Cuba. A land where the music is good, the drink flows freely (at least where the tourists are) and the tourists come for both. Oh, and it's famous for its cigars and Communism.
A brief history of Cuba: Cuba was a island in the Caribbean inhabited by the native Tainos before the Spaniards arrived in the 1500s and colonized the place. The Tainos who weren't killed off through disease were assimilated into the colonist population. The Spanish colonists brought in African (mostly Yoruban, though they were from many different parts of Africa) slaves to operate plantations and such.
Eventually, the Spanish colonists became upset with Spain and started to fight a war of liberation, which bled on for decades on and off
of some of the most intensive fighting in the history of the Americas and featured the first formal use of Concentration Camps
. All of this generally caused a great deal of instability and made Spain look like it had egg on its' face before
the United States, flexing its muscles on the world stage, became involved due to popular outrage turning Cuba into a cause celebre. First unofficially and at a grass roots level, and then Not So Unofficially.
After decades of being the Cuban rebels' most popular support base, it entered the war claiming that Spain had attacked the US, following the still-mysterious 1898 sinking of the USS Maine
off the Cuban coast. The war became called the Spanish-American War; the US was victorious and Cuba became "independent"note
. During this time a chess player named Capablanca became famous around the world. He went on to become a Chess Master and is now regarded as one of the greatest players of all time.
Of course, newly independent Cuba faced several problems, not the least of which being that it was not-so-independent: the establishment of the now-infamous Guantanamo Bay military base was just one of the many strings attached to the country's independence under the terms of something known as the Teller and later Platt Amendments. According to these, the US gave Cuba its nominal independence, though the American shadow continued to hover over Cuba but that sort of went awry when Cubans started asking for a greater voice in government coupled by diplomacy from FDR.
This status quo remained more or less until the reign of "President"/dictator Fulgencio Batista, who maintained strong ties with the US government and even moreso with "legitimate" US businesses. While the role of the Mafia in pre-Revolutionary Cuba is heavily exaggerated, it was definitely present on both sides of the Florida straits. All of this made it seem like Batista would be able to continue lording over like so many other strongmen had before him. But this state of affairs began to change when clamor for reform on the island coupled with growing US antipathy towards supporting his regime (particularly since he also wanted Guantanamo Bay back) ate away at his support until the 1959 Cuban Revolution, in which Fidel Castro
took over the country. The Castro regime's policies rapidly led to a complete breakdown of relations between Cuba and the West.
The resulting "Bay of Pigs"
amphibious assault by a troop of Cuban exiles was a Last Stand
on par of Thermopylae tactically, but strategically and politically was an embarrassing failure. Already heavily leaning towards the authoritarian left, Castro swung fully towards an alliance with the Soviet Union; inviting military forces in to act as a counterbalance to another attempt. Things got hairy during the Cuban Missile Crisis
, wherein the US learned that the Soviet Union had transferred some missiles to Cuba. After several days of nuclear brinkmanship and frantic diplomacy, the two superpowers avoided all-out war, leading to a relative thaw in US-USSR relationships. Castro was not present at the talks concerning the crisis, particularly because the Soviets were not sure if they could rely on him or allies like Che to keep their cool.
From 1966 to 1989 Cuba would aid the Angolan military in its military conflict, first against Portugal
, then against an alliance of the rebel group UNITA and Apartheid South Africa in the 1960s. Cuba financed a number of revolutionary insurgencies around the world, including the Sandinistas, the South African rebel organizations such as the ANC. Che Guevara would die in this type of effort in Bolivia, most likely executed to avoid a trial. As a result of this Castro's reputation abroad is... mixed
. On one hand, he's considered a ruthless, opportunistic tyrant with a thirst for military adventurism that often was uglier than the US or even the Apartheid government cared to stomach. On the other, he is considered by some one of the founding fathers of Namibia, Angola, and racially equal South Africa (to the point where Nelson Mandela and Fidel Castro were reported to be close friends).
The status quo in Cuba tottered along until the Soviet Union's collapse in the late 1980's. This had an immediate and devastating effect on the Cuban economy since USSR was the main commercial partner of Cuba for decades, while the U.S insisted on maintaining an embargo on the economy hoping the regime would collapse. In what is known as "the Special Period" (early 90s), Cuba's economy suffered immensely, with simple necessities like toilet paper and food becoming even harder to find. Cuba started to focus more on tourism, and enough trade was attracted from Europe to slow the descent into the Crapsack World
-ness of some of its Caribbean neighbors. Cuba continues to suffer shortages of every day commodities, a situation not helped by the ongoing US embargo- fiercely maintained through every US Presidential Administration for the past fifty years- or the Castro government's failures to utilize the rest of the world market and unstinting hostility towards the US.
