A General Note for Indian Visitors
This General Note for Indian visitors is intended to assist visitors to get an idea of Cuba, the prevailing conditions and some background - to make their visit pleasant and comfortable.
The basic material has been culled from various official and other sources and specially from Basic Facts on Cuba, a publication of the office of the U.N. Resident Coordinator in Havana.
While every care has been taken to give correct and current information, readers are urged to cross check.
It should be noted that due to absence of Banking channels between Cuba and the U.S.A. (Due to the Embargo), NO American issued credit card can be used in Cuba. Accordingly, visitors should only bring credit cards issued by non-U.S. sources or travelers checks.
General Online and History
Cuba, the largest island in the Caribbean, was discovered by Christopher Columbus on his first voyage on 29 October 1492. It consists of one large island and about 1,600 smaller islands and cays with a total land area of about 114,000 square kilometres. The Cuban population of 11.3 million is a product of the mix of three cultural groups: Spaniards, Africans and Asians. The composition is Mulattoes and Mestizos (51 %), Whites (37 %), Blacks (12 %), and Asiatics (0.1 %). The average temperature varies from 23 to 28 degrees. The period from July to November is hurricane season. Timber resources include tropical pine, mahogany, ebony, royal palm, and ceiba.
Major crops and fruits are tobacco, coffee, sugar cane, potato, cassava, yam, beans ,citrus, banana, pineapple, avocado , papaya and guava. Cuba has the second largest reserves of nickel in the world and presently, is the seventh largest producer. It has some copper, silver, gold and petroleum. The Cuban EEZ sector in the Gulf of Mexico is a prospective area for oil. Because of Cuba's strategic location, the Spanish used the island mainly as a naval base and shipping centre. Havana was occupied briefly by the British between 1762 and 1763. By 1860, Cuba had a large sugar industry which was a major supplier to the United States. Slavery, a major factor in the expansion of the sugar industry, was abolished in Cuba in 1886. British and subsequently American capital began to play a major role in the economy during this period.
Increasing Cuban nationalism led to wars of independence during 1868-78, and in 1895 revolution broke out under the leadership of the legendary poet José Martí. He was killed in battle , and remains a revered martyr in Cuba today. Following an explosion aboard the USS Maine in Havana Harbour, the US joined the conflict on the side of the rebels, declaring war against Spain on April 25, 1898, leading to the end of Spanish rule. Under the subsequent Treaty of Paris, Spain ceded possession of Cuba which became "independent" on January 1, 1899 as an American protectorate. The new constitution included clauses imposed upon Cuba by the US under the Platt Amendment, which seriously compromised Cuban sovereignty. The US intervened militarily on subsequent occasions to support the parties it favoured. Governments of this period were characterized by corruption, racism and violence.
In 1934, under the so-called "good neighbour policy", Franklin D. Roosevelt sponsored initiatives that abrogated the Platt Amendment, except for continuing rights to the American naval base at Guantánamo Bay. A former army sergeant Fulgencio Batista dominated the political scene for much of the next twenty-five years. He overthrew President Machado in 1933 with support from the United States. After exercising power directly and through surrogates for several terms, Batista stepped down and emigrated to Florida in 1944. He returned to Cuba in 1951 to re-enter politics. He displaced the elected government in a coup d'etat in March 1952 and ruled through a brutal and corrupt dictatorship. His government was recognized by the US within two weeks of the coup.
The Cuban Revolution
These events motivated a revolution, led by Fidel Castro, a young lawyer who was a candidate for the election scheduled for June 1952, but which was cancelled after the coup. On 26 July 1953, Castro and about 150 young revolutionaries launched simultaneous attacks on the Moncada army barracks in Santiago, and another at Bayamo. The attack was unsuccessful and he was tried and imprisoned. His defiant courtroom defence – ¨History shall absolve me¨¨- is the source of many famous Castro quotations and is regarded by some observers as Cuba's modern declaration of independence.
