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.
Geography-History-Economy-Cultural Elements-Art-Significant Figures-Mentality
Location and Geography.
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.
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.
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.
The first European to reach Cuba was Christopher Columbus in 1492. At that time the indigenous people lived by farming. They grew cassava, maize and yams.
They also smoked tobacco. In 1511 Diego Velasquez conquered the island of Cuba and he founded several settlements including Havana.
The natives devastated by European diseases, to which they had no resistance. From 1526 the Spanish imported African slaves into Cuba.
By the late 18th century Cuba was prospering by growing and exporting sugar. The plantations were worked by huge numbers of slaves. However in the 19th century there was an increasing movement for independence.
The struggle for Cuban independence began in 1868 when a landowner named Carlos Manuel de Cespedes freed his slaves. So began the Ten Years War. It ended in failure in 1878. Then in 1886 slavery in Cuba was abolished.
The Second War of Independence began in 1895. In 1898 the USA went to war with Spain. US forces invaded Cuba and Spain surrendered shortly afterwards. The peace treaty made Spain relinquish all claim to Cuba. However after the war Cuba was occupied by US forces for nearly 4 years. They left in 1902 and Cuba became nominally independent but in reality it was dominated by the USA.
In the early 20th century most people in Cuba remained very poor despite efforts to modernize the country. In 1924 Gerardo Machado was elected president of Cuba.
The constitution barred him from more than one term but when his term ended in 1928 Machado held onto power. However Machado was overthrown in 1933. After a period of unrest Cuba gained a new and democratic constitution and elections were held.
In 1952 Fulgencio Batista staged a coup in Cuba and became its dictator.
Fidel Castro Era
Fidel Castro’s rise marks the next period in the history of Cuba. Aided by his brother Raul and the Argentinean revolutionary Che Guevara, Castro started a 1956 guerrilla war against Batista.
In 1959 the US withdrew aid to Batista, and the ruler went into exile. Castro took over as President and would begin his rule by silencing his opposition.
This move angered the US, leading to the severing of ties with Cuba in 1961.
Castro’s response was to align with the Soviet Union, a move that would fuel the Cold War and the exodus of many Cubans.
In 1961 US President John F. Kennedy launched a failed secret mission to overthrow Castro’s government known as the Bay of Pigs.
The Cuban missile crisis
The US became alert when the USSR planned to use Cuba as a missile staging point in 1962, leading to what would be known as the Cuban Missile Crisis.
The history of Cuba would continue to be defined by soured relationships with the US.
In 1962 the USA imposed a blockade on Cuba.
The remaining period of the history of Cuba would involve the country leading communist revolutions around the world aided by the Soviet Union.
However, when Russian Communism fell in 1990, all economic support for Cuba ended as well and economic hardship has befallen the country ever since.
In 2006, Castro contracted cancer and handed the presidency over to his brother Raul, a move that would solidify in 2008 with Castro’s official retirement.
Economy policy, Economic Crisis of 1990 and inevitable effects on Food in Cuba
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.
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 1960–1962 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.
The remarkable Cuban Education System
The record of Cuban education is outstanding with the following main characteristics:
1)Universal school enrollment and attendance.
2)Nearly universal adult literacy.
3)Proportional female representation at all levels, including higher education.
4)A strong scientific training base, particularly in chemistry and medicine.
5)Consistent pedagogical quality across widely dispersed classrooms.
6)Equality of basic educational opportunity, even in impoverished areas, both rural and urban.
7)Emphasis on providing access to schooling for all children and also to those with special needs. Before 1959 there were 8 special education centres in Cuba. Now there are 425.
In a recent regional study of Latin America and the Caribbean, Cuba ranked first in math and science achievement, at all grade levels, among both males and females. More over, the Cuban Education System is among the best in the world, equal to the one of the Scandinavian highly developed countries.
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 neighbourhoods 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 (the old pagan religion which originates from Africa) 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.
Development of tourism and ideological contradiction
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.
Tobacco and Cigars
Cuba has the world’s second largest area of tobacco plantations in the world.
There has been little change in the country’s output over the last 20 years and the majority of the tobacco and its products are exported.
Nearly all the tobacco is used to make cigars, one of the iconic symbols of Cuba. The two main types of tobacco grown are Corojo and Criollo, and the plantations based around the Pinar del Rio Province.
The cigars are produced by hand by some of the biggest cigar companies in the world including Cohiba, Montechristo and Romeo y Julieta.
Cuba was once the world's largest sugar exporter. Until the 1960s, the US received 33% of its sugarcane imports from Cuba.
During the cold war, Cuba's sugar exports were bought with subsidies from the Soviet Union. After the collapse of this trade arrangement, coinciding with a collapse in sugar prices, two thirds of sugar mills in Cuba closed. 100 000 workers lost their jobs.
