasting in Spanish in May 1985, Cuba abrogated the agreement.

Just as the Cuban economy began to show signs of a rebound from the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States tightened its embargo with the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992. This led to another wave of emigration in 1994, as thousands of Cubans left the island on rafts and other small vessels bound for Florida. To stem this tide of illegal immigration, the United States in 1995 reached an agreement with Cuba under which the United States would admit 20,000 Cuban immigrants per year. Cuba, in turn, was to take steps to prevent future "boat lifts."

US-Cuba relations deteriorated further, and Cuba's weakened economy was hampered anew in 1996 when the US Congress passed the Helms-Burton Act, another embargo-strengthening measure. The act met with harsh international criticism, and Canada and the World Trade Organization moved to fortify trade ties with the Castro government as a rebuff to the United States. Prior to the passage of Helms-Burton, Cuba had renewed its crackdown on the pro-democracy movement. In February 1996, Cuban air force planes shot down two civilian aircraft over international waters, killing the four persons aboard. The planes had left the United States carrying computer and medical supplies.

In late 1999 and early 2000, tensions between Cuba and the United States returned to the international spotlight with the highly publicized custody dispute surrounding Elian Gonzalez, a six-year-old Cuban boy who was the sole survivor of an attempted boat crossing to the United States in which his mother and 10 other Cuban refugees drowned. The dispute between the boy's father in Cuba and his expatriate relatives in Florida, who wanted him to stay in the United States, became a rallying point for both the Castro regime in Cuba and the anti-Castro Cuban community in southern Florida.

Despite its acquiescence starting in the 1990s to some economic reforms, dollar transactions and limited self-employment in agriculture, crafts and vending, the Castro regime retains its commitment to socialism. Its economy, still recovering from the collapse of the Soviet Union, has been buoyed by increased tourism, mining, and cigar and fish exports. But economic growth has not translated into an improved quality of life for most Cubans, and Castro has continued to blame poverty and harsh living conditions on the US embargo. After the United States declared war on terrorism, Castro accused Washington of planning to invade the island; he has increased his prosecution of political opponents. Critics observed that, during the time that world attention was focused on the US invasion of Iraq, Castro took the opportunity to increase pressure on opposition by executing political dissidents.

In January 2003 Cuba held its third direct election for the National Assembly. Participation was limited to a "yes" or "no" vote for a list of candidates approved by the Communist Party. A month later, the Assembly appointed Fidel Castro chairman of the Council of State for five more years. As of 2005, Castro had ruled Cuba for 46 years, the longest tenure in recent Latin American history.

In the period leading up to the 2004 US presidential elections, the United States limited cash transfers to Cuba and reduced the number of trips Cuban-Americans could make to visit family in Cuba. Since then, Castro rolled back many of the self-employment freedoms and forbid previously accepted US dollars, making the only accepted currency for foreigners the Cuban convertible peso. Further discouraging the use of US currency, there exchange rate for euros and Canadian dollars was more favorable. However, the island's dual economy continued. Criminal penalties for possession of foreign currency (repealed in 1993) were not reinstated. Cubans were able to continue to hold dollars in cash and in bank accounts.


After he became premier on 16 February 1959, Fidel Castro was the effective source of governmental power. The juridical basis for this power rested on the Fundamental Law of the Revolution, which was promulgated on 8 February 1959 and was based on Cuba's 1940 constitution. To regularize government functions, a 10-member Executive Committee, with Castro as premier, was formed on 24 November 1972.

A new constitution, first published on 10 April 1975, then approved by the first congress of the Cuban Communist party in December, and ratified by a 97.7% vote in a special referendum in February 1976, established the National Assembly of People's Power as the supreme state organ. The deputies, originally elected by municipal assemblies and directly elected in national elections since 1993, serve five-year terms. The National Assembly elects the Council of State, whose president is both head of state and head of government. There are six vice presidents in the Council of State, and 23 other members.

In January 2003, the third direct election to the National Assembly took place; all 601 candidates approved by the Communist Party received more than the required 50% of the vote necessary for election to the Assembly. One month later, the Assembly reelected Castro as president of the state council. He remains the key figure in domestic and foreign policy making. The constitution recognizes the Communist party as the "highest leading force of the society and of the state," which effectively outlaws other political parties.

Suffrage is universal for citizens age 16 and over, excluding those who have applied for permanent emigration.


Fidel Castro came to power through a coalition group known as the 26th of July Movement. Along with it, in 1959, the Student Revolutionary Directorate (Directorio Revolucionario Estudiantil) and the Communist Party (Partido Socialista PopularPSP) were permitted to function.

Castro's relationship with the PSP was at first uneasy. The PSP condemned his early attempts at insurrection as "putschism," and did not support the 26th of July Movement until it had reached its final stages in 1958. After June 1959, Castro began to refer to antiCommunists as counterrevolutionaries, and used the PSP as an organizational base and as a link to the USSR. In December 1961, Castro declared his complete allegiance to Marxism-Leninism.

By 1962, the 26th of July Movement, the Student Revolutionary Directorate, and the PSP had merged into the Integrated Revolutionary Organization (Organización Revolucionaria Integrada), which, in turn, gave way to the United Party of the Socialist Revolution (Partido Unido de la Revolución Socialista) and, in 1965, to the Cuban Communist Party (Partido Comunista CubanoPCC).

On 17 December 1975, the PCC convened its first congress, which ratified a 13-member Politburo; Fidel Castro was reelected first secretary of the PCC. The second congress of the PCC took place in December 1980. The third congress, in February and November-December 1986, witnessed a massive personnel change when one-third of the 225-member Central Committee and 10 of 24 Politburo members were replaced, with Fidel Castro reelected first secretary. The Young Communist League and the José Martí Pioneer Organization for children up to 15 years of age are mass political organizations closely affiliated with the PCC. As of 2005, the PCC remained Cuba's only authorized political party.

However, political dissidence continued to occur in Cuba. Members of unauthorized groups such as the Dissident Liberal Party, the Cuban Orthodox Renovation Party, the Independent Option Movement and others have faced prosecution and harassment. The Ladies in White Movement is comprised of the mothers, wives, and daughters of political prisoners in Cuba. The Varela Project is a proposal from the populace to amend the Cuban constitution to include changes such as free speech, free enterprise, amnesty to political prisoners, and electoral reform.


The country is divided into 14 provinces and 169 municipalities. The Isla de la Juventud is a special municipality. The 1976 constitution provides for a system of municipal assemblies to be elected for 2-year terms by direct universal suffrage at age 16. Municipal assemblies choose delegates to provincial assemblies and deputies to the National Assembly. The most recent municipal elections were held in April 2005.


The 1976 constitution established the People's Supreme Court, consisting of a president, vice president, and other judges, as the highest judicial tribunal. All members of the court are elected by the National Assembly, as are the attorney general and deputy attorneys general. Through its Governing Council, the court proposes laws, issues regulations, and makes decisions that must be implemented by the people's courts, whose judges are elected by the municipal assemblies. There are also seven regional courts of appeal, as well as district courts with civil and criminal jurisdiction. Military tribunals assume jurisdiction for certain counter-revolutionary cases.

Although the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, the courts are subordinate to the National Assembly and the Council of State.

There are no jury trials. Most trials are public. The legal system is based on Spanish and American law influenced by communist legal theory.


Total armed strength in 2005 came to 49,000 active duty personnel, with 39,000 reservists. The Army had an estimated 38,000 personnel, whose equipment included around 900 main battle tanks, an undisclosed number of light tanks, reconnaissance and armored infantry fighting vehicles, an estimated 700 armored personnel carriers and over 1,715 artillery pieces. The navy had an estimated 3,000 personnel including more than 550 Naval Infantry members. Major naval units included five patrol/coastal vessels and six mine warfare ships. The air force had around 8,000 personnel and 125 combat capable aircraft, of which only 25 are known to be operable. The service also has around 40 attack helicopters. Paramilitary forces included 20,000 State Security troops, 6,500 border guards, 50,000 Civil Defense Force members, the 70,000-member Youth Labor Army, and the million-member Territorial Militia. Cuba's key military ally and supporter for decades, Russia had cut off nearly all military assistance by 1993. In 2004, defense spending was estimated at $1.3 billion.

The US maintains a naval base at Guantánamo Bay in southeastern Cuba, under a 1934 leasing treaty. The US government considers the base to be of some strategic and training significance in the Caribbean and has refused to give it up, despite demands by the Castro regime that it do so. About 2,000 military personnel are stationed at Guantánamo.


Cuba is a member of the United Nations, having joined on 24 October 1945; it belongs to ECLAC and several specialized agencies, such as the FAO, IAEA, IFAD, ILO, UNESCO, UNIDO, and WHO. Cuba is a part of the ACP Group, G-77, the Latin American Economic System (LAES), the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), the Association of Caribbean States (ACS), and the Latin American Integration Association (LAIA). Cuba's charter membership in the OAS was suspended at the second Punta del Este meeting, in February 1962, through US initiative. The isolation of Cuba from the inter-American community was made almost complete when, at Caracas, on 26 July 1964, the OAS voted 154 for mandatory termination of all trade with the Castro government. Cuba has been very active in the Nonaligned Movement, and held its chairmanship between 1979 and 1983. The nation is also part of the Agency for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean (OPANAL) and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. In environmental cooperation, Cuba is part of the Antarctic treaty, the Basel Convention, the Convention on Biological Diversity, Ramsar, CITES, the London Convention, the Kyoto Protocol, the Montréal Protocol, MARPOL, and the UN Conventions on the Law of the Sea, Climate Change, and Desertification.


Traditionally, one of the world's leading cane sugar producers, Cuba has been primarily an agricultural nation. Sugar was the leading earner of foreign exchange until 1992, when tourism revenues outstripped sugar revenues. Agriculture's contribution to GDP has decreased from 24% in 1965 to 10% in 1985, to 7% in 2000. Manufacturing increased from 23% of GDP in 1965 to 36% by 1985. In 2000, the contribution of the industrial sector fell to 34.5% as services, including tourism, became more dominant.

After 1959, the revolutionary government, following policies espoused by Ernesto "Che" Guevara, attempted to liberalize the sugar economy in order to achieve agricultural diversification and industrialization. When this policy proved disastrous to the sugar crop, Castro reversed the Guevara program in 1962 and announced a goal of 10-million-ton crop by 1970. Despite a severe drought in 196869, Cuba did achieve a record 7.6-million-ton output of refined sugar in 1970. Efforts to diversify foreign trade during the early 1970s were aided by record high prices for sugar. Between 1971 and 1975, the Cuban economy grew by about 10% annually, and moderate growth averaging about 4.4% per year continued through most of the 1980s. The special relationship with the Soviet Union, whereby it supplied Cuba with oil below market prices and bought its sugar at above market prices, insulated the Cuban economy from the vagaries of the two oil shocks of the 1970s and the Third World debt crisis of the early 1980s. However, commercial agreements with Argentina, Canada, Spain, France, the United Kingdom, Italy, and Germany indicated Cuba's keen desire to move away from nearly exclusive reliance on the Socialist countries for both imports and exports. Trade with the then-USSR and other CMEA members, nevertheless, made up the bulk of Cuba's foreign commerce, and Soviet aid remained essential to the economy.

From 1981 to 1985, Cuba's GDP growth averaged 7.3% due mainly to increased sugar production. In 1986 and 1987, however, GDP growth dropped to approximately 1.7% due mainly to the collapse of oil prices, a depressed world sugar market, prolonged drought in Cuba, and the fall in the value of the dollar. The situation worsened when the Soviet bloc collapsed in 1989, eliminating its assistance and subsidized markets. Cuban GDP fell 35% between 1989 and 1993. The Castro government restricted public expenditure and in 199394 introduced a series of market-oriented reforms. It legalized the dollar, allowed trading with market economies and developed new sources of foreign currency. The government placed special emphasis on the promotion of foreign investment and the development of sugar and tourism. About 150 occupations were opened up for self-employment. The economy began to expand again in 1994, and by 1996 GDP growth was at 7.8%. Tourism established new records in 1996, with arrivals increasing by 35% to 1,001,739, and gross revenues rising by 18% to $1.3 billion. The number of self-employed rose to over 200,000, but after income taxes were introduced, fell to an estimated 100,000 by 2001. By the end of 2000, nearly 400 joint ventures with foreign companies had been established representing a total investment of $4.24.5 billion.

In 1997, growth fell to 2.5% and then to 1.2% in 1998. Annual inflation was almost nonexistent in 1998, down from 19.0% in 1995. Growth increased to 6.2% in 1999 and 5.6% in 2000 as tourist arrivals rose to 1.7 million in 2000, and gross receipts to about $1.9 billion. In 2001, in the context of a global economic slowdown, the aftermath of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States, and a devastating hurricane in November, tourist arrivals increased only marginally and gross receipts remained unchanged. Tourism was estimated to have declined in 2002.

In 2002, the government introduced a comprehensive restructuring of the sugar sector. Over half of Cuba's 156 mills were to be closed, leaving only the 71 most efficient. 100,000 of the 400,000 employed in the mills were to be retrained for other jobs. More rice and other crops were to be grown. Sugar production, at 8 million tons a year in 1989, had fallen to 3.2 million tons a year by 2003.

Between 7590% of adult Cubans are employed by the state in relatively low-payingjobs. However, education, medical care, housing, and other public services are free or highly subsidized, and there are no taxes on public jobs. Although there has been an increasing infusion of dollars and other hard currencies into the economy, the society still faces a painful transition out of its isolated socialism.

In 2004, the economy expanded by 4.2%, up from 2.9% in 2003; in 2005, the GDP growth rate was estimated at an impressive 8.0%, while the GDP per capita, at purchasing power parity, was $3,300. The standard of living in Cuba continues to hover at levels lower than before the downturn of the 1990s. The inflation rate was insignificant in 2003 and 2004, but by 2005 it was estimated to have risen to 4.2%. As a result, the government strengthened its control over inflowing currencies (which are mainly provided by tourism, remittances, and trade).


The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reports that in 2005 Cuba's gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated at $37.1 billion. The CIA defines GDP as the value of all final goods and services produced within a nation in a given year and computed on the basis of purchasing power parity (PPP) rather than value as measured on the basis of the rate of exchange based on current dollars. The per capita GDP was estimated at $3,300. The annual growth rate of GDP was estimated at 5.2%. It was estimated that agriculture accounted for 5.5% of GDP, industry 26.1%, and services 68.4%.


As of 2005, Cuba's workforce was estimated at 4.6 million, of which the nonstate sector accounted for 22% and the state sector 78%. In 2004, the Cuban workforce by occupation was distributed as follows: industry 14.4%; agriculture 21.2%; and services 64.4%. The unemployment rate in 2005 was estimated at 1.9%. However, underemployment is a chronic problem, and has been exacerbated by the idling of thousands of industrial workers whose jobs rely on foreign imports. Labor has been shifted to agriculture to compensate for fuel and machinery shortages affecting food and production.

All Cuban workers belong to a trade union, under the central control of the Confederation of Cuban Workers (CUTC), which is affiliated with the Communist-oriented World Federation of Trade Unions. Independent unions are explicitly prohibited. Those who attempt to engage in independent union activities face government persecution and harassment. Strikes and collective bargaining are not legally permitted.

The minimum wage varies, depending on the type of employment. As of 2005, the average monthly wage was $9. The minimum wage is supplemented by social security consisting of free medical care and education, and subsidized housing and food. However, a worker must still earn significantly more than minimum wage to support a family. The eight-hour workday, a weekly rest period, an annual paid vacation of one month, and workers' compensation are guaranteed by the constitution. The standard work week is 44 hours, with shorter workdays for hazardous occupations. Although the legal minimum working age is 17, the employment of minors 15 and 16 years of age is permitted as a way to offset labor shortages or to obtain training. Teenagers can only work 7 hours per day or 40 hours per week or only on holidays.


The state owns about 3 million hectares (7.4 million acres) of arable land, and 750,000 hectares (1.8 million) of permanent crops. About 13.1% of the economically active population was engaged in the agricultural sector in 2003. An agrarian reform law of June 1959 made the government proprietor of all land in Cuba, created the National Institute of Agrarian Reform (INRA) as administrator, and set a general limit of 30 caballerías (400 hectares/990 acres) of farmland to be held by any one owner. A second agrarian reform, of October 1963, expropriated medium-size private holdings; there remained about 170,000 small private farms, with average holdings of over 16 hectares (40 acres). By 1985 there were 1,378 farm cooperatives. Almost a third of cultivated land is irrigated.

Sugarcane, Cuba's most vital crop and its largest export, is grown throughout the island, but mainly in the eastern half. The government regulates sugar production and prices. Sugar output reached 7.6 million tons in 1970, but that fell short of the 10 million tons projected. Subsequent targets were lowered, and the output was 7.9 million tons in 1979, 6.7 million in 1980 (when crop disease reduced production), 8 million in 1985, and 3.5 million in 1999. In 2004, exports of raw sugar amounted to 1.9 million tons, valued at $348.8 million. Cuba has pioneered the introduction of mechanical cane harvesters, and by 2002 there were 7,400 harvester-threshers (up from 5,717 in the early 1980s). Cuba and Russia signed several finance and investment accords in 1992 and 1993 whereby Russia will supply fuel, spare parts, fertilizer, and herbicide in exchange for Cuba's sugar harvest, with Russia annually importing a minimum of two million tons of Cuban sugar. The sugar industry also has diversified into exporting molasses, ethyl alcohol, rum and liquor, bagasse chipboard, torula yeast, dextran, and furfural. Tobacco, the second most important crop, is grown on small farms requiring intensive cultivation. In the late 1970s, the average annual production was about 35,000 tons, but crop disease in 1979 resulted in a drop in production to 8,200 tons in 1980; production was 34,494 tons in 2004. Other crops in 2004 included (in tons) oranges, 490,000; lemons and limes, 26,000; grapefruit, 225,000; rice, 610,000; plantains, 790,000; bananas, 310,000; potatoes, 300,000; sweet potatoes, 490,000; and coffee, 12,900. Other Cuban products with export potential include mangoes, pineapples, ginger, papayas, and seeds.


In the state sector, milk production in 2004 amounted to 610,700 tons (up from 431,000 during 198991) and egg production reached 79,000 tons (120,000 tons during 198991). Livestock in 2004 included an estimated 4,050,000 head of cattle, 1.7 million hogs, 400,000 horses, 3.2 million sheep, 425,000 goats, and 18.4 million chickens. The populations of most livestock species have declined since 1990, as a result of input shortages from the worsening economy. Honey production in 2004 was an estimated 7,200 tons, the highest in the Caribbean.


The territorial waters of Cuba support more than 500 varieties of edible fish. The catch in 2003 was 68,420 tons, compared with 244,673 tons in 1986. Tuna, lobster, and shellfish are the main species caught. The Cuban Fishing Fleet, a government enterprise, supervises the industry.

The former USSR aided in the construction of a fishing port in Havana. Seafood exports are an important source of foreign exchange; in 2003, fish and fish products exports amounted to $64.4 million.


Much of the natural forest cover was removed in colonial times, and cutting between the end of World War I and the late 1950s reduced Cuba's woodland to about 14% of the total area and led to soil erosion. Between 1959 and 1985, about 1.8 billion seedlings were planted, including eucalyptus, pine, majagua, mahogany, cedar, and casuarina. State forests cover 2,348,000 hectares (5,802,000 acres), or about 21.4% of the total land area. Roundwood production in 2003 amounted to 2.6 million cu m (93 million cu ft), with 69% used for fuel.


Nickel was Cuba's leading mineral commodity, second to sugar in export earnings. The country produced 74,018 metric tons of mined nickel in 2003, up from 71,342 metric tons in 2002. Cuba's nickel reserves were the world's fourth-largest and the reserves base was the largest. Recent changes in investment and mining laws have increased foreign trade. Production has been boosted by a joint venture formed in 1994 between Sherritt International of Canada, and the Cuban government. Nickel deposits and plants were located in eastern Cuba at Nicaro, Moa, and Punta Gorda, all in Holguín Province. Production of cobalt (oxide, oxide sinter, sulfide, and ammonical liquor precipitate), a by-product of nickel operations, totaled 3,982 metric tons in 2004. In 2004, Cuba also produced ammonia, chromite, gold, gypsum, salt from seawater (180,000 metric tons), and silica sand. Production of copper has declined substantially from pre-Revolutionary times.


Cuba is the second-largest producer of electric power in the Caribbean region, exceeded only by Puerto Rico. In 2002, Cuba's electrical generating capacity stood at 4.411 million kW, of which 4.354 million kW, was dedicated to conventional thermal sources and 0.057 million kW to hydropower. Output in 2002 stood at 14.771 billion kWh, with 13.920 kWh produced by fossil fuels, 0.105 billion kWh generated by hydropower, and 0.746 billion kWh generated by geothermal or other sources. Demand for electric power in 2002 totaled 13.737 billion kWh.

Cuba has the second-largest proven hydrocarbon reserves in the Caribbean area, surpassed only by those of Trinidad and Tobago. In 2005, according to the Oil and Gas Journal, Cuba's proven reserves of oil stood at 750 million barrels. Over the previous two decades the production of crude oil has risen noticeably, going from 16,000 barrels per day in 1984 to 67,000 barrels per day in 2004. The majority of the country's production is centered in the northern Matanzas province. However, the oil produced is a sour, heavy type of crude that requires special processing. There is interest in offshore production, and it has been reported by industry analysts that Cuba's offshore basins may hold at least 1.6 billion barrels of crude oil. Cuba has a refining capacity, consisting of four facilities operated by state-owned Cubapetroleo (Cupet) totaling 301,000 barrels per day, as of July 2005.

Cuba's consumption of oil in 2004 amounted to 211,000 barrels per day, far outpacing the country's production capabilities. While Cuba has had to import the difference, it has also taken measures to offset the cost of imported oil. In 2000, Cuba signed a five-year agreement to import crude oil and refined oil products from Venezuela, paying for the oil via a barter arrangement that has seen Cuban teachers and doctors sent to Venezuela to promote literacy and provide medical help to Venezuela's poor. In addition Cuba has offered offshore exploration rights in its territorial waters in the Gulf of Mexico to international oil companies. Among them are two Canadian companiesSherritt International; and Pebercanboth of which are producing oil in conjunction with Cupet, under joint venture agreements.

Cuba had proven natural gas reserves of 2,500 billion cu ft in 2005, according to the Oil and Gas Journal. Gross natural gas production in 2002 amounted to 19.42 billion cu ft, with 3.53 billion cu ft vented or flared and 15.89 billion cu ft marketed. Dry production and consumption for 2002 each stood at 12.36 billion cu ft.

Cuba has no known coal production so the country must import what it uses. In 2002, Cuba imported a total of 44,000 tons of coal and related products, which consisted of 29,000 tons of hard coal and 15,000 tons of coke. Coal product demand in that year amounted to 30,000 tons, with 14,000 tons stockpiled.


All Cuban industrial production was nationalized by March 1968. Industry accounts for approximately 35% of GDP.

Cuba had 156 sugar mills in 1985, and at that time, about 10% of exports from the then-USSR to Cuba consisted of machinery for the sugar industry. Other food processing plants produced cheese, butter, yogurt, ice cream, wheat flour, pasta, preserved fruits and vegetables, alcoholic beverages, and soft drinks. Light industry comprises textiles, shoes, soap, toothpaste, and corrugated cardboard boxes. Other industries are petroleum products (Cuba has four oil refineries with a total production capacity of 301,000 barrels per day), tobacco, chemicals, construction, cement, agricultural machinery, nickel, and steel production. In the mid-1990s, tourism surpassed sugar processing as the main source of foreign exchange, although the government in 2002 announced plans to implement a "comprehensive transformation" of the sugar industry, including the closing of almost half the existing sugar mills. Although 1.7 million tourists visited the country in 2000, bringing in $1.9 billion, the global economic slowdown in 2001 and the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States negatively impacted Cuba's tourism industry.

In 2005, industry accounted for 26.1% of the GDP and it employed 14.4% of the labor force. The industrial production growth rate in the same year was 3.5%, less than the overall GDP growth rate. Services were by far the largest economic engine, with a 68.4% share of the economy, and the largest employer, with 64.4% of the labor force engaged in this sector. Agriculture was the smallest economic sector (5.5% of the GDP), but a significant employer (21.2% of the work force). Financing from abroad has contributed to positive developments in the mining, oil, and construction sectors.


In 2002, total expenditures for research and development (R&D) amounted to 189.6 million Cuban pesos, or 0.62% of GDP. Of that amount in 2002, 60% came from government sources, with 35% from business and 5% from foreign sources. For that same year, there were 2,510 technicians and 538 researchers per million people that were engaged in R&D. High technology exports in 2002 totaled $48 million, or 29% of manufactured exports.

The Academy of Sciences of Cuba, founded in 1962, is Cuba's principal scientific institution; it, as well as the Ministry of Agriculture, operates numerous research centers throughout Cuba. Institutions offering higher education in science and engineering include the University of Havana (founded in 1928), the University of Oriente at Santiago de Cuba (founded in 1947), the Central University of Las Villas in Villa Clara (founded in 1952), the University of Camagüey (founded in 1967), and the University Center of Pinar del Río (founded in 1972). In 198797, science and engineering students accounted for 16% of college and university enrollments.


Havana is Cuba's commercial center. Provincial capitals are marketing and distribution centers of lesser importance. Camaguey is a cattle and sugar center, Santa Clara lies in the tobacco belt, and Santiago is a major seaport and mining city. Holguín has been transformed into a major agricultural and industrial center.

By May 1960, the National Institute of Agrarian Reform was operating about 2,000 "people stores" (tiendas del pueblo), and by the end of 1962 all retail and wholesale businesses dealing in consumer essentials had been nationalized. In 1984 there were 27,301 retail establishments in Cuba. As of 2002, there were only about 200,000 independent farmers and only 100,000 private business owners. These private businesses are strictly controlled by the government.

Due to the US-organized trade boycott and the inability of production in the then-USSR and Cuba to meet Cuban demands, rationing was applied to many consumer goods in the 1960s and 1970s. By the mid-1980s, rationing had been reduced and accounted for about 25% of individual consumption. Allocation of major consumer items after 1971 was by the "just class" principle, with the best workers receiving priority. The availability of basic consumer items increased noticeably after 1980, when the smallholder's free market (mercado libre campesino) was introduced. Under this system, small-scale private producers and cooperatives could sell their surplus commodities directly to consumers once their quotas had been filled. However, the peasant markets were abolished in May 1986, allegedly because they led to widespread speculation and profiteering. It has been estimated that nearly 40% of the domestic economy operates in the "informal" sector, or black market.

Between $800 million and $1 billion per year is added to the domestic economy in the form of remittances from expatriates. Much of this comes from families residing in the United States, who are permitted to send a total of $1,200 per year. The Cuban government acquires these funds by allowing consumers to purchase products in state-run "dollar stores."


Cuba has established or reestablished trade relations with many countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, Asia, and Europe. The sudden rupture of trade with the former Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc nations in 1989 after 30 years of interrelationship caused severe trauma to the Cuban economy. However, there remains a clear political will on the part of the former Soviet republics to maintain economic relations with Cuba with a certain degree of preference. Nevertheless, Cuba has diversified its trading partners in recent years.

Almost half of Cuba's commodity export market (53%) is taken up by sugar and honey, representing 5.7% of the world's export sales in these commodities. Nickel is the second most lucrative exported commodity (23%), followed by fish (6.8%). Other exports include tobacco (5.6%) and medicinal and pharmaceutical products (2.8%). Primary imports include petroleum, food, machinery, and chemicals.

In 2005, exports reached $2.4 billion (FOBFree on Board), while imports grew to $6.9 billion (FOB). In 2004, the bulk of exports went to the Netherlands (22.7%), Canada (20.6%), China (7.7%), Russia (7.5%), Spain (6.4%), and Venezuela (4.4%). Imports mainly came from Spain (14.7%), Venezuela (13.5%), the

Country Exports Imports Balance
World 1,660.6 4,838.7 -3,178.1
Russia 402.6 81.0 321.6
Netherlands 333.9 69.3 264.6
Canada 227.8 369.6 -141.8
Spain 188.6 707.9 -519.3
China 70.8 551.3 -480.5
France-Monaco 62.8 269.9 -207.1
Dominican Republic 30.7 16.5 14.2
Switzerland-Liechtenstein 30.3 30.3
Japan 28.8 81.9 -53.1
Mexico 26.0 298.0 -272.0
() data not available or not significant.

United States (11%), China (8.9%), Canada (6.4%), Italy (6.2%), and Mexico (4.9%).


Since the United States stopped trading with Cuba in 1963, Cuba's dollar reserves have dropped to virtually nothing, and most trade is conducted through barter agreements. In 1997, Cuba's debt to the former Soviet Union was estimated at $20 billion. With the demise of the USSR, Cuba has focused on trading with market-oriented countries in order to increase foreign currency reserves, notably by promoting sugar exports and foreign investment in industry. Remittances from Cuban workers in the United States (totaling approximately $800 million annually), tourism dollars, and foreign aid help to cover the trade deficit.

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reported that in 2001 the purchasing power parity of Cuba's exports was $1.8 billion while imports totaled $4.8 billion resulting in a trade deficit of $3 billion.

Exports of goods reached $2.2 billion in 2004, up from $1.7 billion in 2003. Imports increased from $4.6 billion in 2003, to $5.3 billion in 2004. The resource balance was consequently negative in both years, deteriorating from -$2.9 billion in 2003, to -$3.1 billion in 2004. The current account balance followed a similar path, worsening from -$130 million in 2003, to -$177 million in 2004. Foreign exchange reserves (including gold) reached $2.5 billion in 2005, covering less than five months of imports.


All banks in Cuba were nationalized in 1960. The National Bank of Cuba, established in 1948, was restructured in 1967. Commercial banks include Banco Financiero International (1984). Savings banks include Banco Popular dul Ahorro. A number of foreign banks offer limited services in Cuba. The Grupo Nuevo Banco was set up in 1996.

There are no securities exchanges.

Hard-currency reserves have been depleted by import growth in excess of export growth. In the domestic economy, the attempt to reduce enterprise subsidies caused an increase in demand for working capital that the state was unable to meet. A combination of price and direct rationing systems is operating.


All insurance enterprises were nationalized by January 1964. Although insurance never accounted for more than 1% of national income, new opportunities began to emerge throughout the insurance sector as a result of the changes in economic structure. Seven insurance companies and two reinsurers had offices in Cuba in 1997. They concentrated on freight insurance, but there was interest in development and diversification.

Cuba's domestic state insurance company, Esen, appeared to be preparing to compete with foreign companies in the domestic market in 1997. It launched a major marketing drive with an expanded sales force of 3,500 to persuade Cubans to take out new personal insurance policies. Apparently, they were having some success, despite the lack of a private insurance tradition. The volume of premiums was 30% higher in 1995 than in 1990. New products include not only travel and medical insurance, but also pensions and life insurance policies. In 1997, a new insurance law was passed to permit the establishment of private insurers to compete with the state-owned companies. Although limited foreign penetration into the Cuban market will help to develop the sector, the authorities will continue to foster the development of Cuban insurers before the sector is fully opened. Private insurance schemes will not replace state social security provision.

Third-party automobile liability for foreign residents (including diplomats) and for vehicles carrying either freight or people are compulsory.


Under the Economic Management System, developed during the 1970s and approved by the PCC Congress in 1975, state committees for statistics and finances have been established, and formal state budgets, abandoned in 1967, have been reintroduced. State revenues come from the nationalized enterprises, income tax, social security contributions, and foreign aid.

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) estimated that in 2005 Cuba's central government took in revenues of approximately $22.1 billion and had expenditures of $23.6 billion. Revenues minus expenditures totaled approximately -$1.5 billio. Total external debt was $13.1 billion.


A 1962 tax code instituted a sharply progressive income tax as well as a surface transport tax, property transfer tax, documents tax, consumer goods tax, and a tax on capital invested abroad.


Cuba's average weighted tariff in 1997 (the most recent year the World Bank could gather statistics) was 8.1%. However, Cuba also maintains significant nontariff barriers to trade. Required government inspection of imports and corrupt customs officials are among the worst factors.


In February 1960, Fidel Castro announced that foreign investment in Cuba would be accepted only if delivered to the government to be used as it saw fit. The enterprises in which this capital would be invested were to be "national enterprises," so that Cuba would not be dependent on foreigners. Any new foreign investments were to be controlled by the Central Planning Board. From mid-1960s, US holdings in Cuba were systematically seized, partly for political reasons and partly because US corporations refused to accept Cuba's terms of nationalism. Some of the investments of other foreign nationals were left operating under stringent governmental regulation.

Between 1960 and the early 1970s, foreign investment activities were restricted to limited technical and economic assistance from East European countries and the then-USSR, with which Cuba concluded over 40 cooperation agreements between 1963 and 1983. Limited investments from the noncommunist world were sought with some success in the mid-1970s. In 1982, in a further effort to attract investors from Western Europe, Canada, and Japan, Cuba passed its first foreign investment law, permitting foreign companies to form joint ventures with the Cuban government, but to own no more than 49% of the stock. In 1985, however, direct investment in Cuba by OECD countries totaled only $200,000.

Since 1990, the Cuban government has seen the necessity to open its recessed economy to foreign investment, either via joint ventures or other forms of association. In 1992, Cuba further intensified its efforts to attract foreign investment in several key areas of its economy, including sugar, tourism, textiles, tobacco, pharmaceuticals, nickel, and shipping. In 1995, full repatriation of profits and 100% foreign ownership was allowed in Cuba.

As of 1998, there were 322 joint ventures in force, with partners from over fifty different countries. In addition, many foreign contracts were being sought for oil drilling. The annual inflow of foreign direct investment (FDI) into the more liberalized Cuba reached a peak of $15.2 million in 1998. FDI inflow dropped, to $9 million in 2000 and further, to $4.6 million in 2001. Principal sources of foreign investment include Canada, Spain, France, Italy, the Netherlands, and Latin America.

In April 2002, after President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela was returned to power, oil shipments to Cuba on concessional terms were cut off. In April 2003, there appeared to be a decisive shift away from further opening of the economy as the Castro regime rounded up dissidents and executed by firing squad three men who attempted to hijack a passenger ferry to take them to Florida, accusing the US Mission Chief of trying to organize political opposition to the regime.


Until 1959, the Cuban government followed a policy of free enterprise; government ownership was largely limited to local utilities. When the Castro government came to power in 1959, it proceeded to create a centrally planned economy. By means of nationalization and expropriation, all producer industries, mines, refineries, communications, and export-import concerns were brought under government control by 1968.

Planning in the 1960s vacillated on the question of whether Cuba should concentrate on the production of sugar, on industrialization, or on a balance between the two. After 1963, sugar predominated. But the effort that went into the 1970 harvest diverted enormous resources from other sectors of the economy. At the same time, there was growing absenteeism and low productivity in the labor force, attributed to the policy of eliminating material incentives. Under the Economic Management System, pay was again tied to production though the introduction of a system akin to piecework.

The 197580 development plan, approved by at the PCC Congress in December 1975, set specific production goals for Cuban industry and projected an overall economic growth rate of 6% annually; it was announced in 1980 that the actual growth rate was 4%. The 198185 plan introduced new incentive schemes and gave more freedom to market forces; it also eased restrictive hiring regulation. One of the major aims of the plan was to increase industry's share of gross social product to 50%, but industry accounted for only 45.3% in 1985. The 198690 plan envisioned a 5% annual growth and aimed particularly at an increase in exports. In December 1986, 28 austerity measures were approved by the National Assembly, including increases in transport and electricity prices and rationing of kerosene.

Under several finance and investment accords signed by Cuba and Russia in 1992 and 1993, Russia agreed to supply fuel, tires, and spare parts for mechanical harvesters and other vehicles, in addition to fertilizers and herbicides, all for Cuba's sugar harvest. In addition, Russia agreed to import a minimum of 2 million tons of Cuban sugar. Russia also agreed to extend a $350 million credit to Cuba to complete and further develop a number of oil, energy, and nickel mining projects that had previously been backed by the Soviet Union.

Since 1998, Cuba has sat as an observer at International Monetary Fund (IMF)/World Bank meetings. Cuba's economic planners predicted a 1.5% growth rate for 2003, as tourism declined following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, sugar prices were low, hurricanes damaged the island, and external financing was lacking. The Central Bank reported a $12.2 billion hard-currency foreign debt by late 2002. Unemployment stands at approximately 12%, but close to 30% of workers have been displaced or underemployed. Castro in 2003 replaced at least five officials in economy-related government positions in an effort to combat a faltering economy. Cubans increasingly turn to the black market for food, clothing, and household goods. Cuba continued to apply timid market reforms while actively seeking foreign investment. Economic growth in the late 1990s came from an expansion of manufacturing, tourism, mining, and services. Other positive factors included the improved tourist industry and a sharp recovery of the cigar industry. Indeed, during the 1990s, tourism replaced sugar exports as Cuba's primary source of foreign exchange. The creation of a new Central Bank completed financial sector reforms begun in 1995. These reflected the increased role of the private sector in financial transactions. In 2000, the Cuban economy continued its growth through the generous investment of foreign countries, but the US trade embargo held fast in the face of opposition from key US political leaders.

The main impediment to growth in 1990s Cuba was the restricted access to external financing. As a response, in 2005 the government strengthened its control over capital flowsespecially from tourism, oil, mining, and construction. New trade agreements and investment commitments from China and Venezuela will likely give a boost to the Cuban economy in the years to come. Positive developments in the tourism, nickel, and oil sectors will also contribute to the overall growth trend. However, if President Hugo Chavez were to lose power in Venezuela or if the Chinese economy were to face a downturn, Cuba wwould suffer the repercussions.


A single system of social security covering almost all workers and protecting them against the risks of old age, disability, and survivorship was enacted in 1963. Contributions to pension programs are made by employers (10% of earnings for self-employed persons), with the government making up the deficit. These contributions also fund maternity, sickness, and work-injury programs. Pensions are set at a rate of 50% of average earnings. The national health care system covers all citizens. The Maternity Law provides up to one year of maternity leave.

The Family Code proscribes all sex discrimination. Women receive equal access to education and are found in most professions. Legislation provides for the equal rights of illegitimate and legitimate children, and specifies the obligations of parents. Crime is not reported in the media, and there are no reliable data regarding the prevalence of violence against women and domestic abuse. Prostitution is legal for those over 17 years of age, but the government has been curtailing activity to combat the perception that sex tourism is endorsed.

Human rights activists have been targeted for arbitrary arrest and detention. Prison conditions are harsh: medical care is inadequate and abusive treatment is not uncommon. The government does not allow international organizations to operate in the country.


Sanitation is generally good and health conditions greatly improved after the 1959 revolution. However, with the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Cuba no longer receives the same level of foreign support and has fallen behind in many of its social services. In spite of this, in 1993 100% of the population was reported to have access to health care. In 2000, 95% of the population had access to safe drinking water and 95% had adequate sanitation.

Infant mortality declined from more than 60 per 1,000 live births before 1959 to 6.33 in 2005. About 8% of babies born in 1999 were considered low birth weight. Approximately 79% of married women (ages 15 to 49) used contraception. The government claims to have eradicated malaria, diphtheria, poliomyelitis, tuberculosis, and tetanus. Children up to one year of age were immunized as follows: tuberculosis, 99%; diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus, 99%; polio, 97%; and measles, 99%.

Life expectancy was an average of 77.23 years in 2005. Major causes of death were circulatory system diseases, cancer, injuries, and infectious diseases. There were 15 reported cases of tuberculosis per 100,000 in 2001. The HIV/AIDS prevalence was 0.10 per 100 adults in 2003. As of 2004, there were approximately 3,300 people living with HIV/AIDS in the country. There were an estimated 200 deaths from AIDS in 2003.

As of 2004, there were an estimated 591 physicians, 744 nurses, and 87 dentists per 100,000 people. Medical services are now more widely distributed in rural as well as urban areas. All doctors are obliged to work for the rural medical service in needy areas for two years after graduation. All health services are provided free of charge. Health care expenditure was estimated at 6.1% of GDP.


Within the past few years decades, Cuban housing has begun to catch up to population demand. Nearly 1.3 million housing units were built between 1959 and 1993. In the 1980s, over half of all housing units were detached houses. The remainder were apartments, palm huts called hohios, and cuarterias, housing units in buildings composed of a number of detached rooms where occupants share some or all facilities. More than half of all dwellings were concrete and brick, about one-third were solid wood, and a smaller number were constructed with palm planks. Water was piped indoors to roughly half of all homes and outside to one-fifth; about half had private bath facilities.

