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official language of Cuba, black ancestry, mulattoes, Chinese laborers, Cuban Revolution

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The Cuban population has grown slowly and consistently, from 7,027,210 people in 1960 to 11,423,952 in 2008. However, population growth was affected by emigration, especially between 1959 and 1964 when about 1 million Cubans left following the Cuban Revolution. The early flood of emigrants belonged largely to the professional classes. As a result, the revolutionary government was left with the task of filling their positions with recent graduates from socialist schools and with foreign advisers. Subsequent waves of emigrants belonged to all levels of professions, from the least powerful to high-ranking officers. In 1980 the government allowed another 120,000 Cubans to depart. Since 1994 the U.S. State Department and Cuba’s Foreign Ministry have agreed to allow 20,000 Cubans to emigrate to the United States per year.

Since 1959 Cuba’s birth rate has slowed, partially due to the availability of contraceptives and abortion. The death rate has also declined due to improved health facilities and their distribution throughout the island. In 2005, 76 percent of the population was urban, concentrating in the capital, Havana (2,168,255 people, 2007 estimate), and in Santiago de Cuba (494,430 people, 2007 estimate).

Ethnic Groups and Languages

The Spanish conquest eliminated the indigenous people in Cuba but introduced enslaved Africans from the Congo, Guinea, and Nigeria. In the 19th century, Chinese laborers joined the working class. In the 20th century immigrants from the United States, Spain, and the USSR added to the ethnic mix. In 2000, mulattoes (people of mixed white and black ancestry) made up 51 percent of the population, whites 37 percent, and blacks 11 percent. Almost all of the inhabitants of Cuba were born there. Since 1959 racial distinctions have blurred as the Castro government has worked to eliminate race and class prejudices.

The official language of Cuba is Spanish, but immigration has left pockets of Haitians and Jamaicans in Cuba who speak French-based and English-based creoles (hybrid languages created by the mixture of European and African languages). Both English and Russian are spoken and understood in major cities.

Health and Social Services

The quality of Cuban medical services was highly esteemed before 1959, but health services for the majority of the population were limited. Since 1959 the government has extended health services throughout the island, using neighborhood polyclinics for minor ailments and hospitals for treatment of serious injuries and illnesses. Health education is communicated in school and through the media. Sophisticated medical procedures are not available to everyone, leaving those who know important officials in better positions to receive advanced care than those without such connections. In addition, the trade embargo imposed by the United States on Cuba since the early 1960s has made it difficult for the country to receive medicines. The social security system provides for retirement, work disabilities, unemployment compensation, maternity care, and child-care centers.

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