He was released into exile in Mexico in May 1955.In Mexico, Castro met the Argentine medical doctor Ernesto "Che" Guevara. They organized a return to Cuba with a force of 85 men on the yacht Granma, which departed Mexico on 25 November 1956. After a perilous journey, the boat ran aground off Los Cayuelos in southeast Cuba on 2 December 1956, and the revolutionaries had to wade ashore. Only 12 of them survived the initial attack, and after escaping into the Sierra Maestra mountains, they became the nucleus of a successful revolution.
Two years later, Castro took power on New Year's Day, 1959. At that time, foreign interests (largely American) owned three-quarters of the arable land, 90 percent of transportation, electrical and telecommunications services, and close to half of the sugar industry. The creation of a centrally planned economy under the Cuban Communist Party made it the first communist state in the Western Hemisphere.
Government and Politics
Cuba is divided into 14 provinces which are further subdivided into 169 municipalities. The latter are composed of electoral districts. District delegates are elected every two and a half years. The National Assembly of People’s Power (Parliament) with 614 seats is the highest State body and is elected every five years. It appoints the Council of State – which acts on behalf of the Assembly between sessions and represents the State – and the Government. The latter is headed by a President and is composed of vice-presidents and ministers. The Council of State and the government are headed by Raul Castro Ruz. The only recognised party is the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC).
Other mass organisations are the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC), the Union of Young Communists (UJC), the Confederation of Cuban Workers (CTC), and the Federation of University Students (FEU), and the Federation of Middle School Students(FEEM), all affiliated to the PCC. A Pioneers organisation covers children below the age of 14. During the 5th Party Congress held in Havana in Oct 1997, the Central Committee was curtailed to 150 members from earlier 225, and, the Politburo to 22 from 24. The VII general elections to the National Assembly were held on 20 January 2008. There were 614 candidates for 614 seats.
Raul Castro Ruz, besides being President of both the Councils of State and Ministers, is also the First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba. He is Head of State and Head of Government and carries the title of 'Commander-in-Chief of the Army'. Due to his sudden illness, President Castro on 31 July 2006 handed over power to his brother Raul Castro. The official transfer of power took place on 24th February, 2008 after the general elections.
The Cuban economy has been state controlled and centrally planned working within the framework of socialism. The means of production are owned and run by the government and the labour force is employed through the state. Cuban Government is updating the economic model with a new Foreign Investment Law of 2014 and a series of other measures. The Cuban economy faces challenges due to the commercial, economic, and financial embargo (described in Cuba as el bloqueo) imposed by the US since 1962. UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to demand its end. The US Government under the leadership of President Obama has announced a new course on 17th December, 2014 to ease some of these restrictions.
Cuba has two currencies viz Cuban Pesos (CUP) and Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC) (1CUC = 24 CUP).The state provides to the Cuban people heavily subsidized food, transport, housing, medical and educational facilities in CUP. The most important mineral resource is nickel, of which Cuba has the world's second largest reserves after Russia. Cuba is also the world's fifth-largest producer of refined cobalt, a by-product of nickel mining operations. Tourism, Remittances from Cuban Americans, Medical services, Nickel, Cigars, Sea-Food, coffee, biotech products and medicines, Sugar, Citrus are the major exchange earners. Petroleum, Food Items, machinery and equipment, Textiles & Garments, Fertilizers & Chemicals constitute the major import items. Main destinations of exports are - Canda (20.9%),China (18.4%),Venezuela (11.3%) and Netherlands (7.8%).Main origins of import are - Venezuela (31.4%),China (10.4%),Spain (8.7%),US (5.6%),and Canada (4.6%).
Cuba has a daily production of 55000 barrels of oil per day .The Cuban deep sea oil prospecting zone spread over 59 blocks in the Cuban EEZ Sector of the Gulf of Mexico has attracted substantial business. Oil majors like Repsol, Norsk Hydro, ONGC Videsh Ltd., Petronas, Petroviet and Sheritt have signed up for exploration. Canada’s Sheritt and Pebercan and Chinese Sinopec are active on the onshore areas. Recent oil exploration has revealed that the North Cuba Basin could produce approximately 4.6 billion barrels (730,000,000 m3) to 9.3 billion barrels (1.48×109 m3) of oil.