Cuba, officially the Republic of Cuba, is a state comprising the island of Cuba as well as Isla de la Juventud and several smaller island groups. Cuba is located in the northern Caribbean Sea, where the Caribbean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean meet. It lies south of the US state of Florida and the Bahamas, west of Haiti and north of Jamaica. Havana is the largest city and the capital; other important cities are Santiago de Cuba and Camagüey. With an area of 109,884 square kilometres, Cuba is the largest island in the Caribbean and, with more than 11 million inhabitants, the second most populous after Hispaniola.
Before Spanish colonisation in the late 15th century, Cuba was inhabited by Indian tribes. It remained a Spanish colony until the Spanish-American War of 1898, which led to nominal independence as a de facto protectorate of the United States in 1902. A fragile republic, Cuba attempted to strengthen its democratic system, but political radicalisation and growing social conflict led to the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista in 1952. Further unrest and instability led to the overthrow of Batista in January 1959 by the 26th of July Movement, which then installed a government led by Fidel Castro. Since 1965, the state has been ruled by the Communist Party of Cuba. A point of contention during the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States. During the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, nuclear war almost broke out.
Culturally, Cuba is considered part of Latin America. It is a multi-ethnic country whose people, culture and customs have diverse origins, including the indigenous Taíno and Ciboney peoples, the long period of Spanish colonialism, the introduction of African slaves and a close relationship with the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
Cuba is a one-party Marxist-Leninist republic where the role of the Communist Vanguard Party is enshrined in the constitution. Independent observers have accused the Cuban government of numerous human rights violations, including arbitrary detention and torture. It is one of the last planned economies in the world and its economy is dominated by exports of sugar, tobacco, coffee and skilled labour. According to the Human Development Index, Cuba is described as a country with high human development and ranks eighth in North America. It also ranks high in some national performance indicators, such as health and education.
|Changes to the US rules|
|On 20 July 2015, the United States and Cuba re-established diplomatic relations for the first time since 1960. Some financial and travel restrictions were eased, but normal tourism is still not allowed.|
Cuban music is influenced by the mix of African and Cuban cultures, which is also expressed in the traditional belief in Santería, the local name for the Yoruba religion and practices that originated in Nigeria. As in other Caribbean countries, traditional Afro-Caribbean religious and ritual practices are anathema to some, but many Cubans believe in them to varying degrees. Most Cubans who profess a religion identify as Christian, particularly Roman Catholic, although some Christians also believe in Santería to some degree. The ruling Communist Party is not aggressively atheist and amended the Cuban constitution in 1992 so that Cuba is no longer officially atheist.
Cuban cuisine is also the product of the fusion of Taíno indigenous cuisine, Spanish conquistadors, Africans who came as slaves and immigrants from different parts of the world, including China.
Although the average income is only $15, Cubans are not technically “poor” because their basic needs are met by the government. They pay their monthly subsidised electricity and water bills of about $5, receive free education from primary school to university, can go to the doctor for free and receive free medicines. The social system takes care of the unemployed and provides them with housing and money for food. Life is not easy, but everyone can survive. Keep this in mind when it comes to tips or people begging on the street (rare). Some will even ask you for shampoo and soap because they have been told that tourists leave these products behind when they go home. Remember that all your actions can be projected onto tourists in general.
When to go
The best time to travel is between December and April to avoid the storms and hurricanes before December and the sweltering heat of the Cuban summer, which can be unbearable for some. This is also the high season, so expect prices to rise during this time.
OpenStreetMap still has the best coverage of Cuba, although Bing and Google Maps may have more street names listed in larger cities, but for most other cities they often include no more than the main street.
For offline use, you can download vector maps, e.g. from openandromaps.org for South and Central America (these maps are particularly useful for hiking or other outdoor activities), and use them with apps like Oruxmaps or Locus.
