Hello everyone, this will be a very long article. Of course, the length of the article will correspond to our interest in this country. A country that Americans, Russians, and the world all know about, that is Cuba. The content of the article is in the spirit of objectivity, focusing on the value of information and knowledge rather than criticism or praise.
The Country of Cuba: Familiar Yet Strange
Cuba is the largest island nation in the Caribbean, with the island of Cuba being the 17th largest island in the world. It is located 217km from the coast of the United States and 204km from the coast of Mexico. The coastline of Cuba stretches for 5,700km, with a portion of its coastline situated on the eastern part of the Gulf of Mexico.
Cuba is the only Caribbean country that has a coastline bordering North America, Central America, and the Caribbean. To the north, it shares a maritime border with the US state of Florida, to the east and northeast it shares borders with the Bahamas, to the southeast it shares a border with Haiti, to the south it shares borders with Jamaica and the British Overseas Territory of the Cayman Islands, and to the west it shares a border with Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.
Cuba is officially known as the Republic of Cuba, but it is currently the only socialist country in the Western Hemisphere.
From early on, Cuba has been the home of indigenous American tribes. In 1492, the explorer Christopher Columbus set foot on the island. It was he who changed the destiny of Cuba and many other countries forever. He claimed the island for Spain, which quickly took control of it, turning it into a center for slave trade and exporting sugar and coffee. The indigenous tribes were gradually replaced by groups of people from all over the world.
In 1898, the Spanish-American War broke out, and the United States emerged victorious. Spain ceded Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Guam to the United States for 20 million U.S. dollars and temporarily granted the United States control over Cuba.
In 1902, the Republic of Cuba was established. Under Cuba’s new constitution, the United States retained the right to intervene in Cuba’s affairs, monitor its finances, and control its foreign relations. In reality, Cuba was not independent during this period.
In 1952, the dictatorship of Batista was established, and Cuba came under increasing US intervention. On January 1, 1959, Batista was overthrown by Fidel Castro’s forces. Cuba was managed by the Communist Party.
Cuba nationalized about 1 billion U.S. dollars worth of U.S. assets in the country. In response, the United States imposed a trade embargo on Cuba. For the past 60 years, the US trade embargo has not been lifted. Cuba claims that the US embargo has caused a total of 138 billion US dollars in damage to its economy. Meanwhile, the US accuses Cuba of being a destabilizing factor in the region.
Cuba has a total area of 109,880 square kilometers, which is equivalent to the U.S state of Virginia. The current estimated population of Cuba according to World Population Review is 11,324,000 and is decreasing. In addition to the main island of Cuba, there are about 1,600 other smaller islands, with Isla de la Juventud, roughly translated as the Island of Youth or the Island of Young People, being the second largest island. The remaining islands are mostly small islands grouped together near the coast of the main island.
The terrain of Cuba is not too extreme, relatively low and flat. More than 1/4 of the area is hilly, forming three major regions: Guaniguanico in the west, Sierra del Escambray in the middle, and Sierra Maestra in the southeast. Among them, the southeastern mountain range is the highest and roughest. These mountains are covered with dense vegetation and stretch along the Caribbean coast. This is where the highest point in Cuba is located, Turquino Peak, which is 1,974 meters above sea level. The rest of the area is a wide plain with some insignificant hills.
There are at least 13 different soil groups in Cuba, mostly rich and fertile soils that can be cultivated for agriculture all year round. However, Cuba is not a rich country in terms of natural resources. For this reason, Cuba has to import many things that cannot be produced domestically. The country is almost horizontal in shape, while the terrain is vertical, and so are the rivers. Therefore, the rivers in Cuba are generally short and have limited flow. Of the nearly 600 streams and rivers here, 2/5 flow north and the rest flow south.
The wildlife in Cuba is also diverse with thousands of different plant and animal species. Among them are many unique species. Cuba is the home of the smallest bird in the world, the bee hummingbird, which is only about 6cm long and has bright, shimmering colors. In fact, people can mistake it for a mosquito, cricket or grasshopper. Cuba is also a favorite destination for flamingos, which often migrate to this country.
Recent photos taken in Cuba may look like they were taken in the 1960s. The capital and largest city of the country, Havana, is characterized by wide coastal roads and small, sparsely populated streets. Havana’s architectural style is diverse, ranging from buildings constructed in the late 16th century to modern high-rise buildings. Some condominium hotels built in the 1950s have significantly changed the city’s landscape. However, it still retains its old-fashioned charm, with many areas resembling an ancient city in Europe.
The Havana Old Town area, the former center of Havana, has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The capital city of Havana and its surrounding area are home to most of the country’s population. The city alone has a population of about 2.14 million people, accounting for 20% of Cuba’s population.