Housing conditions have generally improved over the past few years. By 1998, about 87% of urban dwellings were graded as good or fair, as were 68% of rural dwellings. From 19982001, some 800,212 housing conservation and rehabilitation projects were completed; about 51% were initiated by the government and 49% by residents.

Though most dwellings are built by the state, there are a few cooperative and individual concerns represented in the market. Habitat-Cuba, a nongovernment organization, has been working with local architects and low-income families to provide quality, low-cost housing. Part of this program involves using indigenous and more easily renewable materials for construction, such as clay and bamboo.


Education has been a high priority of the Castro government. In 1959 there were at least one million illiterates and many more were only semiliterate. An extensive literacy campaign was inaugurated in 1961, when 100,000 teachers went out into the countryside.

Education is free and compulsory for six years (611 years of age) of primary school. Basic secondary studies last for three years, after which students may then choose to pursue a three-year course of university prep studies or a three-year technical school course. The addition of agricultural and technical programs to the secondary-school curriculum was an innovation of the Castro government; the work-study principle is now integral to Cuban secondary education. Students in urban secondary schools must spend at least seven weeks annually in rural labor. The first junior high schools, based on the work-study concept, were introduced in 1968. Catholic parochial schools were nationalized in 1961.

In 2001, nearly all children between the ages of three and five were enrolled in some type of preschool program. Primary school enrollment in 2003 was estimated at about 95.7% of age-eligible students. The same year, secondary school enrollment was about 86% of age-eligible students. It is estimated that about 94% of all students complete their primary education. The student-to-teacher ratio for primary school was at about 11:1 in 2003; the ratio for secondary school was about 12:1.

Cuba has five universities: the University of Havana (founded 1728), Oriente University at Santiago de Cuba (1947), the University of Las Villas at Santa Clara (1952), University of Camagüey (1974), and the University of Pinar Del-Rio. Workers' improvement courses (superación obrera ), to raise adults to the sixth-grade level, and technical training schools (mínimo técnico ), to develop unskilled workers' potentials and retrain other workers for new jobs, were instituted after 1961. Special worker-farmer schools prepare workers and peasants for enrollment at the universities and for skilled positions in industrial and agricultural enterprises. In 2003, about 34% of the tertiary age population were enrolled in some type of higher education program. The adult literacy rate for 2004 was estimated at about 99.8%.

As of 2003, public expenditure on education was estimated at 9% of GDP, or 18.7% of total government expenditures.


The José Martí National Library in Havana, founded in 1901, had a collection of two million volumes in 2002. Besides acting as the National Library, it provides lending, reference, and children's services to the public. Other sizable collections in Havana are found at the Havana University Library (203,000 volumes), the Library of the Institute of Literature and Linguistics (1 million), the José Antonio Echevarría Library of the House of the Americas (150,000), and the University of the East in Santiago (535,000 volumes).

Although libraries of private institutions disappeared in the 1960s and many collections were transferred to the National Library, the number of special and research libraries increased, especially with the creation of many departments of the Academy of Sciences. A national library network was established by the Department of Libraries of the National Cultural Council.

The National Museum of Fine Arts in Havana contains classical and modern art from around the world as well as Cuban art from the colonial period to the present day. The Colonial Municipal Museum and the Felipe Poey Natural History Museum in Havana, the Bacardi Municipal Museum in Santiago, the Oscar Rojas Museum in Cárdenas, and the Ignacio Agramonte Museum in Camagüey are also noteworthy. There is a Naval Museum at Cienfuegos and a Museum of Archaeology in Sancti Spiritus.


All telephone service is free; about 95% of the telephones are automatic. In 2003, there were an estimated 51 mainline telephones for every 1,000 people. The same year, there were approximately two mobile phones in use for every 1,000 people.

As of 1999 there were 150 AM and 5 FM radio broadcasting stations and 58 television stations operating throughout the country. All stations are owned and operated by the government. In 2003, there were an estimated 185 radios and 251 television sets for every 1,000 people. The same year, there were 31.8 personal computers for every 1,000 people and 11 of every 1,000 people had access to the Internet. There was one secure Internet server in the country in 2004.

Like the radio and television stations, the press is entirely controlled and owned by the government. Cuba's major newspapers are all published in Havana and include Granma, established in 1965 (with an estimated 2002 circulation of 400,000) as the official organ of the Communist party. The party also publishes weekly editions in Spanish, English, and French. The weekly Juventud Rebelde is the publication of the Union of Young Communists, and had a 2002 circulation of 250,000.

Magazines published in Havana include Bohemia (weekly, 20,000, general articles and news) and Mujeres (monthly, 250,000, women's-interest news). Prensa Latina, the Cuban wire service, covers international affairs and distributes its coverage throughout Latin America.

The constitution states that print and electronic media are state property and cannot be made private. Media operate under strict guidelines and reflect government views. The government is said to intimidate journalists through the penal system and the threatening of jobs.


Most of the leading mass organizations in Cuba were founded shortly after the revolution. The Committees for the Defense of the Revolution were founded on 28 September 1960 to combat counterrevolutionary activities. The Federation of Cuban Women was established 23 August 1960. The National Association of Small Farmers, the leading peasants' organization, was established 17 May 1961; in 1989 it had 167,461 members, both private farmers and members of cooperatives. The Confederation of Cuban Workers, the principal trade union federation, antedates the revolution. Founded in 1939, it had a total membership of 3,060,838 workers in 1990.

The Union of Young Communists of Cuba (UJC), founded in 1962, has reported over 500,000 members. The Federation of Cuban University Students (FEU), founded in 1922, consists of students from all major universities, colleges, and secondary schools. There are a number of sports organizations in the country and an active organization of the Special Olympics.

There are national chapters of the Red Cross Society and Caritas.


Before 1959, tourism, especially from the United States, was a major source of revenue. Foreign tourism declined in the 1960s, and Cuba's ornate and expensive hotels were used mainly by visiting delegations of workers and students. Renewed emphasis on international tourism characterized the 197680 development plan, under which 25 new hotels were opened. The Cuban government actively promotes tourism as a means of offsetting the financial decline brought on by the collapse of the Soviet bloc.

Among Cuba's attractions are fine beaches; magnificent coral reefs, especially around the Isle of Youth; and historic sites in Old Havana (where some buildings date from the 17th century), Trinidad, and Santiago de Cuba. Passports and visas are required for nationals of countries that do not have visa-free agreements with Cuba. In June 1992, Cuba was admitted to the Caribbean Tourism Organization.

There were 1,905,682 foreign visitors who arrived in Cuba in 2003. Hotel rooms numbered 43,696 with 84,200 beds and a 62% occupancy rate. Tourism receipts reached $1.8 billion.

In 2004, the US Department of State estimated the cost of staying in Havana at $167 per day, and in Guantánamo Bay, $78 per day.


José Martí (185395), poet, journalist, and patriot, was the moving spirit behind the revolution that liberated Cuba from Spain. Antonio Maceo (184896), the mulatto general known as the "Titan of Bronze," became famous both as a guerrilla fighter and as an uncompromising advocate of independence. Carlos J. Finlay (18331915) gained lasting recognition for his theory regarding the transmission of yellow fever.

Cuban literature is most famous for its poetry and essays. The influential Afro-Cuban tradition has been explored by Cuban scholars, most notably by Fernando Ortiz (18811916), jurist and ethnographer. Another leading writer was José Antonio Saco (17971879), author of a six-volume history of slavery. Ernesto Lecuona (18961963) was a composer of popular music, and Juan José Sicre (18981974) is Cuba's outstanding sculptor.

The major heroes of the revolution against Batista are Fidel Castro Ruz (b.1926); his brother, Gen. Raúl Castro Ruz (b.1931); Argentine-born Ernesto "Che" Guevara (192867), who was killed while engaged in revolutionary activities in Bolivia; and Camilo Cienfuegos (d.1959). Cubans notable in literature include poet Nicolás Guillén (190289) and playwright and novelist Alejo Carpentier y Valmont (190480). Cuban-American writer Cristina Garcia (b.1958), made her debut as a novelist with Dreaming in Cuban (1992); she was a Guggenheim Fellow. Alicia Alonso (b.1921), a noted ballerina, founded the National Ballet of Cuba.


Cuba has no territories or colonies.


Calvert, Peter. A Political and Economic Dictionary of Latin America. Philadelphia: Routledge/Taylor and Francis, 2004.

Cardoso, Eliana A. Cuba After Communism. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1992.

Cuba After the Cold War. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1993.

Cuba and the Caribbean: Regional Issues and Trends in the PostCold War Era. Wilmington, Del.: Scholarly Resources, 1997.

Cuba and the Future. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1994.

Gomez, Mayra. Human Rights in Cuba, El Salvador, and Nicaragua: A Sociological Perspective on Human Rights Abuse. New York: Routledge, 2003.

Health in the Americas, 2002 edition. Washington, D.C.: Pan American Health Organization, Pan American Sanitary Bureau, Regional Office of the World Health Organization, 2002.

Hudson, Rex A. (ed.). Cuba: A Country Study. Washington, D.C.: Federal Research Division, Library of Congress, 2002.

Luis, William. Culture and Customs of Cuba. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2001.

Simons, Geoffrey Leslie. Cuba: From Conquistador to Castro. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire, England: Macmillan Press, 1996.

Suchlicki, Jaime. Historical Dictionary of Cuba. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 2001.

Toward a New Cuba?: Legacies of a Revolution. Boulder, Colo.: L. Rienner Publishers, 1997.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Cuba." Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations. . 9 Jul. 2018 <>.

"Cuba." Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations. . (July 9, 2018).

"Cuba." Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations. . Retrieved July 09, 2018 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.



Basic Data

Official Country Name: Republic of Cuba
Region (Map name): North & Central America
Population: 11,184,023
Language(s): Spanish
Literacy rate: 95.7%
Area: 110,860 sq km
Number of Television Stations: 58
Number of Television Sets: 2,640,000
Television Sets per 1,000: 236.1
Number of Radio Stations: 225
Number of Radio Receivers: 3,900,000
Radio Receivers per 1,000: 348.7
Number of Individuals with Computers: 120,000
Computers per 1,000: 10.7
Number of Individuals with Internet Access: 60,000
Internet Access per 1,000: 5.4

Background & General Characteristics

General Description

The press situation in Cuba ranks as one of the most complicated in the world due to the political and physical distribution of the Cuban people. Since the victory of the Castro-led forces in 1959, a significant Cuban exile community has flourished in the United States, especially in South Florida. This offshore Cuban community has generated a significant volume of information during its decades of exile. Part of their output has been in English, designed for the audience in the United States, while the remainder has been in Spanish, aimed at consumption by the population of Cuba. Similarly, the press offerings on the island, including both the government-sponsored media and those of the opposition, have been divided between those aimed at domestic and international audiences.

The press situation in Cuba is one of the most restrictive in Latin America. Over the more than four decades since the accession of the Castro government, neither freedom of expression nor freedom of the press have existed on the island. The Castro regime maintains a monopoly on information throughout the nation, confiscating the property of independent media and maintaining a policy of constant repression.

The Nature of the Audience: Literacy, Affluence, Population Distribution, Language Distribution

In 2001, the U.S. government estimated the population of Cuba at just over 11 million. Of these, 21 percent were aged 0-14, 69 percent were aged 15-64, and 10 percent were over age 65. The population was estimated to be growing at a rate of .37 percent annually. The ethnic mix of the nation includes 37 percent persons of European descent, 11 percent persons of African descent, and 51 percent people of mixed races. Despite its history of slavery, the significance of race is less of an issue in Cuban society than it is in the United States. Eighty-five percent of Cubans were nominally Roman Catholic prior to Castro coming into power. The remaining religiously identified Cubans included Protestants, Jehovah's Witnesses, Jews, and Santeria.

The government's figure for overall literacy is 95.7 percent of all persons aged 15 and older, although this figure is based on the unique Cuban definition of literacy. In 1961, the Castro-led government initiated a Literacy Campaign that claimed remarkable results, dropping the nation's illiteracy rate from nearly 40 percent to below 4 percent in a single year. In the years since the revolution, Cuban officials have consistently placed the nation's illiteracy rate at figures of three or four percent, a rate better than that in Switzerland. However, the Cuban definition does not conform to world standards for measuring literacy. In the Cuban model, the literacy rate describes the proportion of those persons between the ages of 14 and 44, whom the government believes capable of learning how to read, who could read and write according to a standardized Cuban test. In the early 1980s, when the Mariel boatlift refugees came into the United States, many of them were tested for literacy in Spanish by local school districts for the purpose of placement in the second language programs of American public schools. The results of these tests placed their literacy rate at more plausible levels of between 70 and 80 percent. These and other objective measures of Cuban literacy demonstrate that the efforts of the Cuban government to improve literacy have been effective, although not nearly as effective as Cuban propaganda and UNESCO sources would suggest.

Quality of Journalism: General Comments

The state-employed journalists of Cuba are very literally the voice of the Cuban government. Because of the severe restrictions in content as well as in style that are placed upon these writers and editors, the work is described as "a very somber and unimaginative journalism" by Dr. José Alberto Hernández. Hernández, president of Cuba-Net, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization based in the United States that works to foster press freedom in Cuba, points out that upon separation from the government-controlled media, an independent journalist, while achieving some freedom of expression, loses access to both ends of the journalistic process. Sources that were once openly available become utterly unapproachable to the independent. Likewise, publication proves elusive to the independent journalist. Therefore the choice for the Cuban journalist is between a dull and highly controlled career within the state-sponsored media or a precarious and difficult one outside of that media.

The most noticeable trait in journalism concerning Cuba is the omnipresent bias. On one side the bias is the pro-government slant found in the government-controlled press organs that flourish on the island and in the scattered press organs around the world that sympathize strongly enough with the Castro regime to overlook its cavalier treatment of press freedom. These press outlets serve effectively as apologists for all Cuban government activities and sounding boards for Cuban-based criticism of the West, especially the United States. However, the bias on the other side of the divide is equally severe. Given the difficulty of serving as an independent journalist inside Cuba, only those with powerful and typically anti-Castro agendas tend to endure the hardships associated with this career. Similarly, a huge amount of writing originating outside of Cuba flows from the exile community in South Florida, from the Radio Martí air-waves and from other anti-Castro activists.

Those who would serve as impartial observers face difficulties from both directions. The Cuban government, while extremely accommodating to those members of the foreign press who they perceive as representing the "reality of Cuba," provide virtually no real access to journalists whom they do not feel they can utilize. Political and bureaucratic opposition to objective coverage of Cuba for American journalists can make the endeavor seem not worth the effort.

Historical Traditions

Cuban journalism traces its history to an early beginning during the Spanish colonial rule, with the first Cuban press put into operation by 1723. The history of the nation's press can be divided into five periods. The first period, the Colonial, reaches from the earliest days until 1868. The second period, the time of the Independence Revolution, spans the period from 1868 to 1902. A third period, the Republican period, runs from 1902 until the overthrow of the dictator Machado in 1930. The third period, the Batista era, lasts from 1930 until 1959. The final and current epoch of the Castro era runs from the triumph of the communist revolution in 1959 up to the present.

In comparison with Spanish colonies in other parts of the world, Cuba developed a printing press at a rather late date. However, compared to the rest of the Caribbean and Central America, the Cuban press came early. The nation's first newspaper, Gazeta de la Habana, began publication in 1782, followed in 1790 by the colony's first magazine, Papel Periódico de la Habana. These early publications and those that came into being over the following century operated under Spanish press laws that had been in place in Spanish America since the late sixteenth century. During the early years of the nineteenth century, Spanish regulations on the press became relaxed, partly due to the decreasing power of Madrid on its distant colonies and partly in response to the political currents flowing from the French Revolution.

The second phase of the Cuban press began in 1869 with the first war of independence, when the colonial government issued a press freedom decree with the aim of gaining favor from the reformist circles. In the months following this decree, a series of reform-minded periodicals began publication, of which the most important was El Cubano Libre, appearing on the war's first day. Other new periodicals included Estrella Solitaria, El Mambi and El Boletín de la Guerra.

In 1895, at the outset of the second war of independence, the most important newspaper of the reform party was Patria, which had been founded in 1892. Providing the spark that began Patria was José Martí, who had earlier written for a wide variety of newspapers and magazines, including La Nación of Buenos Aires and the New York Sun. Journalism provided Martí with his most direct, immediate, and constant form of expression. Martí, who served as the inspiration and organizer of the War of Independence in Cuba, saw newspaper essays as a key force in the development of modernism and the inspiration of his fellow revolutionaries as they struggled to free themselves from Spanish rule.

With the establishment of the Republic of Cuba on May 20, 1902, the history of the Cuban press entered its third period, which lasted until 1930 when the dictator Gerardo Machado was overthrown. During this period Cuban journalism enjoyed a time of prosperity in which at least a dozen dailies flourished in Havana. In the opinion of Jorge Martí, this large number arose due to the ease with which one could start a newspaper or magazine, the willingness of political parties to serve as sponsors, and an overall strong economy. Faced with increasing political opposition and an often-hostile press, in 1928 Machado attempted to co-opt the press by providing significant government subsidies to periodicals in exchange for support. This move prefigured the difficult times to follow.

Machado's fall began in 1930, brought about by earlier economic difficulties and aggravated by the 1933 political instability. With this, the golden days of Cuban journalism faded, brought to an end by the combination of labor unrest from within and the increased government attempts at control from without. The declining state of the Cuban press might have been much worse had it not been for the improvements brought by twentieth-century technological advances. The arrival of steam-powered printing presses and the increased commercial sophistication of the publishers served to expand the journalist's audience and prestige across the country. During this period, a succession of authoritarian regimes which culminated in that of Batista in 1952, exerted increasing control over the nation's press.

In 1959, with the victory of the Castro-led communists, the history of the Cuban press entered its current phase. This phase might be described as simply a continuation of the movement toward government domination and control of the press that began in 1930. The four decades following the Cuban revolution have been marked by very tight government authority over all press outlets. Although opposition has worked throughout this period to counter the government's propagandistic journalism program, only in the 1990s with the emergence of the Internet as a new medium has independent journalism began to pose a significant challenge to the government control of information.

Although often castigated by the Castro regime, the American press played a vital role in the establishment of an independent Cuba by leading the charge toward America's entry into a war with Spain. At the forefront of this effort stood two giants of American journalism, publishers William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer. Both men saw in the conflict with Spain a rare opportunity for increased circulation of their newspapers. Correctly perceiving in the spirit of the day an increased patriotic sense, the two publishers directed their newspapers to publish sensational anti-Spanish stories. These stories were often illustrated graphically by some of the most gifted artists of the day, including Frederic Remington, and written by top quality writers such as Stephen Crane. Working in competition with each other, Hearst and Pulitzer ironically worked together in creating a war frenzy among the American people as they reported the alleged brutality of the Spanish toward the Cuban rebels. At the same time, the violent acts committed by the Cuban rebels were rarely mentioned in the papers' coverage. When the USS Maine exploded in Havana Harbor, the pro-war coverage instigated by Hearst and Pulitzer had sufficiently built national war sentiment that President McKinley felt it a political necessity to bow to pressure and enter into a war with Spain.

While the press under the Castro-led government from 1959 to the present has received significant criticism from world press organizations and advocates of a free and open press, it should not be forgotten that a history of free expression is not found in years before 1959. Where the Castro regime has used direct state control of media outlets since the 1960s, the previous governments exercised control of a privately owned media through frequent closures of newspapers and censorship. The nation's 1940 Constitution reacted against the censorship that had plagued the Cuban press since 1925, providing strong protections for the press and free expression. Despite these provisions, ensuing rulers returned to the censorship practices of their predecessors, effectively ignoring the law. Fulgencio Batista, who came to power in a coup on March 10, 1952 established very strong censorship during his nine years of leadership. Censorship under Batista was explained as a response to the threats posed by the rebel movement that would eventually un-seat him. The Union of Cuban Journalists (UPEC), in discussing the issue of press freedom, asserted that "press freedom only existed in the colonial and republican life of Cuba for the powerful ones and rulers."

During the difficult economic times of the 1990s, significant problems afflicted the Cuban press as a result of the ongoing financial distress of the nation. Budgetary shortages brought about drastic consequences, including a 40 percent reduction in hours of radio and television programming and an 80 percent reduction in the budget of the print media.

Foreign Language Press

Although many of the national press services in print, broadcast, and digital media are published with English-language counterparts aimed primarily at international consumption, no significant non-Spanish press exists on the island.

Leading Newspapers

Three national periodicals circulate in Cuba. The newspaper with the largest circulation is Granma, which since its founding in 1965 has served as the official news organ of the Communist Party. The other two national publications are Juventud Rebelde andTrabajadores. Regional newspapers are published in each of the fourteen provinces of the island. Also, the nation boasts various cultural, scientific, technical, social science, and tourism magazines, which appear at various intervals.

The most important newspaper in Cuba is Granma. In 1998, Editors and Publishers International Yearbook placed the circulation of the daily at 675,000, which ranked it as the 88th most widely circulated newspaper in the world. The international reach of Granma expanded significantly with the advent of the Internet. The website Digital Granma Internacional brings much of the print edition's content to the web, presenting it in Spanish, English, French, Portuguese, and German. In all of its incarnations, the propaganda role of Granma is impossible to avoid. Typical front-page headlines include roughly equal numbers of stories vindicating and celebrating government policies and position along with frequent stories censuring the political leadership of the United States for perceived abuses. In both its print edition and Internet counterpart, this daily newspaper contains national and international news, cultural reporting, letters, sports, and special thematic features.

Juventud Rebelde, the nation's newspaper with the second highest circulation is, as all professionally produced publications on the island, controlled and created by the government. Under the editorial leadership of Rogelio Polanco Fuentes, the newspaper has maintained a focus on news about and for Cuban youth culture. In pursuing this aim, Juventud covers many of the same stories as the more adult-oriented Granma. Comparisons between the coverage of stories in these two leading newspapers show that the Juventud articles tend to be briefer, composed of shorter sentences, and drafted with a less challenging vocabulary. The daily runs a regular feature entitled "Curiosidades," in which brief, peculiar news stories of the sort that the U.S.'s National Public Radio Morning Edition runs at half past the hour are related. Juventud, like its adult-oriented counterpart Granma, also covers cultural and sporting events but from a more youth-focused angle. The focus on popular music, nearly nonexistent in Granma, is a prominent example of this contrast. However, rather than pandering to a youth culture, Juventud actively works to indoctrinate the young people of Cuba into a belief system that serves the state's interests. The newspaper runs regular articles celebrating the heroes of the revolution and frames pieces in such a way as to encourage its young readers to identify with these heroes.

A prime example of the journalism of identification practiced by Juventud Rebelde can be seen in the ongoing coverage throughout late 2001 and 2002 of the incarceration within the United States of the so-called "Cuban Five." Rene Gonzalez Sehwerert, Ramón Labanino Salazar, Fernando Gonzalez Llort, Antonio Guerrero Rodriguez, and Gerardo Hernandez Nordelo, were arrested in the United States on charges of espionage against South Florida military bases. The Cuban government and the five men themselves have claimed since their arrest in September 1998 and throughout their trial and imprisonment that they were merely attempting to monitor the activities of right-wing anti-Cuban groups in Florida. The five were convicted in June 2001. Since that time, the Cuban press has provided daily focus on these men, branding them the "five innocents" and portraying them, after September 11, 2001, as fighters against terrorism.

The differing coverage of this issue between Granma and Juventud Rebelde is illustrative of the audience differences between the two dailies. In Granma, the focus of the stories regarding these five prisoners has been in placing them into a larger context of both history and world politics. The five are compared favorably with Cuban heroes of old and their actions are portrayed within the context of a longer struggle against the imperialist forces of the United States. In Juventud Rebelde, the political and historical context is less important. Instead, readers are urged to identify with these young men. In fact, the young age of the prisoners is a regular focus in Juventud, despite the fact that, in their mid-to late thirties, most of these men are considerably older than the readership of this newspaper. Juventud also places much more emphasis on the families of the prisoners.

The third national publication in Cuba is Trabajadores (Workers), which is much more political and polemical than either Granma or Juventud Rebelde. As the official organ of the government-controlled national trade union, Trabajadores also is the most noticeably and consistently Marxist in orientation of the three.

Economic Framework

All of the official media outlets on the island of Cuba are controlled by and almost exclusively funded by the government. The nominal subscription fees charged to Cuban nationals for the three major print media fail to cover the marginal production costs of the publication. Since the advertising carried within the newspapers is essentially all purchased by the state, the subsidies provided to cover the shortfall in the publications' budgets take the form of inter-agency transfer payments. Subscription rates for a weekly edition of Granma Internacional cost US$50 per year, again an amount insufficient to cover the cost of production. Broadcast media are similarly supported by government funds. The amount of the subsidies paid to the various press organs is not public knowledge.

The government controls some 70 percent of all farmland on the island as well as 90 percent of production industries. Although the government brings in considerable revenue from exports, especially sugar, Cuba's economy has been in deep difficulty since the early 1990s. Credits and subsidies from the Soviet Union totaled an estimated US$38 billion between the years 1961 and 1984. As much as US$4 billion was transferred from the Soviet coffers to those of Cuba during the late 1980s. The collapse of the Soviet bloc, which deprived Cuba of both its leading aid donor and trade partner, severely damaged the nation's economy. During the early 1990s the annual gross national product was about US$1,370 per capita. The annual government budget included approximately US$14.5 billion in expenditures, offset by only US$12.5 billion in revenues.

A journalist can earn a respectable income by Cuban standards; however, the salaries paid to all Cuban workers are problematic. Wages have not risen markedly over the 40 years since the revolution. In addition, wages paid in Cuban pesos are of questionable value as shortages of goods in the nation's stores leaves consumers with no use for their earnings. Since the peso is not a widely recognized currency, even those workers with access to external markets find themselves unable to participate.

The economic structure of the non-governmental press is even more difficult. Since the independent journalists working on the island are not able to sell their work in any form that could provide sufficient income for personal support, most of the independent journalists work out of a sense of devotion to their profession rather than for hope of material gain. Those independents who do sell their work to paying markets abroad run the risk of imprisonment.

The anti-Castro press/propaganda structure centered in South Florida, while carrying advertisements, is largely a political construct. Advertisers support these media not because of the benefit that the advertisement promises to their businesses but because of their devotion to the anti-Castro cause.

Press Laws

Constitutional Provisions & Guarantees Relating to Media

Article 53 of the 1976 Cuban constitution recognizes freedom of both expression and the press, but subordinates and limits those freedoms to the "ends of the socialist society." Constitutional Article 62 limits press freedoms further, and Article 5 grants to the Communist Party on behalf of the society and the state the duty to organize and control all of the resources for communication in order to realize the benefit of state.

Summary of Press Laws in Force

There is no formal press law in Cuba, and aside from the vague statements in the constitution, press freedom is not guaranteed legally. The Communist Party, according to a resolution approved by the first party congress in 1975, regulates the role and function of the press. In 1997, the state passed Resolution Number 44/97, which regulated the activities of the foreign press. In the stipulations of this resolution there was established a Center of International Press to provide oversight to foreign journalists. This resolution, composed of three chapters and 26 articles, established that no foreign press agency could contract directly with a Cuban journalist to serve as a correspondent without the permission of the state. Law 80, approved in December 1997 under the title of the "Law of Reaffirmation of National Dignity and Sovereignty," stipulates in Article 8 that no journalist may in any way, directly or indirectly, collaborate with the journalists of the enemy. The 1999 Law 88, called the "Law of Protection of National Independence and the Economy of Cuba" provides more specific limits to the rights of free expression and the press with the nation in the law's Article 7. Part of this act provides a prison term of up to 15 years to anyone that directly or indirectly provides information to the United States, its dependents or agents, in order to facilitate the objectives of the U.S. Helms-Burton Act. The law also prescribes an eight-year prison term to those who reproduce or distribute material deemed to be subversive propaganda from the U.S. government. Specifically, the law forbids collaboration "in any way with foreign radio or television stations, newspapers, magazines or other mass media with the purpose of destabilizing the country and destroying the socialist state." Other provisions of the law create further penalties for press activities considered detrimental to the state or the communist party or beneficial to the nation's enemies.

At the passage of Law 88, the communist youth daily Juventud Rebelde ran stories that demonstrated the government's propaganda position. "Independent journalists are mercenaries: The [U.S.] Empire pays, organizes, teaches, trains, arms and camouflages them and orders them to shoot at their own people," they wrote. Castro, in public speeches, denounced the independent journalists, branding them as counterrevolutionaries. The government has long claimed that the independent journalists receive considerable funding from anti-Castro forces, especially those in the large Cuban exile community in Miami. Naturally, the independent journalists deny such charges.


In Cuba, no law exists that either establishes or prohibits censorship. The role of censor is carried out by the Department of Revolutionary Orientation, which answers to the Ideology Secretary of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party. This department was created in the mid-1960s, first bearing the name of Commission of Revolutionary Orientation, and was charged with creating propaganda and propagating the government ideology. The department is also responsible for the design and creation of all official political communications.

Independent Press

The most pressing issue related to censorship in any study of the Cuban press is the treatment by the authorities of those who attempt to create an independent press. In the late twentieth century, as the number of these independent reporters mushroomed, the reaction of the government was forceful. The policy of official repression, which had been allowed to relax in previous years, returned powerfully in the 1990s. The government's actions included imprisonment, physical violence, and house arrest.

Only those journalists that are members of the state-controlled UPEC are allowed accreditation to practice their trade in Cuba. UPEC does not function in the manner of a press organization in a free country but instead serves as an extension of the government, assisting in their control and prior approval of the information allowed in the press. A 1997 Communist Party publication stated overtly that UPEC serves as an ideological organ of the party and that they are charged with spreading the thoughts of the revolution. Not all journalists belong to UPEC, however. In reality various independent organizations exist, though banned by the government. These groups are typically formed by dissident and opposition journalists, indisposed to undergo the control of the government. In many cases the government has removed accreditation from journalists involved with these unofficial groups.

State-Press Relations

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has, since the early 1990s, included Fidel Castro on its annual "Ten Worst Enemies of the Press" list, a distinction that he shares with such regulars as Ayatollah Ali Khamenei of Iran, President Jiang Zemin of China and Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad of Malaysia. In 2002, the CPJ named Cuba as one of the 10 worst places in the world to be a journalist, noting that "The Cuban government is determined to crush independent journalism on the island but has not yet succeeded." Journalists are constantly followed, harassed, intimidated, and sometimes jailed.

In early 2002, the CPJ noted with approval the recent release from prison of two journalists, but lamented the continued detention of Bernardo Arévalo Padrón, jailed since 1997. Arévalo is serving a six-year sentence imposed for "disrespecting" President Fidel Castro. The exact nature of Arévalo's offense was to refer to Castro as a "liar" when the president failed to enact democratic reforms that he had promised. Previously, the journalist had garnered ill will from the government when he made public the members of the Communist Central Committee who appropriated cattle for their own use at a time of food shortage. As of August 2002, he held the distinction as the lone journalist in the Americas behind bars for his work.

While some independent journalists find outlets in America and Europe in both Spanish and English language venues, others attempt to publish as best they can in Cuba itself. One such independent publisher, Adolfo Fernandez, creates his own quarterly newsletter with a production run of roughly 1,000 on a photocopier. He then passes these newsletters out to friends and acquaintances. Fernandez admits to withholding some criticism in his stories, preferring to moderate his tone and avoid government clampdowns. Fernandez also gets his message off of the island through radio communications and occasional offshore publication. He has taken on the role of a watchdog over the two most important government publications, Granma and Juventud Rebelde. Fernandez is typical of the independent journalists, many of whom formerly worked within the government information apparatus and who found the censorship and propaganda that rule those outlets unbearable.

The police in Cuba perpetuate violence and harassment against the independent press operatives. Their actions include constant surveillance, late-night visits, and the confiscation of the tools of their trade. Another favorite method of the revolutionary government is to make an accusation of injury or slander against the independent journalists, as in the case of Bernardo Arévalo Padrón.

The Right to Criticize Government: Theory & Practice

Reporters who work outside the state-sanctioned press system are forced to meet informally, often in the homes of individuals, to discuss ideas and utilize fax and telephone services to convey uncensored articles to editors of Spanish-language newspapers, radio and Internet news services located across Europe and the United States.

These journalists complain of abuse and persecution at the hands of the authorities. In some cases the telephone company cuts off service to homes from which these independent journalists work, and the police routinely maintain surveillance on these buildings and the reporters. Journalists report that relatives have been deprived of jobs in state-run businesses and that they are followed by the agents of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution. Another frequent complaint is that the police routinely place these reporters under house arrest in response to events featuring the political opposition. Another tactic involves rounding up opposition reporters and driving them into remote parts of the country in order to keep them out of circulation temporarily. According to the French group Reporters sans Frontiéres, in 2001 a total of 19 of these harassed Cuban journalists chose to continue their work from exile rather than submitting to the continued persecution.

Although harassment of both low and high intensity has greeted opposition journalists throughout the years of the Castro regime, the government has not succeeded in stemming the flow of reporting from risk-taking reporters working throughout the island. Instead, the latter half of the 1990s saw an explosion in this activity. As recently as 1995, these journalists amounted to some twenty individuals working for five separate organizations. Estimates in 2002 placed the number of unofficial news agencies currently operating from within the island's shores at around twenty, representing a staff of some 100 journalists.

While some of this increase in numbers of opposition reporters might be attributed to the end of the Cold War and an increasing sense that the Castro government is nearing its twilight, it must not be ignored that the government itself, notwithstanding its continued harassment, has become more open to the idea of an independent press system. In May 2001, a group of 40 journalists banded together to effect the formation of the first independent association for journalists recognized under the Castro government. They were spearheaded by Raul Rivero, the former Moscow correspondent for Prensa Latina, the Cuban government's official news agency.

In 2001, three journalists were released from prison. Jesús Joel Díaz Hernández, the executive director of Cooperativa Avileña de Periodistas Independientes, obtained his release after serving two years of a four year sentence for "dangerousness." No explanation accompanied his release, except the warning that he could be jailed again if he returned to work as an independent journalist. Díaz Hernández, arrested on January 18, 1999, in the central province of Ciego de Avila, was sentenced the next day to a four-year prison term. The charge against Hernández was that he had six times been warned about "dangerousness." The second released journalist, Manuel Antonio González Castellanos, who served as correspondent for the independent news agency Cuba Press, obtained his release in February 2001. His October 1998 arrest had been based upon charges of insulting Castro while being detained by state security agents. The final freed reporter was José Orlando González Bridón, who had been imprisoned since December 2000 serving a two-year term for "false information" and "enemy propaganda."

González Bridón, the head of the small opposition group the Cuban Democratic Workers' Confederation, was the first opposition journalist to receive a prison sentence arising from an Internet publication. Writing since the fall of 1999 for the Miami-based Cuba Free Press, Bridón's arrest followed an August 5, 2000 article that alleged police negligence in the death of an activist killed by her ex-husband. The trial, held in a single day and not open to the public, ended with a guilty verdict and a two-year sentence, although the prosecution had only requested a one-year sentence.

Throughout the year 2001, state security agents continually harassed independent journalists and their families. In January, Antonio Femenías and Roberto Valdivia, both of whom worked for the independent news organization Patria, were detained and interrogated for three hours by state security agents after they met with two Czech nationals. The Czech representatives, accused of holding "subversive talks" and conveying "resources" to dissidents, were detained for nearly a month, a move that worsened already strained relations between Cuba and the Czech Republic.

One of Cuba's most widely known dissident journalists, Raúl Rivero, has for many years served as the unofficial leader of the nation's independent press movement. Throughout that time, Rivero has faced constant harassment from the Castro government and its security agency. Born in 1945, Rivero graduated from Havana University's School of Journalism in the early 1960s as one of the first in a group of journalists to be trained after the 1959 revolution. In 1966 he co-founded the satirical magazine Caián Barbudo and from 1973 until 1976 he served as the Moscow correspondent for the government news agency, Prensa Latina. In 1976, Rivero returned to Cuba to assume leadership of the Prensa Latina science and culture desk, a post that he held until his break with the agency in 1988. In 1989, Rivero resigned from the government's National Union of Cuban Writers and sealed his status as an opposition leader in 1991 when he became one of ten journalists, and the only one to remain in Cuba, who signed the Carta de los Intelectuales (Intellectuals' Letter), which called for the government to free all prisoners of conscience. The same year, Rivero declared official journalism to be a "fiction about a country that does not exist."

Since 1995 Rivero has headed CubaPress, one of the nation's leading independent news agencies. Viewed as a dissident for his independent work, Rivero, like all independent journalists, is prohibited from publishing on the island. His only outlets for publication are on the Internet and abroad, although in publishing internationally he runs the risk of a jail term for disseminating "enemy propaganda." He has been notified that while he is free to leave Cuba, his re-entry to the country will be denied. Rivero's celebrated February 1999 article, "Journalism Belongs to Us All," reflected on the efforts of Cuban journalists attempting to freely report the news from that nation. In this article he proclaims that no law can make him feel like a criminal for reporting the truth about his homeland. "I am merely a man who writes," he asserts. "One who writes in the country where I was born."

Attitude toward Foreign Media

The relationship between the Castro government and the foreign press has long been troubled as the government attempts to provide some access to foreign news organizations in order to serve their own ends while also attempting to effect control of the material flowing out of the country. A constant refrain in the speeches of the president is the unfair and negative tone so often evident in foreign accounts of Cuba. British journalist Pascal Fletcher, Reuter's news agency correspondent assigned to Cuba, has received especially severe attacks in the government-controlled press. In January 2001, Granma described Fletcher as being "full of venom against the Cuban revolution," while a television program aired three days later complained of the journalist's "provocative, tendentious and perfidious attitude."

President Castro, in a televised speech broadcast on January 17 and 18, 2001, complained of the foreign press and described their stance as "completely unobjective." While not mentioning any media or journalists in particular, he struck out at journalists "who dedicate themselves to defaming the revolution" or who "transmit not only lies, but gross insults against the revolution and against myself in particular." In the speech, Castro threatened to cancel the operating permits of foreign media, noting that it would be effective to remove permission to report from Cuba from an agency instead of simply deporting a single reporter.

Foreign journalists also suffer from the repressive actions of the Cuban government. In August 2000, three Swedish reporters were detained, ostensibly for immigration violations, after having conducted interviews with various independent journalists.

Foreign Propaganda & its Impact on Domestic Media

The most significant foreign broadcast presence in Cuba comes through the expense and effort of the United States government and their Radio Martí and TV Martí programs. In 1985, Ronald Reagan signed the Radio Broadcasting to Cuba Act, which established a nine-member advisory board to oversee the expansion of Voice of America services to include specifically Cuban broadcasts. The administrators of this service describe themselves as follows: "The Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB) was established in 1990 to oversee all programming broadcast to Cuba on the Voice of America's Radio and TV Martí. In keeping with the principles of the Voice of America Charter, both stations broadcast accurate and objective news and information on issues of interest to the people of Cuba."

Radio Martí initiated programming from studios in Washington, D.C. in May 1985. Their programming runs seven days a week and twenty-four hours a day over AM and short-wave frequencies. The broadcast schedule includes news, news analysis, and music programming. Roughly half of the Radio Martí broadcast day is composed of news-related programs. Besides traditional news coverage, the broadcasts include live interviews and discussions with experts and correspondents around the world. The station also carries live coverage of congressional hearings of import to Cuba as well as speeches by Latin American leaders. The fiscal year 1998 budget for Radio Martí was US$13.9 million. According to the OCB, Cuban arrivals in the United States indicate that Radio Martí is the most popular of Cuban radio stations, although the Cuban government goes to great expense and effort to jam the broadcasts. In 2002, in response to increasingly effective Cuban efforts to jam the Radio Martí signals, the broadcaster requested that the government of Belize allow them to use the transmitters located in that country, which were already used to broadcast Voice of America programming throughout Central America, for Cuban transmissions. The government of Belize declined this request, attempting to avoid involvement in worsening U.S.-Cuban relations. Radio Martí transmits over the air and also provides a streaming audio version of both their live programming and periodic news reports over the Internet.

Television Martí joined its radio counterpart on March 27, 1990. The programming for TV Martí originates from studios in Miami and is then transmitted to the Florida Keys via satellite. The antenna and transmitter for the station are mounted onto a balloon that is tethered 10,000 feet above Cudjoe Key, Florida. Cuban government jamming of the TV Martí signal has proven far more successful than the radio-jamming efforts, partly due to the highly directional broadcast signal used to target the broadcast into the Havana area. Because of this jamming, the signal is randomly moved to regions east and west of the capital in order to reach Cuban televisions without jamming.

