Cuba, officially the Republic of Cuba, is a country comprising the island of Cuba as well as Isla de la Juventud and several minor archipelagos. Cuba is located in the northern Caribbean where the Caribbean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Atlantic Ocean meet. It is south of both the U.S. state of Floridaand the Bahamas, west of Haiti, and north of Jamaica. Havana is the largest city and capital; other major cities include Santiago de Cuba and Camagüey. Cuba is the largest island in the Caribbean, with an area of 109,884 square kilometres (42,426 sq mi), and the second-most populous after Hispaniola, with over 11 million inhabitants.
Prior to Spanish colonization in the late 15th century, Cuba was inhabited by Amerindian tribes. It remained a colony of Spain until the Spanish–American War of 1898, which led to nominal independence as a de facto United States protectorate in 1902. As a fragile republic, Cuba attempted to strengthen its democratic system, but mounting political radicalization and social strife culminated in the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista in 1952. Further unrest and instability led to Batista's ousting in January 1959 by the July 26 Movement, which afterwards established a government under the leadership of Fidel Castro. Since 1965, the state has been governed by the Communist Party of Cuba. A point of contention during the Cold Warbetween the Soviet Union and the United States, a nuclear war nearly broke out during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.
Culturally, Cuba is considered part of Latin America. It is a multiethnic country whose people, culture and customs derive from diverse origins, including the aboriginal Taínoand Ciboney peoples, the long period of Spanish colonialism, the introduction of African slaves, and a close relationship with the Soviet Union in the Cold War.
Cuba is a Marxist–Leninist one-party republic, where the role of the vanguard Communist Party is enshrined in the Constitution. Independent observers have accused the Cuban government of numerous human rights abuses, including arbitrary imprisonment and torture. It is one of the world's last planned economies and its economy is dominated by the exports of sugar, tobacco, coffee and skilled labor. According to the Human Development Index, Cuba is described as a country with high human development and is ranked the eighth highest in North America. It also ranks highly in some metrics of national performance, including health care and education.
|Changes to US rules|
On July 20 2015, the US and Cuba restored diplomatic relations for the first time since 1960. Some financial and travel restrictions have been eased but ordinary tourism is still not permitted.
Before the 1959 Revolution, Cuba was a popular tourist destination for United States citizens, mainly due to the large number of casinos catering to gamblers put up by the American mafia. Revolutionaries claim the Batista dictatorship was a government that neglected many of its own citizens' health and welfare to maintain power. Many Americans had beach homes during the summer, and rich American companies owned large factories and land with the cooperation of Fulgencio Batista, the ruling military dictator. Since the Revolution, Cuba has been subjected to a trade and economic embargo (referred to in Cuba as el bloqueo, or the blockade) by the United States. Since 2009, US citizens with relatives living in Cuba have been allowed to visit the country.
After 1959 Cuban tourism was mostly for Cubans only, and the facilities were not renovated until the 1990s, when Cuba lost financial backing from the defunct Soviet Union and opened its doors to foreign tourism. Now many European, Canadian, and even American visitors come to the island. In the typical tourist regions like Varadero and Holguín many modern 3-star to 5-star hotels are available, while in less popular tourist regions visitors can still rent rooms in many Cuban homes (called casas particulares).
Due to several long-standing factors (e.g. bureaucratic ineffectiveness, the U.S. embargo, lack of resources, and the loss of Soviet subsidies), much of the country's infrastructure is in need of repair. In major tourist destinations there will generally be few problems with either power or water, although outages may occur. Electricity outages have been common in Cuba, except in tourist facilities that have a generator. 2006 was designated the Year of the Energy Revolution in Cuba, and many small generators have been installed in an attempt to avoid blackouts. Since Venezuela began providing Cuba with cheap oil and the refinery in Cienfuegos was relaunched, the energy situation has improved. Many tourist accommodations offer 220V as well as 110V power sources. This is adequate for your power needs and should be enough to accommodate anything you plug in, at least to a reasonable limit.
Cuban music is influenced by the melding of African and Cuban cultures that is also expressed in the traditional belief in Santería, the local name for Yoruba religion and practices that originate from Nigeria. As in other Caribbean lands, traditional Afro-Caribbean religious and ritual practices are anathema to some, yet are believed to a greater or lesser degree by many Cubans. Most Cubans who profess a religion identify as Christian, especially Roman Catholic, even though some of the Christians also believe to some degree in Santería. The ruling Communist Party is not aggressively atheist, and amended the Cuban Constitution in 1992 to make Cuba no longer officially atheistic.
