Cuba, the largest and most populated country in the Caribbean and fifth most populated country in the continent of North America after the United States, Mexico, Canada and Guatemala. 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 an 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 Yoruba, although 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 célèbre. First unofficially and at a grassroots 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 then-mysterious 1898 explosion and sinking of the USS Maine off the Cuban coast (a 1976 investigation revealed its boiler had exploded accidentally). 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 with 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 it 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 and his left-wing M-26-7 (26th of July Revolutionary Movement) took over the country after waging a fierce guerrilla war against Batista in the jungles and mountains. 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. Enough to convince the U.S. establishment to abandon support for anti-Castro insurgents inside Cuba, who were progressively defeated in the bloody but relatively unknown Escambray rebellion. 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, and accepting heavy Soviet economic aid that his country eventually became totally dependent on. 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 and the South African rebel organizations such as the ANC. They also sent soldiers and other advisors to aid the Arab nations in their attempts to wipe out Israel in the Yom Kippur War and earlier War of Attrition, and unsuccessfully attempted to start insurgencies in Bolivia and Venezuela (even sending soldiers to the latter at two separate points). 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. Cuba's enormous social spending and foreign adventurism had only ever been sustainable due to heavy Soviet aid, and they had no real systems in place to account for said aid stopping. This had an immediate and devastating effect on the Cuban economy since the USSR both the main commercial partner of Cuba for decades and the source of nearly a quarter of its entire economy via handouts in the form of $4-5 billion in annual subsidies. Cuban GDP contracted by over 25% in less than three years, in a time where the rest of the developing world (including its neighbor, the formerly very poor Dominican Republic) was rapidly getting richer. Unlike many other socialist states after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Cuba and the U.S did not normalize relations, and the U.S. maintained its embargo, 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 refusal to display fiscal responsibility, failures to utilize the rest of the world market, and unstinting hostility towards the US. However, it did partly recover from the hell of the 90s thanks to rolling back some socialist policies (for example, 11,600 positions in 32 government ministries were eliminated in 1993, Soviet-style farms were abandoned, and farmers were now legally allowed to sell the surplus from their yield), cutting social spending as a direct result of the latter (the government also raised the rates for public services such as telephone, transportation and electricity), and instituting minor liberal reforms, such as legalizing self-employment, decriminalizing the possession and circulation of foreign exchange, and introducing bonuses based on work performance. This drew Castro heavy internal criticism for having "abandoned the socialist revolution", prompting him to respond that he had not abandoned the goals of socialism, but that Cuba "has to be ready to conduct necessary changes to adapt to present world conditions." However, on a separate occasion he bitterly described his reforms as "concessions to the enemy."
Until his official retirement in 2008, Castro was one of the longest-serving leaders in world history who wasn't a monarch. His brother Raúl has taken over and he's no young 'un; what will happen after his passing is anyone's guess. So far, Raul's most notable domestic policies involve more liberalization of the Cuban economy, moving further away from the centrally planned economy (which even Fidel admitted in 2010 was not sustainable) it had previously possessed for decades. The heaviest changes occurred in 2011, effectively creating a new Cuban economic system; generally there was a decrease to government intervention and increase to foreign engagement, whether it be making it easy for foreigners to invest or easier for Cubans to travel to foreign countries. He even signed into law a bill creating a Special Economic Zone in the city of Mariel, where one hundred percent foreign ownership is permitted and foreign companies are able to transfer their profits abroad without paying the usual property taxes, sales taxes, or tariffs. Time will tell whether Raul Castro succeeds at his efforts, or whether his successor continues along the same path.
If you like crumbling Spanish architecture, 1950s cars, 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, as of December 2014, you were only allowed to go under one of the 12 reasons designated by the US government and with other restrictions such as only being allowed to buy $400 worth of goods (of which only $100 can be tobacco and/or alcohol products). Many of these restrictions and exemptions have been tightened or removed respectively starting in June 2017 (see this Wikivoyage page for more details for Americans wishing to travel to Cuba). All other travel to Cuba by US citizens (such as pure tourism) remain a violation of the embargo and therefore a crime. 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".
Since 2015, Cuba and the United States have restored diplomatic relations and there is increasing pressure to end the embargo, enraging much of the Cuban-American community. However, in 2017, many of these re-engagement policies have been rolled back, drawing cheers from the same parts of the Cuban American Community. note Whether or not this causes Cuba to become more democratic or collapse from pro-democracy pressure remains to be seen.
Cuba in fiction
- The Clive Cussler Dirk Pitt Adventures 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.
- The Godfather had a level set right before Castro's revolution.
- 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.
- The band Buena Vista Social Club became world famous in 1999 after acclaimed film director Wim Wenders made a documentary film about them. It featured aging musicians still performing well in their seventies and eighties, performing traditional songs. Their album Buena Vista Social Club became an international bestseller.
- The Discovery Channel series Cuban Chrome focuses on the old cars and the realities of keeping them running.
- The George Lopez Show has Victor Palmero, George's Cuban-American father in law that often expresses his hatred of Castro due to him and his family having to flee the island during The Revolution. The episode Fishing Cubans had him, George, and family friend Ernesto picking up Vic's brother Octavio in the middle of the Florida Straits as it as the only way he could leave Cuba.
- I Am Cuba is a famous Soviet propaganda film about life in the late Batista era and how the people of Cuba rose up in revolution.
- The original script for Resident Evil: Extinction, then called Afterlife, featured a brief scene of American refugee boats attempting to seek refuge in Cuba but were sunk by the Cuban navy gunboats.
- World War Z': Cuba manages to weather the zombie apocalypse better than any nation, along with Tibet and some other isolated countries. After the zombie war, Cuba became a democratic nation after Fidel Castro stepped down in favor of democratic elections. Post-war, Cuba is a first world nation with the Cuban peso taking the role of the U.S. Dollar as the international currency.
- The Fate of the Furious: has a scene where the main characters have a drag race in Havana's streets.
- Call of Duty: Black Ops: The first mission of the campaign takes place in Havana during the Bay of Pigs Invasion.
- Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories has Cuban exiles in the city.
- Splinter Cell: Blacklist has a mission in Guantanamo Bay.
- Driver 2: Havana appears as one of the game's four explorable cities (albeit heavily scaled down so it can fit on a PS1 disc), and was the first non-American city in the series as a whole. As expected, the streets are full of classic '50s automobiles, even the cop cars.
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 also use different vocabulary, leading to confusion among people who Did Not Do the Bloody Research. 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 'ascensor' 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 sound odd).
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