News Agencies

The main internal Cuban news agency is AIN, Agencia Cubana de Noticias (Cuban News Agency). Founded in May 1974, AIN operates from Havana under the direction of Esteban Ramírez Alonso. As a key organ in the promulgation of government information, AIN predictably carries key stories that support government policies and reinforce the regime's interpretation of world affairs. For example, in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, AIN condemned the actions of Al Qaeda but spent considerably more time castigating the United States for its responses in Afghanistan and elsewhere. However, not all AIN coverage can be dismissed as propaganda. Presented in both English and Spanish, the news stories on any given day include speeches and comments by Castro and coverage of world events from a pro-government point of view, as well as less politically charged stories regarding scientific advances, cultural events, and other ordinary stories.

The Cuban government also supports and controls Prensa Latina (Latin Press), which they refer to as a Latin American Press Information Agency. While attempting to appear in the guise of an Associated Press-style news agency, the propaganda function of this service is apparent to any attentive observer. Describing themselves as the "Premier News Agency in the Republic of Cuba," Prensa Latina provides a daily news service including synthesis of materials regarding Cuba; a daily section containing the principal Cuban news stories; a Cuban economic bulletin (in Spanish and English); and a summary of vital Cuban economic, commercial, and financial news. They also publish a daily English-language "Cuba News in Brief," and the English-language "Cuba Direct," which provide translations of articles regarding Cuban news, politics, sports, culture, and art. Other occasional features include tourism news, medical news, women's issues, and coverage of Cuban and Caribbean science and medicine.

While a number of news organizations from the United States, including CNN, the Associated Press, the Chicago Tribune and the Dallas Morning News maintain permanent bureaus in Havana, foreign reporters visiting the nation are frequently harassed, threatened or even expelled.

Broadcast Media

The government maintains 5 national and 65 regional radio broadcast stations along with the international service of Radio Habana Cuba. Along with the radio services, the government supports 2 national and 11 regional television stations. The most important of these is Cubavisión, which is tightly controlled by the government. In September 2001, the government announced the establishment of a third television channel dedicated to educational and cultural programming at a cost of $3.7 million. In 1998, the nation supported 225 radio broadcast stations, 169 AM, 55 FM, and 1 short-wave. Four Internet Service Providers were in operation in 2001, although access to Internet services remained closely restricted.

A 1997 estimate set the number of radio receivers in the nation at 3.9 million, or roughly one for every three persons. The number of television sets stood at 2.6 million, or one for every four persons.

The most significant domestic television news provider in Cuba is Cubavisión Internacional. Like virtually all of the media outlets on the island, Cubavisión Internacional is controlled completely by the government.

A recent addition to the services offered by Cubavisión is a streaming Internet feed, TV en Vivo, through which the current programming on the network is available internationally. Again, in view of the tiny proportion of Cubans who possess any Internet service whatsoever (roughly half of one percent in 2000), this service must be considered as an offering for those in other parts of the world and not for the inhabitants of the island. In 2002, the broadcast day on Televisión Cubana ran from 6:30 a.m. until 6:00 p.m. A 90-minute, light news program began the day. A one-hour news show and several brief news updates provided the main news coverage. Typical news coverage included political and economic coverage, stories on science, culture, society, and sports. The network also broadcast more developed special reports, some of which were considered to be propaganda pieces.

Despite the government control of the television news, the voice projected is not a completely monolithic one. One popular segment of the news is Preguntas y Respuestas (Questions and Answers) in which listeners are allowed to pose a question for the reporters to answer. The network's web site provides a feedback option as well, allowing a newsgroup-style threaded discussion of selected topics. Both of these features, while allowing a certain amount of openness, either demonstrate a lack of true dissent or are censored before they appear publicly.

CHtv represents itself as the channel of the capital, focusing its news broadcasts on the local news of Havana. CHtv has been serving Havana since 1991, and presents a two-hour-per day news program six days a week.

The other television outlet in Cuba is Telecristal, broadcasting from Holguín. The first broadcast from Telecristal was transmitted in December 1976. Along with running news broadcasts from the central government, Telecristal 's reporters provide periodic regional news and generally benign editorial comments.

Electronic News Media

Only 60,000 Cubans had access to the Internet in 2000, a figure that represented one-half of one percent of the population. At the center of the Cuban Internet presence is CubaWeb (, a large directory of government and government-controlled web sites. The main CubaWeb site appears in both Spanish and English versions and many of the subsidiary sites are available in languages beyond Spanish, suggesting that the target audience for the site is not on the island where Spanish is the primary language. Aside from links to news stories, CubaWeb provides links to media organizations, political and government entities, technology providers, cultural and arts organizations, non-governmental organizations, tourism bureaus, business groups, and health care providers.

While access to email and the Internet is not permitted to the independent press, the Cuban government maintains more than 300 websites dedicated to the press and official institutions. The government's monopolistic control of the Internet has become extreme. For more than a year, journalist and writer Amir Valle edited an online periodical about Cuban literature titled "Letras de Cuba." Although Valle was not collaborating with foreign journalists and had demonstrated no political dissent, his site was suddenly suspended because, according to the authorities, no independent publications were allowed.

Although the severely curtailed press freedom for non-government-affiliated media makes the printing of independent newspapers virtually impossible, the Internet has allowed an expanded voice for the independent press voices of the nation. The most prominent web-based newspaper in operation currently is La Nueva Cuba, which has been in operation since 1997. Under the guidance of Director General Alex Picarq, La Nueva Cuba provides coverage of international and national news, culture and economic events, sports, and editorials. The editorial slant of the publication, both on its opinion page and in its reporting, is decidedly anti-Castro, the content proving to be as far toward propaganda for the opposition as is the content of Granma for the government. While the web site lists addresses for correspondents in New York, Madrid, and Rome, no addresses are found referring to Havana or elsewhere on the island. In fact, on close examination, La Nueva Cuba proves far more oriented to the expatriate population of South Florida than to the inhabitants of the island. The advertisements on the site, mostly for businesses from the United States, suggest a mainland audience. Given the fact that a very small percentage of Cubans enjoy access to the Internet and that those who do are overwhelmingly affiliated with the government, the penetration of the content of this site to the population may be slight.

Education & TRAINING

Review of Education in Journalism: Degrees Granted

The leading journalism school in Cuba is the University of Havana. The typical journalism student there will earn a bachelor's degree in communication specializing in journalism. The bachelor's degree is a five-year course of study that includes a wide range of courses drawn from the sciences, social sciences, and humanities as well as more traditionally journalistic studies. The degree also requires six semesters of English. Students may elect courses in new media, photojournalism, and other specialties in addition to their required studies. After completion of a bachelor's degree, the journalism student may proceed to a master of science degree in communications, a program that begins in January of each year and generally requires two and a half years of study. Two of the three specializations offered for the master of science degree are related to journalism. Students may specialize in journalism, public relations, or communications science.

Similar undergraduate degrees are offered at most of the regional universities throughout the island. Graduate studies in journalism are available at the University of Holguín and the University of the Orient in Santiago.

In 1996, the Jose Martí International Institute of Journalism, founded in 1983 by the UPEC, resumed operations after a brief hiatus. Officially this interruption of services came as the result of "an obligatory recess brought on by the current economic difficulty in Cuba." The institute fashions itself as an "Institute of the South" and attempts to foster the continued education of Cuban journalists as well as allowing them to interact with their peers in other countries. The institute offers a variety of workshops, seminars, training programs, and other courses of a postgraduate as well as adult education nature. They also fund a selection of research projects concerning social communication on the national and international levels.

Journalistic Awards & Prizes

The highest award in journalism given in Cuba is the "José Martí National Award of Journalism." Established in 1987 by the UPEC, the Martí Award is granted in honor of a lifetime body of work. The first award was made in 1991. In 1999, in honor of the seventh UPEC Congress, 15 journalists were given the award.

In 1989, the UPEC established an award recognizing exceptional work over a year of journalism. This award is named in honor of Juan Gualberto Gómez, an exceptional nineteenth-century Cuban journalist. Each year, Gómez awards are granted in four categories: print journalism, radio, television, and graphic design.

A third award, the Félix Elmuza Distinction, is also granted to journalists, both domestic and foreign, who have earned renown through one or more of several avenues. Among the merits warranting the Elmuza Distinction are a career of 15 or more years of meritorious service, exceptional contributions to journalism, promotion of journalistic collegiality, foreign journalistic work that "reflects the reality of Cuba," or establishment of goodwill between the press and government or society.

Major Journalistic Associations & Organizations

The Unión de Periodistas de Cuba (Union of Cuban Journalists) serves as the journalists' professional organization for anyone who wishes to work in the recognized media in Cuba. Formed on July 15, 1963 from several pre-revolution organizations, UPEC is ostensibly a nongovernmental organization, although membership in this union is required for professional employment in the government-controlled media and the organization's direction is in line with government policies.

In their own documents, the UPEC states its primary obligations as the assistance of journalists in the "legal and ethical exercise of the profession," in achieving the proper access to sources, and in the general support of reporting. The organization also describes itself as being charged with "contributing to the formation of journalists in the best traditions in Cuban political thought, and in the high patriotic, ethical and democratic principles that inspire the Cuban society." The reader can see how such objectives can be read to support the government.

The UPEC code of ethics contains many statements that would seem familiar to journalists in other parts of the world. Reporters are charged with the protection of sources and with the obligation to go to multiple sources in order to ensure an accurate report. Reporters are also said to have a right to access all information of public utility. What constitutes useful information, however, is not defined. Most problematic among the ethics code provisions is Article 12, which states that "The journalist has the duty of following the editorial line and informative politics of the press organ in which he works." Since all of the press organs represented have their editorial lines prescribed by the government, this article essentially dictates that all reporters must follow the government line. The ethics code provides disciplinary sanctions for violations ranging from private admonishment to expulsion from the organization and, hence, the profession.



Cuban media speaks in several voices, yet this polyphony is different than in most countries. Rather than supporting an array of media outlets that span a spectrum of viewpoints, Cuba possesses a large, relatively well-funded, and monolithic state-controlled media engine paired with a small and struggling independent press. Added to these two voices are the propaganda efforts of expatriate Cubans publishing from abroad and targeting both Cuban and international audiences. Finally, the government adds an international voice as it directs a great deal of its news output toward an international audience. This cluster of voices makes a full understanding of the Cuban media more complex than it might seem on the surface.

Trends & Prospects for the Media: Outlook for the Twenty-first Century

The 1990s were a difficult period for Cuba. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba lost the considerable subsidies that flowed into the nation each year. The ensuing economic hardships are only lessening 10 years after they began. Just as the first 30 years of the Cuban revolution's history cannot be separated from the Superpower relations of the Cold War, the history of the 1990s and any future events cannot be separated from Cuban relations with the United States. The continuation of the American economic boycott effectively caps the potential for Cuba's economic prosperity. Without economic dealings with the United States, it is hard to imagine the future holding a great deal of promise for Cuban journalists. Recent years have seen budgetary cutbacks expressed in reduced sizes of newspapers and a reduction in the broadcast hours of radio and television. Continued economic privation would promise more of this sort of contraction.

Just as important over the last decade has been the development of the Internet and its consequent opening of potential modes of publication for dissident journalists. As personal publishing power expands through the spread of the Internet and other media, one can expect an increase in the number and effectiveness of independent journalists in Cuba. How the government will react to such an increase, however, is not at all certain. In recent years, the Castro government has shown no interest in relaxing their stranglehold on information. While it is conceivable that the government will relax their restrictions in the face of public pressure, it is just as likely that they will redouble their efforts toward maintaining control and increase the level of harassment directed at the independent press.

Perhaps the single most important issue for the future of the Cuban media is found in Fidel Castro. After more than four decades in control of the nation, it is difficult to envision a Cuba without Castro. In the spring of 2002, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter visited Cuba and encouraged a relaxation of tensions and the policies of both nations. The Bush administration has demonstrated no interest in pursuing such a relaxation, leaving Castro isolated but in firm control.

Significant Dates

  • 1990: Economic subsidies from the Soviet Union valued at US$4 to US$6 billion annually are ended, plunging Cuba into a lengthy recession.
  • 1997: The government sentences Bernardo Arévalo Padrón, founder of the independent news agency Linea Sur Press, to a sentence of six years for insulting President Fidel Castro and Vice President Carols Lage.
  • 1997: Resolution 44/97 is passed, establishing the Center for International Press, a government-controlled group tasked with providing oversight and direction to foreign journalists.
  • 1997: Law 80, the "Law of Reaffirmation of National Dignity and Sovereignty," is passed, making journalistic collaboration with "the enemy" a criminal offense.
  • 1999: Law 88, the "Law of Protection of National Independence and the Economy of Cuba," creates a wide range of penalties for journalistic activities deemed to be contrary to the benefit of the state.
  • 1999: Six-year-old Elian Gonzalez is rescued after his mother's death as they, along with others, attempt to raft to the United States. A heated legal and journalistic battle rages for months before the boy is returned to his father in Cuba in April 2000.
  • 2000: Three Swedish journalists are detained briefly after interviewing independent journalists.
  • 2000: 3,000 Cubans seek to escape Cuba on homemade rafts and boats. The United States Coast Guard intercepts roughly 35 percent of these.


Anuario Estadístico de Cuba. Havana, published annually.

CubaWeb: Cuban Directory. Available from

Elliston, Jon. Psywar on Cuba: The Declassified History of U.S. Anti-Castro Propaganda. Melbourne: Ocean Press, 1999.

Franklin, Jane. Cuba and the United States: A Chronological History. Melbourne: Ocean Press, 1997.

Latin American Network Information Center (LANIC). Available from

Lent, John A. "Cuban Mass Media After 25 Years of Revolution". Journalism Quarterly. Columbia, SC:AEJMC, 1999.

Perez-Stable. The Cuban Revolution: Origins, Course, and Legacy. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Salwen, Michael B. Radio and Television in Cuba: The Pre-Castro Era. Ames, IA: Iowa State University Press, 1994.

Mark Browning

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Cuba." World Press Encyclopedia. . 9 Jul. 2018 <>.

"Cuba." World Press Encyclopedia. . (July 9, 2018).

"Cuba." World Press Encyclopedia. . Retrieved July 09, 2018 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.



Republic of Cuba

Major Cities:
Havana, Santiago de Cuba

Other Cities:
Bayamo, Camagüey, Cárdenas, Ciego de Ávila, Cienfuegos, Guantánamo, Holguín, Matanzas, Santa Clara, Trinidad


This chapter was adapted from the Department of State Post Report dated October 1994. Supplemental material has been added to increase coverage of minor cities, facts have been updated, and some material has been condensed. Readers are encouraged to visit the Department of State's web site at for the most recent information available on travel to this country.


The island that is now the Republic of CUBA was discovered and claimed for Spain by Christopher Columbus on his first voyage to the New World in 1492. Except for a brief period of British occupation soon after the middle of the 18th century, it remained under Spanish control for nearly 400 years. The Cuban struggle for independence, born out of discontent with a failing economy, broke into open rebellion in 1868, and peaked 30 years later when the United States battleship Maine was blown up in Havana Harbor, thus igniting the Spanish-American War. Spain lost the war and relinquished its rights to Cuba in the Treaty of Paris.

Three years of U.S. administration followed before independence was proclaimed on May 20, 1902. Cuba's history since then has been one of dictatorships and revolutions, the most dramatic of which was in 1959 when Fidel Castro overthrew the Fulgencio Batista dictatorship with promises for a return to democratic rule. Lands and businesses were nationalized, and the economy came under the direction of the state. All political activity remains under the authority of Castro's ruling Communist Party.

Although the United States Embassy in Cuba was closed in 1961, there has been a U.S. Interests Section here since September 1977, subject to a bilateral agreement with the Cuban Government, and under the aegis of the Embassy of Switzerland.



Havana is a capital rich in history, architecture, and culture. Old Havana, characterized by narrow, cobbled streets, El Morro Castle dominating the harbor entrance, stately buildings, and beautiful wrought-ironwork, evokes its Spanish colonial origin. The United Nations has designated virtually all of that area as a World Heritage Site, in an effort to stave off its demise and destruction.

The Riviera Hotel, Hemingway haunts like La Bodeguita Restaurant (where everyone adds their name to the graffiti-filled walls), the once-dizzy but now more worn Tropicana Nightclub, crumbling yet still beautiful former private residences, the number of mid-century American cars all combine to reflect Havana's heyday as a 1940s and 50s gambling and vacation hotspot.

In the years following the Revolution, much of the government's energy and revenue went into rural improvements in the country's infrastructure. Schools, roads, electricity, and health clinics helped widen Cuba's pro-revolutionary advances in terms of Latin American literacy and health indices. Since the demise of communism in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, economic support and subsidies have collapsed, compelling far fewer expenditures in those areas in the 1990s, and laying clear the inefficiencies and poor management resulting from a generous subsidy.


Standards of dress in Cuba for most occasions are informal. Summer weight clothing is appropriate year-round. Women find dresses or skirts a good choice. Men wear guayaberas or short-sleeved shirts. Light jackets or sweaters are useful during the winter months (November-February) and in the office building.

Clothing is available in some diplotiendas, but the variety is limited and generally quite expensive. You can have some clothing items made locally, and seamstress work is quite good.

Children's clothes are not available in any abundance or reasonable price range.

Supplies and Services

Dry-cleaning and shoe repair services are virtually nonexistent. The casual and tropical climate encourages more wash-and-wear clothing. Beauty parlors and barber shops offer acceptable services at an inexpensive price.

Religious Activities

From its Spanish legacy, Cuba developed an adherence to Roman Catholicism. From its African slave trade, Cuba absorbed tribal rituals and beliefs of ancestral gods. That vibrant mix, known today as Santeria, remains a widely-believed and practiced religion. Of course, more traditional services are conducted, virtually all in Spanish. More churches appear open to worship than in previous years, as the Cuban Government alternately tightens and loosens its control over the faithful. A few Protestant churches and Havana's diminishing Jewish community offer services, too.


There are three international schools in Havana. L'école Francaise provides instruction in French for nursery school (age 2 and-a-half) through the fifth grade. Secondary courses (grades 6 through 8) are provided via correspondence courses graded in France. The Centro Educativo Espanol offers Spanish-language programs for children starting at age 2. Secondary courses are graded via testing reports from Spain. The International School of Havana (ISH) offers instruction in English from preschool through the high school level.

USINT children historically have attended ISH. The school is headed by an English-speaking principal (currently a citizen of the U.K.). All the teachers are Cubans and employees of Cubalse. Few have any formal training as educators. The Office of Overseas Schools (A/OS) rates the school as adequate through grade 6, yet parents of several children in the upper elementary grades (4-6) have been dissatisfied with the school's program. Still, with a new principal (1993) ISH is trying to move beyond past problems.

The few secondary educational courses offered operate under a University of Nebraska correspondence program or Mercer College (a British program. The International School currently follows a curriculum loosely based on the Fairfax County standard. All primary school textbooks are from the U.S.

Special Educational Opportunities

The International School of Havana is in the process of expanding its Adult Education Program (now limited to English as a Second Language), and has offered workshops on stress reduction and a Cuban Cinema Seminar. Casa de las Americas, an institute which studies the American continent, offers special seminars in literature. All instruction is in Spanish. There are no special facilities for those with physical, developmental, or learning handicaps.


Tennis, golf, horseback riding, swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving, wind surfing, water skiing, and fishing are year-round sports in Cuba Tennis courts can be rented or booked at several hotels.

Cuba has wonderful, unspoiled beaches, particularly at Varadero, two hours' east of Havana. That beautiful stretch of white sand beach ranks as one of the Caribbean's finest. Excellent beaches lie within 15 miles from Havana, while Herradura, the nearest coral reef for snorkeling or diving, is only an hour's drive west.

Cuba's coastal waters and coral reefs attract many fishermen and divers. You can charter deep-sea fishing boats at Marina Hemingway. Freshwater bass fishing is good at Hannabanilla, (called Treasure Lake on old maps of Cuba), a 5-hour drive into the mountains southeast of Havana. Scuba diving requires certification, which you preferably should have before arriving, along with your own equipment. Tanks can be recharged without problem.

The Havana Golf Club offers a nine-hole course, tennis courts, a squash court, bowling alley, pool and restaurant for a monthly fee. The Club Hipico Iberoamericano offers both Western and English-style horseback riding lessons and outings into Lenin Park. Some Americans enjoy bowling at the 24-lane alley built for the 1991 Pan-American Games, still in very good condition, and there is an outdoor roller-skating rink for rollerbladers of any age. Biking also remains a popular activity.

Touring and Outdoor Activities

Cuba's economic disintegration, reflected by its difficulty in sustaining consistent oil deliveries, has limited touring into the far reaches of the island. Gasoline may not always be available, and the quality of much of it is suspect. Still, oneday and one-tank drives afford an opportunity to enjoy a change of scenery from the city.

Beginning in 1994, however, the Foreign Ministry requires that all trips outside of Havana Province be reported to it in advance of the trip. There is no need to wait for authorization; only to inform MINREX of travel plans beyond the province borders.

Heading west from Havana into Pinar del Rio province, two areas attract interest. The waterfall and nearby orchid gardens at Soroa are just an hour's drive west of Havana. Running adjacent to the ridge of mountains known as Cordillera de los Organos, the highway to Soroa passes through large tracts of sugarcane and cattle-grazing pasture land.

Another hour brings you to Valle de Vinales, where the combination of soil and climate produce the best tobacco for Cuban cigars. These western mountains also offer rather dramatic contrasts to the agricultural lowlands, attractive vistas and cave exploration. Two hours east of Havana, in the province of Matanzas, visitors to Las Cuevas de Bellamar are guided through a small part of the extensive underground caverns.

Other more distant places of interest include Guama (a commercial crocodile farm), the cities of Trinidad and Cienfuegos (Spanish colonial architecture), and Santiago de Cuba (Cuba's second-largest and most important city, which sits close to Spanish-American War sites). Playa Giron, better known outside Cuba as the Bay of Pigs, is a three-hour drive southeast and worth an occasional weekend for snorkeling. Cayo Largo and Cayo Coco, island resorts being developed for Cuba's tourism industry, can be reached via small aircraft. All overnight travel outside of Havana should be arranged in advance in order to ensure accommodations, which can range from rustic to comfortable.


Frequent power outages may contribute to fewer performances of cultural events, but they have not diminished Cubans' interest in the arts. The National Ballet continues to stage various productions at the famous and still-lovely Garcia Lorca Theater. Jazz remains quite popular, and a yearly festival features local and international artists. Cuba has annually sponsored the Latin-American Film Festivala Cuban film won Best Picture and critical acclaim in 1994and a number of theaters show Spanish and American films.

Museums and art galleries provide occasional hours of enjoyable relief. The Museum of Colonial Art, Hemingway Museum, Museum of the Revolution, Museum of the City, and the Museum of Natural Science are worth visiting. Museo Historico in the nearby town of Guanabacoa displays extensive information on Santeria and other Afro-Cuban religions deriving from ancestral and spiritual worship.

Walking through parts of Old Havana is pleasurable. The beautiful and graceful Spanish Colonial architecture of the Havana Cathedral, its cobble-stoned plaza and adjacent buildings, evokes the grandeur of colonial Cuba. Stain glass windows, richly-detailed stucco and moldings, elegant doorways and window treatments, complement the historic if faded ambience of this U.N.-designated World Heritage site. Some caution is required, however, as purse snatchings have increased in recent years.

For nightlife, some hotels offer cabaret shows and discos, and of course, the famous Tropicana Nightclub continues its half-century plus reputation for dinner, drinks, and a dizzying floor show. Cuba's strong push to promote its tourism facilities and industry likely will result in more nightclubs, restaurants, and evening entertainment opening in the future.

Santiago de Cuba

Santiago de Cuba, a port on the southern coast of the island, is the capital of Oriente Province. With a population of over 405,350 (2000 est.), it is the nation's second largest city. It was founded in 1514, and was the capital of Cuba until 1589. Santiago, its more commonly used name, was once a center for brisk smuggling trade with the British West Indies, but is probably better known as the scene of military activity during the Spanish-American War. U.S. ships established a blockade here in the harbor and, on July 3, 1898, in the final major battle of the war, destroyed the Spanish fleet led by Pascual Cervera y Topete. There also was heavy land fighting near the city when San Juan Hill was taken two days before the successful blockade.

The Spanish-American battles were not to be the final military struggles at Santiagothe city was once again the scene of heavy fighting in July 1953, when Fidel Castro (Ruz) led his first armed revolt against the government in power.

Santiago has many famous landmarks, among them the old cathedral in the city and the crumbling forts on towering cliffs above the harbor. Interesting old colonial buildings add to the charm of Santiago. Two major libraries, one central and one provincial, are maintained here, as is the 30-year-old Universidad de Oriente, which has facilities in several disciplines and a student body now numbering 12,000.

Wood, minerals, and agricultural products are Santiago's major exports. Iron, copper, and manganese are mined in the area. A new textile factory was opened here in 1984.


Founded in 1513, BAYAMO is in eastern Cuba, 60 miles northwest of Santiago, on Cuba's longest river, Río Bayamo. The city is commercially active, manufacturing sugar, coffee, tobacco, and rice. There is a major condensed milk plant here. Copper and manganese are mixed in the area. The city is a patriotic favorite of Cubans. The Ten Years' War, 1868-1878, and the revolt of 1895 began in Bayamo. The population is about 141,000 (1995 est.).

CAMAGÜEY , with a population of almost 283,000 (2000 est.), is located in east-central Cuba. It is connected with Santiago and Havana by the Central Highway. Founded in 1515, the city prospered illegally by trading with the English and Dutch colonies in the Caribbean. Camagüey resisted Cuba's independence and several battles were fought nearby. The city maintains vestiges of its colonial architecture. Older parts of the city exhibit narrow, irregular streets and small plazas. Industries here include sawmilling, tanning, and dairying. The city is near major highways and railways, and has an international airport.

The port city of CÁRDENAS , on Cuba's north coast, is known as an important fishing port. The city's industries include rum distilleries, and sugar refineries. Cárdenas is 75 miles east of Havana and about 15 miles southwest of a fashionable spa, featuring white sulfur springs, in San Miguel de los Baños. A popular beach at Varadero is also nearby. Cárdenas has a population over 66,000.

CIEGO DE ÁVILA is in central Cuba, about 65 miles northwest of Camagüey. Situated in a fertile region, the city produces sugarcane, cattle, and tropical fruit. The population here is over 80,000.

The sugar port, CIENFUEGOS , is located about 140 miles southeast of Havana, on the south-central coast. Areas surrounding the city produce cattle, tobacco, coffee, rice, and sugarcane. Cienfuegos is home to several industries, among them are distilleries, coffee-and tobacco-processing plants. From May through November, the weather in Cienfuegos is hot and humid; winter temperatures are milder, with warm days and cool nights. The city is lovelyit boasts wide streets, numerous parks and promenades, a fine plaza, and interesting architecture. Visited by Columbus in 1494, Cienfuegos' port began operation in the early 1800s. Cienfuegos, site of Cuba's largest cement works, has a population of approximately 195,000.

GUANTÁNAMO , a city of 200,400 residents (2000 est.), is a major sugar-producing center in southeastern Cuba. Its history dates to the early 19th century when French colonists, fleeing the slave uprising in Haiti, established a settlement here. The area is probably best known to Americans because of the U.S. Navy base which has been in operation since 1903 at nearby Guantánamo Bay. The city's port is at Caimanera, on the west side of the bay. The city's chief industrial activities are sugar milling, coffee roasting, and the processing of chocolate, salt, and liqueurs. Guantánamo is accessible by railroad and highway.

HOLGUÍN , which lies in the fertile hill country of northeastern Cuba 70 miles north of Santiago, has twice been a rallying spot for insurgentsthe first time during the Ten Years War (1868-78), and again in the period preceding the outbreak of the Spanish-American War (1898). Holguín was founded in 1720. It is one of the country's major commercial centers, and products grown in the region (sugar, coffee, tobacco) are shipped from its port, Gibara. The city, whose population was 243,000 in 2000, supports a university extension institute, with schools of engineering and economics.

MATANZAS , situated in western Cuba, on the road between Havana and beautiful Varadero, is known for its fine, deep-water harbor. The lush Yumurí valley in which it lies, and the fascinating caves in the area, have become tourist attractions. Known as the "Athens of Cuba," Matanzas has a public library, active cultural institutions, and numerous scholars and artists. The city offers beautiful monuments, plazas, and scenic drives. Among Matanzas' industries are sugar refineries, textile plants, fertilizer, and shoe factories. The city, founded in 1693, has a current population of about 123,000. A municipal museum is established here.

The 300-year-old city of SANTA CLARA , in the west-central part of the country, made its mark in recent history as the scene of a decisive battle in 1959, when Castro's guerilla forces overthrew the Batista government. This attractive city, nestled among the hills of Villa Clara Province, is the site of the Universidad de Las Villas, one of Cuba's three major institutes of higher learning; the school was founded in 1948, and currently has a student body of 8,500. Sugar and tobacco are the principal products of the area. The city is situated near the geographic center of the island and is a major junction for Cuba's railroads. Santa Clara has a population of 194,350.

Founded in 1514, and once Cuba's wealthiest city, TRINIDAD is situated in central Cuba, about 75 miles southwest of Havana. In order to maintain its colonial atmosphere and to celebrate famous former residentsincluding Spanish explorer Hernán CortésTrinidad has been declared a national monument. The city has numerous and varied industries, including sugar refineries, dairies, sawmills, and cigar and cigarette factories. Tourists enjoy its cool climate and mountainous landscape. Gold, amianthus, and copper deposits are found nearby. Trinidad has an airport railway that links with Cienfuegos, and good highways.


Geography and Climate

With more than 44,000 square miles (114,447 sq. km.) of land and 2,500 miles (4,000 km.) of coastline, Cuba rightfully lays claim to being the largest island in the West Indies, accounting for more than one-half of the total land area. The island stretches more than 745 miles (1200 km.) in latitude, yet only ranges from 20 to 125 miles (35-200 km) in longitude, lying about 90 miles (145 km.) south of Key West, Florida.

No larger than the state of Pennsylvania but contoured much differently, Cuba's coastline constantly breaks into literally hundreds of bays, inlets, and narrow, shallow rivers. The Isle of Youth (known as the Isle of Pines in pre-Revolution days), and some 1,600 keys and islets lie offshore. The deep-water harbors of Havana, Guantanamo, and Bahia Honda rank among the world's finest.

Topographically, three-fifths of Cuba displays flat or gently rolling fields and wide, fertile valleys-ideal for the sugarcane and tobacco crops which are the backbone and most recognizable symbols of the Cuban economy. The northern coast is low and marshy. Most of what remains, particularly at the southeastern end of the island, forms steep and at times formidable mountains. Three mountain ranges dominate the Cuban terrain, but by far the best-known and most rugged is the eastern Sierra Maestra, where peaks rise to almost 6,000 feet (1,829 m.) above sea level. Fidel Castro began his struggle there in the 1950s, and still today in speeches alludes to its historical significance in the Revolution.

Cuba is bordered on the north by the Gulf of Mexico and the Straits of Florida and on the south by the Caribbean Ocean. Prevailing trade winds combine with the warm waters of the Gulf Stream to produce a mild and semitropical climate. Cuba's mean temperature is about 77°F (25°C) in winter and only slightly more, perhaps 80°F to 85°F (26°C), in summer. Averages range only between 70°F (21°C) and 82°F (27°C) for the coldest and warmest months. Summer readings of as high as 100°F (37°C) have been recorded. Occasional near-freezing temperatures occur only in mountain areas.

Relative humidity varies from 60 to 70% in the daytime and from 80 to 90% during the night, regardless of the season, of which there are only two. The dry season lasts from November to April. During the May through October rainy season, Cuba receives up to 75% of its yearly rainfall, which averages 54 inches (137 cm.).


Cuba's population is over 11 million, with an annual growth rate of 1.1% and a density of 200 persons per square mile. Most of the population is of Spanish and African origin. Spanish, the official language, has particularly Cuban traits in its spoken form.

About 70% of the population is urban. Havana, the capital, is Cuba's principal port and city, and has a population of 2.3 million. Other major cities include Santiago de Cuba, Camaguey, Santa Clara, Holguin, Matanzas, Cienfuegos, and Pinar del Rio.

Before 1959, Roman Catholicism was observed by about 85% of the population. The 1976 Cuban Constitution nominally protects freedom of religion. In practice, however, church attendance has only begun to grow in recent years, following years of official persecution of religious institutions. Various religions are sometimes permitted to publish literature for use within their churches. Religious public demonstrations or radio/television programming are not permitted.

Public Institutions

Under that same 1976 Constitution, Cuba is organized with a party-government-state structure. The Communist Party, described in the Constitution as "the highest force of the society and state," is headed by a Politburo. The Communist Party, Cuba's only legal political party, is the focus of power in the state.

Executive power within the government is vested in the Council of Ministers, which heads the government. Legislative power allegedly rests with the National Assembly of People's Power, which elects the Council of State, but in fact is a rubber-stamp body with no independent power. All courts, including the People's Supreme Court, are subordinated to the National Assembly of People's Power (and thus to the Council of State).

Administratively, Cuba is divided into 14 Provinces plus the Isle of Youth.

Arts, Science, and Education

Except for their enormous state of flux, few agree today on how to characterize the status of the arts and education in Cuba. One of the leitmotif's of the prize winning film, "Fresas y Chocolate", is derision of the low quality of popular education in Cuba. On the other hand, a long-time American admirer of the revolution, Carol Brightman, has written that:

The so-called achievements of the revolutionlifelong health care, free and universal education, generous social security payments, free housinghave materially raised the standard of living of the vast majority of the population to levels undreamed of before 1959. (The Nation, v. 258,9: p. 299)

The strategy for long term economic recovery, emphasizing biotechnology, tourism development, and related fields such as medicine and English teaching, and the stringencies of special period cutbacks, i.e., the reduction of Cuban book publishing from about 20 million volumes to 250,000, are forcing momentous changes, though few are discussed very openly. The enormous subsidies paid through the Ministry of Culture that kept tens of thousands of Cuban artists and intellectuals on the state's payroll have been reduced dramatically since members of the Union of Artists and Intellectuals (UNEAC) and the Union of Journalists (UPEC) were first allowed to work independently in 1992 and retain some or all of their hard currency earnings in 1993.

The Ministry remains the central authority for most museums and galleries, ballet and theater companies, musical groups, publishing houses, and the motion picture industry, but the ministry's personnel and activities have been cut back so far that it runs very little any more. Independent entities, such as the Pablo Milanes Foundation, have arisen as cultural impresarios and musical groups are increasingly arranging their own contracts with record companies and tourist hotels where they can be paid in dollars.

Museums now often depend on the revenue they can generate from tourists and international donors. Artisans sell their wares through co-ops and tourist stalls. The only Cuban films made in recent years have been foreign co-productions. The Ministry also retains responsibility for the "culturalization" of the people, but the legendary popular concerts and live performances of yesteryear are now generally restricted to TV appearances during rare home visits by big name performers.

The legendary cultural exports of the revolution, ranging from Alicia Alonso's ballet to a panorama of revolutionary films and Milanes' ballads, have decreased to a trickle. The 1993 Latin American Film Festival almost recouped some of the past glory by attracting a large number of films from other countries, but "Fresas y Chocolate" was the only Cuban film exhibited. The Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (INCAIC) and the film institute that Colombian novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez helped found in 1986 continue to promote "Latin American film consciousness," just with much less Cuban content.

There are lots of cinemas, theaters and concert halls in Havana and spread around Cuba, but performances as advertised are much less reliable than in the past. Concertgoers are rarely surprised to hear a number not on the program, and having tickets for a performance of a particular opera or ballet does not insure that the performance will occur as scheduled. The Cuban National Ballet, founded by the "primissima" ballerina, Alicia Alonso, performs periodically, but performances are limited between foreign tours. Camaguey's dance company now rivals that of Havana, but it, too, is mostly on the road outside Cuba. Notable visiting artists from around the world occasionally visit Cuba, but in recent years they have come more to show solidarity than to perform.

Education is a pillar of the revolution, and teachers, after medical cadres and the military, have been among its most faithful. The independent employment allowed to artists and intellectuals remains unavailable to teachers. The regime maintains its claim of 96% literacy despite some evidence of functional illiteracy and criticisms of the educational system. Control of reading material has loosened greatly in recent years as the means to acquire it have diminished. In 1992-94 several Cuban universities and the National Library started accepting materials from the USIS book program. The pace of requests for more publications has now far outstripped the capacity to supply them. USIS also has distributed post-produced publications and donated newspapers and magazines, especially to support English teaching programs.

Cuban self criticisms of the waste, mismanagement, and inefficiency of their economy has rarely been applied to the educational system. The revolution succeeded in widespread school construction, especially in provincial areas, and in establishing a large-scale system of technical and normal education and the expansion of the country's public universities.

However, the well-endowed schools of the past are now all-but-forgotten when each new school year opens with a drive to raise funds to buy pencils and paper. During the prolonged blackouts of the special period, most schools lack electricity and all that goes with it, and water supplies and sanitary conditions are unreliable.

Despite all these problems, classes go on at all levels of the system amid the reductions, especially at the higher levels. Cuba's six universities and other centers of higher education appear to be losing enrollment, and concerns about the furloughing of faculty and other changes of status are mounting.

The big challenge for the universities in Pinar del Rio, Havana, Matanzas, Villa Clara, Camaguey and Santiago, as well as in the twenty or so other institutes of higher education is the lack of access to dollars. In 1993 these institutions were allowed to develop self-financing programs for the first time. Despite seemingly endless numbers of special courses, seminars and conferences for foreign students and academics, earnings appear limited.

Beside the lack of funds, many Cuban scholars trained in the former Soviet bloc now are without means of maintaining their scientific and professional development with respect to any international standard. In some faculties large-scale English programs have been started to retool the language capacities of the staff, and professional contact with visiting American scholars is eagerly sought out where it was once avoided. Professors are encouraged to participate in internationally-funded programs and to accept teaching opportunities in other countries that may generate some funds.

Academic and cultural contact with the United States is growing rapidly, largely at the initiative of U.S. institutions, but Cuban counterparts are quick to go along and often to take control of programs. From a low point during the mid-1980s when only a handful of academics traveled each year, today there are scores of U.S. visitors each month at the University of Havana, and several hundred Cubans visit the U.S. each year. The provincial educational centers are far less involved, especially in allowing faculty to travel, but U.S. institutions are beginning to focus their attention beyond Havana.

Commerce and Industry

Since the late 18th century, the Cuban economy has been dominated by sugar production and has prospered or suffered due to fluctuations in sugar prices. Sugar still accounts for about three-quarters of export earnings. Cuba has never diversified from its basic monocultural economy despite some development of tourism, nickel mining, pharmaceuticals, and biotechnology.

For almost 30 years, the defects in Cuba's economy and the effects of the economic embargo imposed by the U.S. in 1962 were partially offset by heavy subsidies from the former Soviet Union. But those supports ended with the collapse of COMECON in the late 1980s and with the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991. Cuba's break with its former patron and failure to undertake needed reforms combined to produce an unprecedented economic crisis. Its economy is estimated to have declined 40% from 1989 through 1992.

The economic prospects are not good, largely because of the Castro regime's decision to maintain the state's highly-centralized control over economic decision-making, the lack of energy supplies, and inputs for industry. The "Special Period in Peacetime" relies upon strict rationing of food, fuel, and electricity, and gives priority to domestic food production, development of tourism, and biotechnology production.

Basic public services are provided by the state, either free of charge or for minimal fees. Access to education through high school is still generally available, but urban housing and medical care have deteriorated, as have communications and transportation.

The state owns and operates most of Cuba's farms and all industrial enterprises. State farms occupy about 70% of farmland, while peasant cooperatives account for about 20%. Private farms account for about 10% of Cuba's agriculture. Cuba's manufacturing sector emphasizes import substitution and provision of basic industrial materials. In recent years, many Cuban firms have closed or reduced production because of shortages of foreign exchange and limited access to spare parts and imported components.

The U.S. has a comprehensive trade embargo on Cuba. The Cuban Democracy Act, signed into law in October 1992, revoked Treasury authority to issue licenses for most U.S. subsidiary trade with Cuba and bans for 180 days vessels which have entered a Cuban port from loading or unloading in U.S. ports. The legislation provides support for the Cuban people by permitting licensing for "efficient and adequate" telecommunications and for humanitarian donations to non-governmental organizations in Cuba.