Cuba is a group of islands in the northern Caribbean Sea, located at the confluence of the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. It lies between latitudes 19° and 24°N and longitudes 74° and 85°W. The United States is 150 kilometres (93 miles) north and northwest of the Straits of Florida (to the nearest point of Key West, Florida), and the Bahamas is 21 kilometres (13 mi) north. Mexico is 210 kilometres (130 mi) away across the Yucatán Channel to the west (to the nearest point of Cabo Catoche, Quintana Roo state).
Haiti is 77 km (48 mi) to the east, Jamaica (140 km/87 mi) and the Cayman Islands to the south. Cuba is the main island surrounded by four smaller island groups: the Colorados Archipelago on the northwest coast, the Sabana-Camagüey Archipelago on the north-central Atlantic coast, the Jardines de la Reina on the south-central coast and the Canarreos Archipelago on the southwest coast.
The main island, called Cuba, is 1,250 km long and makes up most of the country’s surface area (104,556 km2). It is the largest island in the Caribbean and the 17th largest in the world. The main island consists mainly of flat to hilly plains, with the exception of the Sierra Maestra mountains in the southeast, the highest point of which is Pico Turquino (1,974 m).
The second largest island is Isla de la Juventud (Island of Youth) in the Canarreos Archipelago with an area of 2,200 km2 (849 sq mi). Cuba’s official area (land surface) is 109,884 km2 (42,426 sq mi). Its surface area is 110,860 km2 (42,803 sq mi), including coastal and territorial waters.
According to the official 2010 census, the population of Cuba was 11,241,161, of which 5,628,996 were men and 5,612,165 were women. The birth rate (9.88 births per thousand inhabitants in 2006) is one of the lowest in the Western Hemisphere. Although the country has grown by about 4 million people since 1961, the growth rate has been declining at the same time during this period, and the population began to decline in 2006 with a fertility rate of 1.43 children per woman.
In fact, this fertility decline is one of the largest in the Western Hemisphere and is largely attributed to unrestricted access to legal abortions: Cuba’s abortion rate in 1996 was 58.6 per 1,000 pregnancies, compared to an average of 35 in the Caribbean, 27 in Latin America as a whole and 48 in Europe. Contraceptive use is also widespread, estimated at 79 % of the female population (in the top third of countries in the Western Hemisphere).
Cuba’s population is multi-ethnic, reflecting its complex colonial origins. Intermarriage between different groups is widespread, which explains the discrepancies in reports on the country’s racial composition: while the Institute of Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami found that 62% of Cubans are black, the 2002 Cuban census found that a similar proportion of the population, 65.05%, was white.
In fact, Minority Rights Group International stated: “An objective assessment of the situation of Afro-Cubans remains problematic due to insufficient records and the lack of systematic studies, both before and after the revolution. Estimates of the proportion of people of African descent in the Cuban population vary widely, ranging from 34% to 62%.
A 2014 study found that autosomal genetic ancestry in Cuba was 72% European, 20% African and 8% Amerindian; 35% of maternal lineages were from Cuban Indians, compared to 39% African and 26% European, but male lineages were exclusively European (82%) and African (18%), indicating historical bias in mating between foreign men and indigenous women, rather than the other way around.
Asians make up about 1% of the population and are mostly of Chinese origin, followed by Filipinos, Japanese and Vietnamese. Many are descendants of agricultural labourers brought to the island by Spanish and American entrepreneurs in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The current number of Cubans of Chinese descent is 114,240.
The Afro-Cubans are mainly descended from the Yoruba people, as well as from several thousand North African refugees, including Sahrawis from Western Sahara.