The city that follows closely, also located on the coast, is Santiago de Cuba. The architectural works and buildings here are more neat and tidy than Havana. Santiago de Cuba is characterized by its dome-shaped churches, wide streets and squares. Although it is the second largest city, it has only about 437,000 inhabitants. The city has a large suburban area of hills and sparsely populated areas. Santiago de Cuba is located in a closed bay area, suitable for yacht trips to explore the Caribbean sea.
Currently, Cuba is divided into 15 provinces with 168 cities and towns. There is one special municipality called Isla de la Juventud, which does not belong to any province, and is under the jurisdiction of the central government. Thus, there are 15 provinces and one special municipality.
From west to east, the provinces include Pinar Del Rio, Artemisia, La Habana, Mayabeque, Matanzas, Cienfuegos, Villa Clara, Sancti Spiritus, Ciego De Avila, Camaguey, Las Tunas, Granma, Holguin, Santiago de Cuba, Guantanamo (US Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay).
Another unique thing about Cuba is the classic cars that make up its streets. Daily transportation in Cuba is a proper showcase of classic cars. These cars have been used for over half a century, and those from the 1950s are not considered rare or old here.
Today, there are approximately 60,000 American vintage cars in Cuba, and experts estimate that about half of them were manufactured in the 1950s. 25% of them were produced in the 1940s, and even 25% were produced in the 1930s. This means that some of these cars are nearly 100 years old. These cars are often heirlooms, passed down from generation to generation.
In Cuba, there is a law that prohibits the export of these cars from the island. Only Cuban citizens and foreigners with permanent residence in the country are allowed to buy cars. It is curious to wonder how they have used these cars for so many years. In reality, the Cuban people have used a method called “taking the beard of one man and sticking it to the chin of another woman.” When they couldn’t get parts from the US, they used parts from Russia, China, and other countries to repair these cars.
When people learn about this, vintage car enthusiasts may feel a little sad, but they must accept it as a fact. Regardless, Cuba remains a living museum for classic cars. In addition, on the streets of Havana and Santiago de Cuba, it is not difficult to come across images of cars similar to Vietnamese cyclos. In urban and rural areas, there are still horse-drawn carriages on the roads.
Economy and Currency
Before 1959, Cuba was one of the most successful and advanced countries in Latin America. Its capital, Havana, was a vibrant and dynamic city. The country’s economy had developed through business and exports with the United States, and they had become wealthy. However, income inequality was deep-seated between white and non-white people, as well as between rural and urban areas.
After gaining independence, Cuba had close ties with the Soviet Union and other socialist countries. Despite being under US sanctions, the country still received significant support from Moscow. Cuba’s goods were still transported by the Soviet Union to be exported to its markets. Therefore, this is why despite the US economic embargo, Cuba still developed its economy, even providing aid to some African and Asian countries.
After the fall of the Soviet Union, Cuba quickly fell into a state of decline. The country’s leaders initially pushed for privatization and agricultural reforms to boost food production. New partners that became important to Cuba were Venezuela and China. To this day, Cuba is still viewed by Western countries as a planned economy, controlled more by the state than by market forces. Its economic freedom index is assessed to be very low.
Cuba is not a member of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, and statistical data is updated relatively slowly. According to the Heritage Foundation, a conservative organization in the US, Cuba’s current GDP converted by purchasing power parity is $155.9 billion. The average GDP per capita is $13,750 per year, and the unemployment rate is 2.3%. Many US news outlets estimate a higher unemployment rate than this.
Income inequality still occurs in this country. Cuba’s main trading partners today are Venezuela, China, Spain, and Russia. Cuba exports crude oil, nickel, medical products, sugar, tobacco, and coffee. It imports gasoline, food, machinery, equipment, and chemicals.
Cuba maintains the most unique dual-currency system in the world. This means that there are two types of currency in circulation in the country, both of which are called Peso. The official currency unit of Cuba is the Cuban Peso (CUP). However, Cuba has another currency called the Convertible Peso (CUC). Both are Peso, so it can be a real hassle for those who do not understand how they operate and convert.
1 Convertible Peso (CUC) is worth 1 US dollar and 25 CUP, 1 CUC = 1 USD = 25 CUP. There is a way to distinguish between CUP and CUC. CUP Peso is more common, with a lower value, and it features images of leaders. Convertible Peso features images of monuments, landscapes, or animals.
Climate and Landscape Tourism
Cuba has a tropical climate moderated by the sea. The average temperature ranges from 20 to 35 degrees Celsius throughout the year, which is quite ideal. Due to the influence of the Gulf Stream, a warm ocean current that loops around the island, Cuba’s climate is warmer and milder than neighboring areas in the US and Mexico. However, this same ocean current also creates extreme weather phenomena such as tornadoes and tropical storms. The island is occasionally hit by major hurricanes in August, September, and October.