With the loss of trade and aid from the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, Cuba has attempted to attract foreign investment and Western buyers for its nickel, petroleum, biotechnology, and other sectors. Except in tourism, minerals and mining, Cuba has had limited success in that effort because of the deterioration of the economy, its unpaid debt to Western countries, and the lack of clear title to expropriated property.

In 1993, the Cuban Government introduced measures to help revive the economy, including allowing more exiles from the U.S. to visit Cuba, expanding the permission for self-employment, and decriminalizing hard currency possession. In addition, Cuba also established the Basic Units of Collective Production (UBPCs), which allow greater control over the farms' administration and division of any profits with the farms' workers. However, concerned by the specter of a renascent capitalism and the possibility of corruption, the government already has limited the scope of such measures as self-employment.



Travel within and between Cuban cities is complicated by a dearth of reliable road maps, and signs or markers which are infrequently posted and poorly visible. Cuba's economic disintegration, after years of Soviet and Eastern Bloc support, has clearly manifested itself in gasoline shortages. Vehicle traffic in Havana is light, relative to past years when traffic jams and heavy pollution ringed the city. Yet if the volume of vehicular traffic is down, heavy bicycle traffic compensates, posing the latest and constant road hazard.

Driving is hazardous also due to potholes, obscure traffic signals, and parked or stalled cars in lanes of traffic. Dwindling revenue and central planning have contributed to the diversion of resources away from road repair and other infrastructural improvements. Power outages make signal intersections dangerous and leave many other streets in total darkness.

Rainy season flooding forces traffic off some streets, and it is not uncommon to encounter stalled cars and buses on the road even under good driving conditions. Vehicle inspection regulations are sporadically enforced at best. Spare parts, supplies, motor oil, etc. for privately-owned vehicles are seldom available, making maintenance and safety problematical. Indeed, the only thing keeping so many cars, including many vintage American models, running along Havana's boulevards is creativity and ingenuity.

Cuba's promotion of tourism has resulted in far more taxis plying the streets, although generally you can flag one only in front of tourist hotels and other hard currency locations. It is difficult to hail one on the street, but you can call for one. Bus transportation is erratic, unreliable, overcrowded, and not recommended.


Increasingly, even within Cuba's major cities, the road system reflects poor and infrequent maintenance. Secondary roads and more rural highways suffer from severe neglect, with little or no grass-cutting, no fencing to keep animals from wandering into traffic, few signs or other distance and safety markers, and crumbling pavement. Gasoline stations which are open, have fuel, and accept dollars are almost nonexistent in many outlying areas. The quality of refined petroleum in Cuba is questionable, and bad fuel has damaged or destroyed more than one fuel injector system. At $3.50 a gallon, the availability and price of gasoline confine most Americans to Havana or trips which can be achieved with one tankful.

Cubana de Aviacion serves Cuba's major cities but has limited international routes, which Americans are prohibited from using anyway. For domestic routes Cubana is the only airline from which to choose. There are a number of other international airlines and flights. Overnight train service, with a special car for dollar customers, transits Cuba from Havana to Santiago regularly.


Telephone and Telegraph

International telephone service is fair to acceptable, but frequently poor for local calls. Calls from Cuba to the States are subject to disconnection or dropped lines. It is virtually impossible to call Cuba from the States, and is getting more difficult.

Telephone rates vary based on the location called. Calls to the U.S. cost about $2.50 per minute, regardless of the time, distance or day of week. Calls to all other overseas destinations cost much more. Cellular telephone technology exists in Cuba, but rates are higher still. The quality of phone service discourages use of fax machines. Indeed, the quality of office and residential telephone service is questionable, as bills periodically reflect hundreds of dollars in calls never made. Radio and TV

For a large part of the population, radio and TV provide access to entertainment and information. Radio stations throughout the country offer programming varying from news and public affairs to sports, music, and soap operas. Western music is very popular in Cuba, and classical music programs are broadcast most of the day. Of course, some stations air programs with a more political orientation. Close proximity to the U.S. and favorable weather conditions permit some Florida radio signals to penetrate Cuban airwaves. Major shortwave radio signals from the VOA, BBC, and Armed Forces radio also can be picked up. USIA's Radio Marti' is easily received, but TV Marti' is actively jammed by Cuba.

The Cuban government maintains two TV stations which broadcast a variety of news, sports, political events and speeches, musical variety shows, soap operas, dramatic productions, cartoons and feature films from the U.S., Europe, Japan and the former Soviet Union, all but a few in Spanish. In recent years there has been a proliferation of privately-owned satellite dishes.

Health and Medicine

Medical Facilities

The quality of medical and dental care available in Havana has deteriorated. Hospitals designated to care for tourists and diplomats with relatively modern, imported equipment appear suitable for routine outpatient cases; but, pharmaceuticals are in short supply. A hospital's ability to provide a required medication on demand is open to question. A full range of medical specialists is available but secondary and follow-up care is not up to U.S. standards. Patients requiring evaluation or treatment of more complex cases are evacuated to Miami.

Community Health

Community public health and sanitation programs are collapsing. Mosquito bites and insect-borne diseases are common in Cuba. Garbage collection and disposal equipment is limited. Pick-up schedules are random and haphazard. Air pollution is common during sugarcane harvesting months (December through June). Trash burning in some residential neighborhoods adds to the problem.

Rain produces sewage backups jeopardizing public water supplies. While city water is adequately treated as it enters the municipal water system, tap water is not considered safe for internal consumption due to the deteriorated water distribution system. Sanitation during food preparation may be adequate, yet standards of cleanliness in food processing factories, markets and restaurants are marginal.

Upper respiratory and sinus problems are common in the Cuban climate. There are frequent flu outbreaks in the Fall and Winter (September through March) USINT personnel have experienced various minor ailments such as diarrhea, intestinal parasites, fungal infections, and conjunctivitis. With the breakdown of preventive public health programs and with periodic torrential rains and flooding, serious illnesses such as hepatitis, dengue fever, typhoid are a threat. The last major typhoid outbreak occurred in 1977. The last dengue fever epidemic was in 1981.

In 1993, an outbreak of optical neuritis affected about 50,000 Cubans, some seriously. Apparently in part the result of vitamin deficiencies, the outbreak subsided later in the year. No U.S. citizens were affected.

Preventive Measures

Boil all water. Raw fruits and vegetables should be scrubbed, soaked in a chlorine solution and rinsed in drinking water.

There is a shortage of medication in Cuba. U.S.-brand drugs are not available. You should bring a generous supply of mosquito repellent, sunscreen lotion, first-aid items, prescription drugs, and a full range of medicine cabinet drugs. If you wear eyeglasses or contact lens, bring a second pair.

There are no mandatory immunizations. Typhoid, influenza, hepatitis B, gamma globuli, and, for travel to Central America, yellow fever shots are recommended. Cuban authorities do not require any particular inoculations for persons coming from the U.S.


Passage, Customs & Duties

The Cuban Assets Control Regulations of the U.S. Treasury Department require that persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction be licensed to engage in any transaction related to travel to, from and within Cuba. Transactions related to tourist travel are not licensable. This restriction includes tourist travel to Cuba from or through a third country such as Mexico or Canada.

The following categories of travelers are permitted to spend money for Cuban travel and to engage in other transactions directly incident to the purpose of their travel under a general license, without the need to obtain special permission from the U.S. Treasury Department:

  • U.S. and foreign government officials traveling on official business, including representatives of international organizations of which the U.S. is a member.
  • Journalists and supporting broadcasting or technical personnel regularly employed by a news reporting organization.
  • Persons making a once-a-year visit to close family relatives in circumstances of humanitarian need.
  • Full-time professionals whose travel transactions are directly related to professional research in their professional areas, provided that their research: (1) is of a noncommercial academic nature; (2) comprises a full work schedule in Cuba, and (3) has a substantial likelihood of public dissemination.
  • Full-time professionals whose travel transactions are directly related o attendance at professional meetings or conferences in Cuba organized by an international professional organization, institution, or association that regularly sponsors such meetings or conferences in other countries.
  • Amateur or semi-professional athletes or teams traveling to Cuba to participate in an athletic competition held under the auspices of the relevant international sports federation.

The Department of the Treasury may issue licenses on a case-by-case basis authorizing Cuba travel-related transactions directly incident to marketing, sales negotiation, accompanied delivery, and servicing of exports and reexports that appear consistent with the licensing policy of the Department of Commerce. The sectors in which U.S. citizens may sell and service products to Cuba include agricultural commodities, telecommunications activities, medicine, and medical devices. The Treasury Department will also consider requests for specific licenses for humanitarian travel not covered by the general license, educational exchanges, and religious activities by individuals or groups affiliated with a religious organization.

Unless otherwise exempted or authorized, any person subject to U.S. jurisdiction who engages in any travel-related transaction in Cuba violates the regulations. Persons not licensed to engage in travel-related transactions may travel to Cuba without violating the regulations only if all Cuba-related expenses are covered by a person not subject to U.S. jurisdiction and provided that the traveler does not provide any service to Cuba or a Cuban national. Such travel is called "fully-hosted" travel. Such travel may not by made on a Cuban carrier or aboard a direct flight between the United States and Cuba.

Failure to comply with Department of Treasury regulations may result in civil penalties and criminal prosecution upon return to the United States.

Additional information may be obtained by contacting the Licensing Division, Office of Foreign Assets Control, U.S. Department of the Treasury, 1500 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Treasury Annex, Washington, DC 20220, telephone (202) 622-2480; fax (202) 622-1657. Internet users can log on to the web site through

Should a traveler receive a license, a valid passport is required for entry into Cuba. The Cuban government requires that the traveler obtain a visa prior to arrival. Attempts to enter or exit Cuba illegally, or to aid the irregular exit of Cuban nationals or other persons, are contrary to Cuban law and are punishable by jail terms. Entering Cuban territory, territorial waters or airspace (within 12 miles of the Cuban coast) without prior authorization from the Cuban government may result in arrest or other enforcement action by Cuban authorities. Immigration violators are subject to prison terms ranging from four years for illegal entry or exit to as many as 30 years for aggravated cases of alien smuggling. For current information on Cuban entry and customs requirements, travelers may contact the Cuban Interests Section, an office of the Cuban government, located at 2630 16th Street NW, Washington, DC 20009, telephone (202) 797-8518.

U.S. citizens are encouraged to carry a copy of their U.S. passport with them at all times, so that, if questioned by local officials, proof of identity and U.S. citizenship are readily available.

The U.S. Interests Section (USINT) represents American citizens and the U.S. Government in Cuba, and operates under the legal protection of the Swiss government. The Interests Section staff provides the full range of American citizen and other consular services. U.S. citizens who travel to Cuba are encouraged to contact and register with the American Citizen Services section. USINT staff provide briefings on U.S.-Cuba policy to American individuals and groups visiting Cuba. These briefings or meetings can be arranged through USINT's Public Diplomacy office.

The Interests Section is located in Havana at Calzada between L and M Streets, Vedado; telephone (537) 33-3551 through 33-3559. Hours are Monday through Thursday, 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. After hours and on weekends, the number is 33-3026 or 66-2302. Should you encounter an emergency after normal duty hours, call these numbers and request to speak with the duty officer.

U.S. citizens who register at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana may obtain updated information on travel and security within the country. There is no access to the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay from within Cuba. Consular issues for Guantanamo Bay are handled by the U.S. Embassy in Kingston, Jamaica. For further information on Guantanamo Bay, please contact the U.S. Embassy in Kingston at telephone (876) 929-5374.


Cuba imposes no quarantine on arriving pets. However, all pets must have a certificate of good health signed by a veterinarian and dated within 10 days from the date of the animal's arrival in Cuba. Dogs and cats must have a veterinary certification showing the date of the last rabies vaccination. And all animals must be taken to a Cuban veterinarian shortly after arrival for a checkup.

Currency, Banking and Weights and Measures

Since the Cuban government legalized the use of dollars in July 1993, U.S. dollars are accepted for all transactions.

U.S. citizens and residents traveling under a general or specific license from the U.S. Treasury Department may spend money on travel in Cuba; such expenditures may only be for travel-related expenses at a rate not to exceed the U.S. Government's per diem rate. U.S. Treasury regulations authorize any U.S. resident to send up to $300 per calendar quarter to any Cuban family (except families of senior government and Communist party leaders) without a specific license from the Office of Foreign Assets Control. Treasury Department regulations also authorize the transfer of up to $1,000 (without specific license) to pay travel and other expenses for a Cuban national who has been granted a migration document by the U.S. Interests Section in Havana. For further information, travelers should contact the Office of Foreign Assets Control.

U.S. citizens and permanent resident aliens are prohibited from using credit cards in Cuba. U.S. credit card companies do not accept vouchers from Cuba, and Cuban shops, hotels and other places of business do not accept U.S. credit cards. Neither personal checks nor travelers checks drawn on U.S. banks are accepted in Cuba.

Both English and metric systems of weights and measures are used in Cuba, although the metric system predominates.


Jan.1 New Year's Day

May 1Cuba Labor Day

July 25-27 Cuban National Revolutionary Festival

Oct. 10 Cuba Independence Day

Dec. 25Christmas Day


These titles are provided as a general indication of the material published on this country. The Department of State does not endorse unofficial publications.

Azicri, Max. Cuba: Politics, Economics, & Society. New York: St. Martin, 1988.

Balfour, Sebastian. Castro. New York: Longman, 1990.

Bentley, Judith. Fidel Castro of Cuba. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: J. Messner, 1991.

Bernthal, Ron. Saturday Night in Havana. Thompsonville, NY: Mariposa Press, 1992.

Bonsal, Philip W. Cuba, Castro and the United States. University of Pittsburgh Press: Pittsburgh, 1971.

Crouch, Cifford W. Cuba. New York:Chelsea House, 1991.

Cuba: A Country Study. Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 1988.

Cummins, Ronald. Cuba. Milwaukee, WI: Gareth Stevens Children's Books, 1991.

Del Aguila, Juan M. Cuba: Dilemmas of a Revolution. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1988.

Draper, Theodore. Castroism: Theory and Practice. Praeger: New York, 1965.

Erisman, H. Michael, and John M. Kirk, eds. Cuban Foreign Policy Confronts a New International Order. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 1991.

Garcia, Cristina. Dreaming in Cuban. Alfred A. Knopf: New York, 1992.

Gebler, Carlos. Driving Through Cuba: Rare Encounters in the Land of Sugarcane and Revolution. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1988.

Geldof, Lynn. The Cubans: Voices of Change. New York: St. Martin, 1992.

Geyer, Georgie Anne. Guerrilla Prince: The Untold Story of Fidel Castro. Little, Brown & Company, Boston, 1991.

Graetz, Rick. Cuba: The Land, the People. Helena, MT: American World Geographic Publishing, 1990.

Graetz, Rick. Havana: The City, the People. Helena, MT: American World Geographic Publishing, 1991.

Habel, Janette. Cuba: The Revolution in Peril. Translated by Jon Barnes. New York: Verso, 1991.

Halebsky, Sandor, and John M. Kirk, eds. Transformation and Struggle: Cuba Faces the 1990s. New York: Praeger, 1990.

Horowitz, Irving Louis, ed. Cuban Communism. 7th ed., New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1989.

Jacobsen, Karen. Cuba. Chicago:Childrens Press, 1990.

Kirk, John M. Between God & the Party: Religion & Politics in Revolutionary Cuba. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 1989.

Levine, Robert M. Cuba in the 1850s: Through the Lens of Charles De Forest Fredericks. Tampa, FL: University of South Florida Press, 1990.

Lockwood, Lee. Castro's Cuba, Cuba's Fidel. rev. ed., Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1990.

McManus, Jane. Getting to Know Cuba. New York: St. Martin, 1989.

Martin, Lionel. Early Fidel. LyleStuart & Co.: Syracuse, N.Y., 1978.

Meduin, Tzvi. Cuba, the Shaping of Revolutionary Consciousness. Translated by Martha Grenz-back. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 1990.

Mesa-Lago, Carmel, ed. Revolutionary Change in Cuba. University of Pittsburgh Press: Pittsburgh, 1971.

Miller, Tom. Trading with the Enemy: A Yankee Travels Through Castro's Cuba. New York: Macmillan, 1992.

Montaner, Carlos Alberto. Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution: Age, Position, Character, Destiny, Personality, and Ambition. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1989.

Morris, Emily. Cuba. Austin, TX:Steck-Vaughn, 1991.

Oppenheimer, Andres. Castro's Final Hour. Simon & Schuster: New York, 1992.

Perez, Jr., Louis A. Cuba and the United States: Ties of Singular Intimacy. The University of Georgia Press: Athens, Georgia, 1990.

Quirk, Robert E. Fidel Castro. W. W. Norton & Company: New York 1993.

Rabkin, Rhoda Pearl. Cuban Politics: the Revolutionary Experiment. New York: Praeger, 1991.

Smith, Wayne. The Closest of Enemies. W.W. Norton & Co.: New York, 1987.

Stewart, Gail. Cuba. New York:Crestwood House, 1991.

Suchlicki, Jaime. Cuba: From Columbus to Castro. 3rd ed., Tarrytown, NY: Pergamon Press, 1990.

Szulc, Tad. Fidel: A Critical Portrait. William Morrow & Co.: New York, 1986.

Thomas, Hugh. Cuba: The Pursuit of Freedom. Harper & Row: New York, 1971.

Timerman, Jacobo. Cuba: A Journey. Translated by Toby Talbot. New York: A.A. Knopf, 1990.

Tulchin, Joseph S., and Rafael Hernandez, eds. Cuba & the United States: Will the Cold War in the Caribbean End? Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 1990.

Valladares, Armando. Against All Hope. Alfred A. Knopf: New York, 1985.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Cuba." Cities of the World. . 9 Jul. 2018 <>.

"Cuba." Cities of the World. . (July 9, 2018).

"Cuba." Cities of the World. . Retrieved July 09, 2018 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.



Republic of Cuba

República de Cuba

CAPITAL: Havana (La Habana).


Cuban peso (C$). One peso equals 100 centavos. Coin denominations include 1, 2, 3, 5, 10, 20, 40, and 100 centavos. Paper-bill denominations include 1, 3, 5, 10, 20, 50, and 100 pesos. The U.S. dollar is an important monetary unit in Cuba, owing to the Pesos Convertibles (convertible pesos) that are also in circulation in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 20, 50, and 100 dollars. The dollar and the Peso Convertible are used for most transactions. Cuban pesos, often called Moneda Nacional, have fallen into disuse, except for a few government-subsidized businesses, like bodegas (small grocery stores) selling rationed foods, public transportation, movie theaters, and peso taxis.


Sugar, nickel, tobacco, shellfish, medical products, citrus fruits, coffee.


Petroleum, food, machinery, chemicals.


US$18.6 billion (purchasing power parity, 1999 est.).


Exports: US$1.4 billion (f.o.b., 1999 est.). Imports: US$3.2 billion (c.i.f., 1999 est.).



An island located 208 kilometers (129 miles) south of Florida, Cuba is washed by the Caribbean Sea on the south, the Gulf of Mexico on the northwest, and the Atlantic Ocean on the northeast. Its westernmost point is separated from Mexico by the Straits of Yucatan. With 110,860 square kilometers (42,803 square miles) of total surface area, Cuba, the largest island in the Antilles archipelago, is about the size of Pennsylvania. It is 1,199 kilometers (745 miles) long, but averages only 97 kilometers (60 miles) in width. Its coastline is 3,764 kilometers (2,339 miles) long with several excellent harbors. The capital city, Havana, is located in the northwest of Cuba, almost directly south of Key West across the Straits of Florida. The second largest city in Cuba is Santiago de Cuba. Located in the eastern end of the island, Santiago was the island's first colonial-era capital (1522-89).


The population of Cuba was 11,131,000 in 2000, and is projected to grow to 11,481,000 by 2010. Although the population has doubled since 1950, the growth rate has slowed down considerably, and is now the lowest in Latin America. Population density is 101 people per square kilometer. Cuba is ethnically diverse; about 51 percent of the people are mulatto, 37 percent are white, 11 percent are black, and 1 percent are Chinese. The evidence of miscegenation (mating across racial lines) is prevalent, and it is easy to identify the mixing of white, black, and Chinese features. The population has increasingly darkened due to the exodus of large numbers of whites following the Cuban Revolution in 1959, which installed a socialist government led by Fidel Castro. Even though Cuba is a poor country, the literacy rate is high (estimated at 95.7 percent in 1995 compared to 76 percent before the revolution) thanks to the government's strong emphasis on education.

Migration to the United States has had a great effect on Cuba since 1959. Beginning immediately after the revolution, large numbers of middle-class Cubans left the island, settling largely in Miami, Florida, and other U.S. cities. As the Cuban economy worsened in the 1980s, people fled the country any way they could, many in small boats or makeshift rafts. In an incident known as the Mariel Boatlift, President Fidel Castro allowed 125,000 people to leave the island for the United States, thereby reducing the population of Cuba by 1 percent in a single day.


The Cuban economy has endured a number of upheavals over the past century. In the early 1900s approximately two-thirds of the businesses in Cuba were owned by U.S. citizens, and around 80 percent of the country's trade was with the United States. In 1959, when Fidel Castro seized the country through revolution, the reforms enacted by the socialist government confiscated most of the privately-held property in Cuba. Relations with the United States became strained, and eventually ended in 1962 when the United States placed an embargo (prohibition) on trade with Cuba, which continues to this day. Cuba turned to the former Soviet Union for help, and soon introduced long-range socialist state-managed planning that followed Soviet models. The Soviet Union effectively subsidized the Cuban economy by repeatedly postponing debt payment schedules, creating new credit lines, paying high prices for Cuban exports, and offering military assistance. As a result, many Cuban economic problems did not manifest themselves until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989.

With the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989, Cuba lost more than 85 percent of its trade and once again had to search for other markets to replace this loss. The 1990s were marked by a period of economic hardship; from 1990 to 1993, Cuba's economy declined by 35 percent, causing the nation to fall into what Castro called "The Special Period in a Time of Peace." The living situation of the Cuban people became very difficult. Because the Soviets had been a source of much of the country's fuel supplies, Cuban homes and businesses suffered daily power blackouts, and the public transportation system all but stopped. Bicycles and horse-drawn carts and tractors had to substitute for motorized transport. Food became scarce, and many Cubans found themselves standing in long lines to procure rationed items or buy them from black-market (illegal) sources.

The inability of the state-controlled system to provide scarce consumer goods enabled the black market to assume a prominent role in the Cuban economy. During the 1990s, workers commonly stole goods from the state-run factories they worked in to use in their homes or to sell on the streets. As a result, the government was forced to make some drastic changes in policy. Many small in-home restaurants, bed-and-breakfasts, repair shops, etc. that had previously been considered "black market" were legalized. State control was somewhat reduced. The government divided many large state-run farms into smaller cooperatives called Basic Units of Production Cooperatives (UBPC). While the farmers who worked for them still had to sell a certain amount of their produce to the government at set prices, they were now permitted to sell their surplus goods on the free market via agropecuarios (farmers' markets). The government also began to require state-run enterprises to be more efficient; any enterprise not showing a profit would be eliminated. The government also began to allow more foreign investment, creating joint ventures with foreign companies and eventually allowing a foreign firm to own 100 percent of an enterprise. The U.S. dollar was legalized and, by 2000, became the most commonly used currency. In 1994 Cuba reported economic growth again for the first time since 1989, a situation that has continued into the new century. It is estimated that the continuation of these reforms should contribute to a growth of 4-5 percent in the year 2001. Still, the economy is in a difficult situation, and life for the average Cuban is not easy.

An important contribution to the improvement of the Cuban economy has been the tourist industry, which was the sector reporting the greatest growth in the 1990s. In the years immediately following the revolution in the late 1950s, the Cuban government discouraged tourism, which was viewed as a source of corruption of the Cuban people and a return to what it considered the decadent years of U.S. control (1898-1958). Beginning with some changes in the mid-1980s, the tourist industry is now viewed as an important way for Cuba to support itself while maintaining many of the reforms that had been instituted under the socialist system.

Besides tourism, important export sectors of the Cuban economy are agriculture, especially sugar, coffee, and tobacco crops, and nickel mining. Because of its long-term reliance on a single cropsugarthe economy has often suffered when world sugar prices have been low. Petroleum is Cuba's most important import. In the 1980s, Cuba received most of its oil from the Soviet Union, a supply that dropped by 50 percent between 1990 and 1992, causing widespread energy problems that severely stunted Cuba's agricultural and industrial production. Cuba responded by reducing its energy use, as by cutting back on gasoline-powered vehicles and by imposing daily blackouts throughout the island. Cuba continued to get much of its reduced oil supplies from Russia, but was required to pay market prices instead of the lower prices that the USSR had traditionally charged Cuba as a gesture of solidarity. By 2000, Cuba was buying its oil at market prices from Venezuela, Russia, and Mexico.

Cuba had an enormous burden of unpaid external debt totaling more than US$10 billion by 1999. Cuba has repeatedly refinanced these debts but was forced to suspend interest payments in 1990 due to extreme economic conditions. Because of its poor credit, Cuba has been unable to obtain international loans that would enable it to buy many of the imports it needs. As the Cuban economy improved into the late 1990s, the country did receive more foreign aid. Although Cuba has not yet been approved to receive funds from either the International Monetary Fund or the World Bank, it has received money from various United Nations organizations, but the amounts have been low in comparison to those received by other Latin American countries: US$44 million ($4 per person) in 1993, and US$80 million ($7 per person) in 1998.


According to the Cuban constitution, Cuba is an independent socialist republic that is controlled by 1 party: the Cuban Communist Party (PCC), of which Fidel Castro is the head, with his brother, Raul Castro as vice-president. The Communist Party is led by a group of 25 individuals chosen by its head. Molded by this elite group of communists are organizations that encompass every facet of society, including youth, women, workers, and small farmers, among others. Around 80 percent of the population has membership in at least one of these organizations. This network ensures that the agenda of the Communist Party is disseminated (communicated) to the masses.

Fidel Castro, the commander-in-chief of the Cuban Republic, heads both executive bodies of the nation's government, the Council of Ministers, and a Council of State. His brother, Raul Castro, serves as first vice-president of these 2 bodies. The members of the Council of Ministers are proposed by the president of the Council of State and ratified by the National Assembly. The members of the Council of State and its president and vice-president are elected by the National Assembly. At the last election in 1998, Fidel Castro and Raul Castro were elected unanimously. The next elections have not been scheduled.

The National Assembly is the legislative body of the Cuban government. The Assembly is composed of 601 members whose terms last 5 years. For these positions, the Council of State nominates candidates, who are then subject to a direct vote by the Cuban people. The National Assembly also elects the Judicial Branch. On the local level, members of Municipal Assemblies are chosen by direct local election. Local government is closely over-seen by the Communist Party. As is evidenced by Fidel Castro's almost complete control over decision-making, most policies are the direct result of his personal desires.

The Cuban governmental structure is heavily bureaucratic (organized into many agencies). Until 1993, the Central Planning Board (JUCEPLAN, or Junta de Planificación Central), was responsible for economic planning. After 1993, in a move to create greater efficiency and to decentralize, different sectors of the economy became the responsibility of various ministerial bodies, including the Ministry of Tourism, the Ministry of Science, Technology, and the Environment, the Ministry of Industry, the Ministry of Sugar Planning, and the Ministry of Foreign Investment and Economic Cooperation, among others.

The economy is largely state-controlled, with 75 percent of the labor force employed by the government. Therefore decisions that are made within each of these state-run ministries have a great impact on the economy and on the individual. The Cuban people have very little influence over government policies, most of which are directly handed down from the upper echelons of government. Over the years, Fidel Castro has proved himself somewhat whimsical in his approach to long-term economic planning. Many economic policies are the direct result of his attempts to maintain his tight control on the Cuban population through economic means.

Interestingly, the military has been on the cutting edge of the restructuring of Cuba's economy. Since the 1980s, the government has been unable to support the armed forces, forcing the Ministry of the Armed Forces (MINFAR) to become almost completely self-supporting. MINFAR started a tourist company, a construction company, and an agricultural project to grow its own food. The CIA estimated that military expenditures constituted only 4 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) by 1995.

Taxes do not constitute a large part of the govern-ment's revenues. Taxes were first introduced in 1994 as a method of controlling earnings from the burgeoning small-business sector. It was based on a flat-tax system with rates fixed at different levels for different businesses. By 2001, a more formalized system of income taxation was in the planning stages, one that might provide a large share of federal revenues in the future.


Cuba's infrastructure , power system, and communications are all in need of improvement. In 1959 Cuba was one of the most advanced countries in Latin America, but much of the infrastructure has not been updated since the revolution. For example, many of the 29,800 kilometers (18,476 miles) of roads that were listed as paved in 1996 were done so before 1959, and have not been maintained. The original pre-Revolutionary water and sewerage systems were installed using U.S.-made equipment, for which replacement parts are unavailable due to the U.S. trade embargo. Of the 170 airports in Cuba, only 77 had paved runways.

As an island Cuba's ports and harbors are especially important. Cuba's 7 main ports and harbors included Cienfuegos, Havana, Manzanillo, Mariel, Matanzas, Nuevitas, and Santiago de Cuba. The country's merchant marine fleet comprised 15 ships: 1 bulk, 7 cargo, 1 liquefied gas, 1 petroleum tanker, and 5 refrigerated cargo.

Communications systems have seen little change. In 2000 Cuba had about the same number of phone lines as in 1959. There were 353,000 main lines in use and 1,939 cellular phone contracts in 1995. At the same time, Cuba had only slightly more electrical lines, and fewer automobiles on the road (24 cars per 1,000 inhabitants in 1959 as opposed to 23 per 1,000 in 1988) than it did before the revolution. Many of the cars on the road in 2000 dated back to the 1950s. Public transportation was inefficient and overcrowded, and private transportation was difficult because of the lack of available spare parts and the general lack of fuel. Vehicle owners regularly used their cars as a taxi service, commonly charging a small fee to people who need rides. Very few people had access to computers. There were some in government offices

Country Newspapers Radios TV Sets a Cable subscribers a Mobile Phones a Fax Machines a Personal Computers a Internet Hosts b Internet Users b
1996 1997 1998 1998 1998 1998 1998 1999 1999
Cuba 118 353 239 0.0 0 N/A N/A 0.06 35
United States 215 2,146 847 244.3 256 78.4 458.6 1,508.77 74,100
Mexico 97 325 261 15.7 35 3.0 47.0 23.02 1,822
Jamaica 62 480 182 73.1 22 N/A 39.4 1.04 60
aData are from International Telecommunication Union, World Telecommunication Development Report 1999 and are per 1,000 people.
bData are from the Internet Software Consortium ( and are per 10,000 people.
SOURCE: World Bank. World Development Indicators 2000.

and few in the universities. By 1999 Cuba had 1 Internet service provider.

Cuba produced 15 billion kWh of electricity in 1998 and consumed 14 billion kWh. Cuba did not use nuclear plants to generate any of its power, but was working toward that goal, and is predicted to have the ability in 2005, according to the Energy Information Administration of the United States.


Cuba's important economic sectors are related to its tropical climate, island location, and fertile soils. The sectors that annually contribute the most to the Cuban GDP are tourism (30 percent, US$5.6 billion), construction (20 percent, US$3.7 billion), agriculture, hunting, and fishing (17 percent, US$3.16 billion), and industry (37 percent, US$6.9 billion), according to Cuba: Informe Económico in 1996. All of these sectors experienced considerable growth in the latter part of the 1990s as a result of a restructuring of the economy, foreign investment, and new trading partners. Tourism is slated for the most growth in the coming years because it is one of the most attractive sectors for foreign investment.

Compared to worldwide production, Cuba's output of its most important products is relatively small. World production of sugar is 130 million metric tons, and Cuba produces only 3 to 5 million metric tons, still a considerable amount for the size of the island. Cuba experienced a 50 percent drop in sugar production between 1993 and 1994 due to the inability to procure the necessary fuel, fertilizers, and other agricultural products, and bad weather. Again in 1997 and 1998, lack of capital and inefficiencies caused the harvest to suffer, which barely reached the 50-year low of 3.3 million tons. Other countries that produce more sugar are the United States, Brazil, Mexico, India, and Australia.


Agriculture has always played a very important role in Cuba's economy. The country's fertile plains and tropical climate are excellent for citrus, tobacco, and sugar production. Cuba also has fertile, mountainous zones where coffee is produced. Some 2,600,000 people, or 23 percent of the labor force, are employed in agriculture. The most important crops have always been sugar and tobacco, but Cuba also produces coffee, potatoes, tomatoes, rice, beans, onions, and citrus fruits, though not in exportable quantities. Still, Cuba imports more than 60 percent of its agricultural food products.


Sugar is Cuba's most important agricultural product. Cuba's economy has always been linked to the world price of sugar. After the Revolution of 1959, the Castro government unsuccessfully tried to change Cuba's monoculture (dependence on a single crop). When the United States revoked its annual sugar quota, the Soviet Union assumed the shortfall and the makeup of Cuba's exports did not change. In 1959, 75 percent of Cuba's export dollars came from sugar, a proportion that had increased to 80 percent by 1989. Production rose from an average of 5 million tons per year in the 1970s to an average of 7.5 million tons per year in the 1980s. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Cuban sugar harvest fell to a 50-year low of 3.3 million tons as a result of a loss of fuel, fertilizer, herbicide, and machinery imports. In 1993, the Cuban government began to reorganize the industry. Traditional agricultural methods were encouraged, large farms were broken up into smaller cooperatives, and foreign investment was courted. Difficulty obtaining needed resources caused sugar production to remain low at the end of the century.


Tobacco is an important Cuban product, and Cuban cigars have long been highly esteemed around the world for their excellence. With the exception of Greece, Cuba dedicates more land to tobacco production than any other country in the world. Cuba also has the lowest yield per hectare than any other country because of its inefficient agricultural sector. Despite this, Cuba's tobacco production is growing. In 1 year alone (from 1994 to 1995), production grew by 52 percent, a trend that continues as a result of foreign investment from Spain, the distribution of lands to small farmers, and increased international marketing.


In total, industrial production accounted for almost 37 percent of the Cuban GDP, or US$6.9 billion, and employs 24 percent of the population, or 2,671,440 people, in 1996. Cuban industry encompasses sugar, petroleum, and food processing; the manufacturing of textiles, chemicals, wood, paper and tobacco products, cement, fertilizers, and agricultural machinery; and the extraction of metals. Only in mining and sugar processing does Cuba contribute a noteworthy portion of the world's production.


Although productive and profitable until the early 1990s, the sugar milling and refining industry faced difficult times after the decline of the Soviet Union. By 1999, 50 of the 156 sugar mills in Cuba were closed due to their inability to obtain needed cane to process or because they could not repair their aging machines.


Cuba has 25 percent of the world's high-quality nickel deposits located on its northeastern coast, the highest concentration in the world. Cuban nickel is inexpensive to extract because there are few environmental controls and wages are low. In 1997 nickel and cobalt brought US$350 million into the Cuban economy. Nickel production grew from 25,787 metric tons in 1994 to 65,300 metric tons in 1998. The increase has been substantial as a result of joint ventures between Cuba and foreign governments. Mining has played an important part in the recovery of the Cuban economy in the second half of the 1990s, although the world price of nickel has dropped.


Cuba manufactures a variety of industrial goods including televisions, refrigerators, pharmaceuticals, and cell phones. This does not contribute a large portion of the GDP, and Cuba is forced to import most of its manufactured products.


Cuba has prioritized biotechnology over the past 40 years and, due to a highly educated population, has been able to focus on research in a relatively inexpensive manner. This industry has produced approximately 200 pharmaceuticals, including a drug used to treat AIDS and the hepatitis B vaccine. In 1996, the value of Cuban pharmaceutical production was US$4.25 million, and the value of pharmaceutical exports was US$2.5 million. In the late 1990s this sector accounted for only 5 percent of Cuba's earnings, but the Cuban government hoped to further penetrate the world market.



Tourism has recently become Cuba's biggest growth industry. Having produced US$5.6 billion in 1996, it topped sugar as the country's greatest hard-currency earner. The tourist industry employs 1,109,000 people, or 10 percent of the population. Cuba's pristine, white-sand beaches and tropical climate make it a vacation paradise. Cuban tourism officials estimate the number of available rooms in Cuba reached 50,000 in 2000, bringing the island's annual capacity for tourists to 2.5 million. Since Cuba has only prioritized the tourist industry for the last fifteen years, it is lacking in the efficiency and comforts that many tourists expect, but is working to improve its services.


Cuba has a very poorly developed retail sector. There are no large shopping centers and the commercial districts that existed before the revolution are largely shut down. Those that remain carry few and poorly made products that are priced in dollars and are too expensive for the average Cuban to purchase. The majority of the stores are small dollar stores, bodegas, agro-mercados (farmers' markets), and street stands.


Before 1959, the United States was Cuba's most important trading partner, a natural development due to its geographic proximity. That relationship ended in 1960 with the U.S. trade embargo. Cuba then courted the Soviet Union and its Eastern European allies to become its primary trading partners. Due to the strict economic organization of the Communist system, only 50 Cuban companies were allowed to participate in foreign trade until 1987. After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989, Cuba was soon trading with a number of countries, including Spain, France, Italy, Mexico, Canada, Russia, the Netherlands, and Venezuela. About 40 percent of Cuba's trade is within the Americas and 50 percent is with Europe. Main imports include fuel, food, semi-finished goods, wheat, vegetables, machinery, feed, and corn. Main exports are sugar, fish, nickel, medicinal products, and fruit. Cuba has consistently faced an unfavorable balance of trade ; in 1999 imports were valued at US$3.2 billion and exports at US$1.4 billion. This situation places Cuba in a dependent position, unable to earn hard currency and reliant on other countries for vital goods.


As the Cuban state has experienced a growth in demand for wages, social security, and subsidies , there has been a severe shortage of imported products, food, and other goods. Cubans often had to stand in long lines to procure a limited supply of food products. Many necessary items could not be obtained with pesos and were available only on the black market with U.S. dollars. Inflation resulted because the government kept printing more pesos though there were few goods available. In order to restore the value of the peso, a program was initiated to reduce the excessive amount of money in circulation. As part of this program, the government increased the prices of many consumer goods and services, enacted a new tax law, and ended subsidies to businesses that were not viable (economically successful). While these measures increased the difficulty of daily living for the average Cuban, they have gradually restored the value of the peso. Though the official exchange rate of the Cuban peso to the U.S. dollar is 1:1, the real exchange rate within the country has dropped from 120 pesos to the dollar in 1994 to 20 to the dollar in 1998.

Before 1993, the U.S. dollar, although illegal, was used widely on the black market. In 1993, the dollar was legalized and Casas de Cambio, (houses of exchange) were established to exchange pesos and dollars. Cuba has created a dual systema dollar economy and a peso economythat has certain places where pesos can be used and others where dollars only are accepted.

Exchange rates: Cuba
Cuban pesos per US$1
Jan 2001 1.0000
2000 N/A
1999 N/A
1998 N/A
1997 N/A
1996 N/A
Note: Nonconvertible, official rate, for international transactions, pegged to the US dollar; convertible peso sold for domestic use at a rate of 1.00 US dollar per 22 pesos by the Government of Cuba (January 2001).
SOURCE: CIA World Factbook 2001 [ONLINE].

Since 1993, foreign banks had been allowed to do business in Cuba to supply such financial services as insurance, foreign commercial investments, and savings accounts. In 1997, a new central bank, the Banco Central de Cuba, was created to supervise and regulate Cuba's growing banking sector. The old bank, Banco Nacional de Cuba, had performed both the roles of central bank and state-owned commercial bank, but would now operate only as a commercial bank. Nevertheless, a very narrow sector of the Cuban population requires banking services. Very few people earn enough money to be able to invest or save. Those who do are able to earn dollars or receive money from family members in other countries. Cuba has no stock exchange.


