Post #2 – Language and involvement in UN, IMF and WTO

Part 1: Language in Cuba


The official language of Cuba, and the most commonly spoken language in the nation, is Spanish.  Around 90% of Cubans speak Spanish as their first language, and while there is no specific national dialect, Cuban Spanish, which is a form of Caribbean Spanish,  is comparable to Latin American Spanish, with some variations in accent, speech patterns and intonation due to Cuba’s multi-ethnicism contributing to the shaping of the language spoken.

Diverse Cuban children

Cuba’s ethnic diversity is attributed to its past, specifically its variety of immigrants and colonization over time, many of which have contributed to the evolution of the language(s) spoken in Cuba.  Originally, Cuba was inhabited by first the Guanahatabeyes on the Western side and then the Taínos and the Ciboneyes,  who are both subgroups of the Arawakan Indians.  The Guanahatabeyes lived in Cuba until about the 16th century.  Not much is known about them, none of their language has survived, and it seems that their language was very different than that of the Taínos.  The Taíno language is of the Arawakan language in northern South America.  It was spoken in some areas of Cuba until the late 19th century, and because it was the main language still being spoken during Spanish colonization in the 15th century, many words were absorbed into European language and the Cuban Spanish, with many terms and place-names in Cuban Spanish having derived from the Taíno language.  In fact, even Cuba’s name, as well as the name of it’s largest city, Havana, and many others come from Taíno, and Taíno words such as tobacco, hurricane and canoe are used today in English.


The first Cubans meet Columbus

Christopher Columbus claimed Cuba in 1492 for Spain, and in 1511 Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar came to Cuba to form the first settlement at Baracoa, then conquered the rest of the island and governed what would become Havana in 1514.  Many of the indigenous people, such as the Guanahatabeyes, Taínos and the Ciboneyes were killed off during the fighting in the Spanish conquest or by disease from those coming into Cuba.  This allowed Spanish language, culture, religion and customs to prevail.

In 1792, during the Seven Year’s War, Great Britain took over Havana, but only a year later Havana was traded back to Spain for Florida under the 1763 Treaty of Paris.  During that year, while Havana was conquered and ruled by Great Britain, thousands of African slaves were brought to Cuba within less than a year to work in the expanding sugar cane plantations.  The effect of the African language on Cuban Spanish is noticeable when you consider the vocabulary used and also the rhythmic inflection of Cuban Spanish.  There is  also a dialect in Cuba called Lucumi which is a secret language used for rituals by the Santeria religion community, who are made up of African slaves’ ancestors called the Yoruba.  It is a dead language, and not used for communication.

Cuban Lucumí priestess “reading tarot” with a deck of Spanish playing cards
(baraja española), Havana central city, by Bob Michaels, 2009-13.

During and shortly after the Seven Year’s War, from around 1792 to the early 1800’s, and following the Haitian Revolution, many French refugees who were escaping the slave rebellion in Saint-Domingue brought sugar refining and coffee growing knowledge into Cuba, as well as bringing over many more slaves.  The immigrants fleeing the Haitian Revolution brought with them the French-based Haitian Creole dialect of Creole, which includes a combination of North American, European and African language dialects.  Many people in Cuba can converse in this language, and still use it to this day.  It is actually the second most widely spoken language in Cuba.


Cubans and non-Cubans connecting through language.

Cuban Spanish is most similar to Spanish spoken in the Canary Islands, because of the influx of Canarian immigrants that came to Cuba during the Canarian exodus of the 19th and early 20th centuries.  The differences are that Cuban Spanish uses coda deletion, seseo, and /s/ debuccalization, such as sounding words ending in an syllable with an h,  the “Castilian Lisp”, and the weak pronunciation of consonants, especially at the end of a syllable. When Cuba’s western block was dismantled in the early 1990’s after the fall of the Soviet Union (an ally to Cuba at the time), the borders were open to countries, and therefore foreign dialects, such as English, Galician, French, and Corsican are also spoken in Cuba.


Part 2: Cuba’s involvement in the UN, IMF and WTO

The United Nations, or UN, is an organization made up of member states that was created to promote cooperation between those international governments.  The United Nations replaced the League of Nations and was created to prevent another world war after World War II on October 24, 1945.  Cuba was a member of the League of Nations, and is currently a member of the United Nations.  Since October 19, 1960, the United States have placed an embargo against Cuba.  The United Nations has for 20+ years been openly opposed the United States embargo against Cuba, 191 of the 193 members of the United Nations voted for the resolution introduced by Cuba during the October 2015 United Nations General Assembly vote; with only the United States and Israel voting against the resolution.  Cuba released statements that they will be calling for a resolution again at this year’s United Nations General Assembly vote in October.  The Cuban government claims that the embargo is the source of $125.9 billion in damages to their economy since its inception.   The United States issued the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992 to continue the embargo on Cuba until the Cuban government moves toward “democratization and greater respect for human rights”. The recent loosening of tensions between the United States and Cuba by re-opening embassies, and effort to normalize relations, has not yet culminated in the resolution of the embargo against Cuba, but the Cuban government hopes to convince the United States to change their mind.

U.S. President Barack Obama (3rd R) and Cuba’s President Raul Castro (3rd L) take part in a
bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly at
UN headquarters in New York on September 29, 2015. (Xinhua/AFP)

The International Monetary Fund, or IMF, is an international financial institution that promotes economic prosperity.  Cuba had a delegation when the IMF was founded in 1944 during the Bretton Woods conference.  They joined the IMF in 1946, and were one of the first 40 members.  Cuba was active and contributing to the IMF until borrowing $12.5 million from the IMF that was not repaid due to the collapse of the government.  Cuba withdrew membership in 1964, but ended up paying back the loan with interest.  In 1993, the Castro government was in secret communication with an IMF official, although we do not know if they were working to rejoin the IMF at that time, nor do we know for sre if they will be interested in applying yet as Cuba and the United States work toward normalization.

Robert Sturdy, Iuliu Winkler, Vital Moreira ,Jörg Leichtfried, Helmut  Scholz
European parliament members from left : Robert Sturdy, Iuliu Winkler, Vital Moreira , Jörg Leichtfried,
and Helmut Scholz, attend a press conference at the ninth Ministerial Conference of the World Trade
Organization (WTO) in Bali, Indonesia, Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013. (AP Photo/Achmad Ibrahim)

Cuba has been a member of the World Trade Organization, or WTO, since April 20, 1995. The WTO deals with trade negotiations, agreement implementation and monitoring, dispute settlement, building trade capacity and outreach between its member states.  Cuba also was a member of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, or GATT, from January 1, 1948 until the WTO was established in its place.   Cuba challenged the United States embargo in the WTO, but to no avail.   The United States claims that the embargo is a “bilateral issue that should not be dealt by the multilateral body”.


Cuban president Raúl Castro met US president Barack Obama
in Havana. (Al Diaz/Miami Herald)

Cuba and the United States have begun an effort to ease tensions and potentially end the embargo, but there is still a significant way to go until there will be a solution.  United States President Barack Obama has said that he is interested in ending the embargo if Cuba will work on human rights, presidential nominee Hilary Clinton has also spoken in Miami about ending the embargo, and even presdiential nominee Donald Trump has said “50 years is enough”, so there does seem to be hope.  We will see what happens in the next several months with this situation, and it will surely be big news if the United States does end up ending the embargo any time in the near future.


Getty Images




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