However, the sugar production in the cane sugar mills has fallen from approximately 8 million metric tons to 3.2 million metric tons in the 2015 period.
A rise in sugar prices beginning in 2008, stimulated new interest in sugar. Production in 2012–2013 was estimated at 1.6–1.8 million tonnes. 400,000 tonnes is exported to China and 550,000–700,000 for domestic consumption.
Cuban art is an exceptionally diverse cultural blend of African, South American, European and North American elements, reflecting the diverse demographic makeup of the island.
Cuban artists embraced European modernism, and the early part of the 20th century saw a growth in Cuban vanguardist movements, which were characterized by the mixing of modern artistic genres.
Some of the more celebrated 20th-century Cuban artists include Amelia Peláez (1896–1968), best known for a series of mural projects, and painter Wifredo Lam (Dec 8,1902–September 11, 1982), who created a highly personal version of modern primitivism.
The Cuban born painter Federico Beltran Masses (1885-1949), was renowned as a colourist whose seductive portrayals of women sometimes made overt references to the tropical settings of his childhood.
Better known internationally is the work of photographer Alberto Korda, whose photographs following the early days of the Cuban Revolution included a picture of Che Guevara which was to become one of the most recognizable images of the 20th century.
There is a flourishing street art movement influenced by Latin American artists José Guadalupe Posada and the muralist Diego Rivera.
Cuba is the birth land of many great athletes and there are some real legends among them, worth mentioning.
Teófilo Stevenson. Stevenson is known as one of the most spectacular amateur boxers in History.
Martín Dihigo. Dihigo is considered the best Cuban baseball player of all times.
Pedro Luis Lazo. He is considered one of the most complete Cuban pitchers of all times.
Regla Torres. The International Volleyball Federation called her 'the best player in the world of the 20th Century'.
Iván Pedroso. Cuba has had great athletes when it comes to long-jumping, but in the list of the essentials, it is mandatory to mention Iván Pedroso, known as 'the grasshopper' for his formidable race-speed and his capacity to stretch in the air to cover even more metres.
Javier Sotomayor. Legendary athlete in High Jumping. He was fairly dubbed 'The Prince of Heights'.
Alberto Juantorena . Track athlete (gold medal in both 400 and 800 mt, in 1976 Olympic Games).
Alberto Juantorean Javier Sotomayor
Cuban literature is one of the most prolific, relevant and influential literatures in Latin America and all the Spanish-speaking world, with renowned writers including , José Marti, Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, José María Heredia, Nicolás Guillén (the National Poet of Cuba), José Lezama Lima, Alejo Carpentier (nominee for the Nobel Prize for Literature and previously the Premio Cervantes winner in 1977), Guillermo Cabrera Infante (Premio Cervantes, 1997), Virgilio Piñera and Dulce María Loynaz (Premio Cervantes, 1992), among many others.
Alejo Carpenti Er Virgilio Pinera
Significant historical figures
José Julián Marti Pérez (January 28, 1853 – May 19, 1895) was a Cuban national hero, and an important figure in Latin American literature. In his short life, he was a poet, an essayist, a journalist, a revolutionary philosopher, a translator, a professor, a publisher and a political theorist.
Through his writings and political activity, he became a symbol for Cuba's bid for independence against Spain in the 19th century, and is referred to as the "Apostle of Cuban Independence." He also wrote about the threat of Spanish and US expansionism into Cuba.
From adolescence, he dedicated his life to the promotion of liberty, political independence for Cuba, and intellectual independence for all Spanish Americans.
His death was used as a cry for Cuban independence from Spain by both the Cuban revolutionaries and those Cubans previously reluctant to start a revolt.
Che Guevara, byname of Ernesto Guevara de la Serna (born June 14, 1928, Rosario, Argentina—died October 9, 1967, La Higuera, Bolivia), was a theoretician and tactician of guerrilla warfare, prominent figure in the Cuban Revolution (1956–59), and guerrilla leader in South America.
After his execution by the Bolivian army, he was regarded as a martyred hero by generations of people worldwide, and his image became an icon of anti-imperialism.
Guevara was the eldest of five children in a middle-class family of Spanish-Irish descent and leftist leanings. Although suffering from asthma, he excelled as an athlete and a scholar, completing his medical studies in 1953. He spent many of his holidays travelling in Latin America, and his observations of the great poverty of the masses contributed to his eventual conclusion that the only solution lay in revolution.
He came to look upon Latin America not as a collection of separate nations but as a cultural and economic entity, the liberation of which would require an intercontinental strategy.
In 1953 Guevara went to Guatemala, where Jacobo Arbenz headed a progressive regime that was attempting to bring about a social revolution.