By some measures, Cuba is the most socially egalitarian of the world's nations. Apart from some governmental and military officials, the highest salaries in the country are only 4 times the amount of the lowest salaries. This situation is changing rapidly toward greater inequality; although definitive statistics are not available, there is a great discrepancy between the earning capacity of those in contact with dollars and those without. When Fidel Castro's socialist government came into power, it inherited a social situation similar to most other Latin American countries. There was a small but very wealthy class of landowners and government officials, and large numbers of impoverished peasants in the countryside and poorly-paid urban workers. Havana, on the western end of the island was a wealthy, developed urban center while most of the island was undeveloped, rural, and poor. Most Cubans were uneducated (3 out of 4 were illiterate), and modern health care was not available to them. Castro focused his policies on destroying the middle and upper classes and eliminating the abject poverty of the lowest classes. In some ways he was successful. He confiscated the large landholdings and companies of the very wealthy, causing much of the upper class to flee the country. In nationalizing most of the

GDP per Capita (US$)
Country 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000
Cuba 1,480 1,540 1,560 1,700 1,700
United States 28,600 30,200 31,500 33,900 36,200
Mexico 8,100 7,700 8,300 8,500 9,100
Jamaica 3,260 N/A 3,300 3,350 3,700
Note: Data are estimates.
SOURCE: Handbook of the Nations, 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th editions for 1996, 1997, 1998 and 1999 data; CIA World Factbook 2001 [Online] for 2000 data.

businesses in Cuba he placed the state in control of the economy, thus allowing it to control wages for all positions. A wage scale was established that had only 4 levels from top to bottom. In 1960, rent prices were established at 10 percent of one's salary. State funds were diverted away from Havana and funneled into the countryside. The state provided or subsidized food, medical care, funerals, transportation, vacations, and other consumer goods.

During the period from 1959 to 1989, the state was also relying heavily on assistance from the Soviet Union (see Overview of Economy). When the Soviet Union was no longer able to help, the recession of the early 1990s forced Cuba to change its policies. It loosened control of the markets, allowed people to own their own businesses, allowed foreign ownership within Cuba, encouraged tourism, created a tax system, and legalized U.S. currency. Income inequality has resulted; those who are on a fixed income from the Cuban state are earning far less than those who have contact with U.S. dollars. For example, a doctor might earn 40 dollars a month, while a taxi driver might receive 40 dollars a week in tips.

The Cuban state still provides free education from primary school through the university level, an ironic situation given the difficulties of finding employment after graduation. If a job is available, it will pay less than a job as a waiter or taxi driver. Medical care is also free, and Cuban hospitals do remarkable work considering the available resources; however, people often die from curable diseases simply because the medicines required are unavailable.

While traditionally the rural poor have struggled more than the urban poor, it was easier for the rural poor to maintain a healthy diet during the economic difficulties of the 1990s because of their proximity to farms and their ability to plant small plots of land with fruits and vegetables.

Housing has been a particularly difficult situation in Havana under the Castro government. In the 1990s, the housing deficit grew by 20 percent per year. Out of 2.6 million units of housing in Havana, almost 1 million are in a substandard condition. Most buildings in the city have not been properly maintained since 1959, and little new construction has taken place.


In the early 1900s Cuba experienced a great deal of labor unrest, with strikes and labor slowdowns being commonplace. When Fidel Castro's revolutionary government came into power in 1959 there was great pressure for change from Cuban workers, some 2 million in number, most of whom were living in difficult conditions due to low wages that made it impossible for them to afford expensive consumer goods and high rents. Workers also lacked health care, access to education, retirement benefits, and vacations. The government complied with the workers' demands; labor contracts were renegotiated, wages were raised, rents were lowered, and the unemployed were given jobs. Many of the most marginalized (poorest) people saw immediate and real benefits giving them a sense of security, gratitude toward the revolution, and hope for the future.

These changes were short-lived, however. Many of the laws that were enacted in 1959 to benefit workers were repealed as early as 1961. Since that year, the revolutionary government fixed wages at a low level, which today are the lowest in the Western Hemisphere, averaging 100-400 pesos (US$5-$20) a month. The worker has been constantly asked to sacrifice for the survival of the revolution. Cuba has a workweek of 48 hours, and workers have been asked to give volunteer time to building projects, education, and harvesting. The only legal workers' union in Cuba, the CTC, is an arm of the Communist Party. It is not legal to strike, and there is no collective bargaining. As a result, the International Labor Organization has condemned Cuba for violations of human rights.

Some Cubans depend on the security net of health care, free education, and social security as motivation to work hard in government-run enterprises, but large numbers of Cubans are unhappy with the difficult conditions. Due to the fact that Cuban workers have had no legal recourse to address the work conditions, many have reacted by decreasing their productivity, sabotaging production, or by stealing products to sell on the black market.

Since the beginning of the revolution, the stated goal of the Cuban socialist state has been full employment . It has been relatively successful only on a superficial level. Because the Cuban state has owned almost every enterprise on the island, it has been nearly the sole employer. Even foreign companies that operate in Cuba are required to pay Cuban workers' salaries in dollars to a state organization called CUBALSE (Cubans at the Service of Foreigners). The Cuban state then pays its workers in pesos, at a rate that shortchanges the employee.

In order to keep low unemployment rates, in the past, the Cuban state did not require businesses to earn a profit. Many employees were kept on the payroll even though they were unnecessary to the business. Because of this, a high percentage of the companies in Cuba were continually losing money. The state continued to subsidize those businesses, keeping them functioning at a loss. In the economic crisis of the early 1990s, the Cuban leadership was forced to rethink these practices. Downsizing of these bloated enterprises was one of the first policies enacted to restructure the Cuban economy. Employees who were unnecessary were dismissed, and companies were required to earn a profit. Unemployment increased, but the levels are uncertain because there are no reliable unemployment statistics available for Cuba. However, due to the legalization of the dollar combined with the growth of tourism, and the fact that it is difficult to live on the official government salaries, many people are choosing to work in the informal economy or start their own small enterprises. Positions that bring an individual in contact with tourists can often yield far greater monetary rewards.


1492. Christopher Columbus claims Cuba as a Spanish possession.

1538-60. Cuba is constantly under attack by French and English smugglers and pirates. The Spanish authorities create the flota system; a group of armed ships that made each voyage to and from Spain in order to protect their imports and exports.

1717. Spain establishes a tobacco monopoly called a Factoría, which incites rebellions of tobacco farmers against the Crown.

1740. Spain establishes the Real Compañía de Comer-cio in order to control and monopolize Cuban trade and commerce.

1762-63. The English occupy Havana for 10 months and change the laws in order to allow Cuba to enter the international market instead of being controlled by the Spanish Crown's monopoly.

1776. As a result of the American Revolution, trade increases between the United States and Cuba.

1778. A free-trade decree by the Spanish Crown gives Cuba open access to trade with Spain and Spanish colonies.

1789. A Spanish royal decree authorizes a free trade in slaves.

1791. Due to a slave revolt in the French colony of St. Domingue, many coffee and sugar planters move to Cuba and greatly expand Cuba's production in these areas.

1817. Spain and England agree to end the legal slave trade in Spanish colonies by 1820.

1837. A railroad is built in Cuba, which reduces the cost of transporting sugar.

1868-78. The Ten Years' War, with the goal of freeing Cuba from Spain, breaks out in the eastern part of Cuba. The revolt fails when the rebels are unable to seize power in the western portion of the island.

1895-97. The Cuban War for Independence succeeds when Spain grants the island autonomy in October of 1897.

1898. After the U.S. intervention in the Spanish-American War, the Treaty of Paris is signed, which transfers sovereignty over Cuba to the United States. The United States occupies Cuba militarily until 1902, at which point Cuba is granted autonomy and becomes the Republic of Cuba. This begins a period of heavy commerce between Cuba and the United States.

1920. The price of sugar jumps to 22.5 cents per pound, and then collapses to 3.7 cents. The Cuban economy enters a period of depression and chaos.

1953-59. Fidel Castro leads a revolution that ousts the Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista, who flees Cuba for Miami with considerable wealth. Upon his departure, Castro installs a socialist government.

1960. Cuba and the Soviet Union re-establish relations. Cuba begins to nationalize U.S. properties. In retaliation, the United States cuts the amount of sugar it will buy from Cuba. In October, the United States imposes a trade embargo on Cuba that remains in force as of 2001.

1961. The United States and Cuba terminate diplomatic relations. The United States is embarrassed over its failure to offer effective support to Cuban exiles attempting to overthrow Castro in the Bay of Pigs invasion.

1962. Tensions rise as the United States confronts the Soviet Union over its installation of missile sites in Cuba.

1990-91. With the fall of the Soviet Union, which had accounted for 85 percent of its trade, Cuba enters the "Special Period in a Time of Peace," a period of economic restructuring marked by food and fuel shortages and energy blackouts.

1992. The U.S. Congress passes the so-called Torricelli Bill, which encourages people-to-people exchange between Cuba and the United States. The United States hopes to encourage dissent by putting the Cuban populace into contact with democratic ideas.

1993. Cuba legalizes the U.S. dollar as a medium of exchange, and permits Cubans to engage in some forms of self-employment.

1994. Cuba adopts a new system of taxation and opens all sectors of its economy to foreign investment except public health, education, and national security.

1995. The Cuban National Assembly allows foreign investors to wholly own businesses in Cuba.

1996. The U.S. Congress passes the Helms-Burton law, strengthening its embargo by allowing prosecution of foreign businesses for doing business with Cuban businesses that were previously owned by the United States.


The future of the Cuban economy is not easy to predict. The government of Cuba has no clear-cut long-term plan. While the reforms and restructurings of the 1990s have been thought to indicate a desire to slowly restore capitalism , the Cuban government insists that these changes are only survival techniques and that they have not given up on the socialist project begun more than 40 years ago. Questions remain whether Cuban leaders will resign themselves to becoming a capitalist economy or, if not, what new forms its economy might take. If present trends continue, the Cuban economy will continue to grow steadily.

For the Cuban people, the dream of total socialism can no longer be sustained. It is apparent that most Cubans do not want a society that has a completely market economy. The majority of Cubans would like to keep alive the social goals of the revolution: free or inexpensive health care for everyone, education, and social security, while allowing market forces to have a greater role in the economy, allow more private property, encourage self-employment, and change the Cuban system to allow it to interact more easily within the international marketplace.

In terms of the future of political leadership, it is likely that Fidel Castro will be succeeded by someone from the upper echelon of leadership closest to him. It is therefore unlikely that Cuban policies will change in the near future, and it is likely that relations with the United States will remain hostile through the transition of power to a new generation of leaders.


Cuba has no territories or colonies.


Azicri, Max. Cuba Today and Tomorrow: Reinventing Socialism. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2000.

Córdova, Efren, and Eduardo García Moure. Modern Slavery: Labor Conditions in Cuba. Miami: Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies Occasional Paper Series, 2000.

Del Aguila, Juan M. Cuba: Dilemmas of a Revolution. Boulder, San Francisco, and Oxford: Westview Press, 1994.

Economist Intelligence Unit. Country Profile: Cuba. London: Economist Intelligence Unit, 2000.

"International Development Options. USA." Global Development Studies. Winter-Spring 1999.

Journal of Commerce. "JOC Trade News." <>. Accessed January 2001.

Naciones Unidas, CEPAL. Anuario Estadístico de América Latina y el Caribe. United Nations, 1999.

Pérez, Louis A. Cuba: Between Reform and Revolution. NewYork and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995.

Water and Earth Science Associates, Ltd. "Clean Technologies inCuba's Sugar Industry 1999." <>. Accessed April 2001.

Wilkie, James W. Statistical Abstract of Latin America, Volume 36. Los Angeles: UCLA Press, 2000.

World Development Indicators. International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, 2000.

Amy Lang-Tigchelaar

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Cuba." Worldmark Encyclopedia of National Economies. . 9 Jul. 2018 <>.

"Cuba." Worldmark Encyclopedia of National Economies. . (July 9, 2018).

"Cuba." Worldmark Encyclopedia of National Economies. . Retrieved July 09, 2018 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.



Basic Data
Official Country Name: Republic of Cuba
Region: North & Central America
Population: 11,141,997
Language(s): Spanish
Literacy Rate: 95.7%
Academic Year: September-June
Number of Primary Schools: 9,926
Compulsory Schooling: 9 years
Public Expenditure on Education: 6.7%
Foreign Students in National Universities: 4,243
Educational Enrollment: Primary: 1,094,868
  Secondary: 712,897
  Higher: 111,587
Educational Enrollment Rate: Primary: 106%
  Secondary: 81%
  Higher: 12%
Teachers: Primary: 92,820
  Secondary: 70,628
  Higher: 22,574
Student-Teacher Ratio: Primary: 12:1
  Secondary: 11:1
Female Enrollment Rate: Primary: 104%
  Secondary: 85%
  Higher: 15%

History & Background

From the first Spanish settlements in 1511 through 1898, Cuban education was typical of Spanish-speaking Latin America: a combination of parochial and secular institutions supporting and supported by the affluent Roman Catholic Spanish colonial elite. The first institution of higher education, the University of Havana, was established in 1728. However, as the Royal Economic Society reported in 1793, learning was confined to private tutoring (for elite families) and church-based schools with limited curriculum and poorly-trained teachers (de Varona 1993). The Society called for a secondary education curriculum that included mathematics, physics, chemistry, natural science, botany, anatomy, and drawing; this sparked the founding of the first secular schools in Havana.

Nineteenth Century Government & Colonial Church: In 1816 the government created an agency that introduced new methods, selected texts, created standards, and employed school inspectors. More than 90 secular schools existed in 1820, but these elite institutions relied on student fees and patron donations. By 1833, Cuba had 210 schools for whites with 8,460 students but only 12 schools for 486 black students. Few poor or minority students received free instruction in public or religious schools. An 1842 law required the construction of public primary and secondary schools on the same site, mandatory attendance for children aged 7 to 10, and control by provincial committees, a seeming democratization of learning (de Verona 1993). However, home-tutored students of the affluent were exempted from sharing facilities and conditions with the children of small business owners, workers, and peasants.

An 1863 law enabled the government to operate public schools and to oversee private schools, obligated attendance by children aged 6 to 9, and specified fines to be paid by parents who failed to comply (de Varona 1993). Major upheavals of this periodfreeing of slaves in 1868 and the Ten Years War, the first War for Independencerendered these decrees moot. These conditions ripped social life asunder, impoverished the nation, and left minimal funding for education. For example, only $1800 was budgeted for all school inspectors in 1880 to travel throughout the country to enforce compulsory attendance. Also, schools averaged only about 1 teacher per school and approximately 34 and 40 students per class in private and public schools, respectively (Perez 1945).

During the 1890s, calls for reform of the corrupt education system and for "educational emphasis on practical, utilitarian instruction instead of classical studies" became major issues for Cuban nationalists (Paulston and Kaufman 1992). As a result, dissent was especially strong on university campuses and support for educational investment was minimal.

Equally as important was the Roman Catholic Church. It controlled about 46 percent of Cuba's schools, but its influence and the larger imprint of colonial domination extended to the public schools. Local priests held seats on school boards, were legally entitled to review and approve the hire of teachers, and were legally entitled to provide weekly religious instruction in the public schools. They used this "second pulpit" to promote religious orthodoxy, stereotypical gender and racial hierarchies, and to sanctify the dominant means and relations of production. Thus, poor and minority students had a curriculum that stressed morality and religion, but were not provided with a means to rise above their economic status (Paulston and Kaufman 1992). As a result, few students remained in public school beyond age 10. In sum, the segregated system established by locally unaccountable colonial elites was reflective and supportive of the slave and hacienda system of Cuba's sugar economy.

U.S. Intervention: The ostensible motive for U.S. intervention on the side of the dissidents in 1898 was to free Cuba from Spain and to create democratic, locally controlled institutions. However, the U.S. government established military control in 1899, followed by a pseudo-independence that veiled U.S. control. The Platt Amendment, creating a permanent U.S. military presence in Cuba, solidified that control in 1901. While the rationale for intervention was a facade, the United States did succeed in transforming a marginal education system.

Cuba's educational system included 541 primary and 400 private schools. About 60 percent of the population was illiterate, and only one percent of the literate population had attained higher levels of education. Only about 90,000 out of 550,000 Cuban children attended school. In the five largest cities, about 30 percent of children attended schoolelsewhere, only 11 percent attended (Thomas 1998).

An overarching administrative structure was established when U.S. military governor John Brooke issued Order No. 297, series 1900, and modified Order No. 368 in 1900. It included a Commissioner of Education, a Board of Superintendents (comprised of a general and provincial superintendents for each province), and local education districts with separate school boards (Turosienski 1943). The law also mandated schooling for children aged 6 to 14.

Governor General Leonard Wood, who succeeded Brooke, initiated programmatic reform. Wood augmented Brooke's efforts by giving substance to the Spanish reformscreating a nationwide system of primary schools, training teachers, and instituting changes identified by dissidents. He reorganized secondary and vocational schools and promoted practical knowledge in universities by introducing engineering and architecture. Seeking to infuse attributes of the American educational system into Cuba, Wood hired Cuban educators and administrators versed in the U.S. model of education. Access to education increased across racial and class lines, and attendance rosea seeming realization of the dissidents' goals.

Despite these educational advances, general dissatisfaction with the government led to instability and, in 1906, the United States dispatched additional personnel to establish order. Among those dispatched was Judge Charles Magoon who directed efforts in Cuba until 1909. Magoon's educational accomplishments were "less sensational than Wood's, but in some ways more effective" (Thomas 1998). Sharp penalties were established for violations of mandatory education; school-age children found in the street during school hours were arrested, and factory owners employing child laborers were fined. In 1908, the school enrollment was reported to be 200,000 pupils in the public system and 15,000 pupils in the private system. However, problems remained as Magoon ignored complaints of corruption and nepotism in the educational system.

Batista Period: Under dictator Fulgencio Batista in the 1950s, roughly 50 percent of the school-aged population did not attend school, and expenditures were concentrated in urban areas to the exclusion of rural provinces (MacDonald 1985). The average child progressed only to the second grade, and only 17 percent of students attended high school. More than 1,000,000 peoplehalf the adult populationwere illiterate. The curriculum had regressed to a "classic Hispanic education with a great emphasis on memorization" while ignoring practical issues and modern conditions (Padula and Smith 1988). As Arthur Gillette discussed in his book Cuba's Educational Revolution, reaction against the inadequacies of pre-Revolutionary education (a dynamic of class inequity and reproduction, a labor force unsuited to the modern economy, and societal alienation) shaped the revolution's educational goals.

Castro Period: Educational reform in Cuba took root following the Cuban Revolution of 1959, though Castro had called for educational reform as early as 1953. As Castro's supporters won control of various regions of the country, they taught peasants to read as part of the revolutionary strategy. After the 1959 Revolution, two major education-related goals emerged: making education available to all and connecting this new educational system to socioeconomic development (Gillette 1972). Achieving these goals required a new national educational system that could educate a largely illiterate population.

The Great Literacy Campaign of 1961 sought to instill basic literacy skills to citizens in the poorest and most remote regions of the country. Junior and senior high schools were closed for an entire year as the campaign mobilized an unprecedented 274,000 volunteer literacy workers, including students, workers, women not in the workforce, and trained teachers, who taught an identified 979,000 illiterate people. Of the 979,000 illiterate individuals, 707,200 gained basic skills of reading and writing (MacDonald 1985). Tutors used manuals designed to teach subjects related to the Revolution; Alfabeticemos, the instructor's manual, was composed of lessons dealing with "such subjects as the revolution, Castro, land reform, nationalization of foreign property, industrialization, and imperialism" (Padula and Smith 1988). Similar topics were included in the student text, providing both a point of departure for literacy instruction and educating the masses about the foundations of the new social order. Volunteers worked individually with learners using progressively more challenging reading and writing exercises. This campaign brought a new sense of unity to the country.

Following the 1961 campaign, illiteracy fell from 25 percent to 4 percent and, unlike other Third World efforts that rendered short-term benefits before reversing, have remained low. While curriculum and methodology are set nationally, local councils, teachers, administrators, and parents contribute to policies within particular schools. Many parents support the school by volunteering at extracurricular events.

Cuba remains an outpost of socialism in a "nonsocialist world" (Lutjens 1998). The nature of its socialism has changed, but the commitment to universal education remains a point of national pride. With a literacy rate of approximately 99 percent, Cuba is unique within Latin America and the Third World in general (UNESCO 1995).

Constitutional & Legal Foundations

Beginning in 1842, education policy emerged as a paradox between the poles of legal mandates and a policy of benign neglect. While compulsory schooling, free instruction, and integration laws were passed, they languished, unenforced by colonial officials. Much of the formal education occurred outside the purview of public officials, overseen only by parents and religious leaders. After 1898 the United States imposed its own model of system structure, methodology, and governance starting with Military Orders No. 297 and Order No. 368 in 1900. When this system was later transferred to Cuban bureaucrats, funding and enforcement backslid and became increasingly corrupt through 1958.

Education in post-Revolutionary Cuba is guaranteed and obligatory as noted in Article 39B of the Constitution. Laws number 76 and number 367, combined with decree number 2099, decentralized schools, and number 680 revised the structure of education itself. The Declaration of Havana in September 1960 declared that every child had the right to a free education; the Law of General Nationalization and Free instruction, passed in June 1961, suspended private education and made the state officially responsible for all education (Epstein 1988).

Educational SystemOverview

Hallmarks of Cuban education have been reorganization and adaptation to changing social needs and social conditions. There have been three major periods of Cuban education: mass education (1959-1962), education for economic development (1962-1968), and "creating the new man" (1965-1990). To this we might add a fourth periodthe "special period," an era of post-Soviet adaptation after 1990 (Gillette 1972).

The goals of this changing system have been constant: to provide improved educational opportunities for all persons, to develop skills necessary to improve the industrial and agricultural output, and to promote collective responsibility. Education is compulsory for students through the ninth grade. The school year is roughly 200 days per year, organized in four 10-week terms. The language of instruction is Spanish. Schools place heavy emphasis on Cuban history, mathematics, practical and applied knowledge, community service, and problem solving. A close relationship exists between education, daily life, and work.

Following the literacy campaign, Cuba created a two-pronged, multi-faceted, but complex educational structure. However, in the last 15 years, they have streamlined the structure while allowing a small series of highly specialized institutions with very limited foci for students with special abilities, interests, or needs.

Preprimary & Primary Education

Cuba's preschool educational structure enrolls about 145,000 students from age 6 months to 5 years, more than twice the number before the revolution. The curriculum is based on the child's age; it emphasizes group play; seeks to assure the physical, intellectual, moral, and aesthetic development of the child; and establishes the basis for future learning.

The academic year extends from September to June, with July and August devoted to recreation. Preprimary education grew after the Revolution as women entered the workforce. The Federation of Cuban Women initially directed preschools, which later fell under Ministry of Education control. Attendance is optional and home education is common. Home-educated preschoolers often attend nonformal groups that meet in parks and neighborhood centers twice a week. A kindergarten year offered for children aged 5 to 6 may either be taken in a daycare or a primary school.

The primary education sequence consists of two levels. The first cycle includes grades one through four, and the second cycle grades five and six. Most schools are located in the students' community, and attendance is mandatory. The number of teachers has fluctuated during the last 40 years, but the pupil-teacher ratio has continually decreased during the period. From grades one through four, classes are 30 minutes in duration. The curriculum focuses on Spanish language (reading, writing, and oral expression) and mathematics. These two subjects together account for 57 percent of classroom time. Scientific approach, life training, economics, labor, artistic topics, and physical education are other subjects. A new topic was introduced in the mid-1990s, the "World in Which We Live"a blend of natural and social ecology, health, and morality (Ministry of Education 1996). The curriculum emphasizes basic education, productive activity, and social benefit and responsibility. Classroom learning is often integrated with basic skills, such as gardening, pruning, wood and metal crafts, and handicrafts. The boundary between classroom and practical learning is blurred into a holistic learning environment.

Evaluation is a continuous process. Tests are administered at the end of the second and fourth grades, with results categorized as excellent, very well, good, regular, and poor, instead of numerical grades. Testing, like instruction, combines formal learning and practical application, and students advance when they receive a satisfactory grade.

In grades five and six, classes include Cuban history, natural science, geography, aesthetics, civil education (to convey political, ideological, moral, and judicial information), economics, and labor education, which is an initial linkage of classroom learning to productive work. The behavioral goal is to encourage independent working habits and cooperative learning skills. The students are again expected to demonstrate competence in each discipline. All students must complete the sixth grade, and those who fail may retake examinations. Less than 1.0 percent of students drop out of primary education, and 98.2 percent continue their studies after the sixth grade (Ministry of Education 1996).

Special education is a sub-system of the primary schools designed to provide appropriate training and instruction to develop the intellectual and vocational abilities of "special needs" children. These children are initially evaluated by specialists in one of Cuba's Diagnosis and Guidance Centers that refer them to an appropriate school. There are schools providing specialized instruction for students with mental disabilities, blindness, visual handicaps, amblyopia, physical disabilities, deafness, speech impediments, behavioral disorders, learning disabilities, and language disorders. Often these schools have relationships with local schools, which allows for mainstreaming of students where appropriate (Ministry of Education 1996).

Secondary Education

Cuba's secondary education system generally has two components: compulsory and non-compulsory. The compulsory basic secondary education system includes grades 7 through 9. There are two different forms of secondary schools: urban and rural. Urban schools have 35 weeks of class and require 7 weeks of work in the countryside. Rural schools have 37 weeks of class and require 5 weeks of work in the countryside. Each has approximately three weeks of testing.

In 1966, the "Schools to the Countryside Program" started when 20,000 basic secondary education students and their teachers moved to the country to work with farmers and agricultural workers. In 1971, this practice was institutionalized as the "schools in the countryside," which are boarding schools that operate during the work-week on a year round basis. Boarding schools divide their students; while half tend crops in the morning, the remainder learns in the classroom, and in the afternoon the groups exchange tasks. Again, practical knowledge and classroom materials are integrated into a single curriculum focused on observation and problem solving. During the summers, the schools are vacation centers where students are joined by their families. Families receive free room and board and participate in various recreational programs, including trips to beaches and parks, but they are expected to work two hours per day (Carnoy and Werthein 1983).

Only 3.3 percent of students drop out of basic secondary, and 92.8 percent continue their studies after the 9th grade. Following completion of the basic secondary curriculum, students seeking additional education can pursue one of several options: pre-university, polytechnical training, or vocational/trade school education. The attendance at this level is free, but is not compulsory.

The course content in pre-university education is more evenly distributed across the curriculum. Mathematics and Spanish comprise only 42 percent of the course contact hours; natural science is about 20 percent. History, geography, art, and physical education constitute about 18 percent. Labor education, civics, military preparation, and fundamentals of Marxist-Leninism constitute about 10 percent of the curriculum and occur in a patterned mannerlabor and civics in the seventh through ninth grades and military and Marxist-Leninist studies in the tenth through twelfth grades (Ministry of Education 1996).

Pre-universities are divided between urban and rural locations. They operate in a fashion similar to basic secondary education. Significant emphasis is placed on study of the environment, especially the interplay between ecological and social problems. Classes last 41 weeks. The twelfth and final year has two main goals: completing the pre-university courses and strengthening knowledge to prepare for university entry.

The other two options following basic secondary are poly-technical institutes, where students can delve deeper into scientific and technical subjects while gaining vocational and professional guidance, and vocational/trade schools, which offer specialized technical curriculum for students and for workers seeking skill enhancement.

Universities: Between 1962 and 1964, following a period of upheaval, efforts to reorganize the university system were initiated by the government, students, faculty, and party officials. By 1964, a multi-tiered system had been created with campus-based participation by the above noted groups, answering to the Centralized National Council of Universities and responsible to the Ministry of Education.

For a decade after the Revolution, higher education was not a major concern, as emphasis was placed on literacy and basic education. Equally as important, the pre-Revolutionary professorate had been hired by, and had trained, the children of the privileged elite. Many retained their positions. For many years, university faculty were a source of anti-Revolutionary ideas and mobilization, a condition that discouraged social investment in these institutions.

By 1970, a shift in curricular focus from humanities to medicine and applied sciences was implemented at three universities: Universidad de la Habana, Universidad Central de Las Villas (Santa Clara), and Universidad de Oriente (Santiago). Problems within universities, including poor pay and resource shortages, were addressed in 1975 as part of a renewed emphasis on university learning; also the University of Camaguey was established and the Ministry of Higher Education was created (MacDonald 1996).

Since 1982, the Ministry of Higher Education has overseen diplomas and degrees granted by the 47 Cuban institutions of higher education. Administratively some are subordinate to other Ministries, including Public Health, Center State, and Education proper (Ministry of Education 1996). Cuba has four universities, each of which has departments of engineering, sciences, agriculture, humanities (including law), medicine, education, and economics. These four universities, three university branch campuses, and 40 specialized institutes collectively constitute the higher education system of Cuba (Mac-Donald 1996).

By 1975 "New Man" graduates of post-Revolutionary institutions of higher education populated industrial, cultural, social, and governmental institutions as employees and managers. Yet with the humanitiesfocused training still in place within universities, product development, technical innovation, and bureaucratic efficiency lagged. With pressing social and economic needs, Cuban officials started emphasizing the importance of higher education as a revolutionary tool in transforming the economy. The end result of this effort was the coordination of universities with national economic agencies, better aligning the needs of society with the expertise of university graduates.

In the immediate post-Revolutionary era, Cuba placed emphasis on agricultural self-sufficiency. By 1980 a shift in the focus, composition, clientele, and outcomes of higher education emerged as part of a larger social transformation (MacDonald 1996). This shift toward increased education and technology, evident from 1970 to 1995, resulted in a tight coordination of national need and educational preparation. The emphasis on mass participation in higher education increased university attendance by farmers and workers. Additionally, a strong indicator of the importance of higher education was its expansion. Student attendance changed from 24,300 pupils (per 100,000 population) in 1958; to 20,600 by 1965; and to 26,300 by 1975.

From 1980 through 1992, higher education flourished in Cuba. In 1980 Cuba had 151,700 students enrolled in higher education. Enrollment declined during the crisis of the mid-1990s, as total enrollment fell from 165,891 in 1993-1994; to 140,815 in 1994-1995; to 134,100 in 1995-1996. Despite these declines, Cuba's rate of higher education enrollment per 100,000 population has, since 1978, exceeded the Latin American and world average (Epstein 1988; Ministry of Education 1996). There were approximately 23,000 faculty members in higher education in 1995, which resulted in an extremely low faculty to student ratio, a condition conducive to effective pedagogy.

Requirements for university attendance include graduation from high school, passage of a specialty examination, a personal interview, and letters from a local "people's organization" or other indicators of revolutionary attitude. Education is free and available to all interested and qualified individuals. There are three kinds of programs available: daytime, worker in-service, and distance learning courses, with the latter two providing courses for non-traditional studentsfarmers and workers seeking to pursue interests and/or upgrade their skills. This student base differs greatly from the pre-Revolutionary days of students from privileged upper class status. Clearly, universities will move the Revolution to its next stage.

Administration, Finance, & Educational Research

The Ministry of Education oversaw the operation of 13,340 schools and 270,100 teachers (including daycare) in 1995-1996. Consistent with Article 39B of the Constitution of the Republic, responsibility for education rests with the state. The Ministry guides, performs, and implements state and government policy in education, except for higher education. The National Education System is composed of a central authority, provincial and municipal organs, and several administrative bodies that answer only to the National Assembly of People's Power, the legislative structure of the Republic of Cuba.

The Ministry of Education, provincial and local educational officials, and teachers and professors periodically propose changes that are consistent with their charge to conduct, organize, and manage educational services in their respective territories. The local education authorities are subject to the principle of double subordination: to the Ministry and to local councils. A total of 2,173,000 students were in the formal education system (excluding universities), and an additional 145,000 children were in daycare centers in 1995-1996. The Ministry of Higher Education is charged with overseeing universities and various institutes and is distinct from the Ministry of Education.

Following the "Nationalization of Education" in July 1961, all educational expenses are covered by public funds from the state budget. The Ministry of Finances controls expenditures and auditing, and the Ministry of Education is accountable for spending. Cuba's support for education is remarkable, rising from about 3.4 percent of GNP before the Revolution, to 7.0 percent by 1965, to 7.2 percent in 1980, to 11.0 percent in 1994. Yet, the impacts of the "Special Period" are such that actual expenditures have fallen from 1853.9 million pesos in 1990 to 1430 million pesos in 1995-1996 (Ministry of Education 1996).

Nonformal Education

Nonformal education is an integral part of Cuban society at the national, provincial, and municipal levels and is strongly linked to the education system. Contributing sectors include Public Health, Culture, and Sports, as well as organizations such as the Federation of Cuban Women, neighborhood watch Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, People's Councils, Pioneer Youth groups (similar to Boy and Girl Scouts), and the National Commission for Prevention and Social Care (Ministry of Education 1996).

Another nonformal sphere is adult education, which provides learning opportunities for workers, farmers, housewives, and undereducated adults at three levels: Educacion Obrera y Campesina or EOC (a four-semester basic instruction course sequence); Secundaria Obrera y Campesina or SOC (a four-semester mid-level course); and Facultad Obrera y Campesina or FOC (a six-semester higher level instruction) (Ministry of Education 1999). The matriculation rate of these programs has remained high, and course materials are frequently refined. From 1962 to 1974 about 650,000 adults graduated from these adult education programs, with a record number of 95,000 matriculating in 1974 (Paulston 1976). Participation remains high (Ministry of Education 1999).

The Cuban government has been a leader in the use of media for nonformal education. Starting in the 1960s, radio has served an important function in making education available to all citizens. As of 1996, eleven of the fourteen provinces offered local radio instruction at important work centers. Increased use of television has also offered opportunities for distance learning. For example, in 2000, "University for All" was introduced on state television, offering telecourses in English, Spanish, and other topics. Distance learning is offered through institutions of higher education, with periodic meetings held between students and professors; approximately 25,000 participants were involved as of 1996. The use of computers and Internet technology is limited, although Cuba is working to increase this resource for its populace.

Teaching Profession

Education of teachers is a strong priority in Cuba, and teacher preparation programs are invariably joined with the political and cultural transitions of the country. Teachers are trained in one of 13 teaching (pedagogical) universities and programs in several methods of instruction. Entry is based upon test scores and analysis of one's aptitude and interpersonal qualities specific to teaching. The training program lasts for five years, with students beginning their studies in their pre-university year of school. During the first two years of the program, emphasis is placed on general studies, emphasizing political and cultural topics. During the third year of instruction, educational psychology is introduced, while in the fourth and fifth year of study, practice teaching is emphasized under the direction of experienced teachers. Practicing teachers can also attain advanced degrees from these institutions.

Teachers are evaluated for performance effectiveness based on qualitative evaluations by peers and administrators, as well as comparison to National Education Quality Control criteria. Salaries are paid on a wage scale initially established in 1975, and professors are paid wages similar to that of doctors and engineers. Teachers are encouraged to continue their education and are given leave from their positions to attend classes.


Cuba's position in the world has changed dramatically in the years since the Revolution, and its educational system has continually met the needs of its people. Change has been so constant that one might argue paradoxically that Cuba's future emerges as its past. Cuba has a highly literate population and a technologically trained workforce, yet it has limited venues for utilizing the talent of its populace because of its difficult economic circumstances.

Cuba remains on the edge of the digital divide. While it is gradually increasing its ability to provide computer technology for its people, information technology resources are limited. For Cuba to enter the twenty-first century, those resources must increase; there is little doubt that Cuba's educational system will embrace the changes that technology brings.

One of Cuba's strengths is its integration of culture, social order, and education. Especially noteworthy has been its integration of formal education, practical arts, and problem-solving applications outside of the classroom. Ironically, that same path is now being promoted worldwide by major corporations and conservative education policy experts who seek to promote problem solving and teamwork. The developed nations have much to learn from Cuba's ability to integrate education into all aspects of its culture. It is also clear that this innovative synthesis of learning activities is not exclusively socialist or liberal.

Another irony involves Cuba's preparation to deal with change. The rigid structure and technology for learning has created for its people a framework for self-discovery and an intrinsic application of knowledge. Times are changing in Cuba, especially with its increased reliance on a tourist economy. Educators are leaving the profession to work in tourism, and this is yet another challenge to be faced. Cuba is again required to create new innovations to maintain its revolutionary vision but, with change as its strength, Cuban education is well positioned to further its transformation and to meet its people's needs.


Berube, Maurice. Education and Poverty: Effective Schooling in the United States and Canada. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1984.

Carnoy, Martin, and Jorge Werthein. "Cuba: Training and Mobilization." In Better Schools: International Lessons for Reform. Praeger Special Studies Series in Comparative Education, 1983.

Castro, Fidel. History Will Absolve Me. Havana: Radio Havana Cuba, 1953.

de Varona, Frank. "Perspectiva Historica de la Educacion en Cuba." In el Comite de Estudios para la Reforma Educacional en Cuba, La Educacion en Cuba: Pasado, Presente y Futuro. The Endowment for Cuban American Studies of the Cuban American National Foundation, 1993.

Gillette, Arthur. Cuba's Educational Revolution, London: Fabian Society, 1972.

Lutjens, Sheryl. "Education and the Cuban Revolution: A Selected Bibliography." Comparative Education Review 42, 1998: 197-224.

. The State, Bureaucracy, and Cuban Schools: Power and Participation. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1996.

MacDonald, Theodore. Schooling the Revolution: An Analysis of Developments in Cuban Education Since 1959. London: Carlyon Printers, 1996.

. Making a New People: Education in Revolutionary Cuba. Vancouver, BC: New Star Books, 1985.

Ministry of Education, Republic of Cuba, Organization of Education 1994-1996. Report of the Republic to Cuba to the 45th International Conference on Public Education. Havana: Ministry of Education, 1996.

Ministry of Education, Republic of Cuba, Pedagogia 1999. "Encuentro por la Unidad de los Educadores Latinoamericanos." Report of the Republic of Cuba to the Congreso Internacional Pedagogia 1999. Havana: Ministry of Education, 1999.

Padula, Alfred, and Lois M. Smith. "The Revolutionary Transformation of Cuban Education, 1959-1987." In

Making the Future: Politics and Educational Reform in the United States, England, the Soviet Union, and Cuba. Atlanta: Center for Cross Cultural Education, College of Education, Georgia State University, 1988.

Paulston, Rolland. The Educational System of Cuba. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, 1976.

Paulston, R., and C.C. Kaufman. "Cuba." In International Handbook of Educational Reform. Westport, CT: Westview, 1992.

Perez, Emma. Historia de la Pedagogia en Cuba: Desde los Origenes Hasta la Guerra de Independencia Havana, 1945.

Thomas, Hugh. Cuba: The Pursuit of Freedom. New York: Da Capo Press, 1998.

UNESCO. Compendium of Statistics on Illiteracy. Paris: UNESCO, 1995.

Patrick McGuire and Karen Vocke

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Cuba." World Education Encyclopedia. . 9 Jul. 2018 <>.

"Cuba." World Education Encyclopedia. . (July 9, 2018).

"Cuba." World Education Encyclopedia. . Retrieved July 09, 2018 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.





Identification and Location. Cuba is the largest of the Caribbean islands in the West Indies. Situated between 19°40 and 23°30 N and 74° to 85° W, the Antillean nation of Cuba comprises approximately 120,000 square kilometers of land, including over 1,500 islets and keys and the Isle of Pines southwest of the Gulf of Batabanó. Cuba measures 200 kilometers at its widest, southernmost point and under 35 kilometers at its narrowest point. Natural harbors and ports dot the northern coast's low marshlands, swamps, and bluffs, and mountain ranges define the southern coast.

Elevations of the Maestra, Escambray, and Guaniguanico mountain rangeslocated in southeast Santiago de Cuba, south-central Villa Clara, and Pinar del Río provinces respectivelyvary from 2,000 meters in the Sierra Maestra to 600 meters in Guaniguanico. Between these chains, which cover 35 percent of the island land mass, are hills and sea-level plains suitable for a wide variety of tropical agricultural cultivation, ranching, and forestry. The stable climate, with temperatures that seldom drop below 21° C and average rainfall of 137 centimeters a year, contributes to the production of tropical crops. Cuba has often been in the path of devastating tropical storms and hurricanes that negatively affect production.

Linguistic Affiliation. Cuba's earliest inhabitants were the seminomadic Ciboney, and little information on their language remains. Their successors, the Arawak, dominated the island at the time of Spanish exploration and occupation. Terms taken from the Arawak language became incorporated into the major language of Cuba, which continues to be Spanish. By the end of the sixteenth century, most of the native population had ceased to exist, further homogenizing language, but African slaves from Bantu-language groups of West Africa have contributed many terms to Spanish as spoken in Cuba.

Other permanent immigrants from China, Germany, Great Britain, and the United States tended to adopt the Spanish language. After Cuba's separation from Spain in 1898, the English language was incorporated into school curricula and North American terms and commodity trademarks infiltrated Cuban speech. Beginning in 1961, as a consequence of closer ties with the Soviet Union, the government promoted learning Russian and Eastern European languages to facilitate business and diplomatic communication.

Before the 1959 Revolution, the urban literacy rate was high by Latin American standards, but the literacy rate in the countryside was particularly low. An intensive literacy campaign focused first on teaching the rural population the fundamentals of reading and writing Spanish, then on gradually improving levels of literacy. Cuba's accomplishment in this regard has gained universal recognition.

