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Background: Fidel CASTRO led a rebel army to victory in 1959; his iron rule has held the country together since. Cuba’s communist revolution, with Soviet support, was exported throughout Latin America and Africa during the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. The country is now slowly recovering from a severe economic recession in 1990, following the withdrawal of former Soviet subsidies, worth $4 billion to $6 billion annually. Havana portrays its difficulties as the result of the US embargo in place since 1961. Illicit migration to the US – using homemade rafts, alien smugglers, or falsified visas – is a continuing problem. Some 3,000 Cubans took to the Straits of Florida in 2000; the US Coast Guard interdicted only about 35% of these.
Government type: Communist state
Capital: Havana
Currency: 1 Cuban peso (Cu$) = 100 centavos

Geography of Cuba

Location: Caribbean, island between the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean, south of Florida
Geographic coordinates: 21 30 N, 80 00 W
total: 110,860 sq. km
land: 110,860 sq. km
water: 0 sq. km
Land boundaries:

total: 29 km
border countries: US Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay 29 km
note: Guantanamo Naval Base is leased by the US and thus remains part of Cuba
Coastline: 3,735 km
Maritime claims:
exclusive economic zone: 200 nm
territorial sea: 12 nm
Climate: tropical; moderated by trade winds; dry season (November to April); rainy season (May to October)
Terrain: mostly flat to rolling plains, with rugged hills and mountains in the southeast
Elevation extremes:
lowest point: Caribbean Sea 0 m
highest point: Pico Turquino 2,005 m
Natural resources: cobalt, nickel, iron ore, copper, manganese, salt, timber, silica, petroleum, arable land
Land use:
arable land: 24%
permanent crops: 7%
permanent pastures: 27%
forests and woodland: 24%
other: 18% (1993 est.)
Irrigated land: 9,100 sq. km (1993 est.)
Natural hazards: the east coast is subject to hurricanes from August to October (in general, the country averages about one hurricane every other year); droughts are common
Environment – current issues:pollution of Havana Bay; overhunting threatens wildlife populations; deforestation
Environment – international agreements:
party to:  Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution
signed, but not ratified:  Antarctic-Environmental Protocol, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Marine Life Conservation
Geography – note: largest country in Caribbean

People of Cuba

Cuba is a multiracial society with a population of mainly Spanish and African origins. The largest organized religion is the Roman Catholic Church. Afro-Cuban religions, a blend of native African religions and Roman Catholicism, are widely practiced in Cuba. Officially, Cuba has been an atheist state for most of the Castro era. In 1962, the government of Fidel Castro seized and shut down more than 400 Catholic schools, claiming that they spread dangerous beliefs among the people. However, in 1991 the Communist Party lifted its prohibition against religious believers seeking membership and a year later the constitution was amended to characterize the state as secular instead of atheist.

Illicit migration is a continuing problem. Cubans attempt to depart the island and enter the US using homemade rafts, alien smugglers, direct flights, or falsified visas. Some 3,000 Cubans took to the Straits of Florida in 2000 and the US Coast Guard interdicted about 35% of these migrants. Cubans also use non-maritime routes to enter the US; some 2,400 Cubans arrived overland via the southwest border and direct flights to Miami.

Population: 11,346,670 (July 2005 est.)
Age structure:
0-14 years:  20.99% 
15-64 years:  69.14% 
65 years and over:  9.87%
Population growth rate: 0.37% 
Birth rate: 12.36 births/1,000 population 
Death rate: 7.33 deaths/1,000 population 
Net migration rate: -1.36 migrant(s)/1,000 population 
Infant mortality rate: 7.39 deaths/1,000 live births 
Life expectancy at birth:
total population:  76.41 years
male:  74.02 years
female:  78.94 years 
Total fertility rate: 1.6 children born/woman 
noun: Cuban(s)
adjective: Cuban
Ethnic groups: mulatto 51%, white 37%, black 11%, Chinese 1%
Religions: nominally 85% Roman Catholic prior to CASTRO assuming power; Protestants, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jews, and Santeria are also represented
Languages: Spanish
definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 95.7%
male: 96.2%
female: 95.3% (1995 est.)

History of Cuba

Spanish settlers established sugar cane and tobacco as Cuba’s primary products. As the native Indian population died out, African slaves were imported to work the plantations. Slavery was abolished in 1886.

Cuba was the last major Spanish colony to gain independence, following a 50-year struggle begun in 1850. Jose Marti, Cuba’s national hero, began the final push for independence in 1895. In 1898, after the USS Maine sunk in Havana Harbor on February 15 due to an explosion of undetermined origin, the United States entered the conflict. In December of that year Spain relinquished control of Cuba to the United States with the Treaty of Paris. On May 20, 1902, the United States granted Cuba its independence, but retained the right to intervene to preserve Cuban independence and stability under the Platt Amendment. In 1934, the amendment was repealed and the United States and Cuba reaffirmed the 1903 agreement which leased the Guantanamo Bay naval base to the United States.

Cuba was often ruled by military figures, who either obtained or remained in power by force. Fulgencio Batista, an army sergeant, organized a non-commissioned officer revolt in September 1933 and wielded significant power behind the scenes until he was elected president in 1940. Batista was voted out of office in 1944. Running for president again in 1952, Batista seized power in a bloodless coup three months before the election was to take place, suspended the balloting, and began ruling by decree.

