The Republic of Cuba is an archipelago in the northern Caribbean that lies at the confluence of 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.
- Main article: History of Cuba
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 occupied the island until its independence was granted in 1902, though limited by the Platt Amendment (revoked in 1934), after which the US continued to have a major influence in Cuban affairs.
Che Guevara, Fidel Castro Ruz, Camilo Cienfuegos, Raúl Castro Ruz and their rebel army were one of many guerilla groups that opposed the dictator Fulgencio Batista. Castro's 'July 26 Movement' subsumed these other groups quickly and took over Cuba's government in 1959, following its victory against Batista's military forces. At the time when Batista was deposed, 75% of Cuba's farmable land was owned by foreign individuals or foreign companies (mostly US companies). The new revolutionary government adopted land reforms and confiscated much of the property of those foreign companies. As a result, relations with the USA rapidly deteriorated. At first, Castro was reluctant to discuss his plans for the future, but eventually he declared himself a communist, explained that he was trying to build socialism in Cuba, and opened diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union. A new government, led by the reborn Communist Party of Cuba, began carrying out the economic reforms that Castro had promised. Among other things, healthcare and education were made freely available to all Cubans for the first time. After some delay, a Constitution of Soviet inspiration was adopted in 1976.
For several decades, Cuba received a large Soviet subsidy, whereby Cuba provided the Soviet Union with sugar and the Soviets provided Cuba with oil. Part of this oil was consumed by Cuba, while the remainder was sold on the world market for a profit of several billion dollars. In return for this subsidy from the Soviet Union, Cuba supported communist movements throughout Latin America (Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, Colombia and Chile, among others) and Africa (Angola, Mozambique and Ethiopia). In Angola alone, Cuba had over 50,000 troops. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 dealt Cuba a giant economic blow and when the Soviets stopped their 6 billion Dollars per year subsidy, the Cuban communist government called for "a special period" of recovery. Despite being denied access to development aid from the IMF and World Bank because Cuba is in arrears to its Paris Club debtors to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars, Cuba's economy has not collapsed, although its per-capita income is still lower than it was in 1989 (but rising steadily). Cuba's economy today is roughly split into three parts: agriculture (tobacco, sugar, citrus), mining (nickel), and tourism.
In 1996, the Clinton Administration enacted the Helms-Burton law. This law states, among other things, that any foreign company that "knowingly traffics in property in Cuba confiscated without compensation from a U.S. person" can be subjected to litigation and that company's leadership can be barred from entry into the United States. Sanctions may be applied to non-U.S. companies trading with Cuba. This legislation was enacted after the shootdown of two civilian planes by the Cuban regime. 
. This extraterritorial U.S. legislation is considered highly controversial, and the US embargo was condemned for the 13th time in 2004 by the General Assembly of the United Nations, by 179 countries. Additionally, US Congress members from both parties have openly criticized the ongoing balance of resources which have been committed to enforcing this embargo. 
Cuba's major trading partners include Spain, Canada, France, Italy, United Kingdom and Japan. The U.S. embargo against Cuba applies to all goods, except the export of medicine and medical products and agricultural commodities to Cuba, which are authorized by law. U.S. agriculture companies are free to trade with Cuba, provided that Cuba pays in cash prior to delivery. Most travel by U.S. citizens to Cuba is banned by law. Nevertheless, some U.S. citizens illegally visit Cuba by traveling through Mexico, Canada or the Bahamas, and are subsequently liable to large fines if prosecuted, although it has been reported that the US authorities are not overly strict with ordinary travellers not involved in any criminal activity.
Main article: Politics of Cuba
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 of the Councils of State and Ministers. He is also the member of the National Assembly of People's Power from the municipality of Santiago de Cuba since 1976, 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, without opposition. The candidates, who may or may not be members of the Cuban Communist Party, are nominated by pro-government social and political organizations. The Communist Party is constitutionally recognised as Cuba's only legal political party, but is forbidden by law to nominate candidates. However this is largely a moot point since no known opponents of the government have been elected since the revolution.
In 2001 an attempt was made by Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and others, operating as the Varela Project, to have 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 the National Assembly, and a subsequent crackdown resulted in the imprisonment of 75 political prisoners for terms of up to 28 years on charges of collaborating with and receiving money from the US government. See Human rights in Cuba
Main article: Provinces of Cuba
Cuba is divided into 14 provinces of 169 municipalities, and one special municipality (the Isla de la Juventud).