(About that time Guevara acquired his nickname, from a verbal mannerism of Argentines who punctuate their speech with the interjection che.)
It was in Guatemala that Guevara became a man dedicated to a universal revolutionary vision.
He left Guatemala for Mexico, where he met the Cuban brothers Fidel and Raúl Castro, political exiles who were preparing an attempt to overthrow the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista in Cuba.
Guevara joined Fidel Castro’s 26th of July Movement, which landed a force of 81 men (including Guevara) in the Cuban province of Oriente late in November 1956. Immediately detected by Batista’s army, they were almost wiped out.
The few survivors, including the wounded Guevara, reached the Sierra Maestra, where they became the nucleus of a guerrilla army.
The rebels slowly gained in strength, seizing weapons from Batista’s forces and winning support and new recruits. Guevara had initially come along as the force’s doctor, but he had also trained in weapons use, and he became one of Castro’s most-trusted aides.
Fidel and Che
After Castro’s victorious troops entered Havana on January 2, 1959, Guevara served as chief of the Industrial Department of the National Institute of Agrarian Reform, president of the National Bank of Cuba and minister of industry.
Guevara expounded a vision of a new socialist citizen who would work for the good of society rather than for personal profit, a notion he embodied through his own hard work.
During the early 1960s, he defined Cuba’s policies and his own views in many speeches and writings. Soon he began focusing his attention on fostering revolution elsewhere.
After April 1965 he dropped out of public life and resigned his ministerial position. In the autumn of 1967 he went to Bolivia to create and lead a guerrilla group in the region of Santa Cruz. On October the 8th Guevara was wounded during a battle with the Bolivian army, captured and shot dead.
In 1997 his relic along with the relics of his 6 comrades were brought to Cuba to be interred in a massive memorial and monument in Santa Clara on the 30th anniversary of Guevara’s death.
Guevara would live on as a powerful symbol, bigger in some ways in death than in life. He was almost always referenced simply as Che. Almost from the time of Guevara’s death, his face adorned T-shirts and posters.
Framed by a red-star-studded beret and long hair, his face frozen in a resolute expression, the iconic image was derived from a photo taken by Cuban photographer Alberto Korda in 1960.
Che and his revolutionary vision still remain and probably always be an enduring inspiration for revolutionary action.
Che by Korda
Fidel Castro was born near Birán, Cuba, in 1926. Beginning in 1958 Castro and his forces began a campaign of guerrilla warfare which led to the overthrow of Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista.
As the country's new leader, Castro implemented communist domestic policies and initiated military and economic relations with the Soviet Union that led to strained relations with the United States that culminated in the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.
However, the 1991 collapse of communism in the Soviet Union and its negative impact on Cuba's economy led Castro to relax some restrictions over time.
Under Castro, great and significant improvements were made to health care and education, though.
In failing health, Fidel Castro officially handed over power to his brother Raul Castro in 2008, but still wielded some political influence in Cuba and abroad. Fidel Castro died on November 25, 2016 at the age of 90.
His larger than life and highly controversial personality, along with his questionable tactics as a leader are to be judged by history, since it is rather early for an objective analysis of how deeply and categorically the revolution, in which he strongly believed and devoted his life to, has affected the people of Cuba.
Mentality and way of life in Cuba
The Cubans in general have the happy laid back mentality which can be found in all the islands of The Caribbean Sea. But there is a strong difference if compared to the rest of the Caribbean people.
The regime has left its mark on them and for many decades they were struggling with a rather hard daily life.
They became inventive by need and their solidarity originates from the fact that poverty was too devastating to endure it in loneliness.
Family and friendship boundaries are strong, therefore. Tourism had a great impact on their so called “innocence”. They may really enjoy singing and dancing, they may have their doors opened and their neighbourhoods are always lively and reflect their openness, but then again they could not do either wise.
If life becomes tough under a regime that controls almost everything, the only way to cope is to enjoy the simple things of life.
And if things get too tough, this happy culture can be perfectly sold to romantic tourists who arrive there daydreaming about rum, salsa, Jose Marti, Ernest Hemingway’s memoirs, Che Guevara’s idealistic visions, hospitality and beautiful old fashioned Chevrolet cars.
All the above certainly are part of Cuba’s culture but can perfectly become a Cuban folklore that sells well and brings some decent income to the poor and unlucky ones.
In any case the people are well mannered, they have lots of dignity into their poverty, they do not even know what the word racism means, they are willing to help by all means, they have compassion and they still dream for a better Cuba, since they are always too proud for their little and unique, in many ways, country.
And this is maybe their best and strongest quality, if one takes under consideration the many sufferings that they have gone through in the last decades.