Fidel Castro, who was running for a seat in the Chamber of Representatives, circulated a petition to depose Batista’s government on the grounds that it had illegitimately suspended the electoral process. On July 26, 1953 Castro led a failed attack on the Moncada army barracks near Santiago de Cuba and was jailed and subsequently went into exile in Mexico. While in Mexico, Castro organized the 26th of July Movement with the goal of overthrowing Batista, and the group sailed to Cuba on board the yatch Granma landing in the eastern part of the island in December 1956.

Batista’s dictatorial rule fueled increasing popular discontent and the rise of active urban resistance groups, a fertile political environment for Castro’s 26th of July Movement. Faced with a corrupt and ineffective military itself dispirited by a U.S. Government embargo on weapons sales to Cuba and public indignation and revulsion at his brutality toward opponents, Batista fled on January 1, 1959. Within months of taking control, Castro moved to consolidate power by marginalizing other resistance figures and imprisoning or executing opponents. As the revolution became more radical, hundreds of thousands of Cubans fled the island.

Castro declared Cuba a socialist state on April 16, 1961. For the next 30 years, Castro pursued close relations with the Soviet Union until the demise of the U.S.S.R. in 1991. Relations between the U.S. and Cuba deteriorated rapidly as the Cuban regime expropriated U.S. properties and moved towards adoption of a one-party Communist system. In response, the United States imposed an embargo on Cuba in October 1960, and broke diplomatic relations on January 3, 1961. Tensions between the two governments peaked during the October 1962 missile crisis.

Cuba Economy

Economy – overview: The government, the primary player in the economy, has undertaken limited reforms in recent years to stem excess liquidity, increase enterprise efficiency, and alleviate serious shortages of food, consumer goods, and services, but prioritizing of political control makes extensive reforms unlikely. Living standards for the average Cuban, without access to dollars, remain at a depressed level compared with 1990. The liberalized farmers’ markets introduced in 1994, sell above-quota production at market prices, expand legal consumption alternatives, and reduce black market prices. Income taxes and increased regulations introduced since 1996 have sharply reduced the number of legally self-employed from a high of 208,000 in January 1996. Havana announced in 1995 that GDP declined by 35% during 1989-93 as a result of lost Soviet aid and domestic inefficiencies. The slide in GDP came to a halt in 1994 when Cuba reported growth in GDP of 0.7%. Cuba reported that GDP increased by 2.5% in 1995 and 7.8% in 1996, before slowing down in 1997 and 1998 to 2.5% and 1.2% respectively. Growth recovered with a 6.2% increase in GDP in 1999 and a 5.6% increase in 2000. Much of Cuba’s recovery can be attributed to tourism revenues and foreign investment. Growth in 2001 should continue at the same level as the government balances the need for economic loosening against its concern for firm political control.

GDP: purchasing power parity – $19.2 billion (2000 est.)
GDP – real growth rate: 6.2% (1999 est.), 5.6% (2000 est.)
GDP – per capita: purchasing power parity – $1,700 (2000 est.)
GDP – composition by sector:
agriculture:  7%
industry:  37%
services:  56% (1998 est.)
Inflation rate (consumer prices): 0.3% (1999 est.)
Labor force: 4.3 million (2000 est.)
note:  state sector 75%, non-state sector 25% (1998)
Labor force – by occupation: agriculture 25%, industry 24%, services 51% (1998)
Unemployment rate: 6% (December 1999 est.), 5.5% (2000 est.)
revenues:  $13.5 billion
expenditures:  $14.3 billion (2000 est.)
Industries: sugar, petroleum, food, tobacco, textiles, chemicals, paper and wood products, metals (particularly nickel), cement, fertilizers, consumer goods, agricultural machinery
Industrial production growth rate: 6% (1995 est.), 5% (2000 est.)
Electricity – production: 14.358 billion kWh (1999)
Electricity – production by source:
fossil fuel:  94.2%
hydro:  0.7%
nuclear:  0%
other:  5.1% (1999)
Electricity – consumption: 13.353 billion kWh (1999)
Electricity – exports: 0 kWh (1999)
Electricity – imports: 0 kWh (1999)
Agriculture – products: sugar, tobacco, citrus, coffee, rice, potatoes, beans; livestock
Exports: $1.4 billion (f.o.b., 1999 est.), $1.8 billion (f.o.b., 2000 est.)
Exports – commodities: sugar, nickel, tobacco, fish, medical products, citrus, coffee
Exports – partners: Russia 25%, Netherlands 23%, Canada 16% (1999 est.)
Imports: $3.2 billion (c.i.f., 1999 est.), $3.4 billion (f.o.b., 2000 est.)
Imports – commodities: petroleum, food, machinery, chemicals, semi-finished goods, transport equipment, consumer goods
Imports – partners: Spain 18%, Venezuela 13%, Canada 8% (1999)
Debt – external: $11.1 billion (convertible currency, 1999); another $15 billion -$20 billion owed to Russia (2000)
Economic aid – recipient: $68.2 million (1997 est.)
Currency: Cuban peso (CUP)

Map of Cuba