Demography. In 1991 more than half of the Cuban population of 10.7 million was under the age of 30. This pattern is related in part to the emigration of over 1 million Cubans to other countries following the 1959 Revolution. The Cuban population is 51 percent mulatto, 37 percent White, 11 percent Black, and 1 percent Chinese. Forty percent of the population resides in the western provinces and the major urban areas of Havana, Matanzas, and Pinar del Río. Another 20 percent of the population resides in the provinces of Villa Clara and part of western Camagüey. Twenty percent resides in northwestern Santiago de Cuba and Camagüey, and the final 20 percent in the easternmost area of Santiago de Cuba. The eastern naval base of Guantánamo, leased to the United States in 1903, houses 6,000 U.S. military personnel and their families and is effectively separated from Cuba.

Since the late Spanish colonial period, the rural population has migrated to the major cities of Havana, Matanzas, and Santiago de Cuba. Following the 1959 Revolution, efforts have been made to emphasize services to the countryside and slow down the migration to cities. Although population growth has declined in Havana, the trend toward urbanization has continued: in the late twentieth century 62 percent of women and 58 percent of men reside in cities. In contrast to pre-1959 conditions, however, the rural population has enjoyed improved provision of health care, education, housing, and other basic needs.

History and Cultural Relations

The earliest known settlers in Cuba, the Ciboney (1000 b.c.) were joined by Arawaks from a.d. 1100 to 1450. From Christopher Columbus's first landing in 1492 to U.S. troop landings in 1898 during the final stages of the war for Cuban independence, the island was integrated into the Spanish colonial structure, producing as major export crops sugarcane, coffee, and tobacco. The island also served as an administrative center for Spanish political and economic control of the region and was therefore a significant arena of international rivalry over Spanish control of the Western Hemisphere. Population growth and economic and political activity centered on the Havana environs, marginalizing authority and economic growth in the eastern regions and restraining opportunities there even in the postcolonial period. In the second half of the nineteenth century, the Spanish government proved incapable of resolving conflicts over its policies, resulting in the Ten Years War (1868-1878) and the war for Cuban independence, which began in 1895.

Between 1899 and 1902 the United States occupied Cuba and appointed military governors as administrators; the republic was not formally established until a president was elected in 1902. The Cuban constitutional convention reluctantly incorporated the Platt Amendment (to a U.S. army appropriation bill of March 1901), which became the legal justification for U.S. control of the naval base at Guantánamo, ownership of Cuban land, and intervention in Cuba's internal affairs until the abrogation of the amendment in 1934. Between 1934 and 1959 the Cuban economy strengthened its economic and political ties with the United States. Persistent national conflicts generated the formation of various opposition movements. After the success of the July 26th movement in 1959, Cuba built a socialist system; even after the collapse of socialism in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, Cuba's government continued to be a rather stalwart adherent.

Revolutionary Cuban society has attempted to eliminate traditional vestiges of both racism and sexism. With a heritage combining descendants of Spaniards and other western Europeans, African slaves, and Chinese indentured laborers and immigrants, Cuba's Latin African mulatto culture manifests fewer racial tensions than more racially separated societies. The revolutionary government continues to make structural attempts to fully integrate and empower women and Afro-Cubans and to publicly address the foundations of bias.


During the colonial period and prior to 1959, the major urban centers of Havana, Matanzas, Cárdenas, and Santiago de Cuba displayed patterns of growth associated with emphasis on the agro-export economy. Towns and villages organized around production of sugar, coffee, and tobacco exports expanded with markets. Migration of seasonal workers and subsistence farmers exerted strong pressures on urban centers as the concentration of landownership proceeded. Since 1959, the revolutionary government has attempted to reduce this migration in keeping with its agenda of providing more social services to rural areas and small cities and towns, radically reforming land-tenure patterns, and diversifying the economy.

As before the Revolution, rural dwellings of the poor, particularly in the mountainous regions, are constructed from palm thatch, cane, and mud with dirt floors. These bohios traditionally dominated the countryside around sugarcane fields and areas where family subsistence plots persisted; they are only gradually being replaced with dweller-constructed, partially prefabricated cement multifamily housing. Cycles of increased construction have occurred from 1959 to 1963, in the mid-1970s, in 1980, and from 1988 to 1989 but have not kept pace with housing needs. In urban centers, housing combines single-family Spanish-style architecture, low-rise apartment units, single-story apartments joined in rows, and, in the oldest cities, some former single-family homes converted into multiple units. The Spanish patio arrangement is more predominant in the older dwellings. Construction of single-family housing has received less priority from the revolutionary government.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Since 1959, the Cuban government has endeavored to provide food security to its population and increase access to basic needs in housing, education, and medical care. Programs have been implemented to diversify and decentralize agricultural production, exploit nickel reserves, develop light industries, expand the fishing and tourist industries, and increase export earnings to provide for other development needs.

Before the collapse of the socialist bloc, over 40 percent of Cuba's food supply was imported. The National Rationing Board attempted to assure distribution of minimum basic food needs based on demographics. The island suffered severe food shortages in 1993 and 1994, following climatic disasters and the loss of most of its oil imports and 30 percent of its agrochemical, machinery, and parts imports. Attempts to address the crisis included the transformation of state farms into worker-owned enterprises or cooperatives, the reintroduction of farmers' markets, and new trade arrangements for food imports from other countries. The government also legalized private markets and private vendors and suppliers of services in many industries.

Industrial Arts. Cuba is well known for its production of handcrafted wood and cane furniture as well as folk-music instruments.

Trade. Until the 1990s, government-owned food stores set uniform prices for rationed foods. Prices remained fixed from the early 1960s to 1981, when they were increased slightly. Government nonrationed food markets were expanded in 1983 and 1994 to provide greater supplies and varieties of foods and to end black marketeering. Consumer goods remained under government ownership and control until 1994, when the government legalized the taxable, direct sale, without price controls, of crafts and surplus industrial goods by licensed private vendors. Price increases on services and some products followed the 1994 decriminalization of the dollar. Taxes were introduced in select areas.

Division of Labor. The traditional division of labor by gendercasa (home) and calle (street)ascribed to urban, upper-class Latin American societies began to change significantly during World War II, as more middle-class women entered professional fields. In the postrevolutionary period, transference between gender-traditional occupations has made limited strides. Although women have become more educated, have entered new job fields, and play a greater role in political organizations, they continue to be concentrated in the traditional fields of education and public health and remain underrepresented in politics. The labor force of 3 million presently includes 30 percent engaged exclusively in agriculture, 20 percent in industry, 20 percent in services, 11 percent in construction, 10 percent in commerce, and 5 percent in government.

Land Tenure. Since eliminating foreign ownership and large private estates, which were legacies of the colonial system, agrarian reform has gone through several stages. By the mid-1980s, 80 percent of land had come under state ownership, 11 percent was organized into cooperatives, and 9 percent was held by private owners. Food crises forced alteration of this system in 1994. State farms were replaced by Basic Units of Cooperative Production, which are allowed to sell in farmers' markets any food they produce in excess of government requirements. To diversify the economy further and earn foreign exchange, the government entered into investment contracts with foreign enterprises in the fields of construction technology, consumer goods, mining, biotechnology, oil, sugar, and tourism.

Kinship, Marriage, and Family

Kinship. Prerevolutionary kinship ties and social ties of the Cuban upper class were based in part on patrilineal descent from the Spanish colonial aristocracy. The ability to trace family backgrounds sharing common names and patron saints became somewhat less significant in the decades following establishment of the republic and declined even more significantly after the 1959 Revolution and the exodus of large numbers of the upper class. Lower-class Cubans demonstrated much less regard for lineage than had the middle class but continued the Latin tradition of godparenting and maintaining close relationships with and responsibility for the extended family.

Marriage. In the prerevolutionary period, within the framework of a Catholic-Latin society and rural/urban economic polarization, church-sanctioned marriage and baptisms assumed more importance in the cities than in the countryside. A relatively low marriage rate, cited as less than 5 per 1,000 in the late colonial period, reflected emphasis on common-law marriages in the countryside. Since the 1959 Revolution, rates of both marriage and divorce have tended to increase and become more similar for rural and urban areas. The marriage rate declined somewhat in the late 1970s, however, as the housing shortage limited the establishment of separate households. Postmarital residence tends to be patrilocal and has at times required doubling up of families. In 1979 extended families resided in 40 percent of Cuban households. Various types of birth control, including abortion, are available.

Domestic Unit. Efforts to strengthen family solidarity, stability, and female equality include the enactment of the 1975 Family Code, which identifies the nuclear family as the essential social unit responsible for improving the health and welfare of society. The code calls for equal sharing of responsibilities in household work, maintenance, and child rearing, as well as equal commitment to respect and loyalty in marriage. Legally mandated child-care centers and maternity leaves are among the projects and policies intended to reduce gender inequality and modify traditional gender-defined roles.

Inheritance. The Rent Reform and Agrarian Reform Laws of 1959 and subsequent legislation aimed at redistribution of wealth focused on limiting rent charges, foreign ownership of property, and private landownership, as well as nationalizing rural property, establishing cooperatives, and transferring land to sharecroppers and tenants. Legislation enacted with the objective of progressing toward abolition of private property has restricted the sale, mortgaging, and inheritance of land and has successfully increased state purchases of land. Other personal property assets may be inherited with some restrictions.

Socialization. In addition to social conformity reinforced by traditional family relationships, Cubans find both overt and subtle pressures to conform to the values of revolutionary socialist ideology.

Sociopolitical Organization

Cuba is organized politically into fourteen provinces and 169 municipalities. Its socialist system is hierarchical and bureaucratic. The 525,000-member vanguard or cadre party, the Cuban Communist party (PCC) is led by Fidel Castro, the first party secretary, and his brother Raúl Castro, the second party secretary. The Political Bureau has responsibility for supervising economic, political, and military activities. In 1991 the 1,667 delegates to the Fourth Party Congress, acting on recommendations at local meetings attended by some 3.5 million people throughout the island, cut the staff of the 225-member Central Committee by one-half and reduced the number of departments by more than one-half. Alternates in the Political Bureau were abolished, and the Secretariat was terminated. The congress also called for increased review and recall of party officials and special sessions to deal with the economic crises at the provincial and municipal levels.

Secret-ballot elections to the municipal assemblies in 1992 and elections to the provincial and national assemblies in 1993 significantly reduced the number of incumbents who had been part of the decision-making bodies for decades. Membership in the Communist party was no longer a requirement in selecting delegates. By 1993, half of the members of the National Assembly were directly elected municipal-assembly delegates; more and younger delegates represented the trades, medicine, and culture.

Social Organization. In contrast to the prerevolutionary years, Cuba is attempting to create a society in which neither class nor circumstances of occupation, income, race, or sex define social opportunities and rewards. The most significant challenges for the Revolution since the collapse of the Eastern bloc are providing equal access to political and economic opportunities without creating a privileged group in society or loss of conscious socialist goals, and simultaneously moving the economy toward diversification and industrialization.

Political Organization. Prior to 1959, participation in the national and local political processes was limited. Between 1959 and 1970, the revolutionary government largely centralized authority and provided limited representative or direct access to decision making. Reorganization of the political system in 1970 was designed to allow greater input into policy formation at all levels. Legislative reforms in 1976 and again in 1992 and 1993 were illustrative of a trend toward increasing participation in economic decision making at all levels. To ensure wider input and greater understanding of the potential effects of change prior to policy formation, it was required that meetings be held with mass organizations and constituencies.

Most citizens belong to at least one of the mass organizations (committees for the defense of the Revolution, the Confederation of Cuban Workers, the Federation of Cuban Women, the National Association of Small Farmers) or to specific professional or student associations. Several human-rights organizations, founded outside the established political process, are not recognized by the government. In 1994 the government announced the visit of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the creation of an ad hoc committee within the National Assembly to review and report on political, social, economic, cultural, and individual rights.

Conflict. From 1898 to 1959, Cuba experienced several political and economic crises that resulted in armed revolts against government officials and in military and political intervention by the United States. Between 1953 and 1959, armed struggle in the cities and countryside culminated in a successful revolution. Subsequently, more than 200,000 mainly upper- and middle-class Cubans left the island. A small percentage of the exiles in the United States has established organizations that have actively sought the overthrow and/or destabilization of the Cuban government and have resisted U.S. rapproachment with Cuba.

U.S. opposition to Cuban expropriation of U.S. businesses, implementation of a socialist agenda, and relations with the Soviet Union strained U.S.-Cuban relations early in the revolutionary struggle. Immediate consequences included U.S. training and equipping of Cuban exiles in the Playa Girón (Bay of Pigs) invasion of 1961, attempts to isolate Cuba economically and diplomatically in the Western Hemisphere, and a U.S. trade embargo. The 1962 Cuban missile crisis and Cuban support of revolutions and anticolonial movements in Latin America and Africa contributed to further tensions between the United States and Cuba.

Dependence on Soviet support and trade with Eastern Europe complicated Cuban-Eastern bloc relations in the late 1980s as those nations disavowed socialism. Cuba has made substantive efforts to rebuild diplomatic and trade relations with Latin America and increase trade with other nonsocialist nations. Despite three separate votes in the United Nations condemning the U.S. embargo of Cuba as a violation of international law, the United States has determinedly continued the embargo.

Within Cuba, the most significant political conflicts center around perceptions of counterrevolutionary activity. Although criticism is encouraged within the socialist-revolutionary framework, individuals and organizations attempting to operate actively outside this framework or perceived as opponents of the socialist system are subject to legal proceedings that typically result in incarceration. Internal conflict in the 1980s was exemplified by the exodus of more than 125,000 Cubans to the United States from Mariel, the growth of various human-rights organizations, and the trials of high-echelon political and military leaders on drug-trafficking and other counterrevolutionary charges. The collapse of the Soviet bloc contributed to shortages of consumer goods, food, and medicine, as well as to blackouts and transportation and production problems resulting from fuel shortages. Emphasis on tourism to earn necessary foreign exchange and the decriminalization of the dollar were increasingly criticized for creating a dual standard of living and social problems such as prostitution. The economic decline resulted in heretofore rare public demonstrations against the government.

U.S. determination to see the Cuban government overthrown was reflected in the tightening of the embargo in 1992. An immigration policy that denied Cubans legal visas while allowing them entry through illegal means created an immigration crisis in the summer of 1994. Ultimately, the United States reversed its policy of preferential treatment for Cubans and sent those attempting to enter the United States illegally to camps at Guantanamo Naval Base and elsewhere. It also entered into new discussions with the Cuban government on immigration but rescinded many travel opportunities and tightened controls on dollar transfers.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs and Practices. Catholicism has been the principal religion of Cuba, although Methodist, Baptist, and Presbyterian schools, churches, and missions and a number of other religious groups also thrived in the prerevolutionary period. Researchers contend that the Catholic church had less influence and significance in Cuban society than in many other Latin American countries, which in part accounts for reduced hostilities during the period of strong separation between religion and the revolutionary government (1959-1983). The emergence of liberation theology and Cuban government recognition of a role for religion in revolutionary society resulted in improved relations between the churches and the Cuban government in the latter part of the 1980s.

Afro-Cuban Santería, a syncretic religion that draws on both the Yoruba and Catholic cultural heritages, is deeply engrained in Cuban culture and has at least the tacit respect of practitioners of other religions.

Arts. Under the revolutionary government, Cuba has expanded the number of libraries from 100 to 2,000 and of museums from 6 to 250. Workshops and institutes in music, dance, theater, art, ceramics, lithography, photography, and film are available to amateurs and professionals in the 200 casas de cultura, A new film industry and film school have produced internationally acclaimed works, and several publishing houses, of which the Casa de las Américas is the best known, have produced and reproduced an unprecedented number of publications. Political poster art, street theater, and experimental workplace theaters have been distinctive contributions of the revolutionary period. The rich Afro-Hispanic culture, including the traditional guajiro (folk) songs and dances, have been emphasized with new vigor since 1959.

Medicine. Between 1959 and 1964, almost one-half of Cuba's 6,300 physicians left the island, and the United States imposed a trade embargo that cut off essential medicines. As part of its campaign to increase the availability of medical care, Cuba has since trained more than 16,000 doctors. Medical care is completely free and available to all; Cuba has also sent many physicians and other healthcare workers to more than twenty-six countries to provide care, training, and biomedical research. Using the medicalteam approach and emphasizing preventative health care, the government expanded the former mutualistas (health-maintenance organizations) to include urban and rural polyclinics, more rural hospitals, and extensive neighborhood health-education and disease-prevention programs. Modern techniques and equipment available from the socialist bloc improved health-care delivery dramatically.

The rapid decline in the importation of medicine, equipment, and pharmaceutical-industry supplies from the former socialist bloc, and the limited availability of hard currency for purchases created a medical crisis in 19931994. Shortages of food and chemicals for water treatment led to outbreaks of diseases, including an optic and paralytic epidemic that was stemmed only with the help of the international community. Emphasis on herbal and traditionalist methods of treatment has increased with the loss of manufactured medications.

Death and Afterlife. Funeral rituals and beliefs regarding death and afterlife continue to reflect the combined Santería and Roman Catholic heritage.


Bremer, Philip, William LeoGrande, Donna Rich, and Daniel Siegel, eds. (1989). The Cuba Reader: The Making of a Revolutionary Society. New York: Grove Press.

Halebsky, Sandor, and John Kirk, eds. (1985). Cuba: Twenty-Five Years of Revolution, 1959-1984. New York: Praeger Special Studies.

Perez, Louis A. (1988). Cuba: Between Reform and Revolution. New York: Oxford University Press.

Thomas, Hugh (1971). Cuba: The Pursuit of Freedom. New York: Harper & Row.


Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Cubans." Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . 9 Jul. 2018 <>.

"Cubans." Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . (July 9, 2018).

"Cubans." Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . Retrieved July 09, 2018 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.




Moors and Christians (Black Beans and Rice)............. 114
Fried Plantains........................................................... 115
Tuna in Sauce ........................................................... 117
Yucca (Cassava)......................................................... 117
Flan (Baked Custard) ................................................. 117
Helado de Mango (Tropical Mango Sherbet) ............ 118
Aceitunas Alinadas (Marinated Olives)....................... 119
Ensalada Cubana Tipica (Cuban Salad)...................... 119
Arroz Con Leche (Rice Pudding)................................ 120
Crème de Vie (Cuban Eggnog).................................. 120


The Republic of Cuba consists of one large island and several small ones situated on the northern rim of the Caribbean Sea, about 160 kilometers (100 miles) south of Florida. With an area of 110,860 square kilometers (42,803 square miles), Cuba is the largest country in the Caribbean. The area occupied by Cuba is slightly smaller than the state of Pennsylvania.

Cuba's coastline is marked by bays, reefs, keys, and islets. Along the southern coast are long stretches of lowlands and swamps. Slightly more than half the island consists of flat or rolling terrain, and the remainder is hilly or mountainous. Eastern Cuba is dominated by the Sierra Maestra mountains, whose highest peak is Pico Real del Turquino. Central Cuba contains the Trinidad (Escambray) Mountains, and the Sierra de los Órganos is located in the west. The largest river is the Cauto.

Except in the mountains, the climate of Cuba is semitropical or temperate.


Christopher Columbus discovered the island of Cuba on October 28, 1492, claiming it in honor of Spain. As colonies were established, the Spanish began mistreating and exploiting the native inhabitants of the island until they were nearly extinct. The colonists resorted to importing black slaves from Africa to operate mines and plantations. As a result, both Spanish and African cultures formed the foundation of Cuban cuisine.

Spanish colonists brought with them citrus fruits, such as oranges and lemons, as well as rice and vegetables. They also grew sugar cane, a major Cuban crop. African slaves were unable to bring any items along with them on their journey to Cuba. They were, however, able to introduce their African culture. The slaves developed a taste for fruits and vegetables such as maize (corn), okra, and cassava. In time, Spanish and African cultures joined together to create several popular dishes, including arroz congri (rice and beans, often known as Moors and Christians) and tostones (pieces of lightly fried fruit, similar to the banana).

Cuban cuisine, however, drastically changed after the Cuban Revolution in 1959. Fidel Castro overthrew the government. Cubans who opposed him began to flee the island, including chefs and restaurant owners. As a result, food shortages became frequent, and food that was still available was of poor quality. As of 2001, Castro was still in power and because of political disagreements with other countries, trade restrictions imposed on Cuba remain, so living conditions and shortages of food have improved little.

Moors and Christians (Black Beans and Rice)


  • 1 pound black beans, dried (or 2 cups canned black beans)
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 3 teaspoons cumin, ground
  • ½ cup green pepper, chopped
  • Olive oil, for frying
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 3 Tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 cup long-grain white rice
  • Salt and pepper, to taste


  1. If you are using canned beans, drain the water from them and set them aside.
  2. If you are using dry beans, cover them with water. Bring to a boil, remove from heat, and let stand 1 hour. Drain the beans.
  3. Use a large, covered cooking pot and sauté the onion, garlic, and green pepper in the olive oil until tender.
  4. Add the tomato paste, black beans, cumin, and chicken broth.
  5. Add rice, cover and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally until rice if fully cooked (about 30 minutes).
  6. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serves 4 to 6.

Fried Plantains

Note: Ripe plantains have peels that are almost completely black. However, the firm, ripe ones called for in this recipe are black and yellow.


  • 4 firm-ripe plantains
  • Vegetable oil for frying


  1. With a small, sharp knife, cut ends from each plantain. Slice through the peel and remove it.
  2. Cut the fruit into very thin slices, about -inch thick.
  3. In a large, deep skillet, heat oil (about ¼-inch deep) and fry 12 to 15 plantain slices at a time for 2 to 3 minutes, or until golden, turning them over once.
  4. Use a slotted spoon or spatula to remove cooked slices and place them on paper towels to drain. Season the slices with salt. Plantain slices should be slightly crisp on outside but soft on inside.
  5. The slices are best served immediately; however, they may be made 1 day ahead, cooled completely, and kept in an airtight container.
  6. Reheat plantain slices on a rack in a shallow baking pan in a preheated 350°F oven for 5 minutes, or until heated through.

Serves 8.


Although Spain and Africa contributed most to Cuban cuisine, the French, Arabic, Chinese, and Portuguese cultures were also influential. Traditional Cuban dishes generally lack seasonings and sauces. Black beans, stews, and meats are the most popular foods. Root vegetables are most often flavored with mojo, a combination of olive oil, lemon juice, onions, garlic, and cumin.

Middle and upper class Cubans, including tourists, usually consume a wider variety of foods, if available. The most common meals include those made with pork, chicken, rice, beans, tomatoes, and lettuce. Hot spices are rarely used in Cuban cooking. Fried (pollo frito ) or grilled (pollo asado ) chicken and grilled pork chops are typically eaten. Beef and seafood are rarely prepared, with the exception of lobster (which is so popular that it is becoming endangered in Cuba). Rabbit (conejo ), when available, is also eaten.

Other common dishes in Cuba are ajiaco (a typical meat, garlic, and vegetable stew), fufú (boiled green bananas mashed into a paste) which is often eaten alongside meat, empanadas de carne (meat-filled pies or pancakes), and piccadillo (a snack of spiced beef, onion, and tomato). Ham and cheese is a common stuffing for fish and steaks, or is eaten alone. The best place to find the freshest fruits and vegetables on the island is at a farmers market. Popular desserts include helado (ice cream), flan (a baked custard), chu (bite-sized puff pastries filled with meringue), churrizo (deep-fried doughnut rings), and galletas (sweet biscuits).

Constant food shortages make finding or ordering certain foods nearly impossible. Economic hardship is another reason for poor food conditions. Cuba often trades its fresh produce, such as cassava, for money from other countries. This leaves a shortage of cassava and other produce in Cuba itself.

Tuna in Sauce


  • 2 cans tuna, in oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 medium green pepper, chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, mashed
  • 1 small can tomato sauce
  • 1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce


  1. Mix all ingredients in a saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly for about 10 minutes.
  2. Cover, lower heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
  3. Serve over white rice.

Serves 4.

Yucca (Cassava)


  • 4 to 6 yucca (cassavas), peeled and halved
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • ½ cup olive oil


  1. Scrape the peel from the yucca, and cut the yucca into pieces. Boil yucca in salted water until tender (about 25 minutes).
  2. Drain yucca and add garlic and lemon juice.
  3. Heat olive oil in a pan until bubbling, then pour over yucca. Mix well and serve.

Serves 4.

Flan (Baked Custard)



  • 1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
  • ½ cup milk
  • ½ cup water
  • 4 egg yolks, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Caramel Coating:

  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon butter
  • 2 Tablespoons water


Caramel Coating:

  1. Measure sugar, butter, and water into a saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring until bubbly and caramel brown. Be careful not to burn the mixture.
  2. Pour into a warm baking dish, reserving a small amount to drizzle on top of finished flan. Roll dish to coat the sides completely with the caramel.


  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Mix all flan ingredients and pour into a 2-quart baking dish that has been lined with a caramel coating (procedure above).
  3. Place pan in a larger pan that contains water. Bake 55 to 65 minutes, or until pudding is soft set.
  4. Chill. Drizzle caramel on top when serving.

Helado de Mango (Tropical Mango Sherbet)


  • 1 cup water
  • ½ cup sugar
  • Dash of salt
  • 2 mangoes, peeled and sliced
  • ½ cup light cream
  • ¼ cup lemon juice
  • 2 egg whites
  • ¼ cup sugar


  1. In a saucepan, make syrup by combining the water, ½ cup of sugar, and dash of salt. Cook for 5 minutes on medium heat. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
  2. In blender, combine mangoes and cream and blend until smooth and creamy. (If you do not own a blender, you can mash the mangoes with a fork and stir in the cream).
  3. Stir in cooled syrup and lemon juice. Pour the mixture into one 6-cup or two 3-cup shallow pans and freeze until mixture is partially frozen (slushy).
  4. Separate egg whites from eggs one at a time. Discard the yolks, or reserve for use in another recipe.
  5. Beat egg whites to soft foamy peaks and gradually add the remaining ¼ cup sugar.
  6. Place frozen mixture into a chilled mixer bowl, breaking partially frozen mixture into chunks. Beat until smooth.
  7. Carefully mix in the beaten egg whites. Return mixture to freezing container and freeze until firm.

Serves 6 to 8.


Cuba is officially an atheist country (denies the existence of God or a higher being). However, it is estimated that about half of all Cubans are believers of a particular faith.

There are three general faiths that religious Cubans tend to follow: Afro-Cuban religions (saint worship), Judaism, and Christianity. For Christians, celebrating Christmas during the second half of the 1900s was often difficult. For years the government, ruled by Fidel Castro, did not encourage the celebration of a Christian holiday. However, the holiday of Christmas has been making a comeback since the end of the 1990s. Those who celebrate Christmas prepare a large meal on Christmas Eve.

A typical Christmas menu in Cuba might include aceitunas alinadas (marinated olives), ham spread, or ham croquettes (a ham-filled fried cake) for appetizers. Cuban salad, black beans, mashed plantains (fufu ), Cuban bread, Spanish potatoes, white rice, yucca with garlic, and roasted pig may be a typical dinner. For dessert, rice pudding, mango bars, coconut flan, rum cake, Three Milks Cake, or Cuban Christmas cookies may be served. To accompany their meal, Cubans might drink Cuban eggnog, Spanish sparkling hard apple cider, or a Cuban rum and mint drink.

Some Cuban public holidays are January 1 (triumph of the Revolution in 1959); April 4 (Children's Day); May 1 (Labor Day); and December 25 (Christmas Day). During these days, grocery stores are usually closed and people often head for the island's warm beaches to celebrate, often packing food for the trip. On New Year's Eve, a small feast is prepared. At the stroke of midnight, twelve grapes are often eaten (in memory of each month) and cider is served.

Aceitunas Alinadas (Marinated Olives)


  • 2 cups green Spanish olives, drained and unpitted
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • ¼ cup red wine vinegar
  • ¼ teaspoon ground pepper
  • 3 cloves garlic, mashed
  • Freshly-ground black pepper, to taste
  • Peel of 1 lemon
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • ½ teaspoon cumin


  1. Mix all the ingredients together in a glass bowl.
  2. Cover and refrigerate for a minimum of two days.
  3. Serve at room temperature. (This will keep in the refrigerator for several weeks.)

Ensalada Cubana Tipica (Cuban Salad)


  • 2 ripe red tomatoes
  • 1 head of iceberg lettuce
  • Radishes, sliced thin
  • 1 white onion


  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 2 Tablespoons white vinegar
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper


  1. Cut the tomatoes into wedges.
  2. Cut the onion in thin slices.
  3. Break up the lettuce by hand.
  4. Toss all the ingredients together with the radishes. Place all the vegetables in the refrigerator to chill.
  5. In a separate bowl, mash the garlic with the salt and pepper.
  6. Add the olive oil, vinegar, and lemon juice to the crushed garlic. Whisk together thoroughly.
  7. Just before serving, gradually add the dressing, a little at a time, while you toss the salad with a large salad fork.
  8. Add just enough dressing to cover the salad. Add more dressing, to taste.

Arroz Con Leche (Rice Pudding)


  • ½ cup rice
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1½ cups water
  • 1 quart milk
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 lemon rind
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • Ground cinnamon


  1. Boil the rice with water, lemon rind, and cinnamon stick in a pot until soft, stirring occasionally.
  2. Reduce heat to low.
  3. Add milk, salt, vanilla, and sugar.
  4. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally until thick (about 1 hour).
  5. Sprinkle with cinnamon and serve.

Serves 8.

Crème de Vie (Cuban Eggnog)


  • 1 cup water
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 can evaporated milk
  • 1 can condensed milk
  • 8 egg yolks, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract


  1. Before you begin, have a large bowl ready to fill with ice at the end of the cooking time.
  2. Separate the egg yolks from the egg whites one at a time.
  3. Combine the water and sugar and boil until it becomes syrupy.
  4. Let cool.
  5. In another saucepan, heat the evaporated and condensed milk and vanilla over low heat; do not let the mixture boil (if it starts to boil, take the pan off the heat right away.)
  6. Add a little of the hot milk to the egg yolks to warm them.
  7. Then very gradually add the egg yolks to the hot milk mixture.
  8. Heat for about 5 minutes, stirring constantly with a wire whisk.
  9. Remove pan from heat and put pan into large bowl filled with ice to chill the mixture.
  10. While the mixture is cooling, add the syrup and mix well.
  11. Strain the mixture through a coffee filter or a sieve lined with cheesecloth.
  12. Pour into a pitcher or bottle, cover, and refrigerate until ready to serve. (Note: In Cuba, the egg yolks are added to cold milk and are not heated. Heating the yolk mixture thoroughly is recommended.)


A typical Cuban breakfast, normally served between 7 and 10 a.m., may include a tostada (grilled Cuban bread) and café con leche (espresso coffee with warm milk). The tostada is often broken into pieces and dipped into the coffee. Lunch often consists of empanadas (Cuban sandwiches containing chicken or another meat, topped with pickles and mustard). Pan con bistec, a thin slice of steak on Cuban bread with lettuce, tomatoes, and fried potato sticks, is also popular. Finger foods are popular snacks eaten throughout the day. Pastelitos, small, flaky turnovers (in various shapes) filled with meat, cheese, or fruit (such as guava), are also common snacks. Because Cubans are meat eaters, meat, chicken, or fish will normally be the main dish at dinner. It is almost always served with white rice, black beans, and fried plantains. A small salad of sliced tomatoes and lettuce may also be served.

Fast food establishments exist in Cuba, though popular U.S. chains, such as McDonald's or Burger King, have not yet set up restaurants on the island. However, a chain similar to KFC, called El Rápido, opened in 1995. Burgui, a chain similar to McDonald's, has restaurants throughout major Cuban cities and is open twenty-four hours.

Cuban restaurants are almost entirely government-owned. They have a reputation for providing slow service and bland meals. Privately owned restaurants, called paladares, normally serve a better meal, but are under strict government guidelines. Paladares are not allowed to sell shrimp or lobster, and are only allowed to serve up to twelve people at one table. However, most paladares serve these dishes anyway. Government-owned restaurants often try to disguise themselves as being privately owned to attract more customers. In Cuban restaurants it is common to have several menu items unavailable due to shortages of food. Some of the highest quality of food on the island is often found at expensive hotels that mostly serve tourists.


About 19 percent of the population of Cuba is classified as undernourished by the World Bank. This means they do not receive adequate nutrition in their diet. About 9 percent of babies born in 1993 were considered to have low birth weight, a possible sign of inadequate prenatal (pregnancy) care. After the 1959 Cuban revolution and a decreased level of support from outside countries, some areas of social and health services began to fall behind.

Despite almost one-fifth of the population being undernourished, and a continuously unsettled economy, Cubans are in relatively good health. In 1993, nearly 100 percent of the population had access to free health care, and safe water was available to nearly all (95 percent) in 1995. Almost all doctors work for rural medical services after graduation, allowing rural Cubans to have nearly equal health care services as those who live in Cuba's larger cities. Having access to doctors and various health care services may help to reduce the cases of malnourishment in children.



Allan Amsel Publishing. Traveler's Cuba Companion. Saybrook, CT: The Globe Pequot Press, 1999.

Baker, Christopher P. Moon Handbooks: Cuba. Emeryville, CA: Avalon Travel Publishing, 2000.

Fallon, Stephen. Guide to Cuba, 2nd ed. England: Bradt Publications, 1997.

Lonely Planet: Cuba, 2nd ed. Victoria, Australia: Lonely Planet Publications Pty Ltd., 2000.

Web Sites

Cuba Cultural Travel. [Online] Available (accessed February 22, 2001).

Cuban Food Recipes. [Online] Available (accessed February 21, 2001).

CUBAVIP.COM. [Online] Available (accessed February 21, 2001).

Facts About Cuba: Cuba's History. [Online] Available (accessed February 21, 2001).

Three Guys from Miami: The Traditional Cuban Christmas. [Online] Available (accessed February 21, 2001).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Cuba." Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of Foods and Recipes of the World. . 9 Jul. 2018 <>.

"Cuba." Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of Foods and Recipes of the World. . (July 9, 2018).

"Cuba." Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of Foods and Recipes of the World. . Retrieved July 09, 2018 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.


Cuba (kyōō´bə, Span. kōō´bä), officially Republic of Cuba, republic (2005 est. pop. 11,347,000), 42,804 sq mi (110,860 sq km), consisting of the island of Cuba and numerous adjacent islands, in the Caribbean Sea. Havana is the capital and largest city.

Land and People

Cuba is the largest and westernmost of the islands of the West Indies and lies strategically at the entrance to the Gulf of Mexico, with the western section only 90 mi (145 km) S of Key West, Fla. The south coast is washed by the Caribbean Sea, the north coast by the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, and in the east the Windward Passage separates Cuba from Haiti. The shores are often marshy and are fringed by coral reefs and cays. There are many fine seaports—Havana (the chief import point), Cienfuegos, Matanzas, Cárdenas, Nuevitas, Santiago de Cuba, and Guantánamo (a U.S. naval base since 1903). Of the many rivers, only the Cauto is important. The climate is semitropical and generally uniform, and like most other Caribbean nations Cuba is subject to hurricanes.

Cuba has three mountain regions: the wild and rugged Sierra Maestra in the east, rising to 6,560 ft (2,000 m) in the Pico Turquino; a lower range, the scenic Sierra de los Órganos, in the west; and the Sierra de Trinidad, a picturesque mass of hills amid the plains and rolling country of central Cuba, a region of vast sugar plantations. The rest of the island is level or rolling.

The origins of the population include Spanish (over 35%), African (over 10%), and mixed Spanish-African (over 50%). Spanish is spoken and Roman Catholicism, the dominant religion, is tolerated by the Marxist government. Santería, an African-derived faith, is also practiced, and there are a growing number of Protestant evangelical churches. The principal institutions of higher learning are the Univ. of Havana (founded 1728), in Havana; Universidad de Oriente, in Santiago de Cuba; and Central Universidad de las Villas, in Santa Clara.


Cuba's topography and climate are suitable for various crops, but sugarcane has been dominant since the early 19th cent. It remains the most prevalent crop, but in 2002 the government reduced the acreage devoted to sugarcane by 60%; prior to the cutbacks, it had been grown on about two thirds of all cropland. The abandoned cane fields were converted mainly to vegetable farms or cattle ranches. Nearly half the nation's sugar mills were also closed. Sugar and its derivatives are, nonetheless, still the most important exports. Other important exports include nickel, cigars, fish and shellfish, medical products, citrus fruits, and coffee. An excellent tobacco is grown, especially in the Vuelta Abajo region of Pinar del Río, and citrus, coffee, rice, corn, sweet potatoes, and beans are important crops.

Large-scale fishing operations have been encouraged in recent decades, and that industry is now one of the largest in Latin America; Cuban fishing fleets operate from Greenland to Argentina. Livestock raising has also been highly developed.

Manufacturing is centered chiefly in the processing of agricultural products. Sugar-milling has long been the largest industry, and Cuba is also known for its tobacco products. There is a oil-refining industry as well. Some consumer goods are manufactured, as well as construction materials, steel, agricultural machinery, and pharmaceuticals.

Although Cuba's nickel deposits are among the largest in the world, extraction is difficult because of the presence of other metals in the nickel ore. Nonetheless. nickel is the country's second most valuable export item (after sugar). Large amounts of copper, chromium, and cobalt are also mined, as well as lesser quantities of salt, lead, zinc, gold, silver, and petroleum. There are immense iron reserves, but problems of extraction and purification are even greater than with nickel, and iron production is still slight.

Cuba has upgraded its tourist facilities since 1990, and visitors from Canada, Europe, and elsewhere have revitalized the industry. Tourism is now the economic sector that provides the largest source of foreign income for the country, but the value of remittances of cash and goods from Cubans abroad is even greater. Venezuela, China, Canada, Spain, and the United States are the country's largest trading partners.

The Cuban economy has suffered severely from the collapse in 1990 of the Soviet bloc, upon whose trade Cuba was dependent; from the continuing effects of the U.S. trade boycott; and from internal structural economic problems. The economy has recovered somewhat since the mid-1990s, due to better economic planning, limited private enterprise, and an increase in productivity. In addition, the Chávez government in Venezuela, which has developed close relations with the island, sells petroleum to Cuba at subsidized prices and provides other aid. (Cuba has reciprocated by sending medical professionals and other personnel to Venezuela.)


Cuba is a one-party Communist state; the Cuban Communist party (PCC) is the only legal political party. The country is governed under the constitution of 1976. The government is led by Fidel Castro, who was prime minister from 1959 until the post was abolished in 1976 and became president of the Council of State and president of the Council of Ministers in 1976. (The office of president is both head of state and head of government.) Legislative authority resides in the National Assembly of People's Power. The 609 assembly seats are filled by direct election from selected candidate lists; members serve for five-year terms. Administratively, Cuba is divided into 15 provinces and the special municipality of the Isle of Youth.


Pre-Independence History

The island was inhabited by several different indigenous groups when it was visited in 1492 by Christopher Columbus. The Spanish conquest began in 1511 under the leadership of Diego de Velázquez, who founded Baracoa and other major settlements. Cuba served as the staging area for Spanish explorations of the Americas. As an assembly point for treasure fleets, it offered a target for French and British buccaneers, who attacked the island's cities incessantly.

The native population was quickly destroyed under Spanish rule, and was soon replaced as laborers by African slaves, who contributed much to the cultural evolution of the island. The European population was continuously replenished by immigration, chiefly from Spain but also from other Latin American countries. Despite pirate attacks and the trade restrictions of Spanish mercantilist policies, Cuba, the Pearl of the Antilles, prospered.

In the imperial wars of the 18th cent. other nations coveted the Spanish possession, and in 1762 a British force under George Pocock and the earl of Albemarle captured and briefly held Havana. Cuba was returned to Spain by the Treaty of Paris in 1763 and remained Spanish even as most of Spain's possessions became (early 19th cent.) independent republics. The slave trade expanded rapidly, reaching its peak in 1817. Sporadic uprisings were brutally suppressed by the Spaniards.

Desires for Cuban independence increased when representation at the Spanish Cortes, granted in 1810, was withdrawn, yet neither internal discontent nor filibustering expeditions (1848–51) led by Narciso López, achieved results. The desire of U.S. Southerners to acquire the island as a slave state also failed (see Ostend Manifesto). Cuban discontent grew and finally erupted (1868) in the Ten Years War, a long revolt that ended (1878) in a truce, with Spain promising reforms and greater autonomy. Spain failed to carry out most of the reforms, although slavery was abolished (1886) as promised.

