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Cuba, largest and westernmost island of the West Indies. It forms, with various adjacent islands, the Republic of Cuba. Cuba occupies a central location between North and South America and lies on the lanes of sea travel to all countries bounded by the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico. For most of its history, Cuba’s fertile soil and abundant sugar and tobacco production made it the wealthiest island of the Caribbean.

The Republic of Cuba is an archipelago, or group of islands, consisting of the main island (named Cuba); Isla de la Juventud, the second largest island; and numerous other islands. Havana is the capital city with a population of 2,168,255 in 2007. In 2008 the nation’s population was estimated to be 11,423,952.

Cuba’s proximity to Haiti, the United States, Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, and Jamaica has allowed people to migrate easily onto and off of the island. This movement contributed to the rich mixture of people and customs in Cuba and throughout the Caribbean area. Although agriculturally rich, Cuba exports only a few products, such as sugar, tobacco, citrus fruits, and several manufactured products.

Cuba’s rich soil, abundant harbors, and mineral reserves enticed foreign powers such as Spain, the United States, and the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) to use Cuba for their own interests for many years. For 400 years Cuba was a colony of Spain. Spain’s conquistadores (Spanish for “conquerors”) launched their invasion of Mexico and South America from the island. In the mid-19th century, the Cuban people formed an independence movement, decades after most of Spain’s other colonies had become independent. By 1868 Cubans began to fight the first of three wars of independence. In 1898 the United States entered the war against Spain and declared Cuba independent but under the protection of the United States.

In 1902 Cubans began to rule themselves, although U.S. influence remained strong on the island. The United States still operates a naval base at Guantanamo Bay on Cuban territory under agreements dating back to 1903. Throughout most of the first half of the 20th century, the Cuban government functioned under a series of corrupt presidents and dictators. Beginning in 1934 army officer Fulgencio Batista y Zaldivar governed either directly or indirectly as a military strong man, a civilian president, and a military dictator. By the mid-1950s many Cubans opposed the corruption and political repression that developed under Batista’s dictatorship. Opposition to Batista developed into a revolt known as the Cuban Revolution.

In 1959 Fidel Castro and a number of other revolutionaries, including his brother Raul Castro, overthrew the Batista government. From that time until 2008, Fidel Castro was the head of state and the ultimate authority on all policy decisions. In the 1960s Castro split with the United States and became an ally of the USSR, then the world’s leading Communist nation. In 1961 Castro formally embraced Marxism-Leninism, the political philosophy that forms the basis for communism.

Cuba adopted the form of Marxism that had been practiced up to that time in the USSR, where a highly organized Communist Party controlled the government. Cuba has since been governed according to socialist economic and political principles, with a centralized economy and a government under the control of the Cuban Communist Party. Under socialism, individual freedoms were sacrificed for the social advancement of all Cubans. In addition, religion was discouraged, although not forbidden, so that the allegiance of citizens would belong solely to the state. However, Cuban socialism could not and did not directly mimic the Soviet model because Cuban history and culture were entirely different from that of Eastern European nations. Governing offices and agencies were similar, but in Cuba, Castro personally retained ultimate control over the Communist Party, all governing bodies, and the military until he resigned as president of Cuba in 2008 and was succeeded by his brother Raul. Although no longer president, Fidel remained the head of the Cuban Communist Party.

Sources

For younger readers

Ada, Alma Flor. Under the Royal Palms: A Childhood in Cuba. Simon & Schuster, 1998. For readers in grades 3 to 6.

Cramer, Mark. Cuba. Gareth Stevens, 2000. For readers in grades 4 to 6.

Gordon, Sharon. Cuba. Benchmark, 2003. For readers in grades 3 to 5.

Morrison, Marion. Cuba. Children's Press, 1999. For readers in grades 5 to 9.

Staub, Frank. Children of Cuba. Carolrhoda, 1996. For readers in grades 3 to 6.

Woog, Adam. Fidel Castro. Lucent, 2003. For readers in grades 6 to 8.

Cuba

Coltman, Leycester. The Real Fidel Castro. Yale University Press, 2003. A biography of the Cuban leader by a former British ambassador to Cuba.

Hatchwell, Emily, and Simon Calder. Cuba: A Guide to the People, Politics and Culture. Interlink, 1999. A concise description of the land and society, along with information for travelers.

Hoff, Rhoda, and Margaret Regler. Uneasy Neighbors: Cuba and the United States. Franklin Watts, 1997. An overview of Cuban history and a survey of the relations between the United States and Cuba since World War II; for high school students.

Hunt, Christopher. Waiting for Fidel. Houghton Mifflin, 1998. Account of the author's travels across Cuba in search of Castro; reveals the mindset of the Cuban people.

McCoy, Terry. Cuba On the Verge: An Island in Transition. Little, Brown, 2003. A series of photo essays on contemporary Cuba.

Schwartz, Rosalie. Pleasure Island: Tourism and Temptation in Cuba. University of Nebraska Press, 1997, 1999. Examines the role and influence of tourism in Cuba and how the country's socialist leadership has orchestrated the industry.

Szulc, Tad. Fidel: A Critical Portrait. Morrow, 1986. Avon, 2000. A thoroughly researched biography of Fidel Castro.

Contributors

Stoner, K. Lynn, B.S., M.A., Ph.D. Associate Professor of History, Arizona State University. Author of From the House to the Streets: The Cuban Woman's Movement for Legal Change, 1898-1940; Recent Literature on Cuba and the United States from Latin American Research Review and Gender and Sexuality in Latin America from The Encyclopedia of Latin American History.

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