Cuba's food is also a product of the melding of the cuisine of the Taíno natives, the Spanish conquistadores, the Africans who arrived as slaves, and immigrants from various parts of the world including China.
Although average income is only US$ 15 cubans are not technically 'poor' as their basic needs are covered by the government. They pay their monthly bills of subsidised electricity and water with around US$ 5, receive free education from elementary school to university, can see doctors for free and receive medicine for free. The social system cares for people out of job and provides them with a home and money for food. Life is not easy but everyone can survive. Keep this in mind when it comes to tipping or people begging in the streets (rare). Some might even approach you asking for shampoo and soap because they were told that tourists leave those products behind when going back home. Remember that all your actions might be projected onto tourists in general.
When to go
The best times to go are between December and April, to avoid the storms and hurricanes before December and the sticky heat of the Cuban summer which can be unbearable for some. This is also the high season so expect a price increase during this period.
OpenStreetMap still has the best coverage of Cuba, though Bing and Google maps may have more street names listed in major cities, yet for most other cities they often don’t include more than the main road.
For offline use, you can download vector maps e.g. from openandromaps.org for South and Middle America (these are especially great for hiking or other outdoor activities) and use them with apps like Oruxmaps or Locus.
Cuba is an archipelago of islands located in the northern Caribbean Sea at the confluence with 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 lies 150 kilometers (93 miles) across the Straits of Florida to the north and northwest (to the closest tip of Key West, Florida), and the Bahamas 21 km (13 mi) to the north. Mexico lies 210 kilometers (130 miles) across the Yucatán Channel to the west (to the closest tip of Cabo Catoche in the State of Quintana Roo).
Haiti is 77 km (48 mi) to the east, Jamaica (140 km/87 mi) and the Cayman Islands to the south. Cuba is the principal island, surrounded by four smaller groups of islands: the Colorados Archipelago on the northwestern 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 southwestern coast.
The main island, named Cuba, is 1,250 km (780 mi) long, constituting most of the nation's land area (104,556 km2 (40,369 sq mi)) and is the largest island in the Caribbean and 17th-largest island in the world by land area. The main island consists mostly of flat to rolling plains apart from the Sierra Maestra mountains in the southeast, whose highest point is Pico Turquino (1,974 m (6,476 ft)).
The second-largest island is Isla de la Juventud (Isle of Youth) in the Canarreos archipelago, with an area of 2,200 km2 (849 sq mi). Cuba has an official area (land area) of 109,884 km2 (42,426 sq mi). Its area is 110,860 km2 (42,803 sq mi) including coastal and territorial waters.
With the entire island south of the Tropic of Cancer, the local climate is tropical, moderated by northeasterly trade winds that blow year-round. The temperature is also shaped by the Caribbean current, which brings in warm water from the equator. This makes the climate of Cuba warmer than that of Hong Kong, which is at around the same latitude as Cuba but has a subtropical rather than a tropical climate. In general (with local variations), there is a drier season from November to April, and a rainier season from May to October. The average temperature is 21 °C (69.8 °F) in January and 27 °C (80.6 °F) in July. The warm temperatures of the Caribbean Sea and the fact that Cuba sits across the entrance to the Gulf of Mexico combine to make the country prone to frequent hurricanes. These are most common in September and October.
According to the official census of 2010, Cuba's population was 11,241,161, comprising 5,628,996 men and 5,612,165 women. Its birth rate (9.88 births per thousand population in 2006) is one of the lowest in the Western Hemisphere. Although the country has grown by around 4 million people since 1961, the rate of increase had simultaneously began to fall during that period, and the population began to decline in 2006, with a fertility rate of 1.43 children per woman.
Indeed, this drop in fertility is among the largest in the Western Hemisphere, and is attributed largely to unrestricted access to legal abortion: Cuba's abortion rate was 58.6 per 1000 pregnancies in 1996, compared to an average of 35 in the Caribbean, 27 in Latin America overall, and 48 in Europe. Similarly, the use of contraceptives is also widespread, estimated at 79% of the female population (in the upper third of countries in the Western Hemisphere).
Cuba's population is multiethnic, reflecting its complex colonial origins. Intermarriage between diverse groups is widespread, and consequently there is some discrepancy in reports of the country's racial composition: whereas the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami determined that 62% of Cubans are black, the 2002 Cuban census found that a similar proportion of the population, 65.05%, was white.
In fact, the Minority Rights Group International determined that "An objective assessment of the situation of Afro-Cubans remains problematic due to scant records and a paucity of systematic studies both pre- and post-revolution. Estimates of the percentage of people of African descent in the Cuban population vary enormously, ranging from 34% to 62%".