Revolutionary leaders, many in exile in the United States, planned another revolt, and in 1895 a second war of independence was launched with the brilliant writer José Martí as its leader. There was strong sentiment in the United States in favor of the rebels, which after the sinking of the Maine in Havana harbor led the United States to declare war on Spain (see Spanish-American War). The Spanish forces capitulated, and a treaty, signed in 1898, established Cuba as an independent republic, although U.S. military occupation of the island continued until 1902. The U.S. regime, notably under Leonard Wood, helped rebuild the war-torn country, and the conquest of yellow fever by Walter Reed, Carlos J. Finlay, and others was a heroic achievement.

The New Nation

Cuba was launched as an independent republic in 1902 with Estrada Palma as its first president, although the Platt Amendment (see Platt, Orville Hitchcock), reluctantly accepted by the Cubans, kept the island under U.S. protection and gave the United States the right to intervene in Cuban affairs. U.S. investment in Cuban enterprises increased, and plantations, refineries, railroads, and factories passed to American (and thus absentee) ownership. This economic dependence led to charges of "Yankee imperialism," strengthened when a revolt headed by José Miguel Gómez led to a new U.S. military occupation (1906–9). William Howard Taft and Charles Magoon acted as provisional governors. After supervising the elections, the U.S. forces withdrew, only to return in 1912 to assist putting down black protests against discrimination.

Sugar production increased, and in World War I the near-destruction of Europe's beet-sugar industry raised sugar prices to the point where Cuba enjoyed its "dance of the millions." The boom was followed by collapse, however, and wild fluctuations in prices brought repeated hardship. Politically, the country suffered fraudulent elections and increasingly corrupt administrations. Gerardo Machado as president (1925–33) instituted vigorous measures, forwarding mining, agriculture, and public works, then abandoned his great projects in favor of suppressing opponents.

Machado was overthrown in 1933, and from then until 1959 Fulgencio Batista y Zaldívar, a former army sergeant, dominated the political scene, either directly as president or indirectly as army chief of staff. With Franklin Delano Roosevelt's administration a new era in U.S. relations with Cuba began: Sumner Welles was sent as ambassador, the Platt Amendment was abandoned in 1934, the sugar quota was revised, and tariff rulings were changed to favor Cuba. Economic problems continued, however, complicated by the difficulties associated with U.S. ownership of many of the sugar mills and the continuing need for diversification.

In Mar., 1952, shortly before scheduled presidential elections, Batista seized power through a military coup. Cuban liberals soon reacted, but a revolt in 1953 by Fidel Castro was abortive. In 1956, however, Castro landed in E Cuba and took to the Sierra Maestra, where, aided by Ernesto "Che" Guevara, he reformed his ranks and waged a much-publicized guerrilla war. The United States withdrew military aid to Batista in 1958, and Batista finally fled on Jan. 1, 1959.

The Castro Regime

Castro, supported by young professionals, students, urban workers, and some farmers, was soon in control of the nation. Despite its popular support, the revolutionary government proceeded with a severe program of political purges and suppressed all remaining public opposition. The new government soon initiated a sweeping reorganization patterned after the countries of the Soviet bloc. Among its successful policy goals have been the provision of adequate medical care and education to the majority of the population. Less successful have been its attempts to diversify agricultural production and achieve a self-sufficient economy.

The expropriation of U.S. landholdings, banks, and industrial concerns led to the breaking (Jan., 1961) of diplomatic relations by the U.S. government. That same year Castro declared his allegiance with the Eastern bloc. Opposition to Cuba's Communist alignment was strong in the United States, which responded with a trade embargo and sponsorship of the Bay of Pigs Invasion. The quick collapse of the latter was especially humiliating to the United States because of its direct involvement.

Cuba's significance in the cold war was further dramatized the following year when the USSR began to buttress Cuba's military power and to build missile bases on the islands. President Kennedy demanded (Oct., 1962) the dismantling of the missiles and ordered the U.S. navy to blockade Cuba to prevent further importation of offensive weapons. After a period of great world tension, Soviet Premier Khrushchev agreed to withdraw the missiles (see Cuban Missile Crisis).

Cuba's relations with other Latin American countries deteriorated quickly during this period because of its explicit intention of spreading the revolution to those countries by guerrilla warfare. In Feb., 1962, the Organization of American States (OAS) formally excluded Cuba from its council, and by Sept., 1964, all Latin American nations except Mexico had broken diplomatic and economic ties with Cuba. After the death (1967) of Guevara while engaged in guerrilla activity in Bolivia, Cuban attempts to encourage revolution in other countries diminished somewhat, and by the early 1970s several nations resumed diplomatic relations with Cuba.

In the late 1960s and 70s Cuba's government policies went through a significant reformulation, including an increased leadership role among less developed nations and a reorganization of its domestic political and economic systems. From 1961 to the late 1980s Cuba was heavily dependent on economic and military aid from the Soviet Union. Cuban support of Soviet foreign policy (notably its invasion of Afghanistan in 1979) caused difficulties in its chosen role as a leader of less developed countries. Cuba also sent large numbers of troops to Angola, where they supported the Soviet-armed government forces in the civil war.

Contemporary Cuba

In the late 1980s Cuban-Soviet relations became distanced as the Soviets moved toward more liberal policy positions. With the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Cuba lost its primary source of aid, and with the collapse of the whole Soviet bloc, Cuba largely lost its main sources of hard currency and oil and its principal markets for sugar. Castro apparently remained in firm control of the country. Most of those who had initially opposed him had fled the island (between Dec., 1965, and Apr., 1973, a Cuban government–controlled airlift carried more than 250,000 people between Havana and Miami, Fla.). Despite Cuba's severe economic problems, Castro enjoyed some popularity for his social programs. However, Cuba's decision to allow further emigration in 1980 resulted in an exodus of over 125,000 people from Mariel, Cuba, to Florida before it was halted, indicating a significant level of popular discontent.

The economic problems caused by the collapse of Soviet aid, the continuing dependence on sugar, and a long-lasting U.S. embargo led the regime to reverse some of its socialist policies. In 1992 and 1993, the government allowed the use of U.S. dollars, authorized the transformation of many state farms into semiautonomous cooperatives, and legalized individual private enterprise on a limited basis. In 1994 all farmers were allowed to sell some produce on the open market. During the same year, there was a new flood of boat refugees; it stopped only after a U.S.-Cuban agreement was reached. The accord called for Cuba to halt the exodus and for the United States to legally admit at least 20,000 Cubans per year.

U.S.-Cuba tensions increased in 1996 after Cuba shot down two civilian planes operated by Miami-based Cuban exiles. The U.S. economic embargo, which previously had to be renewed yearly, was made permanent, and Americans were allowed to sue foreign companies that profited from confiscated property in Cuba. These measures angered many of America's major trading partners, including Canada, Mexico, and the European Union (the UN General Assembly has voted annually for the embargo's end since 1992).

Following a visit by Pope John Paul II to Cuba in 1998, the United States eased restrictions on food and medicine sales to Cuba, and on the sending of money to relatives by Cuban-Americans. U.S. legislation in 2000 exempted food and medicine from the embargo but prohibited U.S. financing of any Cuban purchases. Former U.S. president Jimmy Carter visited the country in 2002. During his visit he criticized both the Cuban government and U.S. policy toward the island. President George W. Bush tightened certain aspects of the embargo, mainly affecting Cuban Americans; the regulations took effect in 2004. The same year the government began reasserting control over areas of the economy that had been liberalized in the 1990s; among the changes was a ban on transactions involving the dollar and other foreign currencies, which were required to be converted to special Cuban pesos. In 2005 two hurricanes, Dennis in July and Wilma in October, caused extensive damage in Cuba.

Fidel Castro temporarily stepped aside as Cuban president beginning in Aug., 2006, due to illness; Raúl Castro, his brother and the vice president, became interim president. Fidel retired as president in Feb., 2008, and his brother was elected to succeed him. Subsequently, the government eased its control over the economy somewhat; among the most significant moves were those designed to decentralize decision-making in agriculture and facilitate the increased production of food by private cooperatives and family farms and those intended to increase worker productivity by removing wage limits.

In Aug.–Sept., 2008, many parts of Cuba suffered devastating damage to housing and crops when Hurricanes Gustav and Ike battered the island. A third hurricane, Paloma, caused additional significant damage in November. In Mar., 2009, there was a major government shakeup that led to the removal of the foreign minister and cabinet secretary, who subsequently resigned all their party and government posts. The restructuring also increased the role of current and former military officers in the government. Also in March and April, U.S. embargo restrictions imposed by Presidents Bush and Clinton were reversed by the U.S. Congress and President Obama. In June, after all American nations except the United States had restored diplomatic relations with Cuba, the OAS ended its 47-year suspension of Cuba, but the Cuban government said it would not rejoin the OAS.

By late 2009, the Cuban economy was suffering significantly as a result of the costs of the 2008 hurricanes, the 2008–9 world financial crisis and recession, and a drop in export and tourism revenues combined with an increase in import prices. In Sept., 2010, the government announced plans to reduce the number of persons on its payroll by up to 1 million (roughly one fifth of the official workforce), with 500,000 to be laid off by Apr., 2011. In order to enable those workers to find jobs in the small private sector, it reduced restrictions on private enterprises, but it ultimately moved more slowly to reduce its payroll. The government also it said it would significantly reduce economic subsidies, and subsequently announced other reform plans, including authorizing (2012) the establishment of nonagricultural cooperatives and a plan (2013) for sweeping changes in food production and distribution by 2015. By 2012, more than 1 million were employed privately, and by 2013 nearly 600,000 jobs had been cut from the state payroll. Overall, the pace of reform generally has been slow, and difficulties associated with agricultural reforms contributed to the slow growth or losses in food production and increases in food prices (though the latter also was the result of reduced subsidies). In Dec., 2014, in conjunction with a prisoner swap, the United States and Cuba agreed to restore diplomatic relations. U.S. President Obama also eased some travel restrictions, and called for Congress to reconsider the U.S. embargo.


See W. F. Johnson, The History of Cuba (4 vol., 1920); E. Abel, The Missile Crisis (1966); R. R. Fagen, The Transformation of Political Culture in Cuba (1969); B. Silverman, comp., Man and Socialism in Cuba (1971); R. E. Bonachea and N. P. Valdés, ed., Cuba in Revolution (1972); J. I. Dominguez, Cuba: Order and Revolution (1978); C. Brundenius, Revolutionary Cuba, the Challenge of a Revolutionary Society (1984); J. Suchlicki, Cuba: From Columbus to Castro (2d ed. 1986); P. S. Falk, Cuban Foreign Policy (1986); L. A. Perez, Cuba: Between Reform and Revolution (1988); J. Stubbs, Cuba: The Test of Time (1989).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Cuba." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . 9 Jul. 2018 <>.

"Cuba." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . (July 9, 2018).

"Cuba." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved July 09, 2018 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.





POPULATION: 11 million


RELIGION: Discouraged by the communist government, but Roman Catholicism and Santeria are practiced.


Cuba was discovered and claimed for Spain by Christopher Columbus during his first voyage to the New World in 1492. Columbus did not realize that Cuba was an island. Except for a brief occupation by the English, Cuba remained a Spanish colony until the end of the nineteenth century.

Cuban patriarch, José Marti (185395), along with key military figures Antonio Maceo (184596), Máximo Gomez (18361905), and Calixto Garcia (183998), led a historic War of Independence against the Spanish in 1895. In 1898 a U.S. battleship, the Maine, was blown up in the Havana harbor, resulting in the United States declaring war on Spain. Then a colonel, Theodore Roosevelt (18581919) was among the Americans who defeated the Spanish. As a result of losing this Spanish-American War, Spain gave Cuba to the United States under the Treaty of Paris. On May 20, 1902, the United States ended its military occupation of Cuba, and the Cuban republic was created under its first president, Tomas Estrada Palma (18351908). The United States and Cuba maintained close ties, and Cuba leased naval bases at Rio Hondo and Guantanamo Bay to the United States.

Governments in Cuba during the early and mid-twentieth century were often corrupt and changed frequently. In spite of an unsettled political climate, Cuba's natural beauty made it a popular vacation spot for Americans and people from all over the world. In 1959, Fidel Castro's (1926) guerrilla movement, that is warfare carried on by small forces of soldiers making surprise raids, successfully overthrew the existing corrupt dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista (190173). Castro established a long-standing relationship with the Soviet Union and led Cuba into communism. Over the next few years, approximately 1 million Cubans left home, most fleeing to the United States. In January 1961, the United States declared an economic blockade of Cuba, halting the export of American goods to the island. In April of that year, CIA-trained Cuban exiles staged the Bay of Pigs invasion. The attempt failed to collapse the Castro regime. Perhaps the most tense period of the Cold War occurred when the United States discovered Soviet missiles in Cuba. This Cuban Missile Crisis was resolved in 1962 when the Soviet Union agreed to remove the missiles and the United States promised never to invade Cuba. Cuba has remained the only communist government in the Western hemisphere.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, Cuba has continued to experience political and economic unrest. Tens of thousands of Cubans have left the country, even risking their lives in makeshift rafts in an effort to flee.


A country of approximately 11 million people, Cuba is the largest island in the Antilles archipelago (chain of islands) in the Caribbean Sea. It is approximately 90 miles south of Florida. The island's terrain is very diverse. Approximately one-third of the island consists of three extensive mountain systems: the Sierra Maestra (where Castro formulated his guerrilla-style revolution), the Guamuhaya, and the Guaniguanico. There are nearly 200 rivers; mostly short, narrow, and shallow. Two wide-ranging plains account for the remaining two-thirds of the island and these plains are where most of the population lives. The combination of trade winds, warm waters of the Gulf Stream, and sea breezes gives Cuba a moderate and stable climate. Sugar is the island's key export. Nickel is the main mineral found on the island, making Cuba the fourth largest exporter of nickel in the world. Cuba is home to a number of rare birds and animals, many found nowhere else. The island's Bee hummingbird is the world's smallest bird, measuring just two inches in length.


Cubans speak Spanish. Their names are composed of three parts: first (given) name, father's surname, and mother's maiden name; for example, Jose Garcia Fernandez.


One of the better-known examples of Cuban folklore is El Bizarron, the story of a man who outsmarts the devil. Most of Cuba's heroes, however, come not from folklore but from real life. José Marti, who masterminded the War of Independence, is without a doubt Cuba's national hero. Marti is also known for his inspiring prose and poetry. The verses of his most famous poem, "The White Rose," have been set to music in what is Cuba's most poignant song, La Guantanamera.

Fidel Castro is the modern idol in Cuba. He stands for all that is the Revolution and for this he is honored by some and despised by others. He is known for delivering long and dramatic speeches. In 1956, Castro, Ernesto "Che" Guevara (192867), Castro's younger brother, Raul (1931), and other revolutionaries were on a yacht traveling from Mexico to Cuba, when the yacht was captured by Batista. Castro and the others headed for the hills of the Sierra Maestra where they began the three-year revolution that ended the Fulgencio Batista dictatorship in 1959. At one point, their invasion force consisted of only twelve men.

Ernesto "Che" Guevara's picture can be found throughout Cuba on murals and billboards. A key person in Castro's revolution, Guevara has been elevated to a stature usually reserved in other cultures for martyrs and saints. Cuban schoolchildren begin their day by reciting the patriotic slogan, "Pioneers of communism, we shall be like Che." Originally a medical doctor from Argentina, after the revolution in Cuba, Guevara served as president of the National Bank of Cuba. He resigned that post in 1965 and went to Bolivia to join the revolutionary movement in that country. He was killed by the Bolivian army in 1967. Castro declared a three-day period of national mourning in Cuba, and even now the government sponsors campaigns with themes of "Let's Be Like Che."


As a communist country, Cuba has officially condemned participation in religion. Nonetheless, many Cubans maintain a Catholic tradition, although they do so secretly for fear of punishment. Much more openly practiced is Santeria, an African-based religion introduced into Cuba by slaves brought in from Africa in the late 1700s. The rough equivalent of a priest in Santeria is known as a babalao. When one is initiated into Santeria, he or she dresses completely in white clothing for one year.


Major holidays in Cuba mark significant events in the revolution: January 1 and July 26. May Day, a communist holiday worldwide, is an official holiday, as is October10 which marks the historic revolt against Spain that began in 1868. Catholics honor Three Kings Day on January 6, the feast of the Epiphany.


Girls in Cuba sometimes celebrate turning fifteen years old with los quince (literally, "the 15"), the Latin American version of a "sweet sixteen" party. Often los quince is celebrated as festively as a wedding. The young lady will usually wear an extravagant gown made especially for the occasion.


Cubans are known for their warmth, wit, sense of humor, and resilience. They greet each other by shaking hands and by saying hola (hello). Like other Latin peoples, Cubans are known for using very expressive body languagewrinkling one's nose, for instance, means "What?" Traditionally, when young women went on dates, they brought along a chaperona (chaperone), although this has recently gone out of fashion.


The Soviet Union sent aid to the island nation of Cuba. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Cuba has gone through what it calls the "Special Period"a mandatory belt-tightening, or cutting back on its standard of living. Energy consumption has been drastically reduced, food rations are low, and people get around on bicycles. Patients must bring their own bed-sheets to the hospital, and surgeons are given one bar of soap per month with which to wash their hands. Macetas are people who illegally buy and sell goods such as food, clothes, liquor, medicine cigarettes, and gasoline. In sharp contrast to the living conditions of the local people, tourists enjoy the best accommodations, food, and drink that Cuba can offer.


Extended families often live together for traditional and economic reasons. Often one or more grandparent lives with a married couple and their children. For economic reasons, children also tend to live at home until they marry.

Women are expected to work outside the home and are also expected to cook, clean, and take care of the home.


People normally wear casual Western-style clothing. As in so many parts of the world, blue jeans from the United States are a popular commodity. The guayabera, an embroidered man's shirt, is a traditional and elegant article of clothing that is still worn today for both formal and informal occasions.


Like other aspects of Cuban culture, traditional Cuban foods are rich in both Spanish and African influences. Pork, the meat of choice in a traditional meal, is almost always accompanied by rice and beans. When white rice and black beans are cooked together, they are called arroz congri, which literally means "rice with gray." Black beans, prepared many different ways, are a Cuban specialty.

Fried green plantains, called tostones or mariquitas, and ripe plantains, or maduros, round out the meal. Yuca (cassava), malanga (taro), and boniato (sweet potato) are also commonly served in traditional meals. Typical fruits include avocados, mangoes, guavas, and papayas. Customary beverages include guarapo (sugarcane juice) and rum.

Poor economic conditions that resulted in reduced food rations have made the traditional meal a thing of the past. Rations under the Special Period consist of a piece of bread per person per day, three eggs per week, and a portion of fish or chicken per month. Milk is available only for children under the age of eight. Rice and beans are hard to get and many Cubans have not had beef or pork in years. On the black market, a piece of beef can cost as much as a month's wages.


Education is free and compulsory up to the age of seventeen. There are more than four hundred schools and colleges in rural areas where students divide their time between working in agriculture and the classroom. Shortages have made it necessary for textbooks to be shared and workbooks to be erased and passed along to the next class. Higher education is also free. Scientific and technical fields are emphasized. The University of Havana, founded in 1728, is the leading institution of higher education on the island. Cuba's government initiated a campaign to wipe out illiteracy in 1961 and now has one of the highest literacy rates, at 94 percent, in all of Latin America.


Music is probably the most important aspect of Cuba's popular culture. Cuban music combines Spanish and African influences. Typical music styles include charanga, son, rumba, mambo, cha-cha-cha, and danzon. From a blend of these rhythms evolved salsa which literally means "sauce." Celia Cruz, known all over the world as the Queen of Salsa, began her career in Havana in the late 1940s with a group named Sonora Matanzera. In addition to traditional music, Cubans teenagers enjoy rock and roll, both Cuban and American versions.

In Cuba, ballet is to the fine arts what baseball is to sports: the top. The Cuban National Ballet Company, founded by its leader and star performer, Alicia Alonso, has performed all over the world. She is considered one of the best ballet dancers of all time.

Several Cuban writers and poets, including José Marti and Alejo Carpentier (190480), have left their mark upon Latin American literature. A notable poet, Herberto Padilla, whose collection of poems, Out of the Game, received praise worldwide but was banned in Cuba, was even arrested.

Before Fidel Castro came to power in 1959, Cuban painters and sculptors demonstrated European influences. Postrevolutionary artists like Manuel Mendive (1944) have incorporated Afro-Cuban mythology and folklore into their work. Many artists have produced works that protest government policies, although artists who disagree with the Revolution may be persecuted.


The labor force in Cuba is divided almost evenly among service-related jobs, agriculture, trade, manufacturing and mining, and utilities. Jobs in tourism are highly desirable because of their access to U.S. dollars and foreign goods. Even teachers, doctors, and engineers have left their professions to work in tourism jobs because they can earn more money.


Sports are a very important part of Cuban life and identity. "Sports is a right of the people," reads a banner inside the arena in the athletic complex in Havana. Castro, himself an athlete and sports enthusiast, was once offered a contract to pitch on a baseball team in the United States. At the age of eight or nine, outstanding young Cuban athletes are selected to attend a boarding school where they take academic courses and play various sports.

Cuba has been referred to as "the best little sports machine in the world," consistently turning out champion Olympic athletes. In 1992, Cuba won more Olympic medals per capita than any other country. Cubans excel in baseball, boxing, track and field, and volleyball. Top Cuban athletes are heroes in their society, but unlike the highly paid athletes in the United States, they only earn about two to four times the salary of the average Cuban.


Cuba's state-run television stations are on the air from six to twelve hours a day broadcasting sports programs, novelas (soap operas from Latin America), and some recent American movies. Young Cubans rarely sit home watching television. When they are not playing sports, young people are often involved in government youth programs, some of which operate computer instruction centers. Older Cubans enjoy playing dominoes and chess, sitting in ice cream parlors, and strolling along the water-front.


Handmade Cuban cigars, considered the finest in the world, are as much a craft as they are an important export. More than three million are produced each year, one at a time. An experienced worker can make a cigar from start to finish in just two minutes.


After the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, an already struggling Cuban economy took a turn for the worse. Many of the social problems in Cuba can be related to its poverty.

The Cuban government is often accused of violating human rights. Members of neighborhood watch groups report nonconformist behavior to the government. Paramilitary agents deal harshly with protesters.

Tourism has been good for the economy, but locals are not allowed into the resorts unless accompanied by foreign tourists. Very few blacks are in the upper levels of government. Banned from membership in the Communist party, gays and lesbians are openly discriminated against, and AIDS sufferers are quarantined.


Oppenheimer, Andres. Castro's Final Hour. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992.

Perez, Louis A., Jr. Cuba: Between Reform and Revolution. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.

Suchlicki, Jaime. Cuba from Columbus to Castro. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1974.


Internet Factory. Cuba. [Online] Available, 1998.

Ruiz-Garcia, Pedro. The Latino Connection. [Online] Available, 1998.

World Travel Guide, Cuba. [Online] Available, 1998.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Cubans." Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . 9 Jul. 2018 <>.

"Cubans." Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . (July 9, 2018).

"Cubans." Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . Retrieved July 09, 2018 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.



Official name: Republic of Cuba

Area: 110,860 square kilometers (42,803 square miles)

Highest point on mainland : Pico Turquino (2,005 meters/6,578 feet)

Lowest point on land: Sea level

Hemispheres : Northern and Western

Time zone: 7 a.m. = noon GMT

Longest distances: 89 kilometers (55 miles) from north to south; 1,223 kilometers (760 miles) from east to west

Land boundaries : None

Coastline: 3,735 kilometers (2,017 miles)

Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)


The long, narrow island of Cuba has a shape that has been compared to a cigar caught between the fingers of Florida and the Yucatán Peninsula. It is flanked by Jamaica on the south, Hispaniola on the southeast, and the Bahamas on the northeast. Slightly smaller than the state of Pennsylvania, Cuba extends some 1,200 kilometers (746 miles) from Cape Maisí on the east to Cape San Antonio on the west, about the distance from New York to Chicago. The largest of the West Indian islands, its territory almost equals that of all the other islands combined. In addition to the main island, the Cuban archipelago includes the Isla de la Juventud (Isle of Pines) near the south coast in the Gulf of Batabanó plus over one thousand coastal cays and islets.


Cuba has no territories or dependencies.


Cuba has a pleasant subtropical climate strongly influenced by gentle northeast trade winds, which shift slightly to the east in the summer. The island's long, tapered shape allows the moderating sea breezes to cool all regions, and there are no pronounced seasonal variations in temperature. July and August are the warmest months, and February is the coolest. The wet summer season is between May and October, and the drier winter season runs from November through April. Annual rainfall averages over 180 centimeters (70 inches) in the mountains, 90 to 140 centimeters (35 to 55 inches) in the lowlands, and 65 centimeters (26 inches) at Guantanamo Bay. On average, rain falls on Cuba 85 to 100 days per year with three-quarters of it falling during the wet season. The humidity varies between 75 percent and 95 percent year-round. The eastern coast is subject to hurricanes from August to October, and the country averages about one hurricane every year. Droughts are also common.

Season Months Average temperature
Summer May to September 27°C (81°F)
Winter November to March 22°C (72°F)


Well over half of the terrain consists of flat or rolling plains with a great deal of rich soil well suited to the cultivation of sugarcane, the dominant crop. There are rugged hills and mountains in the southeast, and the most extensive mountainous zone of Cuba lies near its eastern extremity. Smaller mountain zones with lower elevations occur near the midsection and in the far west.


Cuba is cradled between the Caribbean Sea to its south, the North Atlantic Ocean to its northeast, and the Gulf of Mexico to its northwest.

Seacoast and Undersea Features

Cuba is surrounded by coral reefs.

Sea Inlets and Straits

Cuba is separated from Florida to the north by the Straits of Florida, and from Hispaniola to the southeast by the narrow Windward Passage. Off the central northern coast, the sea-lane of the Old Bahama Channel at some points is only ten miles wide as it passes between the Cuban shelf and the shallows of the Great Bahama Bank. The Gulf of Batabanó borders the northwestern end of Cuba's Caribbean coast.

Islands and Archipelagos

The 220-square-kilometer (570-square-mile) Isla de la Juventud is the westernmost island in a chain of smaller islands, the Archipiélago de los Canarreos, which extends 110 kilometers (68 miles) across the Gulf of Batabanó. The extreme northwestern coast of Cuba is flanked by the Archipiélago de los Colorados. Offshore to the north of Sagua la Grande lie the islands of the Archipiélago de Sabana. East of those islands, stretching around the coast from Morón to Neuyitas, is the Archipiélago de Camagüey, the largest of the archipelagos that surround Cuba. Overall, about 4,200 coral cays and islets surround Cuba, most of them low-lying and uninhabited.

Coastal Features

Except for near its western tip, a wealth of excellent harbors indent Cuba's shoreline. The coastline includes more than 289 natural beaches. In the north, the beaches tend to be longer and whiter with rolling surf and undertow, while the southern beaches are darker, feature sea urchins, and are rockier or more swampy. While rugged beaches comprise most of the northern coast, swamps still occur there, as well as on the Isla de la Juventud.

Cuba's coastline is indented by some of the world's finest natural harbors. There are about two hundred in all, and many are shaped like pouches or bottlenecks, with narrow entrances that broaden into spacious deepwater anchorages. Ports on the north coast with these kinds of harbors include Mariel, Havana, and Nueyitas. South coast bottleneck ports include Guantánamo, Santiago de Cuba, and Crenfuegos. The principal open bay ports, Cárdenas and Matanzas, are located on the north coast.


There are no large lakes in Cuba, but many coastal swamplands extend throughout the country. Zapata Swamp, the largest on the island, covers more than 4,403 square kilometers (1,700 square miles) on the Zapata Peninsula.


About two hundred rivers run northward or southward from an interior watershed and are predominantly short and rapid. They provide good drainage but are not generally suitable for navigation.


There are no deserts on Cuba.


Almost two-thirds of the Cuban landscape consists of flatlands and rolling plains. Cattle graze on these fertile flatlands, and sugarcane, coffee, and tobacco are grown there. Three-fourths of the national territory consists of grasslands, hills, and the lower and gentler mountain slopes.


The Oriental, Central, and Occidental Mountains cover 25 percent of the country. The loftiest mountain system is the Sierra Maestra; it is the steepest of the Cuban ranges, and its peaks include the country's highest summit: Pico Turquino, at 2,005 meters (6,578 feet). The southeastern tip of the island is mostly mountainous and includes such ranges as the Sierra de Nipe, the Sierra de Nicaro, the Sierra del Cristal, and the Cuchillas de Toa. The Escam-bray Mountains are the principal mountains of central Cuba. They are located in the southern part of that region, and are separated by the Agabama River into two ranges: the Sierra de Trinidad in the west and the Sierra de Sancti Spíritus in the east. The principal ranges of the western highlands are the Sierra del Rosario and the Sierra de los Organos.


The limestone formations known as karst are most characteristic of the western highlands, where they form numerous sinkholes and underground caverns.


Situated in Cuba's western highlands, known collectively as the Cordillera de Guaniguanico, are limestone formations weathered into strange shapes. Ranks of tall, erosion-resistant limestone columns resembling organ pipes gave the Sierra de los Organos its name.


Cuba's infrastructure includes such impressive engineering feats as: the Havana Sewer Tunnel (1912); the Carretera Central (Central Road) (1931), a 1,139-kilometer (708-mile) thoroughfare that spans the island from west to east; the Bay Tunnel (1958), which expanded access to eastern Havana by allowing travel under Havana Bay; and the Viaducto de La Farola (La Farola Viaduct) (1965) connecting Guantánamo and Baracoa.


Desembarco del Granma National Park, a park in southwest Cuba near Cabo Cruz, features dramatic cliffs lining the shore of the Atlantic Ocean, as well as limestone terraces uplifted by geological forces.



Baker, Christopher. Moon Handbooks: Cuba. Emeryville, CA: Avalon Travel Publishing, 2000.

Coe, Andrew. Cuba. Lincolnwood, IL: Passport Books, 1997.

Stanley, David. Cuba. Oakland, CA: Lonely Planet, 2000.

Web Sites

About Cuba. (accessed June 13, 2003).

Directorio Turistico de Cuba. (accessed June 13, 2003).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Cuba." Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of Physical Geography. . 9 Jul. 2018 <>.

"Cuba." Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of Physical Geography. . (July 9, 2018).

"Cuba." Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of Physical Geography. . Retrieved July 09, 2018 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.




110,860sq km (42,803sq mi)



capital (population):

Havana (2,328,000)


Socialist republic

ethnic groups:

White 66%, Mulatto 22%, Black 12%


Spanish (official)


Christianity (Roman Catholic 40%, Protestant 3%)


Cuban peso = 100 centavos

Caribbean island republic at the entrance to the Gulf of Mexico. Cuba is the largest and most westerly of the West Indies' archipelago. It consists of one large island, Cuba, together with the Isla de la Juventud (Isle of Youth) and many small islets.

The highest mountain range, the Sierra Maestra in the se, reaches 2000m (6562ft) at Pico Turquino. The rest of the land consists of gently rolling hills or coastal plains.


Cuba has a semi-tropical climate. The dry season runs from November to April, while May to October is the rainy season. Fierce hurricanes may occur between August and October.


Farmland covers about half of Cuba and 66% of this is given over to sugar cane. Pine forests still grow, especially in the se. Mangrove swamps line some coastal areas.

History and Politics

Christopher Columbus discovered Cuba in 1492, and the first Spanish colony was established in 1511. The indigenous population was quickly killed, replaced by African slave labour. Cuba formed a base for Spanish exploration of the American mainland, and became a prime target for pirates. Discontent at Spanish rule erupted into war in 1868. Slavery was abolished in 1886. In 1895, a second war of independence was led by José Martí. In 1898, the sinking of the US battleship Maine precipitated the Spanish-American War. From 1898 to 1902, Cuba was under US occupation before becoming a republic.

During World War I, Cuba's economy flourished as the price of sugar rose dramatically. From 1933 to 1959, Fulgencio Batista ruled Cuba, maintaining good relations with the US. In 1952 he imposed martial law. Fidel Castro (supported by ‘Che’ Guevara) launched a revolution in 1956 and became premier in 1959. Castro nationalized many US-owned industries. In 1961 the US broke off diplomatic ties and imposed a trade embargo. Castro turned to the Soviet Union. Cuban exiles, supported by the US government, launched the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion. In 1962, the potential siting of Soviet missiles fuelled the Cuban Missile Crisis. Castro's attempt to export revolution to the rest of Latin America ended in diplomatic alienation. Cuba turned to acting as a leader of developing nations and providing support for revolutionary movements. Between 1965 and 1973, more than 250,000 Cubans went into voluntary exile. Castro legalized emigration in 1980, and many disaffected Cubans chose to leave. In 1998, Pope John Paul II became the first pontiff to visit Cuba and the UN called for an end to the US embargo. In 2002, the last Russian base in Cuba closed, and former US President Jimmy Carte, on a historic visit to Cuba, called on the USA to lift its 40-year embargo on the republic.


The collapse of the Soviet Union devastated Cuba's economy (2000 GDP per capita, US$1700). In 1993 Castro relaxed restrictions on private ownership of industry. The US trade embargo continues to bite, and the Helms-Burton Act (1996) imposed penalties on firms that invest in Cuba. Cuba relies heavily on its sugar industry (75% of exports). It is the world's fourth-largest producer of sugar cane. Nickel ore is the second largest export. Other exports include cigars, fishing, and rum.

Political map

Physical map


Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Cuba." World Encyclopedia. . 9 Jul. 2018 <>.

"Cuba." World Encyclopedia. . (July 9, 2018).

"Cuba." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved July 09, 2018 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.



Cultural Name


Alternative Name

Republic of Cuba


Identification. Christopher Columbus landed on the island in 1492 and named it Juana after Prince Juan, the heir apparent to the throne of Castille. The name "Cuba," an abbreviation of the indigenous word Cubanacán, held sway.

Location and Geography. The island lies about ninety miles south of the Florida Keys. Its western tip begins about 125 miles (210 kilometers) from Cancún and extends 750 miles (1,207 kilometers) east-southeast. The area of the country is 48,800 square miles (110,860 square kilometers). About a third of the island is mountainous, consisting of the Guaniguanco chain in the western province of Pinar del Rio, the Escambrey in the south-central province of Las Villas, and the largest system, the Sierra Maestra, in the western province of Oriente. Between these mountain systems is a large plain in the western province of Matanzas and another in the eastern province of Camaguëy. Since the European conquest, the western third of the island has exercised military, political, economic, and cultural dominance.

The capital is Havana on the northern coast of the western third of the island. The second largest city is Santiago de Cuba in the province of Oriente, where the Roman Catholic archbishopric was established in the colonial era. Although Santiago sometimes is called the "second capital," the economic importance of the port of Havana has given it a hugely disproportionate role in the definition of the national culture.

Demography. Recent population estimates range from 11.06 million to 11.17 million. At least 50 percent of the population is classified as mulatto (mixed African and European descent), although the cultural privilege assigned to whiteness probably causes many mulattos to minimize their African heritage. Thirty-seven percent of the population claims to be exclusively white, and 11 percent is classified as "negro." The remaining 1 percent is Chinese, the result of the importation of 132,000 Chinese indentured laborers between 1853 and 1872 to replace the loss of labor caused by the impending end of African slavery. In 1862 the African population was larger than that of whites. Although the larger slave-holding plantations were in the west, escaped and emancipated slaves often fled east, where they could more easily hide or establish themselves on small unclaimed plots of land in Oriente. Thus, it is there that Afrocuban art, religion, and music were most strongly expressed and the cultural movement "afrocubanismo" began.

Linguistic Affiliation. Nearly all Cubans speak Spanish exclusively. The dialect is similar to that in the other Hispanic Caribbean islands, although the rhythmic speaking and the use of highly expressive hand gestures are distinctly Cuban. Languages spoken by the indigenous population are extinct. French was spoken for a short time by slave-holding European refugees from the 1791 Haitian revolution but this has since died out.

Symbolism. The three major symbols of national identity have arisen from the three struggles for independence. The national anthem was composed at the start of the first war for independence, the Ten Years War (1868-1878). It is a call to arms that evokes the image of the peasants of the town of Bayamo in the eastern heartland. The second national symbol is the flag. It has a white star imposed on a red triangle, modeled on the triangular symbol of the Masonic lodges in which the struggle against Spain was organized. The triangle is imposed on three blue stripes alternating with two white stripes. The third symbol of national pride and independence is the flag of the 26th July Movement, which contains the black initials M26J (Movimiento 26 de Julio) on a field of red. The M26J flag commemorates Castro's attack on the army barracks at Moncada and served as a symbol of resistance to the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista and the imperialism of the United States, which openly supported him. Afrocuban music and dance were also appropriated as symbols of the nation beginning in 1898, when the United States invaded the island, and especially after the triumph of the Revolution in 1959.

History and Ethnic Relations

Emergence of the Nation. The Cuban nation has arisen from a history of colonial and imperial domination. Formal colonial status under Spain was ended only by the invasion by the United States in 1898, when military and corporate interests made the island a de facto colony of the United States.

After the triumph of the Revolution on 1 January 1959, Cuba became truly independent for the first time since the colonial invasion of 1511.

The Pre-Columbian population was about 112,000, consisting mostly of Arawak (Taino and Sub-Taino) in the central and eastern region and a few Ciboneys (also called Guanahacabibes) who had fled the advance of the Arawak and moved west to Pinar del Rio. Indigenous lands were quickly distributed to European conquistadors and gold prospectors, and indigenous persons were enslaved and given to Europeans for use in mining and agricultural projects (a system called the encomienda ). Indigenous people who resisted were murdered. Malnutrition, overwork, suicide, and brutality made the indigenous population virtually extinct within fifty years of the conquest.

The indigenous past was largely abandoned and forgotten, save only a few cultural survivals in language and architecture. The only people left on the island were peninsulares (those born in Spain), creoles (colonists of European decent who were born on the island), and African slaves. The struggle between these three groups determined the character of the colony and the meaning of Cuban-ness (cubanidad ). Peninsulares came to earn their fortunes and return to Spain. Their privileged status as colonizers depended on the maintenance of colonial structures; thus, their loyalty was to Spain even if they were lifelong residents of the colony. Peninsulares had an almost exclusive claim to administrative (governmental) offices and ecclesiastical appointments and a near monopoly on much trade with Spain and other nations.

The peninsulares' privileges and wealth evoked the resentment of the creoles, who outnumbered them. There were creole elites, especially merchants in Havana, whose privilege was dependent on the colonial status of the island, but most eastern creoles increasingly saw their interests as opposed to those of Spain. Their emerging nationalist sentiment was countered by increasing anxiety among the African majority. After the British occupation of Havana in 1752, slaves who had been stolen from Africa comprised the majority of the population. After the Haitian revolution of 1791, creoles and peninsulares thought that only the presence of the Spanish army could maintain order and their privilege. This fear added to the reluctance of the slave-holding creole elite to support the movement for independence. But the eastern planters had less to fear from a slave revolt, since their farms were much smaller and had far fewer slaves.

Hence, the contestation over the meaning of Cubanness was between eastern planters, African slaves, freed blacks, impoverished white farmers, and urban workers one the one side, and peninsulares and western creole elites on the other side. Planters in Oriente organized for revolution in Masonic lodges, since the Catholic churches were staffed by Spanish clergy. In 1868, the eastern planters, loosely organized into a Liberation Army, declared war on Spain by issuing the "Shout from Yara," which called for complete freedom from colonialism, declaring gradual and indemnified emancipation of slavery, and imploring western planters to join the struggle for independence. This "Ten Years War" failed, but not before causing economic ruin, especially in Oriente and Camagüey. The Pact of Zanjón in 1878 ended the war and promised reform, but many of the surviving belligerents were dissatisfied with the maintenance of colonial authority, and the reforms were not forthcoming. The Afrocuban General Antonio Maceo continued skirmishing but finally conceded defeat in 1880.

Over the next seventeen years, the efforts of the poet and statesman José Martí, "Father of the Cuban Nation," gave the independence cause a cohesive political ideology which the first insurrection had lacked. Working from the United States, he formed the Revolutionary Junta to raise money and awareness. United States capitalists largely favored independence, since the removal of Spain would leave the island defenseless against an economic invasion; using "freedom" and "democracy" as the ideological excuse, they asked the United States government to intervene on behalf of the independence movement.

