Current Affairs: The Republic of Cuba
When thinking about Cuba, usually Cuban cigars and rum, 50’s era cars, baseball, music and salsa dancing, and fantastic beaches probably come to mind. Under a less glamorous light, you might also think about Fidel Castro, the Cuban Missile Crisis, or as an American (which I happen to be), various other tensions between Cuba and the United States. You may also have heard recently about those tensions easing in the last couple of years. In an attempt to better understand a country I do not know almost anything about currently, I will be posting about different matters throughout my semester from Cuba’s perspective. To do so, first I want to investigate Cuba’s past, present and future, its climate and geography, get a feel for what life is like as a Cuban, and discuss Cuba’s relations with other countries, and then move on to recent news and events happening now.
The beach at Caletón, near Playa Larga
A little bit about Cuba: The Republic of Cuba, more commonly known as just Cuba, is the largest island in the Caribbean at almost 43,000 sq. mi., and has 14 provinces and 169 municipalities. With a tropical climate, it is around 70-81° F all year, making for very temperate weather. There are about 11.2 million people, with its capital city, Havana, also being its most populous city. In Cuba, the most spoken language is Spanish, particularly Cuban Spanish, and the main religion is Roman Catholic. In Cuba, there are two currencies, the CUP (Cuban Peso) which is used locally for citizen’s wages, and the CUC (Convertible Pesos) for tourism. Cuba’s major exports include nickel, sugar, tobacco, shellfish, medical products, citrus, and coffee. Cuba is especially well known for their high quality cigars and has the second largest amount of land committed to tobacco crops (Greece having the largest).
A man makes cigars in Vinales in the western state of Pinar del Rio.
It is one of the few economic activities that bring much-needed money
to the government’s coffers. Cuban cigars are sought after across the
world for their quality. [Saif Khalid/Al Jazeera]
Cuba is one of the last standing socialist countries. Citizens are able to vote, but there is only one party allowed in Cuba, the Cuban Communist Party. The Cuban government and Communist Party of Cuba control almost all media in Cuba, and censor all news, information, and commentary. Citizens are not able to purchase computers or access the internet without authorization. While Cuba used to be a popular destination for Americans, relations became hostile in 1959 when the communists took power, although as of recently, as I will discuss in a moment, the United States have been able to start working towards agreements and becoming more friendly with Cuba again, opening up many opportunities for both countries.
Fidel and Raul Castro – 1977
A brief timeline of Cuba’s history: Cuba established independence from Spain in 1898 with The Treaty of Paris. Cuba then became an independent republic in 1902, protected by the United States. In 1933, Sergeant Fulgencio Batista seized power, during which time the United States was very involved with Cuba, until 1959, when Fidel Castro’s July 26th Movement revolutionaries (who later became the United Party of the Cuban Socialist Revolution, and then the Communist Party of Cuba) overthrew Batista. This was when relations became tense with the United States. In 1960 the United States imposed an embargo on Cuba, which is still standing today, although since 1992 the UN General Assembly has been is very against the embargo and its impact, and they believe it is “in violation of the Charter of the United Nations and international law”; they broke diplomatic relations in 1961. Shortly after, in 1962, with Cuba becoming close with the Soviet Union in the cold war, there was the Cuban Missile Crisis in which the Soviets put nuclear missiles in Cuba in response to the Bay of Pigs invasion and the United States having nuclear missiles in Italy and Turkey. The Cuban Missile Crisis was resolved by the Soviets removing the missiles from Cuba as long as the United States agreed not to invade Cuba ever. Cuba was also receiving subsidies from the Soviet Union, which stopped when the Soviet Union fell in the late 80’s/early 90’s, putting Cuba into an economic depression, known as the “Special Period”. The United States passed a couple more embargo-tightening measures in 1992 and 1996, both causing waves of emigration from Cuba to Florida. One highly televised example of contention between the United States and Cuba was the Elian Gonzalez situation in 1999. There is an update on Elian here. Fidel Castro was the leader of Cuba for almost 50 years, until appointing his younger brother, General Raul Castro, as President of the Council of State and President of the Council of Ministers in 2008. In Cuba, there is no limit to how many 5-year terms the President can hold, and Raul Castro was then re-elected in 2013, with the next election coming up in 2018, although he has stated he will be stepping down at that time.
Current events and issues: In April 2011, the Cuban Communist Party Congress was held for the first time in over a decade, and they approved a plan to begin implementing economic changes for the better, including allowing its citizens private ownership and the ability to sell their homes and vehicles.
In 2014, President Barack Obama and President Castro agreed to begin to normalize relations. President Obama’s 2015 visit (pictured above) made him the first United States president to visit Cuba since 1959. As of 2015, the United States and Cuba have begun their rapprochement. The United States eased travel and trade restrictions to Cuba, Cuba is dropped from the terrorism sponsor list due to new banking ties with the United States and both Cuba and the United States re-opened their embassies.
Only in the last 15 or so years, Cuba has begun to prioritize tourism. Just the other day, the first commercial flight from the United States landed in Cuba, marking a historic moment, one that shows hope for amends between the two countries. There are plans for hundreds of flights a day to Cuba from the United States in the near future, despite the fears the United States have regarding security. While the United States still has a travel ban for Americans visiting Cuba, and tourism is still illegal in Cuba, there are 12 catergories of “authorized travel.” Cuban officials would like to see the United States embargo lifted before allowing free travel between the countries. Another glaring issue in Cuba is with ongoing sex-trafficking, forced labor, child sex trafficking, and child sex tourism, despite the fact that Cuba acceded to an agreement in 2013 to comply with the 2000 UN TIP Protocol on such matters.
Communication to address international and national interests has been underway and is continuing to be considered important to both the United States and Cuba. The next few years could see major changes in the relations between Cuba and the rest of the world, especially the United States. Who knows, maybe one day we will see peace between Cuba and its former Cold War foe.