Until his official retirement in 2008, Castro was one of the longest-serving leaders in world history who wasn't a monarch. His brother Raul has taken over and he's no young 'un; what will happen after his
passing is anyone's guess.
If you like crumbling Spanish architecture, 1950s cars and lovely beaches uncluttered with stupid tourists
, ballet and the best music Latin America has to offer, modern Cuba is the place to go—unless you're American, in which case only go if you're willing to take your trip in multiple steps and hide the fact you've ever been there from the government, because it is a violation of the embargo and therefore a crime for a US citizen to visit Cuba and subject to strong suspicion from the Cuban government. Also notable is the country's human development (average healthcare, education, nutrition, life expectancy, et al.) which throughout the last decades has been higher than those of the countries that surround it and Latin America in general. All this despite the crumbling infrastructure, the secret police, the embargo, and the continued repression of free speech and human right abuses against those elements deemed "counter-revolutionary".
Cuba in fiction
- The Clive Cussler novel Cyclops
- The Airwolf episode "Mad Over Miami".
- The JAG episodes "Smoked", "Florida Straits" and "Camp Delta".
- The movie Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights is set in Cuba on the eve of the revolution.
- Cuba in Axis Powers Hetalia is a big guy who loathes America but hangs around with Canada.
- The Godfather Part II has a number of scenes set in pre-Castro Havana.
- Red Zone Cuba
- Our Man in Havana, a 1958 novel by Grahame Greene is about a British vacuum cleaner salesman coerced into spying for England shortly before Fidel Castro came to power. It was made into a film starring Alec Guinness.
- Juan of the Dead: A Zombie Apocalypse horror/comedy film shot on location in Havana.
- A subtle then-and-now gag in the Back to the Future series has the 1955 travel agency advertising "10 Days in Cuba!"
- In I Love Lucy, Ricky is Cuban (as was his actor, Desi Arnaz). The series ended two years before Castro came to power. Following the U.S. embargo, the episode "The Ricardos Visit Cuba" was not shown in syndication for several years.
- The 1990s revival of Flipper had a two-part episode, "Kidnapped", where Flipper was captured and taken to Cuba, necessitating our U.S. heroes illegally sneaking into the communist country to mount a rescue operation. Incidentally, the commies wanted Flipper as entertainment for a new resort hotel — how surprisingly capitalist of them.
One of the most notable things about Cubans to non-Cubans is their way of speaking Spanish. The stereotypical Cuban speaks Spanish quickly, slurring words and leaving off word endings. It's pretty similar to Puerto Rican Spanish.
Some characteristics of Cuban Spanish include...
- velarization of 'n' (so that pan [pan] becomes [paŋ])
- debuccalization of s in syllable coda (so that perros ['peros] becomes ['peroh])
- deletion of final intervocalic d (so that acabado [aka'bado] becomes [aca'bao])
- doubling consonants when an r is before them (so that parque ['paɾke] becomes ['pakke])
- r becoming l in certain situations (so that vivir [bi'biɾ] becomes [bi'bil])
Cubans in rural areas say things like 'comenos' (rather than 'comemos') and 'haiga' (a leftover from 17th century colonial Spanish, as opposed to modern 'haya'), although the latter can be found all throughout Latin America.
Cubans use different vocabulary, too. For example, 'coger' is a Perfectly Cromulent Word
in Cuban Spanish and only means 'to get' as opposed to the more obscene meaning of 'fuck' that it has in most of Spanish America. 'Papaya', however, is slang for vulva and so the Papaya fruit is called 'frutabomba' instead. 'Guagua' meaning bus is pretty well-known; it is also used in the Canary Islands and comes from the beeping sound that buses make. Cuban Spanish has quite a few loanwords from American English, like 'pulover' for shirt, 'chor' for shorts, and (for some people!) 'frigidaire' for refrigerator. Cubans can say 'elevador' (whereas the word is 'acensor' in many other places), 'keik' and 'pai' (cake and pie). The diminutive for words with a t in the last syllable is formed with 'ico/ica' rather than 'ito/ita' so that 'chiquita' becomes 'chiquitica' rather than 'chiquitita' (and yes, that ABBA song does
It's important to note that not all Cubans speak the same way. The phonological changes mentioned above may change depending on the speaker so that some may not say 'pakke' or 'peroh' but keep other features. It varies, and there are different accents within Cuba, too.
The Cuban flag
The three blue stripes symbolize Cuba's eastern, central and western regions, each being a hotspot of the Anti-Spanish La Résistance
, and the two white stripes symbolize the purity of the revolution's cause
; at the hoist is a triangle, drenched in red with the blood of Cuba's fallen freedom fighters, within which is the white star of independence.