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Cuba

Written by Staff Writer

Country Overview:
The native Amerindian population of Cuba began to decline after the European discovery of the island by Christopher COLUMBUS in 1492 and following its development as a Spanish colony during the next several centuries. Large numbers of African slaves were imported to work the coffee and sugar plantations, and Havana became the launching point for the annual treasure fleets bound for Spain from Mexico and Peru. Spanish rule, marked initially by neglect, became increasingly repressive, provoking an independence movement and occasional rebellions that were harshly suppressed. It was US intervention during the Spanish-American War in 1898 that finally overthrew Spanish rule. The subsequent Treaty of Paris established Cuban independence, which was granted in 1902 after a three-year transition period. In an uprising known as the “Revolt of the Sergeants,” Ruben Fulgencio Batista Zaldívar took over the Cuban government on September 4, 1933. The coup overthrew the liberal government of Geraldo Machado, and marked the beginning of the army’s influence as an organized force in the running of the government. It also signaled Batista’s emergence as self-appointed chief of the armed forces, king-maker and favored U.S. strong man. With the support of the US government and the mafia Batista ruled Cuba with an iron fist with scant regard for democracy or the rights of Cubans. Fidel CASTRO led a rebel army to victory in 1959; his rule held the subsequent regime together for nearly five decades, even with a US embargo that has lasted from 1960 till the present day. He stepped down as president in February 2008 in favor of his younger brother Raul CASTRO. Cuba’s Communist revolution, with Soviet support, was exported throughout Latin America and Africa during the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. The country is now slowly recovering from a severe economic downturn in 1990, following the withdrawal of former Soviet subsidies, worth $4 billion to $6 billion annually. Cuba portrays its difficulties as the result of the US embargo in place since 1961. Illicit migration to the US – using homemade rafts, alien smugglers, air flights, or via the southwest border – is a continuing problem. The US Coast Guard intercepted 2,864 individuals attempting to cross the Straits of Florida in fiscal year 2006.

Location:
Caribbean, island between the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean, 150 km south of Key West, Florida

Geographic coordinates:
21 30 N, 80 00 W

Area:
Total: 110,860 sq km, land: 110,860 sq km, water: 0 sq km

Area – Comparative:
Slightly smaller than Pennsylvania

Land boundaries:
Total: 29 km, border countries: US Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay 29 km

Coastline:
3,735 km

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:
Highest point: Pico Turquino 2,005 m

Natural Resources:
The east coast is subject to hurricanes from August to November (in general, the country averages about one hurricane every other year); droughts are common

Population:
11,423,952 (July 2008 est.)

Nationality:
Noun: Cuban(s)

Nationality:
Adjective: Cuban

Ethnic groups:
White 65.1%, mulatto and mestizo 24.8%, black 10.1% (2002 census)

Religions:
Nominally 85% Roman Catholic prior to CASTRO assuming power; Protestants, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jews, and Santeria are also represented

Languages:
Spanish

Country Name:
Cuba

Government Type:
Communist state

Capital Name:
Havana

Independence:
20 May 1902 (from Spain 10 December 1898; administered by the US from 1898 to 1902); not acknowledged by the Cuban Government as a day of independence

National Holiday:
Triumph of the Revolution, 1 January (1959)

Constitution:
24 February 1976; amended July 1992 and June 2002

Legal System:
Based on Spanish civil law and influenced by American legal concepts, with large elements of Communist legal theory; has not accepted compulsory ICJ jurisdiction

Executive Branch:
President of the Council of State and President of the Council of Ministers Gen. Raul CASTRO Ruz (president since 24 February 2008); First Vice President of the Council of State and First Vice President of the Council of Ministers Gen. Jose Ramon MACHADO Ventura (since 24 February 2008); note – the president is both the chief of state and head of government

Head of Government:
President of the Council of State and President of the Council of Ministers Gen. Raul CASTRO Ruz (president since 24 February 2008); First Vice President of the Council of State and First Vice President of the Council of Ministers Gen. Jose Ramon MACHADO Ventura (since 24 February 2008)

Cabinet:
Council of Ministers proposed by the president of the Council of State and appointed by the National Assembly or the 31-member Council of State, elected by the Assembly to act on its behalf when it is not in session

Elections:
President and vice presidents elected by the National Assembly for a term of five years; election last held 24 February 2008 (next to be held in 2013)

About the author

Staff Writer