Map Courtesy CIA World Factbook
The Republic of Cuba is an Island in the eastern Caribbean that lies at the confluence of the Caribbean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. To the north are found the United States and the Bahamas, to the west Mexico, to the southwest the Cayman Islands and Jamaica, and to the southeast Haiti.
Cuba and its originally Amerindian population (Taino, Siboney and Guanajatabey) came under Spanish control in the 15th century and who were wiped out shortly afterwards. The colony's struggle for independence started in 1868 and continued during the 19th century until the Spanish-American War of 1898. The United States occupied the island until its independence was granted in 1902, though limited by the Platt Amendment (revoked in 1934), after which the US continued to have a major influence in Cuban affairs. Cuba's economy prospered for the next fifty years, to the point that by the late fifties the cuban peso was valued very close to the US dollar. Illiteracy ran about 12%, one of the lowest in the latin american countries.
Fidel Castro's July 26 Movement subsumed the other revolutionary groups quickly and took over Cuba's government in 1959, following its victory against Batista's military forces. At the time when Batista was deposed, 75% of Cuba's farmable land was owned by foreign individuals or foreign companies (mostly US companies). The new revolutionary government adopted land reforms and confiscated all the private property owned by cubans and foreign companies. As a result, relations with the USA rapidly deteriorated. At first, Castro was reluctant to discuss his plans for the future, but eventually he declared himself a communist, explained that he was trying to build socialism in Cuba, and opened diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union.
On April 15, (1961), a CIA-led invasion of Cuba began with the bombing of Castro's air fields, using Douglas A-26 invaders, supplied by the USA and flown by Cuban expatriates. The bombing raids over Havana destroyed the majority of the communist dictators planes and runways, clearing the way for more than fifteen-hundred Cuban expatriates and U.S. Special Forces landing at Playa Giron (Bay of Pigs) on April 17, 1961 where they were met by Castro's army, and fought for more than three days & nights, until they were forced to surrender, due to president Kennedy's orders to call off the invasion. The failed attempt to liberate Cuba was an international embarrasment to the newly elected Kennedy administration, and subsequently led to the Cuban Missile crisis in October (1962), when medium-range nuclear missiles were installed in Cuba by the Soviet Union and aimed at the USA. This led to an internatiional nuclear stand-off between the United States and the Soviet Union.
In April 1980, over 10,000 Cubans stormed the Peruvian embassy in Havana seeking political asylum. In response to this and international pressure, Castro allowed anyone who desired to leave the country to depart through the port of Mariel. Known as the Mariel boatlift, over 125,000 Cubans migrated to the U.S., mostly aboard vessels that departed from the U.S. embassy. Eventually the U.S. stopped the flow of vessels and Cuba ended the exodus.
For several decades, Cuba received a large Soviet subsidy, whereby Cuba provided the Soviet Union with sugar and the Soviets provided Cuba with petroleum. Part of this oil was consumed by Cuba, while the remainder was sold on the world market. Cuba supported communist movements throughout Latin America (Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, Colombia and Chile, among others) and Africa (Angola, Mozambique and Ethiopia). In Angola alone, Cuba had over 50,000 troops. Castro stated at the first Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba in December of 1975 that "Without the decisive, steady, and generous aid of the Soviet people, our country could not have survived the confrontation with imperialism".
The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 dealt Cuba a giant economic blow and when the Soviets stopped their 6 billion dollars-per-year subsidy, the Cuban government called for "a special period" of recovery. Despite being denied access to development aid from the IMF and World Bank because Cuba is in arrears to its Paris Club debtors to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars, Cuba's economy has not collapsed. Although its per-capita income is still lower than it was in 1989, it has been rising steadily. Cuba's economy today is roughly split into three parts: agriculture (tobacco, sugar, citrus), mining (nickel), and tourism.
In 1994, Castro declared an open immigration policy and did not stop any individual that desired to leave the country. Departing on small rafts and homemade boats, over 30,000 Cubans took to the sea. In contrast to the Mariel Boatlift, the migrants were interdicted at sea and taken to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Eventually, Castro restricted migration following talks with the U.S. In 1995, an agreement was reached between the U.S. and Cuba. The U.S. would allow 20,000 Cubans per year (chosen by lottery) to immigrate to the U.S. and Cuba would allow the return of migrants interdicted at sea. All Cuban migrants interdicted at sea from this point on were interviewed by INS officials at sea. If there was a possibility they were or would be persecuted upon return, they would be taken to Guantanamo Bay for further interviews.
In 1996, the Clinton Administration enacted the Helms-Burton law. This law states, among other things, that any foreign company that "knowingly traffics in property in Cuba confiscated without compensation from a U.S. person" can be subjected to litigation and that company's leadership can be barred from entry into the United States. Sanctions may be applied to non-U.S. companies trading with Cuba. Although the immigrant capitalist Cuban population in the U.S. keeps constant pressure on the American government to restore them to power in Cuba, this legislation was enacted after the shootdown of what the US claims were two civilian planes by the Cuban Air Force. This extraterritorial U.S. legislation is considered highly controversial, and the US embargo was condemned for the 13th time in 2004 by the General Assembly of the United Nations, by 179 countries. Additionally, US Congress members from both parties have openly criticized the ongoing balance of resources which have been committed to enforcing this embargo.
Cuba's major trading partners include Spain, Canada, France, Italy, United Kingdom and Japan. The U.S. embargo against Cuba applies to all goods, except the export of medicine and medical products and agricultural commodities to Cuba, which are authorized by law. U.S. agriculture companies are free to trade with Cuba, provided that Cuba pays in cash prior to delivery. The U.S. bans U.S. citizens from travelling to Cuba. Nevertheless, because of their understandable historical or political interests in the Caribbean island , some U.S. citizens visit Cuba by traveling through Mexico, Canada or the Bahamas. American citizens can be liable to fines if discovered and prosecuted by the U.S. government, although it has been reported that the US authorities are not overly strict with ordinary travellers not involved in any criminal activity. Millions of citizens of countries other than the U.S. engage not only in business with Cuba but in tourism with Cuba as well.
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