Hope in combination with compassion and resilience are probably their most wonderful characteristics and their key to a new Cuba which is bound to be born in the “after Castro Era”.
The music of Cuba, including its instruments, performance and dance, comprises a large set of unique traditions influenced mostly by West African and European (especially Spanish) music.
Due to the syncretic nature of most of its genres, Cuban music is often considered one of the richest and most influential regional musics of the world. For instance, the son cubano merges an adapted Spanish guitar (tres), melody, harmony, and lyrical traditions with Afro-Cuban percussion and rhythms.
Almost nothing remains of the original native traditions, since the native population was exterminated in the 16th century.
Since the 19th century Cuban music has been hugely popular and influential throughout the world.
It has been perhaps the most popular form of regional music since the introduction of recording technology.
Cuban music has contributed to the development of a wide variety of genre and musical styles around the globe, most notably in Latin America, the Caribbean, West Africa and Europe.
Examples include rumba, Afro-Cuban jazz, salsa, soukous, many West African re-adaptations of Afro-Cuban music (Orchestra Baobab, Africando), Spanish fusion genres (notably with flamenco), and a wide variety of genres in Latin America.
Afro-Cuban jazz is the earliest form of Latin jazz. It mixes Afro-Cuban clave based rhythms with jazz harmonies. Typical instruments: Piano - Congas - Trumpet - Trombone - Bass guitar - Claves - Timbales - Bongos - Saxophone – Clarinet. Representatives: Machito and his sister Graciella Grillo and one of Cuba’s legends, Compay Segundo
Bolero, was perhaps the first great Cuban musical and vocal synthesis to win universal recognition.
The Cuban bolero tradition originated in Santiago de Cuba in the last quarter of the 19th century. It does not owe its origin to the Spanish music and song of the same name.
There is also a fusion genre coming from it called Bachata
Chachachá, is a Cuban music genre whose creation has been traditionally attributed to Cuban composer and violinist Enrique Jorrín, who began his career playing for the charanga band Orquesta América.
It has been a popular dance music which developed from the Danzón-mambo in the early 1950s, and became widely popular throughout the entire world.
Contradanza (habanera) became an important genre in Cuba during the 19th century, the first written music to be rhythmically based on an African rhythm pattern and the first Cuban dance to gain international popularity, the progenitor of danzon, mambo and cha cha cha, with a characteristic "habanera rhythm" and sung lyrics.
Outside Cuba, the Cuban contradanza became known as the habanera - the dance of Havana - and that name was adopted in Cuba itself subsequent to its international popularity in the later 19th century, though it was never so called by the people who created it.
Mambo possesses the rhythmic charm, informality and eloquence of the Cuban people and originates from Congo. Its basic instruments are upright bass, piano, trombone, trumpet and saxophone.
Rumba is a secular genre of Cuban music involving dance, percussion, and song. It originated in the northern regions of Cuba, mainly in urban Havana and Matanzas, during the late 19th century. It is based on African music and dance traditions, namely Abakuá and yuka, as well as the Spanish-based coros de clave. According to Argeliers León, rumba is one of the major "genre complexes" of Cuban music.
Salsa, popular and famous all over the world, is the product of various musical genres including the Cuban son montuno, guaracha, cha cha chá, mambo, and to a certain extent bolero.
Apart from the above very important and influential genres, there are many more wonderful genres in Cuba and among them are: Criolla, Guajira, Guaracha , Pachanga, Son (montuno), Songo, Timba and Trova.
Compay Segundo, Eliades Ochoa, Omara Portuondo Barbarito Torres ,Amadito Valdés , Jesus "Aguaje" Ramos.
Arroz con maiz
Rice and corn cooked in a pot, enriched with oregano, cumin and chicken stock
Bistec de Palomilla
Round stake marinated in garlic, lime juice, salt and pepper then pan-fried
It is a dish consisting of eye round beef roast stuffed with chorizo sausages browned in olive oil simmered in water with onions until the meat is soft, and then quartered potatoes added
Authentic Cuban dish of ropa vieja (shredded flank steak in a tomato sauce base), black beans, yellow rice, plantains and fried yuca with beer
Moros y Cristianos
Rice with black beans
Croquettes made of potatoes, beef, onions, olives, hard boiled eggs, cumin, spices
Fufu de platano
Boiled mashed plantains mixed with chicken stock and sauce made of lard, garlic, onions, tomato, cumin
It is a sandwich made of Cuban bread filled with salami, or roasted pork, swiss cheese, pickles and mustard
Snack sized bars of peanut nougat
Arroz con leche
Rice pudding enriched with cinnamon and raisins
It is a delicacy of the city of Baracoa, a mix of coconut, sugar and other ingredients such as orange, guava and pineapple
Puff pastry filled with marmalade