Immigration and emigration
Immigration and emigration have played an important role in Cuba’s demographic profile. Between the 18th and early 20th centuries, large waves of Canarians, Catalans, Andalusians, Galicians and other Spaniards migrated to Cuba. Between 1899 and 1930 alone, nearly one million Spaniards arrived in the country, but many eventually returned to Spain. Other important immigrant groups included French, Portuguese, Italians, Russians, Dutch, Greeks, British and Irish, as well as a small number of descendants of US citizens who came to Cuba in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The post-revolutionary period in Cuba was characterised by high levels of emigration, resulting in a large and influential diaspora. In the three decades following January 1959, more than 1 million Cubans of all social classes – 10 per cent of the total population – emigrated to the United States, a proportion equal to the extent of emigration to the United States from the Caribbean as a whole during that period. Other common destinations include Spain, the United Kingdom, Canada, Mexico and Sweden. Those who leave the country usually do so by sea, in small boats and flimsy rafts. On 9 September 1994, the US and Cuban governments agreed that the US would grant at least 20,000 visas per year in return for Cuba’s promise to prevent further illegal departures by boat.
In 2010, the Pew Forum estimated the country’s religious affiliation at 65% Christian (60% Roman Catholic, about 6.9 million in 2016, 5% Evangelical Protestant, about 575,000 in 2016), 23% non-denominational, 17% folk religions (such as Santería), and the remaining 0.4% composed of other religions.
Cuba is officially a secular state. Religious freedom increased in the 1980s and the government amended the constitution in 1992 to no longer call the state atheist.
Roman Catholicism is the main religion dating back to Spanish colonisation. Although less than half the population identified as Catholic in 2006, it remains the dominant faith. Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI visited Cuba in 1998 and 2011 respectively, and Pope Francis visited Cuba in September 2015. Before each papal visit, the Cuban government has pardoned prisoners in a humanitarian gesture.
The government’s easing of restrictions on house churches in the 1990s led to an “explosion of Pentecostalism”, with some groups claiming up to 100,000 members. However, the main evangelical sects organised in the Cuban Council of Churches remain much more powerful.
Cuba’s religious landscape is also strongly characterised by syncretisms of various kinds. Christianity is often practised together with Santería, a mixture of Catholicism and mainly African beliefs that includes a number of cults. The Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre (Virgin of the Cobra) is the Catholic patron saint of Cuba and a symbol of Cuban culture. In Santería, she has been syncretised with the goddess Oshun.
Cuba is also home to small communities of Jews (500 in 2012), Muslims and members of the Baha’i faith.
Several well-known Cuban religious figures have worked outside the island, including the humanist and author Jorge Armando Pérez.
The Cuban state claims to adhere to socialist principles in the organisation of its largely state-controlled planned economy. Most means of production are owned and managed by the government and the majority of the labour force is employed by the state. In recent years, there has been a trend towards more employment in the private sector. In 2006, public sector employment was 78% and private sector employment was 22%, compared to 91.8% and 8.2% in 1981. Cuba’s public expenditure as a percentage of GDP is 78.1%. Any company wishing to hire a Cuban must pay the Cuban government, which in turn pays the employee in Cuban pesos. The average monthly wage is 466 Cuban pesos (as of July 2013), which is equivalent to about 19 US dollars.
Cuba has a dual currency system in which most wages and prices are set in Cuban pesos (CUP), while the tourism industry operates with convertible pesos (CUC) set at parity with the US dollar. Every Cuban household has a ration book (called libreta) that entitles them to a monthly supply of food and other basic goods provided at a low price.
Before Fidel Castro’s revolution in 1959, Cuba was one of the most advanced and prosperous countries in Latin America. The Cuban capital, Havana, was a “glittering and dynamic city”. At the turn of the century, the country’s economy had grown rich, fuelled by the sale of sugar to the United States. Cuba ranks 5th in the hemisphere in per capita income, 3rd in life expectancy, 2nd in per capita ownership of automobiles and telephones, and 1st in per capita ownership of televisions. Cuba’s literacy rate of 76% was the fourth highest in Latin America. Cuba also ranks 11th in the world for the number of doctors per capita. Several private clinics and hospitals provide services to the poor. Income distribution in Cuba compares favourably with other Latin American societies. However, income inequality between urban and rural areas, especially between whites and blacks, has been a major problem. Cubans live in abysmal poverty in the countryside. A thriving middle class, according to PBS, was the promise of prosperity and social mobility. According to Cuban historian Louis Perez of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, “Havana was then what Las Vegas became.”
