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Cuba - History & Facts


The history of Cuba is rich and fascinating. Declared a tropical paradise by Christopher Columbus in 1492, Cuba was colonized by the Spanish for almost 400 years until 1898, when the U.S. claimed Cuba during the Spanish-American War. Four years later, Cuba gained its independence. Soon after the Cuban revolution ended in 1959, the new government, headed by Fidel Castro, declared Cuba a socialist state and took over U.S. oil refineries in Cuba. When the U.S. stopped buying Cuban sugar in response, Castro retaliated by taking over all of U.S. businesses in Cuba, leading U.S. President John. F. Kennedy to authorize the unsuccessful Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961.

During the Cuban Missile Crisis in October of 1962, leaders of the U.S. and the Soviet Union engaged in a 13-day political and military standoff over the installation of nuclear-armed Soviet missiles on Cuba. Many feared that the world was on the brink of a nuclear war, until Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev ordered the missile sites dismantled and returned to the USSR in return for a U.S. pledge not to attack Cuba. Fidel Castro remained in power until falling ill, relinquishing control to his brother, Raul Castro, in 2008.

In December 2014, President Barack Obama announced that the U.S. would resume full diplomatic relations with Cuba after its government freed U.S. aid contractor Alan Gross, and the ban for Americans traveling to Cuba was lifted. Before December 2014, Americans could only travel to Cuba with permission from the U.S. State Department. Today, U.S. tourists may visit Cuba under one of the twelve pre-approved travel categories licensed by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the U.S. Department of Treasury.

Fast Facts

Goverment - Since the revolution in 1959, the country has been governed by the Communist Party of Cuba, and is currently headed by President Raúl Castro. Today, Cuba is the only remaining Marxist-Leninist state in the West to have a "very high" United Nations human development index, and ranks well in measures of health and education.

Education - 2nd highest literacy rate in the world at 99.8%. Education is free for all at every level, and class sizes are limited to 25 students. Cuba has 47 universities.

Geography - Just 90 miles from U.S. shores, Cuba is the largest of the Caribbean islands, with about the same square mileage as Tennessee. The coastline is approximately 780 miles (just 60 miles less than California's coast).

Population - Home to over 11 million residents, Cuba is the most populated Caribbean island, with a diverse population that is 65% Caucasian, 24% mixed-race, and 10% Black.

Language - Spanish is the official language, but in larger cities and tourist areas, English is widely spoken.

Cuisine - Cuban cuisine is generally a fusion of Spanish and Caribbean styles, with Native American Taino and African influences as well. However, food rationing, which has been the norm in Cuba for the last four decades, restricts the common availability of certain dishes. The traditional Cuban meal is not served in courses; rather, all food items are served at the same time.

Weather - The rainy season in Cuba typically runs from May to November, and the dry season from December to April. There is little season variation in temperature, averaging 77-78 degrees Fahrenheit.

Currencies - There are two types of currencies in Cuba: the Cuban peso, used primarily by the locals for basic staples, and the CUC (Cuban Convertible Peso), which is mostly used by tourists.

Electric Current - 220 V at most hotels. Bring converter if your electronics are not travel-ready.