A study from 2014 found the autosomal genetic ancestry in Cuba to be 72% European, 20% African and 8% Native American; 35% of maternal lineages derived from Cuban Native Americans, compared to 39% from Africa and 26% from Europe, but male lineages were exclusively European (82%) and African (18%), indicating the historical bias towards mating between foreign men and native women rather than the inverse.
Asians make up about 1% of the population, and are largely of Chinese ancestry, followed by Filipinos, Japanese and Vietnamese. Many are descendants of farm laborers brought to the island by Spanish and American contractors during the 19th and early 20th century. The currently recorded number of Cubans with Chinese ancestry is 114,240.
Afro-Cubans are descended primarily from the Yoruba people, as well as several thousand North African refugees, most notably the Sahrawi Arabs of Western Sahara.
Immigration and emigration
Immigration and emigration have played a prominent part in Cuba's demographic profile. Between the 18th and early 20th century, large waves of Canarian, Catalan, Andalusian, Galician, and other Spanish people immigrated to Cuba. Between 1899–1930 alone, close to a million Spaniards entered the country, though many would eventually return to Spain. Other prominent immigrant groups included French, Portuguese, Italian, Russian, Dutch, Greek, British, and Irish, as well as small number of descendants of U.S. citizens who arrived in Cuba in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Post-revolution Cuba has been characterized by significant levels of emigration, which has led to a large and influential diaspora community. During the three decades after January 1959, more than one million Cubans of all social classes — constituting 10% of the total population — emigrated to the United States, a proportion that matches the extent of emigration to the U.S. from the Caribbean as a whole during that period.Other common destinations include Spain, the United Kingdom, Canada, Mexico, and Sweden, among others. Those who left the country typically did so by sea, in small boats and fragile rafts. On September 9, 1994, the U.S. and Cuban governments agreed that the U.S. would grant at least 20,000 visas annually in exchange for Cuba's pledge to prevent further unlawful departures on boats.
In 2010, the religious affiliation of the country was estimated by the Pew Forum to be 65% Christian (60% Roman Catholic or about 6.9 million in 2016, 5% Evangelical Protestant or about 575,000 in 2016), 23% unaffiliated, 17% folk religion (such as santería), and the remaining 0.4% consisting of other religions.
Cuba is officially a secular state. Religious freedom increased through the 1980s, with the government amending the constitution in 1992 to drop the state's characterization as atheistic.
Roman Catholicism is the largest religion, with its origins rooted in Spanish colonization. Despite less than half of the population identifying as Catholics in 2006, it nonetheless 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. Prior to each papal visit, the Cuban government pardoned prisoners as a humanitarian gesture.
The government's relaxation of restrictions on house churches in the 1990s led to "an explosion of Pentecostalism", with some groups claiming as many as 100,000 members. However, mainline evangelical sects, organized into the umbrella Cuban Council of Churches, remain much more powerful.
The religious landscape of Cuba is also strongly defined by syncretisms of various kinds. Christianity is often practiced in tandem with Santería, a mixture of Catholicism and mostly African faiths, which include a number of cults. La Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre (the Virgin of Cobre) is the Catholic patroness of Cuba, and a symbol of Cuban culture. In Santería, she has been syncretized with the goddess Oshun.
Cuba also hosts small communities of Jews (500 in 2012), Muslims, and members of the Bahá'í Faith.
Several well-known Cuban religious figures have operated outside the island, including the humanitarian and author Jorge Armando Pérez.
The Cuban state claims to adhere to socialistprinciples in organizing its largely state-controlled planned economy. Most of the means of production are owned and run by the government and most of the labor force is employed by the state. Recent years have seen a trend toward more private sector employment. By 2006, public sector employment was 78% and private sector 22%, compared to 91.8% to 8.2% in 1981. Cuba's government spending as a percentage of GDP is 78.1 percent. Any firm wishing to hire a Cuban must pay the Cuban government, which in turn will pay the employee in Cuban pesos. The average monthly wage as of July 2013 is 466 Cuban pesos, which are worth about US$19.
Cuba has a dual currency system, whereby most wages and prices are set in Cuban pesos (CUP), while the tourist economy operates with Convertible pesos (CUC), set at par with the US dollar. Every Cuban household has a ration book (known as libreta) entitling it to a monthly supply of food and other staples, which are provided at nominal cost.
