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By Beachcomber, retrieved from Wikipedia
Nov 2, 2003, 16:52
The Republic of Cuba is an archipelago in the northern Caribbean, in between the Caribbean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. To the north are found the United States and the Bahamas, to the west Mexico, to the south the Cayman Islands and Jamaica, and to the southeast Haiti.
Cuba and its originally Amerindian population (Taino, Siboney and Guanajatabey) came under Spanish control in the 16th century. The colony's struggle for independence started in 1868 and continued during the 19th century until the Spanish-American War of 1898. The United States then occupied the island until recognising independence in 1902, though limited by the Platt Amendment (revoked in 1934), after which the US continued to exercise considerable control over Cuban affairs.
Che Guevara, Fidel Castro, Raúl Castro and a small rebel army of less than 100 individuals were one of many guerilla groups that opposed Fulgencio Batista. Castro subsumed these other groups quickly and took over Cuba's government in 1959. When Castro started to execute political opponents, nationalize all private property and promote ties to communist countries, relations with the US rapidly deteriorated. Castro claimed he was "always a communist" and soon turned to Soviet backing and trade ties, declared the Revolution socialist in 1961, began socializing the economy and set up a Leninist style government led by the newly-recreated Communist Party of Cuba. A Constitution of Soviet inspiration was implemented in 1976.
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the country, which the Soviets subsidized by $6 billion per year suffered a major economic setback, but has been steadily recovering since then, while maintaining a socialist economy. There is only one party in Cuba. In 2002 after a national referendum socialism was recognized in the constitution as the firm and unchangeable system (this was in response to the rejected petition by the Varela Project to have a different referendum, mentioned below).
Cuba is one of the most advanced Latin American countries in areas such as medicine and education.
Cuba is a "Communist state", or a parliamentary republic led by a Communist Party. Fidel Castro has been the head of state and head of government since 1959, first as prime minister and after the abolition of that office in 1976 as president. He is also the First Secretary of the Cuban Communist Party, and commander in chief of the armed forces.
The unicameral Cuban parliament is the National Assembly of People's Power or Asamblea Nacional del Poder Popular. Its 609 members are "elected" to serve five-year terms. The candidates are nominated by people and independent political organisations (not the Communist Party). Independents who are not members of the Cuban Communist Party are occasionally "elected." The Communist Party is constitutionally recognised as Cuba's only legal political party.
Other political issues include illegal emigration to the US, the economic and humanitarian embargo enforced by the United States (strengthened in 1996 by the Helms-Burton Act), the government imprisonment of political dissidents, human rights abuses, and the Guantanamo Problem.
In 2001 an attempt was made by Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and others, operating as the Varela Project, to force a national plebiscite using provisions in the Constitution of Cuba which provided for citizen initiative. If accepted by the government and approved by "public vote," the amendments would have established such things as freedom of association, freedom of speech, freedom of press, as well as the freedom to start private businesses. The Petition was however refused by Castro, and a subsequent crackdown resulted in the imprisonment of 75 political prisoners for terms of up to 28 years.
Cuba is divided into 14 provinces of 169 municipalities, and one special municipality (the Isla de la Juventud).
The island consists mostly of flat to rolling plains, with more rugged hills and mountains primarily in the southeast and the highest point is the Pico Real del Turquino at 2,005 m. The local climate is tropical, though moderated by trade winds. There is a drier season from November to April, and a rainier season from May to October. Havana is the largest city and capital, other major cities include Santiago de Cuba and Camagüey.
Cuba continues its public ownership of the economy and has shown itself unwilling to implement "free market" reforms. Tourism has become one of the largest sources of income for Cuba and it has put the American dollar into circulation in parts of Cuba where tourists go.
The Cuban economy was hit hard in the early 1990s following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Comecon economic bloc, with which it had traded predominantly. More recent problems include high oil prices, recessions in key export markets such as sugar and nickel, damage from hurricanes (most recently an estimated 1 billion dollars economic damage from hurricane Charley), depressed tourism, and faltering world economic conditions. In late 2003, and early 2004, both tourism levels and nickel prices increased, as has the Cuban trade with the USA. One other factor in the "recovery" of the Cuban economy is the remittances of Cuban-Americans (which constitute one-third of the Cuban Economy). Cuba currently trades with almost every nation in the world except the US. Cuba owes billions in Paris Club debt to nations such as France, Japan and Germany.
Cuba is a multiracial society with a population of either mixed (mulatto) or more specific Spanish and African origins. Former Cuban Dictator Fulgencio Batista was of mulatto ancestry and it is rumored that racism was one of the reasons he was ousted from power. There is also a small ethnic Chinese community. The largest organised religion is the Roman Catholic Church. Afro-Cuban or Santería religions, a blend of native African religions and Roman Catholicism, are widely practiced in Cuba. Officially, Cuba had been an atheist state for most of the Castro era, but religious restrictions have been relaxed since 1991 and the state secularised. Smaller Protestant and Jewish minorities also exist.
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