Cuba’s coastal landscape is spectacular with numerous bays, small coves, and white sandy beaches. In addition to its classic cities, visitors come here to enjoy the tropical coastal atmosphere. Cuba is also a good destination for fishing and diving activities.
The rural areas of Cuba still maintain traditional farming practices with tobacco fields, cocoa, and coffee plantations, creating famous Cuban brands. The use of fresh cocoa beans that have not been processed is also popular in this country. For coffee, there is a distinctive brewing style called Cuban-style coffee.
Who are the people of Cuba?
For a long time, native people in Cuba disappeared due to the impact of colonialism. During this time, thousands of African slaves were brought to the Caribbean to work on plantations. Nowadays, Cuba is a multicultural country and home to people of different religions and ethnicities.
According to recent population surveys in Cuba, 51% of the population is mixed race, 37% is white, 11% is black, and about 1% is Chinese, mainly of Cantonese origin. This mixing has resulted in many aspects of Cuban culture influenced by Africa, Latin America, and Europe, especially Spain.
Cuban music and dance create a festive atmosphere. Street bands contribute to the cultural beauty of Cuba. The official language of Cuba is Spanish, with its own distinct characteristic known as Cuban Spanish. Spanish-language music is often very easy and catchy to listen to, which is why Spanish music is popular worldwide. Spanish phonetics also create a natural rhythm. We have long heard songs from Cuba without noticing where they come from.
For example, the famous song “Guantanamera” is about a girl in the Guantánamo countryside of Cuba. The lyrics are lively and romantic. Recently, a very famous song around the world is the song named after the capital of Cuba, “Havana.” It is a success internationally because not every country in the world has something like Cuba.
Guantanamo Bay Naval Base
Guantanamo Bay Naval Base is located in the southeastern part of Cuba, in Guantanamo province. The base is situated in the most beautiful location in the province, blocking the entrance to Guantanamo Bay. According to The New York Times, the base currently has about 6,000 people, including U.S. military personnel, their families, and civilian employees. The base has been in existence for over 100 years.
Going back in history, when Spain ceded Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Guam, and Cuba to the United States, the U.S. demanded that in order to achieve full independence, Cuba must create a new constitution allowing the U.S. to sell or lease its territory to establish a naval base. The Cuban people did so reluctantly. In 1903, the newly-formed Republic of Cuba leased 45 square miles in Guantanamo Bay to the U.S. to build a naval station.
In December of that year, the U.S. established the first foreign military base on Cuban soil. Unlike most other lease agreements, this contract had no end date, and the U.S. military could use the base indefinitely. Cuban ships are allowed to pass through this bay to enter Cuban territory, but the U.S. has full jurisdiction. In this area, the right to travel is controlled by the U.S.
Americans are present here to prevent drugs, migration, and ensure maritime safety. Moreover, it is also a prison of the United States. Over 700 people have been detained at Guantanamo since it opened. Among them, a significant number of people are accused of being involved in the September 11 terrorist attacks. The highest number of detainees was 684, arrested in June 2003. As of now, 40 people are still being held at this prison. Currently, inside the base is like a small city, catering to the needs of its personnel and their families.
Novelist Hemingway & Cuba
Hemingway, an American novelist, had a strong connection to Cuba before the embargo period. In 1951, he wrote “The Old Man and the Sea” on Cayo Blanco, which became one of his most iconic works. The novel tells the story of Santiago, a Cuban resident who struggles with a giant fish off the coast of Cuba. This work contributed to Hemingway being awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954.
Additionally, the writer also wrote “For Whom the Bell Tolls” in Cuba. Nowadays, his suburban Havana home has become a museum, attracting a large number of tourists, especially Americans. The fishing tournament founded by Hemingway in Cuba has become an annual international competition in this Caribbean country. Hemingway and Cuba are a highlight and a bridge in the tumultuous relationship between Cuba and the United States.
Society – Education – Health
The average life expectancy of Cubans is 79.72 years, ranking among the highest in the world. Cuba’s human development index is also among the top in the world. However, its internet is among the lowest and most expensive in the world. One of the most outstanding features of Cuba is its highly developed medical system. Cuba has the highest ratio of doctors per capita in the world. Many Americans go to Cuba for medical treatment due to the high quality of healthcare at much lower costs.
Cuba has achieved many medical breakthroughs worldwide. The country has sent tens of thousands of doctors to other countries for aid and to gain favorable trade terms. The relationship between Cuba and Venezuela in recent years has also developed in this direction. Venezuela provides low-cost oil in exchange for the mission of Cuban doctors to support its healthcare system. The literacy rate in Cuba is nearly absolute, and education is provided free of charge at all levels.
Like human beings, every country has its destiny. Cuba is a mysterious destiny of the world. In the future, the embargo will surely be lifted. At that time, the economic structure, especially the cultural, aesthetic structure of Cuba, will certainly change. Who knows, this could also be the destiny of Cuba.