Main article: Geography of Cuba
The elongated island of Cuba is the largest island in the Caribbean and is bounded to the north by the Straits of Florida and the greater North Atlantic Ocean, to the northwest by the Gulf of Mexico, to the west by the Yucatan Channel, to the south by the Caribbean Sea, and to the east by the Windward Passage. The Republic comprises the entire island, including many outlying islands such as the Isle of Youth, previously known as the Isle of Pine, with the exception of Guantanamo Bay, a naval base that has been leased by the United States since 1903. The mainland is the world's 16th largest island.
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. Some of the well-known smaller towns are Baracoa which was the first Spanish settlement on Cuba, as well as Trinidad and Bayamo .
Main article: Economy of Cuba
The economy of Cuba is based on state ownership with some small scale private enterprise existing at the fringes. Tourism has become one of the largest sources of income for Cuba, and in 1993 the U.S. dollar was made legal tender (the country operated under a dual-currency system); this arrangement was, however, revoked on 25 October 2004.
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. One other factor in the recovery of the Cuban economy is the remittances of Cuban-Americans (which constitute almost 3% of the Cuban Economy, by some estimates). Cuba currently trades with almost every nation in the world (including the U.S.). However, Cuba owes billions in Paris Club debt to nations such as France, Japan and Germany.
Cuba is notable for its national organic agriculture initiative, undertaken in order to feed a population faced with starvation. In the early 1990s, post-Soviet Union, Cuba lost over 70% of agricultural chemical imports, over 50% of food imports, and an equally significant amount of oil. Its agricultural sector, built on a large-scale, mechanized, chemical-based model, was instantly crippled. By restructuring its agricultural industry, and focusing scientific efforts on organic solutions, Cuba managed to rapidly and successfully convert the country to entirely organic production. Currently, only organic agriculture is permitted by law.
Main article: Culture of Cuba
|Date||English Name||Local Name||Remarks
|January 1||Revolution Victory Day||Triunfo de la Revolución||The former dictator Fulgencio Batista fled in the night from December 31, 1958 to January 1, 1959, marking the victory of the Revolution led by Fidel Castro, who has been President since then
|May 1 ||Labor Day||Día de los trabajadores||International Labour Day
|July 26||Commemoration of the Assault of the Moncada garrison||Asalto al cuartel Moncada||In the morning of July 26, 1953, some 160 men under the command of Fidel Castro attacked the Moncada army garrison in Santiago de Cuba, Cuba's second-largest city. Although this action crushingly failed, it is seen as the beginning of the Castro-led insurrection that expelled dictator Fulgencio Batista on January 1, 1959 and established a communist government in Havana thereafter
|October 10||Independence Day||Día de la Independencia||This day in 1868, Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, "Father of the Homeland", gave freedom to his slaves and started the independence war against the Spanish colonial power
|December 25||Christmas Day||Navidad||Prohibited for decades in revolutionary Cuba, the Christmas celebration (and the corresponding holiday) was reinstalled in 1998 after Pope John Paul II visited Cuba
Main articles: Santería, Palo Monte, Catholicism
The religious landscape of Cuba is strongly marked by syncretisms of various kinds. Though officially Cuba is an atheist state, religious practice is allowed and, especially since 1992, common. Though the papal visit to Cuba has strengthened official Catholicism, most Cubans share a motley of faiths that include popular Catholicism, over 50 versions of Protestantism, spiritism, African-derived beliefs. The most important currents of these are Regla de Ocha (known as Santería), which derives from Yoruban religion, Regla de Palo Monte, which derives from Congo-based religions, and the Sociedad Secreta Abakuá , which derives from the secret men's societies in the region of Calabar, in south-eastern Nigeria. Other religious manifestations include freemasonry and pentecostal churches.
It is assumed that Santería and popular Catholicism are the most widely followed religious beliefs in Cuba, though these are by no means exclusive, and one can easily be a follower of several religious currents at the same time, as well as being a member of the communist party. Pentacostalism is also growing rapidly, and the Assemblies of God alone claims a membership of over 100,000 people.
Cuba once had a small but vibrant Jewish population, and Havana still has one or two active synagogues.
In Cuba the 6th of January is the "Dia de los Reyes Magos" which in English means "Day of Kings" is celebrated to commemorate the day that the Three wise men came to visit Jesus according to the Gospels. As in most Latin American countries as well as Spain, this day is celebrated in conjunction with, or sometimes instead of Christmas Day.
Important religious festivals include various days dedicated to the saints such as the "Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre " (the Virgin of Cobre, Cuba's patron saint, syncretised with Santería's Ochún ) on September 8, and san Lázaro (Lazarus) (syncretised with Babalu Ayé ), on December 17