After the Cuban Revolution and before the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba relied on Moscow for substantial aid and protected markets for its exports. The removal of these subsidies plunged the Cuban economy into a rapid depression known in Cuba as the Special Period. Cuba took limited free-market measures to alleviate severe shortages of food, consumer goods and services. These measures included allowing self-employment in certain areas of retail and light industry, legalising the use of the US dollar in business transactions and promoting tourism. Cuba developed a unique system of urban farms (organopónicos) to compensate for the end of food imports from the Soviet Union. It is widely believed that the US embargo, imposed in response to discontent over the nationalisation of property owned by US citizens and later over perceived human rights violations, is damaging the Cuban economy. In 2009, the Cuban government estimated that the U.S. embargo was costing it $685 million a year.
The Cuban leadership has called for reforms in the country’s agricultural system. In 2008, Raúl Castro began agricultural reforms to boost food production, as 80 per cent of food was imported at the time. The reforms adopted aim to expand land use and increase efficiency. Venezuela provides Cuba with about 110,000 barrels (17,000 m3) of oil per day in exchange for money and the services of about 44,000 Cubans, mostly medical personnel, in Venezuela. Venezuelan aid is estimated to be more than 20% of Cuba’s GDP in 2008-2010, similar to aid flows from the Soviet Union in 1985-1988.
In 2005, Cuba had exports of US$2.4 billion, ranking 114th out of 226 countries in the world, and imports of US$6.9 billion, ranking 87th out of 226 countries. The main export partners are Canada (17.7%), China (16.9%), Venezuela (12.5%), the Netherlands (9%) and Spain (5.9%) (2012). Cuba’s main exports are sugar, nickel, tobacco, fish, medical products, citrus fruits and coffee; imports include food, fuel, clothing and machinery. Cuba currently has an estimated debt of $13 billion, or about 38% of GDP. According to the Heritage Foundation, Cuba relies on credit accounts that rotate from country to country. Cuba’s sugar supply, which used to account for 35% of the global export market, has fallen to 10% due to a variety of factors, including a decline in the global price of sugar that has made Cuba less competitive in world markets. In 2008, it was announced that wage caps would be abandoned to improve the country’s productivity.
In 2010, Cubans were allowed to build their own houses. According to Raúl Castro, with this new permission they can improve their houses, but the government will not approve these new houses or improvements. There is virtually no homelessness in Cuba, and 85 per cent of Cubans own their homes and pay no property taxes or interest on their mortgages. Mortgage payments cannot exceed 10 % of the combined household income.
On 2 August 2011, the New York Times reported that Cuba had confirmed its intention to legalise the “buying and selling” of private property by the end of the year. According to experts, the sale of private property “could change Cuba more than any of the economic reforms announced by President Raúl Castro’s government.” It will lead to the elimination of more than one million public jobs, including those of party bureaucrats who oppose the changes. The new economic reforms have effectively created a new economic system, referred to by some as the “new Cuban economy”. In October 2013, Raúl declared his intention to merge the two currencies. As of August 2016, the dual currency system remains in place.
In August 2012, a specialist from the “Cubaenergia Company” announced the opening of the first solar power plant in Cuba. As a member of the Cubasolar Group, there was also talk of 10 more plants in 2013.
Cuba’s natural resources include sugar, tobacco, fish, citrus fruits, coffee, beans, rice, potatoes and livestock. Cuba’s nickel mine production this year was 71,000 tonnes, close to 4% of world production. In 2013, reserves were estimated at 5.5 million tonnes, representing more than 7 % of world production. The Canadian company Sherritt International operates a large nickel mining facility in Moa. Cuba is also an important producer of refined cobalt, a by-product of nickel mining.
Oil explorations conducted by the US Geological Survey in 2005 indicated that Cuba’s northern basin could produce about 4.6 billion barrels (730,000,000 m3 ) to 9.3 billion barrels (1.48×109 m3 ) of oil. In 2006, Cuba began test drilling at these sites for possible exploitation.