Cuba: Culture and History
Cuba is the largest island in the Caribbean but has been isolated by its neighbour to the North, because of its political ideology. This has made Cuba's major trading partners Western Europe, Latin America, Russia, China, Iran and North Korea. Many people believe that the death of Fidel Castro, the Head of State will open relations between Cuba and its neighbour to the North, the United States. The population of the island is about eleven million which comprises about 60 percent Spanish descent, 22 percent mulatto, 11 percent African descent, 5 percent comprise mixture and about 1 percent Chinese. Spanish is the official language of the island and the religious faiths are (broken down) in approximately as the following percentage, 47 percent Catholic, 4 percent Protestants and 2 percent Santeria as some Catholics also practice Santeria. Cuba's major industries are sugar, minerals, tobacco, agricultural, medicine and tourism.
Cubana cuisine is a mixture of Spanish and African methods and techniques, using local produce. There are dishes such as Moros y Cristianos (Moors and Christians; black beans and rice), arroz con pollo (chicken and rice) and picadillo (minced beef and rice) are common. There are also soups made with plantains, chickpeas or beans. Cuba also produces a beer (Cerveza), which is an excellent drink.
Thousands of slaves were brought to Cuba by the Spanish to harvest the sugar cane. These slaves brought their ritual dances and rhythms, which were blended with Spanish guitars, and melodies and these were developed throughout the Americas. It is believed that the big-band sound was originated from the Cuba's sounds and rhythms. Slaves who were shackled together developed the Congo-line dance. The blend of Afro-Cuban religious practices have resulted into a belief called Santeria. These cultures, which involve many dances and movements, have resulted in the births of several dances. Dances such as the Mambo, Bolero, Salsa and ChaChaCha owe their births to Santeria. The most famous Cuban music artists one Perez Prado and Benny More, but the evolution of music has enabled other artists to become well known. After the revolution, the Cuban government actively supported the arts. The government founded also established a national film industry.
The government ended its official atheism practice in 1992 and this has resulted in an increase numbers of people who practice Santeria. Cubans inculcated Catholicism with African religions that were brought over by slaves, which resulted in Afro-Cuban equivalent gods for the major Catholic saints - and the occasional animal sacrifice. Pope John Paul II crowned Nuestra Senora de la caridad del Cobre, Cuba's patroness. People who are devotees of Santeria identify the Virgin of Cobra with their own Ochun, goddess of love and abundance.
It is believed that the first inhabitants in Cuba occurred around 3500 B.C. They were primarily fishermen and hunters. The Taino Indians who were a branch of the Arawak Indians who were agriculturalists later joined them. Christopher Columbus sighted Cuba in October 1492, and by 1514, Diego Velazquez de Cuellar had conquered the island for the Spain. Spain introduced its form of religion into the island and at the same time murdered hundreds of Indians and took their lands. The Indians became cattle ranchers and in within fifty years only 5000 out of 100,000 remained alive. The Spanish like the other European cohorts were not perturbed as they imported African slaves as replacements. Fortunately, Cuba's African slaves retained their tribal groupings and certain aspects of their culture endured.
British troops invaded Cuba in 1762 and occupied Havana for 11 months, importing more slaves and expanded Cuba's trade links. Tobacco became one of the island's main crops after Spain had lost its monopoly over that industry. Sugar cane had also become a major industry in the island, which came about because of the slave uprising in Haiti, which was the chief sugar-producing place in the Caribbean. Cuba became the world's largest sugar producer by 1820.
Carlos Manuel de Cespedes launched Cuba's First War of Independence in 1868, which resulted in many deaths. They were some Cubans who immigrated to the United States and were planning the overthrow of the Spanish colonial government, and Jose Marti a respected journalist, poet and author. Jose Marti and some other Cubans returned to Cuba in 1895 and were killed but became a national hero. Spain dealt very harshly with the uprisings and its agricultural-based economy was wiped out. Spain tried to ameliorate the situation by offering the Cubans home rule, but the populace would agree to nothing short of full independence.
United States felt during that the time was ripe to launch their attack on Cuba, which resulted in the Spanish-American war in 1898. The US warship Maine was anchored outside Havana harbour and mysteriously exploded, as all but two of its officers were not on the ship at the time of explosion. The United States was bounded by its own law which required its government to respect Cuban self-determination could not annex Cuba outright, instead installed a governor and got involved in building public works projects, building schools and improving public health. United States did retain the legal right to intervene militarily in Cuba's domestic affairs. They decided to keep a close eye on Cuba, so in 1903, they built a naval base at Guantanamo Bay which is still in operation today with Afghanistan prisoners today.
The US companies owned two-thirds of Cuba's farmland by the 1920s, and they imposed tariffs that crippled Cuba's own manufacturing industries. Tourism, gambling, prostitution, gambling and drinking flourished and, today many Americans are waiting for Castro's death to return the island to that state again. Gerado Machado and Fulgencio Batista ran the island in a dictatorial manner before Fidel Castro overthrew Batista. When Batista fled Cuba he headed for the Dominican Republic with about 40 million American dollars. Castro came to office and decided to nationalize large landholdings and oil refineries. The United States government retaliated by cutting Cuban sugar imports, which crippled the Cuban economy. The United States imposed an embargo on the island and blockaded ships from going to Cuba. Cuba was isolated as even medicine and foods were debarred from being shipped to the island. Castro turned to the Soviet Union, which seeking a foothold in the Caribbean, paid top dollar for Cuba's sugar surplus.
Ever since the embargo in the 1960s, life for the Cubans has been greatly affected and living standards and conditions have gotten worse. Fidel Castro has given opportunity to black people there, something which Machado and Batista did not. Today, in south Florida, there are a great number of fair skinned Cubans who fled from the island and took all their possessions. It can only be hoped that in the long run, the people of Cuba benefit and are able to retain ownership of how they country will be run after Castro has left the scene.