That movement had become stronger economically and militarily, and even some western planters began to favor independence. When war broke out in Oriente in 1895, the belligerents had a better organized civil organization and a more aggressive military strategy. Indeed, the war was almost won by 1898, and Spain was ready to negotiate independence. However, when an explosion sank the USS Maine in Havana harbor, U.S. businessmen and war-hungry Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt seized on the excuse to invade Cuba. The United States blamed Spain for the explosion and declared war on it. Spain was quickly defeated, and in the Treaty of Paris in 1898, the United States claimed ownership of the remaining Spanish colonies (Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines).

Imminent victory for Cuban independence fighters had been stolen by another colonial power, the United States. Cubans protested. In 1901, the United States agreed to withdraw from Cuba militarily, but only under extreme conditions, including a ninety-nine year lease to a naval base at Guantánamo in Oriente, veto power over trade and military treaties, and the right to intervene in the island's internal affairs. The legislation containing these conditions, the Platt Amendment, was drafted in Washington and inserted verbatim into the first Cuban constitution of 1902.

In 1906, Cubans again protested United States intervention, prompting another military occupation that lasted until 1909. The United States ambassador became the de facto head of state by virtue of his ability to command another invasion. The Cuba Colonizing Company, a U.S. corporation, sold land to any United States citizen who wished to profit from cheap lands, gradually transforming ownership of the island to non-Cubans. Some Cubans benefitted from this arrangement, but most resented it to no small extent. When the United States allowed President Gerado Machado y Morales to make himself a dictator (19241933) and ignore civil law in favor of violence and corruption, Cubans promulgated a new constitution that abnegated the hated Platt Amendment, although it left the Guantánamo naval base intact. But hopes for independence were again dashed when Fulgencio Batista, who had in 1934 staged a coup to install himself as a military dictator, seized power again in 1952 and removed the elected president. United States support of the Batista dictatorship enraged the majority of Cubans.

One year later in 1953 a small group of independence fighters attacked the Moncada army barracks in Oriente. They were quickly defeated, and most were summarily executed. The leader of the attack, a lawyer named Fidel Castro Ruz, was saved by the intervention of the Roman Catholic archbishop of Santiago de Cuba. At his trial, Castro delivered a five-hour speech entitled "History Will Absolve Me," the publication of which disseminated his message of true independence. The date of the attack became the name of a national revolutionary movement, the Movimiento 26 de Julio.

When Castro was released from jail, he, along with his brother Raul Castro, Che Guevara, and a small group of revolutionaries fled to Mexico to plan another military attack. Castro himself traveled to New York and Miami to raise funds. On 2 December 1956, the small group landed about one hundred miles west of Santiago in a small ship named "Granma." Nearly all were captured, but the three leaders and a few others fled into the Sierra Maestra mountains, where they were joined by thousands of Cubans. The guerillas were supported with food, water, and shelter by the peasants of Oriente, nearly all of whom wanted an end to not only the Batista dictatorship but also to its chief sponsor, the United States military.

The guerillas were vastly outgunned by Batista's U. S. army-trained and equipped military forces, but they had the support of the population, knowledge of the terrain, the cooperation of some army deserters, and the work of nonmilitary revolutionaries in other parts of the island. The "Revolutionary Directorate" of University of Havana students, the Communist Party, and the 26 July Movement had been sabotaging Batista since the Moncada attack. With such a cooperative effort, it took only three years to topple the dictator.

When they entered Havana in tanks at the end of December 1958, the guerrillas were greeted by millions of ebullient Cubans. Batista had fled to Miami with $300 million (U.S.) of embezzled funds, soon to be joined by other wealthy Cubans who had profited from his dictatorship. For the first time since the European conquest, Cuba was free. When on 8 January 1959 Castro spoke to the masses in Havana, a white dove is said to have alighted on his shoulder, proving to many Cubans that the Revolution had indeed been an act of God.

National Identity. There are several ways in which the development of a national culture can be traced. Afrocuban cultural forms, particularly music and dance, were crucial to the definition of the new nation during the neocolonial republic. Afrocubanismo, the syncretic result of the African majority's culture and that of the dominant European minority, was the "conceptual framework of modern Cuban culture." African rhythms were inserted into popular music, and the Eurocuban dances "danza" and "contra-danza" and the Afrocuban dances "son" and rhumba became popular. When Cuba was threatened with a diminution of its national identity because of the U.S. economic colonialism beginning in 1898, nationalist sentiment found in the Afrocuban music and dance of Oriente province a unique Cubanness free of foreign cultural and ideological influence. For a time, Afrocubanismo was the centerpiece of nationalist representation.

But a different political/ideological agenda stresses the appropriation of United States cultural, ideological, and political ideas in the development of the Cuban character. Though products and ideas did flow from north to south and back again, this argument contains an extreme privileging of the upper classes and white Cubans over the majority, reducing all of culture to the materialism of the rich, who bought American fashion, Cadillacs, and appliances, and sent their children to expensive North American private schools. But there was a world of cultural production which had nothing at all to do with North America and was quite independent of its influences, such as Afrocubanism in Oriente. Probably since 1898 and certainly since 1959, Cubanness has been informed by a proud nationalism, and Cuban nationalism is configured as precisely the opposite of everything "American." Resentment over the two military invasions of 1898 and 1906, the suffocating economic imperialism from 1902-1959, and the internationally-censured economic embargo has caused most Cubans to reject everything North American. Indeed, the more the United States government tries to strangle the Cuban people with its clearly unsuccessful embargo, and the more right-wing the Cuban American Foundation becomes, the stronger Cubans' commitment to the Revolution grows. Even those who might otherwise resist the Castro government are moved to defend the ideal of Cuba Libre. And since the most vehement opponent of the Revolution is the United States, a country which attempted to colonize Cuba just 50 years ago, the Revolution can convincingly claim to be the sole option for freedom.

Ethnic Relations. Martídeclared in the 1890s that there were no blacks or whites in Cuba, only Cubans, but this was more an ideological call to unity against the colonial powers than a description of reality. Neither the gradual abolition of slavery from 1880 to 1886 nor the transfer of power from Spain to the United States alleviated the racial tension that was a heritage of slavery. After the abolition of slavery in 1886, Afro-Cubans organized in the Central Directorate of Societies of the Race of Color. Nine years later, as much as 85 percent of the rebel army was composed of black soldiers, who expected that when the war was won they would have an improved position in society. When that did not happen, Afro-Cubans founded the Independent Party of Color in 1908, but this was banned in 1910. In 1912, a protest of that ban led to a massacre of Afro-Cubans in Oriente. In the following years, the marginalization of darker mulattos and Afro-Cubans continued despite the popularity of Afrocuban music and dance.

The Revolution of 19521959 declared the establishment of an egalitarian society, and since racism was a product of capitalism it was assumed that it would disappear under socialism. But even today, Afro-Cubans are effectively absent in the highest levels of the government. Castro admitted in 1986 that more Afro-Cubans and women should be represented in the Central Committee, but racism is deeply embedded in the white Cuban ideology. Cubans are acutely aware of fine gradations in phenotypes and have words to describe every shade of brown and black.

Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space

In the colonial period, the port of Havana was strategically valuable as a military post, administrative center, and shipping port. For this reason, Havana has been privileged in terms of public expenditures, economic investment, health and educational institutions, and physical infrastructure. When the Revolution came to power, it faced the task of equalizing differential development within Havana and between it and the rest of the island. When the wealthiest Cubans fled to Miami, their mansions were distributed to poor working people. Unequal urbanrural development was dramatically transformed by the state's installation of plumbing and electricity in remote rural areas; the building of hospitals, schools, and day care centers in small towns; and a raising of the rural standard of living so that it was closer to that in Havana. Since 1990, the economic crisis has again so impoverished the countryside that rural people have poured into Havana to seek jobs in the tourism sector. To stem this tide, the regime has made it illegal for persons from other provinces to reside in the city.

Cubans are accustomed to being in close quarters both at home and in public; the culture does not value privacy and private space as highly as does United States culture. Socializing often takes place on the street or in line for food and goods. Cubans are not defensive even of bodily space: physical affection is commonly displayed, and physical contact among strangers is not problematic. Being in constant relation with others, socializing in groups, and sharing both social space and body space are the norm. In this way, the socialist preference of collectivity and community over individuality and privacy coincides with the Latin American tendency toward group cohesion and commitment.

But this closeness in Cuba is also a necessity, since new housing construction has been a failure of the Revolution. Construction materials have been in constant shortage because of the U.S. embargo and the need to concentrate construction efforts on Import Substitution Industrialization. To solve this problem, in the early 1970s, the Revolution tried a novel new approach to self-help: the microbrigades. Coworkers would build new housing together; in exchange, they would be supplied with material, granted paid leave from their jobs, and given ownership of the new housing. The microbrigades created not only new housing but also day care centers, schools, and other public buildings. Private construction using black market materials has also compensated somewhat for the housing shortage, but most people live in cramped quarters. This creates tremendous stress, especially for couples who are hard pressed to find privacy.

Food and Economy

Food in Daily Life. Normal daily diet in Cuba is rather simple. Rice and beans are a staple, supplemented by fried plantains, tubers, and vegetables. Cucumbers are a cheap and abundant vegetable complement. While beef once was eaten by all segments of the population, pork and chicken have overtaken it as a more economical alternative. Pork is made into a low-quality ham called jamon vikin, which cost about $2 (U.S.) per pound in Havana in the summer of 2000. Beef is virtually unavailable to city dwellers.

Historically, more than half the daily caloric intake has been imported. Despite efforts to reverse this situation, agriculture has been dedicated mostly to sugar. Both the United States, and later the Soviet Union, discouraged Cuba from diversifying agricultural production by penalizing it with negative terms of trade if it did not accept foreign imported grain. For this reason, the country has been unable to supply its citizens with adequate food since the collapse of the socialist trading network. Daily food rations have long been governed by the libretta, a booklet that rations monthly allowances of staples such as rice, oil, sugar, beans, and soap. Since the economic crisis of the 1990s (labeled "Special Period During Peacetime") caused the adoption of extreme austerity measures and a hugely diminished state sector, food allowances have been decreased to below-subsistence levels. Despite innovative attempts to feed themselves, many Cubans are going hungry. To improve food distribution and alleviate hunger, the free farmer's markets (MLCs), closed in 1986 because they had enabled some Cubans to become wealthy at the expense of others, have been reopened.

Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. Cubans are very fond of sweets, and a cake is a special treat normally reserved for birthdays. Ice cream is also a special treat and a national obsession; the national ice cream manufacturer "Copelia" is quite renowned for its very fine ice cream, and Cubans believe it is the best in the world. A "salad" of ice cream costs a Cuban 5 pesos, or twenty-three cents (U.S.).

Basic Economy. The economy is socialist, meaning that the population as a whole owns most of the means of production and collectively benefits from national economic activity. Private property is minimal, and private wealth is seen as a breach of the social contract by which all Cubans benefit equally from the resources of their island. Soon after the Revolution, most of the means of production were collectivized; agricultural plantations, industrial factories, and nickel mines were converted to "social property" of all Cubans collectively. The voluntary departure in the period 19601962 of many people who had become wealthy under the neocolonial dictators (1898-1959) facilitated this process as privileged Cubans fled to Miami and New Jersey. The state has used social property to pay for health care, social security, and education. Unfortunately, the state has reproduced the same two errors as have other socialist economies: first, a focus on production levels at the expense of efficiency; and second, an insistence on centralized planning in lieu of market forces. The first Revolutionary constitution established the "System of Direction and Planning of the Economy" (SDPE), a mechanism of centralized planning and establishment of production quotas. The mechanism of planning was the Central Planning Board (JUCEPLAN). The SDPE was a slightly more flexible system than was the Soviet model, but ultimately it too stifled innovation. But since the Special Period, the state has shown some willingness to compromise, allowing a great deal of private economic initiative and requiring state ventures to be fully self-sufficient.

There is a tension in Cuba between ideological purity and economic exigency; this is especially visible in the tourism sector, which has been growing rapidly since 1990. In 1987, the state created the corporation Cubanacán to negotiate joint ventures between the state and foreign enterprises for the construction of new facilities for tourism. Foreign capital has boosted tourism and saved the economy but has created ideological problems for the socialist Revolution: foreign capitalists and tourists are exploiting resources that belong to Cubans and have brought a culture and ideology that may not be compatible with socialist egalitarianism. To protect against ideological corruption, the state has separated tourism from the general economy by making some resorts inclusive, and by banning Cubans from some tourist areas. Tourist dollars thus do not benefit the general economy, and this situation has caused resentment among citizens banned from parts of their own country.

Land Tenure and Property. Before the 1959 revolution, Cuba was a highly stratified society in which 8 percent of the population held 79 percent of the arable land. Rural farm workers experienced extreme poverty and malnutrition, and almost no workers owned land. The Agrarian Reform Law of 1959 divided the largest estates and distributed land to two hundred thousand landless farm workers. In 1975, the National Association of Small Farmers led the effort to form agricultural cooperatives. By 1986, 72 percent of private farmers had chosen to participate in agricultural cooperatives. In exchange, the state provided them with seeds, fertilizer, mechanization, social security, modern housing, and lower income taxes. No small farmer was forced off his land against his will.

Commercial Activity. Under the extreme duress of the Special Period, the state has decentralized economic activity, allowing an explosion of private enterprise. In 1992, a constitutional amendment recognized the right to private ownership of the means of production. In 1993, President Castro announced one hundred new categories of authorized private economic activity. Commercial activity is now a mixture of social ownership of the major means of production, private ownership of some agricultural lands whose products are sold both to the state and in the free farmers' markets, small-scale artisans who sell to other Cubans and tourists, and the import of oil and other non-indigenous resources.

Major Industries. Tobacco and coffee have competed with sugar since the early nineteenth century, but land has always been most profitably used for sugar cultivation and external factors have discouraged crop diversification. Diversification of the economy has been hampered because first one superpower then another has traditionally used Cuba as nothing more than a sugar and citrus plantation. The revolutionary government has tried to engage in Import Substitution Industrialization to lessen its dependency on imported manufactured goods, but this effort has been hurt by a lack of fuel since Soviet and Russian oil subsidies ended in 1990. Much industrial equipment was of Soviet manufacture, and hence replacement parts are no longer available. Lack of fuel and replacement parts has led to the reintroduction of animal traction for agriculture in a retrenchment to a preindustrial past. Nickel is an abundant mineral resource, and its exportation was a major element of trade with the socialist states until 1989. The Revolution has had some success in developing biotechnology as an export sector, but there is has been hampered by a lack of bioindustrial inputs. Tourism has become the most promising new activity for the earning of hard currency. The most urgent need aside from food is petroleum, and the government is exploring offshore drilling.

Trade. The economic catastrophe that began in 1989 resulted from the collapse of the Council of Mutual Economic Assistance (COMECON), the trade network of socialist states. COMECON had facilitated the trading of sugar, citrus, and nickel at above-market prices in exchange for Soviet oil at below-market prices. Cuba was allowed to resell the Soviet oil and keep the profit. This advantageous arrangement allowed the country to construct an egalitarian society, but when the subsidy ended the economy was shown to be unstable. Cuba was suddenly forced to trade in a global capitalist market based on cash transactions and not on ideological compatibility.

The need to develop new trading partners is an urgent matter, and here again pragmatic exigency runs afoul of ideological coherence. Cuba can no longer afford to limit its trading partners to those who share its visions of justice and equality. It has been forced to cooperate economically with capitalist states whose political-economic ideologies are anathema to the socialist ideal. Spain is Cuba's leading trading partner, followed by Canada and Japan in volume of trading. Cuba has been aggressively pursuing an improvement in trade relations with Mexico, Brazil, and other Latin American states, and at least since 1991 has been seeking membership into CARICOM (Caribbean Common Market), which might partially replace the now-defunct COMECON.

Division of Labor. The Revolution was committed to offering higher education to all citizens who wanted partly it in order to replace the professionals who left in the early 1960s and partly to redress economic inequality. But the availability of a higher education has caused increasing numbers of young people to be dissatisfied with agricultural and industrial occupations, causing a chronic shortage of workers. Despite the efforts of the regime to reverse this situation, professional careers, including higher governmental positions, are disproportionately held by whiter Cubans, while Afro-Cubans are over-represented in agriculture and assembly line industry.

The austerity measures of the Special Period have caused massive worker displacement as lack of fuel, industrial inputs, and spare parts for machinery has forced the state to downsize or close many offices and factories. In 1991, the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) confirmed that the opportunity to work is a fundamental human right of every citizen, and so people whose workplaces are closed or downsized are given a generous package of material support and the opportunity to be transferred to the agricultural sector.

Social Stratification

Classes and Castes. After 1959, class distinction became far less dramatic, so that occupation and class no longer determined access to health care, food, clothing, schooling, and shelter. Before the socialist revolution, only 45 percent of the population had completed primary education, 9 percent secondary, and 4 percent higher education. But by 1988, those numbers were 100 percent, 85 percent, and 21 percent respectively. The percentage of income earned by those in the lowest salary bracket rose dramatically, indicating a rapid and dramatic redistribution of wealth.

The reemergence of a privileged class in the Special Period is the direct result of capitalist "reform," as those who run the new private enterprises have access to imported luxury items while some of their fellow citizens starve. Those who live in a tourist area and have an extra room in their house or apartment are allowed to rent that room to tourists at market rates. Despite the heavy payments the state requires in return for authorization to do this, some citizens have amassed enormous material privileges in the midst of economic catastrophe for the majority. Throughout the Revolution, Cubans have accepted material hardship because, in a socialist country, everybody suffers equally when there are hard times. But now the poverty of the island is becoming increasingly distributed in a grossly inequitable manner. Capitalism assumes that wealth and poverty are not distributed equally, and the increasing presence of small pockets of wealth in a sea of poverty is rather distressing to most Cubans who were reared with socialist ideals of justice and equity in economic relations.

Symbols of Social Stratification. Along with capitalism and social stratification, commodification has begun to lay claim to the hearts and souls of Cubans who for 40 years have been shielded from the values of conspicuous consumption. For the young, who do not remember what capitalism was like before the Revolution, it is United States fashion which symbolize status. Anything with a label is in vogue, and a pair of Nike shoes or Levi's jeans are highly coveted. Material excess is increasingly embraced as indicative of social value.

Political Life

Government. The political system is termed "Democratic Centralism." Every citizen has the right to participate in discussions of political, social, and economic issues, but that participation is somewhat constrained by the hierarchical structure of society and government. Authority ultimately rests with the central executive branch; both the issues discussed and the decisions made are determined by the President of the Republic. The 1976 constitution established a system of representative legislative bodies called the Organs of People's Power (OPP). Municipal, provincial, and national levels of the Peoples' Power debate issues and send the results to the next level of the hierarchy. The National Assembly of the OPP elects from its ranks a Council of State that can act on its behalf when it is not in session. From the Council of State is chosen the Council of Ministers, who have direct administrative responsibility for the executive departments. This is but one example of the conflation of the executive and legislative functions of the revolutionary government so that a system of checks and balances does not exist.

Leadership and Political Officials. Although according to the Constitution the OPP is technically independent of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC), in effect the party selects candidates for every level of the OPP, especially the National Assembly and the Councils of State and Ministers. In theory, the PCC only provides ideological guidance, but in practice, it exercises direct political power. While appointment or election to governmental posts does not require party membership, those who are not party members are far less likely to be approved as candidates for local OPP and therefore cannot easily begin a political career. The party is directed by its Central Committee, which is chosen every five years at a Party Congress. The First Secretary of the party chooses a smaller body of 25 persons called the Political Bureau that makes daily decisions. Since Fidel Castro is currently President of the Republic, First Secretary of the PCC, President of the Councils of State and the Council of Ministers, and Commander in Chief of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR), no decision can be made that does not meet with his approval. This limits citizens' abilities to genuinely participate in decision-making.

The ideals of the revolution are supported by a majority of the population, and even Cubans who do not support Castro recognize that the socialist government has vastly improved the standard of living of most Cubans. They do not want neocolonial status under the United States, nor do they long for the gulf between wealth and poverty that capitalism produces. Most Cubans probably will support the socialist project even after Castro is gone. To ensure continuity in leadership, Fidel has appointed his brother Raul to succeed him when he dies.

Social Problems and Control. The state has taken advantage of the propensity of Cubans to gossip and spy on their neighbors. Under the threats of invasion and internal turmoil, the government relied on an effective but potentially repressive mechanism for social control, the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR). These are groups of citizens who observe and document illegal, subversive, or terrorist activity and organize education, health, and community improvement projects. The CDRs were founded in September 1960 to discover and combat sabotage and internal terrorism. In April 1961, they were mobilized to fight against the invasion at the Playa Girón (Bay of Pigs). Once the invasion was defeated and the major counter revolutionary saboteurs and terrorists were expelled or fled, continuing external aggression from the United States provided an excuse to maintain the CDRs.

In their zeal to defend socialism, the CDRs have sometimes become oppressive organs of state police power. In the 1960s, social deviants denounced by the CDRs were sent to work camps under army supervision, called the Military Units to Aid Production (UMAPS), that were designed to reeducate counter revolutionaries, gays, and other deviants in revolutionary ideology and behavior. Those camps lasted only for two years before being disbanded, but fear of the CDRs and the National Police still operates as a powerful force for social control.

Military Activity. Critics of the Revolution point to the CDRs and to teenagers' compulsory one-year military service to claim that Cuba is a highly militarized society. In fact this claim is not true, since the unarmed CDRs are more gossip mills than militia-like brigades, and since a year of agricultural service is an acceptable substitute for the military service. It is true that the Cuban military has historically been very active internationally and is well known for its role in supporting liberation movements worldwide. The Cuban army has traveled all over the world fighting with subaltern peoples in the third world as they struggle for independence from neo-colonial powers or liberation from oppressive dictators. The most renowned effort in this regard has been in Angola, where Cuban soldiers fought against (apartheid) South Africa when it invaded its northern neighbor. Indeed, Nelson Mandela has credited Cuban efforts with a major role in bringing an end to Apartheid. In the fiscal crisis of the 1990s, Cuba has been forced to retrench almost completely from its military and extensive humanitarian commitments around the world.

Social Welfare and Change Programs

Social change programs usually are instituted by a ministry or institute of the state. Changes initiated by citizens are channeled through five mass organizations: Federation of Cuban Women (FMC), Confederation of Cuban Workers (CTC), Union of Cuban Youth (UJC), the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDC), and the National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP), through which the state both receives feedback from the people and implements its decisions. Aside from mass organizations and scholarly research institutes associated with a university, there is not much room for private initiative. The state claims that private-sphere movements for change are unnecessary, since the Revolution itself is deeply committed to the well-being of all citizens in the realms of employment, health care, education, housing, and food.

Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations

The state assumes full responsibility for all development projects and the well-being of its citizens and is reluctant the to admit need for external assistance. It is true that "freedom brigades" of supporters of socialism from North America and elsewhere have come to work during the sugar harvest, but these have been symbols of ideological support, not material charity. Another North American organization, Pastors for Peace, annually sends a shipment of medicine, food, and medical computers. Several agencies of the United Nations work in Cuba, including the United Nations Development Program, the United Nations Population Fund, the World Health Organization, and the World Bank. And the World Heritage Committee of UNESCO, (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) is involved in the architectural restoration of the colonial city of Trinidad and of Old Havana.

Gender Roles and Statuses

Division of Labor by Gender. As part of its commitment to constructing an egalitarian society, the Revolution has successfully incorporated women into agricultural, industrial, and professional occupations. By 1990, half the doctors and most of the dentists in the country were women.

In 1961, the Revolution began to construct day care centers to free women from constant child care long enough to develop a career or contribute to industrial, agricultural, or intellectual activity. Women's economically productive activity is thought to serve the country as a whole, and in fact women who choose not to work outside the home are sometimes subjects of censure for failing to contribute economically to the Revolution.

But men continue to expect women to perform housework and maintain child-rearing responsibilities even if they have full-time careers outside the home and participate in FMC and PCC activities. The People's Power attempted to address this recalcitrance by enacting a generous maternity law in 1974 and the "Family Code" in 1975. This code defined domestic chores as the responsibility of both partners and required husbands to do half the housework if their wives worked outside the home. This is ideologically consistent with socialism, but enforcement of the codes has been difficult, as men are reluctant to relinquish their privilege.

The Relative Status of Women and Men. As in the United States, despite women's formal legal equality, they are grossly under-represented in the highest levels of the party, the government, and the military. The resilience of Cuban gender norms is not only a matter of entrenched misogyny; it is encoded into the Revolution itself. Victorious guerillas entered Havana in tanks sporting machetes, machine guns, and long beards from their years in the jungle, having defended their women and motherland. A 1965 newspaper editorial declared that the Revolution is "a matter for men." Nonetheless, iniquitous gender relations have indeed been disrupted by the socialist revolution, and Cuban women are far better off than women in most of Latin America and the rest of the world in terms of education and career options, reproductive rights and health, formal legal protections against discrimination and domestic violence, social supports during child-rearing, and aggressive enforcement of paternity laws.

Marriage ,Family, and Kinship

Marriage. In the nineteenth century, anxiety about the Afrocuban majority gave rise to efforts to "whiten" the population. This agenda, combined with a chronic shortage of women, led to the development of both a legal code and an informal code which calculated not only ethnicity but also wealth, family reputation, and virginity status to determine which mixed-ethnicity marriages were permissible. The turning of illicit unions into acceptable marriages was part of a social agenda that sought to alleviate anxiety over race relations, illegitimacy, and the shortage of white women, especially in rural areas.

In the countryside, marriage, as with all civil institutions before the Revolution, was far less formal than it was in Havana province. Most rural areas in the east did not have the regular services of a priest, and colonial governmental institutions did not function well. The result was a tradition of marriages that followed regional customs but did not have the benefit of legal or ecclesiastical sanctioning.

In its early years, the Revolution made provisions to formalize "common-law" couplings. While some social-reproduction functions of the family were taken over by the revolutionary state, marriage itself has been encouraged. But the institution of marriage has suffered because of the new legal equality of women. Men have become resentful that their privilege has been disrupted, and women struggle to participate in the PCC and FMC, raise children, maintain their homes, and work full-time outside the home. Under these conditions, marriages are often strained, and the divorce rate is much higher than it was under the neocolonial dictators.

Domestic Unit. In addition to liberating women economically, the Revolution has attempted to liberate women's bodies and sexuality. Safe, legal, and free abortion is available on demand for any woman who has reached the age of majority (sixteen years). Contraceptives are widely available, even to young girls, along with effective sex education which is more progressive and honest than that in most other nations. However, the liberation of female sexuality, allowing young girls as well as boys to experiment sexually without social censure, has resulted in a high rate of pregnancy among girls under age sixteen. Adolescent boys have thus enjoyed increased sexual access but are not psychologically or economically prepared to participate in the care and upkeep of their children, resulting in a high number of very young single mothers. The state has exhorted men to take greater responsibility, and child support payments are extracted from some irresponsible men's salaries, but these efforts have met with only partial success. Hence a typical domestic unit includes a grandmother who is involved in the rearing of the youngest generation, often without the presence of the children's father. Ironically, the participation of grandmothers in child rearing allows men to ignore their parental responsibility and household chores. Domestic units are thus likely to be multigenerational and defined around women, while men come and go in search of work or extramarital recreations.

Inheritance. Inheritance is not a major issue in a poor socialist country where significant private property is an exception. Some houses and apartments are privately owned and can be inherited, but the state limits the freedom of an heir to dispose of an inherited housing unit if other Cubans live in it. Most agricultural land has been collectivized or is part of a cooperative and thus is not inheritable. Smaller private property such as heirlooms, clothing, and cars are inherited according to kinship lines without state intervention.

Kin Groups. The family has lost some of its importance as the Revolution has taken over some of its economic and social functions. Families are much smaller now and less likely to include wide horizontal connections (though vertical, intergenerational connections continue, and libretta combining is sometimes necessary). It may be, though, that as the state loses its ability to meet the basic material needs of its citizens in the current economic crisis, the family will again increase in prominence.


Infant Care. Beginning in infancy, the government attempts to instill in citizens the values of socialism. For children, this means teaching the values of collective cohesion and self-forgetting in the interest of the group. Tendencies toward individualism and selfishness, including the use of favorite pacifiers and blankets, are discouraged. It is in the child care centers that this early socialization occurs.

Child Rearing and Education. Socialization for integration into the socialist project continues throughout childhood. The general lesson is that individual achievement should be harnessed for the good of the whole; children are encouraged to think about their classmates and have concern for other people's well-being. By the teenage years, high school education includes a year of socialization into the productive life of the nation, as children spend a year away from home in a combination boarding school with agricultural work. This gives the youth a chance to develop social skills with others from different areas, teaches the values of cooperative participation in a common project, gives parents a break from caring for teenagers, teaches agricultural skills to those who wish to make farming their career, and adds to the agricultural workforce.

Higher Education. All children receive a primary education. Youths who are preparing for college and pass the entrance examinations attend an academically-oriented school called pre-universitario. Those who are best suited for agricultural or industrial careers attend technical schools. Higher education is fully funded by the socialist government, and the state pays university and technical students a monthly stipend for food and lodging. Higher education is so accessible that more people attend universities than there are white-collar jobs available.


Being generous and hospitable is a highly valued quality. Unlike in Central America, houses are not protected by metal fences, doors are left open, and visitors are always welcomed. It is rude not to greet every man with a handshake and every woman with a kiss on the cheek. Touching as a demonstration of affection is not taboo and does not carry a sexual connotation. Cubans do like to complain and argue heatedly; it is said that an argument is not finished until everyone collapses from exhaustion. But this kind of argument is performative and relieves social tension. More intense interpersonal conflict requires a more subtle approach; Cubans loath open conflict, and so the social norm is to minimize interpersonal conflicts by expressing them through innuendo rather than direct accusation.


Religious Beliefs. Religious faith and practice have not been as influential in the culture of Cuba as in other Latin American nations, for two reasons: first, in the colonial period the Catholic clergy were almost entirely peninsular (born in Spain). They represented the external power of Spain, and hence Catholicism itself was suspect, especially with the population which supported independence. Secondly, there simply were not very many priests in the rural areas, especially in Oriente. Those Cubans who chose to maintain a faith practice were left to produce a religiosity of their own design. The popular religiosity which did develop among white and creole Cubans was a local version of Catholicism enriched with African influences.

Santería is a product of this religious syncretism. Because of the demographic history of the island, Santeríaa religious system of the Yorubá people of Nigeria who were brought as slavesis more prevalent in the eastern region. It is based on the maintenance of relationships, both among people and between people and deities called orishas. Since orishas were comparable to and interchangeable with Catholic saints, slaves could put on a face of Catholic piety while worshiping their own gods.

Since the relaxation of state censure in the 1990s there has been an increase of Protestant missionary activity on the island. Catholic church membership is on the rise, and Pope John Paul II was welcomed to the island in January 1998 to the cheering of crowds of both the faithful and the curious. Evangelical Protestantism is growing at an even faster rate, fed perhaps by the desperate material conditions prevalent on the island and the population's need for hope in a sea of poverty and despair.

Religious Practitioners. Many religious persons, including priests, participated in the Revolution and supported its ideals, but when it was discovered in 1961 that churches were being used as bases of counterrevolutionary plotting, all foreign priests were invited to leave the island. This hostility was cemented by the declaration of atheism in the first socialist constitution in 1976. Practicing religious leaders and the faithful were thereafter excluded from some professions and promotion to high governmental offices. However, Castro was impressed by the Liberation Theology of Latin America, which sided with the poor in their struggles against oppressive governments and neoliberal capitalism. The leading role of Christian religious leaders in the socialist Nicaraguan revolution was particularly noted by Castro, whose attitude toward religion softened considerably as a result. In the 1980s, more freedom was given to print religious materials and preach, and in 1991, faith was removed as an impediment to party membership.

Rituals and Holy Places. Because of the unpopularity and suppression of religion in the early revolutionary period, public Christian rituals are rare.

There are no holy sites to which pilgrimages are made, although the cathedrals in Santiago and Havana are symbolic and continue to offer Mass. More common is a home altar that may include both Catholic and African elements. Afrocuban religion is more likely to be celebrated publicly in Oriente. The churches continue to celebrate events on the Christian calendar, but these rituals do not generally spill out into the streets.

Death and the Afterlife. There is no common pattern of belief regarding the afterlife. Santería maintains a belief in the survival of ancestor spirits, and the Christian faithful have a theology of heaven. Funerals are celebrated and may invoke religious imagery, but more common is a secular ceremony in which the deceased is remembered for her contribution to the socialist project.

Medicine and Health Care

The Revolution's greatest success has been an astonishing improvement of the health of the population since 1959: Cubans have benefitted dramatically in the last forty years, with lower infant and maternal mortality rates, a higher average caloric consumption, and a vastly reduced number of persons served by each doctor. Cuba has joined the United States and Canada as the only three nations in the Western Hemisphere to have been granted "best health status" by the United Nations. Since health care is not a matter of profit, and there are no insurance companies in search of wealth, Cuba can provide high-quality health care at a reasonable cost.

Part of this success is due to an innovative system of distribution of health services and a focus on preventive medicine. "Polyclinics" in the municipalities have specialists who treat any number of illnesses. These specialists have been supplemented since 1985 with family physicians, who are even more widely distributed throughout the neighborhoods and focus on prevention and health maintenance.

There are rural areas in which alternative medical practitioners use traditional methods of healing, and there is an element of Santería that seeks spiritual aid to cure physical illness. However, the revolutionary government has great faith in biomedical science as the vehicle for modernization and has invested heavily in biotechnological research. Cuba has engaged in a massive program of humanitarian overseas aid, placing thousands of doctors, nurses, and public health technicians all over the second and third worlds.

Several factors threaten the stability and efficacy of Cuba's health care system. The worsening of the United States embargo as a result of congressional legislation means that not only can medical equipment and medicines not reach Cuban ports, but neither can the latest research reports and scholarly journals. Also, the hierarchical nature of government and society discourages popular participation. The result is a top-down approach to treatment with little patient-doctor consultation. Finally, in the severe spending restrictions of the Special Period, the state can not provide the same level of services it did when the economy was stable. Some health care professionals have been forced to abandon medical practice in favor of work in the more lucrative tourism industry.

Secular Celebrations

Two significant events in the history of Cuba are celebrated annually with great fanfare. The first is the symbolic date of the triumph of the Cuban Revolution on 1 January 1959, when Batista fled to Miami and the Sierra Maestra guerillas arrived in Havana. This celebration coincides neatly with New Year's. The second event is the attack on the Moncada barracks by Fidel and his fellow revolutionaries on 26 July 1953, symbolically beginning the final and triumphant Cuban Revolutionary movement. This celebration coincides with the annual "carnival" in both Santiago and Havana. Carnival, consisting of song and dace, outlandish costume, and much drinking and eating, has a history which far precedes the Revolution.

The Arts and Humanities

Support for the Arts. The Revolution's stated goal is to nurture the development of each citizen's abilities, even if those talents are not economically productive. The state supports promising artists and art schools, creating the Cuban Film Institute, the National Cultural Council, and the National School for the Arts. There has recently been some external funding as the international art world has taken great interest in Cuban artistic production.

Literature. Writers enjoy the privileged position of visionary thinkers, partly a result of the fact that the hero of Cuban nationalism was a poet, José Martí. In the early years of the Revolution, there was considerable censorship, but the state relaxed censorship in 1987 and now allows critical ideas to be debated openly as long as they do not incite treason.

Graphic Arts. Though artistic production is supported by the state, in the past it was also ideologically constrained by state censors. But now that Cuban art has become popular in the United States and Europe, it has become a potential source of external revenue from tourists and art dealers. The state has become more permissive toward protest art since it became financially lucrative.

Film has been a popular and successful form of art since 1959. Havana hosts the internationally renowned New Latin American Film Festival every year. Cubans love going to the cinema; it is a favored and inexpensive form of recreation, and since film production has been socialized, going to the movies only costs about fourteen cents.

Performance Arts. Expressive language, music, and dance are a cultural heritage that Cubans express frequently. Any Cuban can dance and enjoys performing at Carnival, for tourists, or at parties. Afrocuban music is performed on street corners and in living rooms all over the island. Cuba is also known worldwide for the National Ballet of Cuba, whose founder and artistic director, Alicia Alonso, continues to guide the company and attend performances. In keeping with the ideals of the socialist state, the ballet is supported by public funds, so that it is accessible to all citizens, costing only about twenty-five cents per performance.

The State of the Physical and Social Sciences

Scientists in all fields are supported by the state, which sees scientific advancement as the key to the success of the socialist project. Medical research has been especially successful. But in the current economic crisis, the state has been unable to maintain its scientists and laboratories as it did in the past. The United States embargo makes it difficult to obtain even basic laboratory supplies.

As to the social sciences, the government has supported thousands of historians, anthropologists, philosophers, and economists. There is some limitation on social scientific research, since the state does not permit the publication of findings that suggest an abandonment of the socialist project or of the PCC. Within that constraint, any investigation or finding can be published and debated, even if it calls for reform.


Balari, Eugenio. "Agricultural Policy with Social Justice and Development." In Sandor Halebsky and John Kirk, eds., Transformation and Struggle: Cuba Faces the 1990s, 1990.

Dilla, Haroldo. Comrades and Investors: The Uncertain Transition in Cuba, translated by Michael Gonzales, 1998.

Halebsky, Sandor, and John Kirk, eds. Transformation and Struggle: Cuba Faces the 1990s, 1990.

Hatchwell, Emily, and Simon Calder. Cuba in Focus: A Guide to the People, Politics, Culture, 2000.

Helg, Aline. Our Rightful Share: The Afro-Cuban Struggle for Equality, 18861912, 1995.

Monreal, P. "Sea Changes: The New Cuban Economy." Report on the Americas XXXII 5: 2129, 1999.

Moore, Robin. Nationalizing Blackness: Afrocubanismo and Artistic Revolution in Havana, 19201940, 1997.

Pérez-López, Jorge, ed. Cuba at a Crossroads: Politics and Economics after the Fourth Party Congress, 1994.

Pérez, Louis. Cuba: Between Reform and Revolution, 1996.

. On Becoming Cuban: Identity, Nationality, and Culture, 1999.

Peters, P. and J. Scarpaci, Cuba's New Entrepreneurs: Five Years of Small-Scale Capitalism, 1998.

Smith, Lois, and Alfred Padula. Sex and Revolution: Women in Socialist Cuba, 1996.

Thomas, Hugh. Cuba, or the Pursuit of Freedom, 1998.

G. Derrick Hodge

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Cuba." Countries and Their Cultures. . 9 Jul. 2018 <>.

"Cuba." Countries and Their Cultures. . (July 9, 2018).

"Cuba." Countries and Their Cultures. . Retrieved July 09, 2018 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.




The people of Cuba are called Cubans, and almost everyone living there was born in Cuba. Whites of Spanish descent make up almost 70 percent of the total; blacks are about 10 percent; and mulattoes (mixed race) are just under 20 percent.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Cuba." Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . 9 Jul. 2018 <>.

"Cuba." Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . (July 9, 2018).

"Cuba." Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . Retrieved July 09, 2018 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.


Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Cuba." International Encyclopedia of Marriage and Family. . 9 Jul. 2018 <>.

"Cuba." International Encyclopedia of Marriage and Family. . (July 9, 2018).

"Cuba." International Encyclopedia of Marriage and Family. . Retrieved July 09, 2018 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.


Cubaabba, blabber, dabber, grabber, jabber, stabber, yabber •Alba, Galbaamber, camber, caramba, clamber, Cochabamba, gamba, mamba, Maramba, samba, timbre •Annaba, arbor, arbour, barber, Barbour, harbour (US harbor), indaba, Kaaba, Lualaba, Pearl Harbor, Saba, Sabah, Shaba •sambar, sambhar •rebbe, Weber •Elba •Bemba, December, ember, member, November, Pemba, September •belabour (US belabor), caber, labour (US labor), neighbour (US neighbor), sabre (US saber), tabor •chamber • bedchamber •antechamber •amoeba (US ameba), Bathsheba, Bourguiba, Geber, Sheba, zariba •cribber, dibber, fibber, gibber, jibba, jibber, libber, ribber •Wilbur •limber, marimba, timber •winebibber •calibre (US caliber), Excalibur •briber, fibre (US fiber), scriber, subscriber, Tiber, transcriber •clobber, cobber, jobber, mobber, robber, slobber •ombre, sombre (US somber) •carnauba, catawba, dauber, Micawber •jojoba, Manitoba, October, sober •Aruba, Cuba, Nuba, scuba, tuba, tuber •Drouzhba • Toowoomba • Yoruba •Hecuba

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Cuba." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . 9 Jul. 2018 <>.

"Cuba." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . (July 9, 2018).

"Cuba." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Retrieved July 09, 2018 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.