Before Fidel Castro's 1959 revolution, Cuba was one of the most advanced and successful countries in Latin America. Cuba's capital, Havana, was a "glittering and dynamic city". The country's economy in the early part of the century, fuelled by the sale of sugar to the United States, had grown wealthy. Cuba ranked 5th in the hemisphere in per capita income, 3rd in life expectancy, 2nd in per capita ownership of automobiles and telephones, and 1st in the number of television sets per inhabitant. Cuba's literacy rate, 76%, was the fourth highest in Latin America. Cuba also ranked 11th in the world in the number of doctors per capita. Several private clinics and hospitals provided services for the poor. Cuba's income distribution compared favorably with that of other Latin American societies. However, income inequality was a profound issue between city and countryside, especially between whites and blacks. Cubans lived in abysmal poverty in the countryside. A thriving middle class, according to PBS, held the promise of prosperity and social mobility. According to Cuba historian Louis Perez of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, "Havana was then what Las Vegas has become."
After the Cuban revolution and before the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba depended on Moscow for substantial aid and sheltered markets for its exports. The removal of these subsidies sent the Cuban economy into a rapid depression known in Cuba as the Special Period. Cuba took limited free market-oriented measures to alleviate severe shortages of food, consumer goods, and services. These steps included allowing some self-employment in certain retail and light manufacturing sectors, the legalization of the use of the US dollar in business, and the encouragement of tourism. Cuba has developed a unique urban farm system (the organopónicos) to compensate for the end of food imports from the Soviet Union. It's widely viewed that the U.S. embargo which initiated as a result of discontent with nationalization of U.S.-citizen-held property and later perceived human rights violations hurts the Cuban economy. In 2009, the Cuban Government estimated they lose $685 million annually from the US embargo.
The leadership of Cuba has called for reforms in the country's agricultural system. In 2008, Raúl Castro began enacting agrarian reforms to boost food production, as at that time 80% of food was imported. The reforms enacted are aimed at expanding land usage and increasing efficiency. Venezuela supplies Cuba with an estimated 110,000 barrels (17,000 m3) a day of oil in exchange for money and the services of some 44,000 Cubans, most of them medical personnel, in Venezuela. Estimates place Venezuelan assistance at over 20% of the Cuban GDP for 2008–2010, similar to the aid flows from the Soviet Union in 1985–1988.
In 2005, Cuba had exports of US$2.4 billion, ranking 114 of 226 world countries, and imports of US$6.9 billion, ranking 87 of 226 countries. Its major export partners are Canada 17.7%, China 16.9%, Venezuela 12.5%, Netherlands 9%, and Spain 5.9% (2012). Cuba's major exports are sugar, nickel, tobacco, fish, medical products, citrus fruits, and coffee; imports include food, fuel, clothing, and machinery. Cuba presently holds debt in an amount estimated to be $13 billion, approximately 38% of GDP. According to the Heritage Foundation, Cuba is dependent on credit accounts that rotate from country to country. Cuba's prior 35% supply of the world's export market for sugar has declined to 10% due to a variety of factors, including a global sugar commodity price drop that made Cuba less competitive on world markets. It was announced in 2008 that wage caps would be abandoned to improve the nation's productivity.
In 2010, Cubans were allowed to build their own houses. According to Raúl Castro, they will be able to improve their houses with this new permission, but the government will not endorse these new houses or improvements. There is virtually no homelessness in Cuba, and 85% of Cubans own their own homes and pay no property taxes or interest on their mortgages. Mortgage payments can’t exceed 10% of the combined household income.
On August 2, 2011, The New York Times reported Cuba as reaffirming their intent to legalize "buying and selling" of private property before the year's end. According to experts, the private sale of property could "transform Cuba more than any of the economic reforms announced by President Raúl Castro's government". It will cut more than one million state jobs, including party bureaucrats who resist the changes. The new economic reforms effectively created a new economic system, referred by some as the "New Cuban Economy". In October 2013, Raúl said he intends to merge the two currencies. As of August 2016, the dual currency system remains in force.
In August 2012, a specialist of the "Cubaenergia Company" announced the opening of Cuba's first Solar Power Plant. As a member of the Cubasolar Group, there was also a mention of 10 additional plants in 2013.
Cuba's natural resources include sugar, tobacco, fish, citrus fruits, coffee, beans, rice, potatoes, and livestock. The output of Cuba's nickel mines that year was 71,000 tons, approaching 4% of world production.As of 2013 its reserves were estimated at 5.5 million tons, over 7% of the world total. Sherritt International of Canada operates a large nickel mining facility in Moa. Cuba is also a major producer of refined cobalt, a by-product of nickel mining operations.
Oil exploration in 2005 by the US Geological Survey revealed that the North Cuba 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 started to test-drill these locations for possible exploitation.