In our “Exploring Countries” series, our next destination is Cuba. According to research, it has been selected as the country most people want to visit, and it’s not surprising. Why, you may ask. Let’s join this adventure together in this article and find the answer to that question.
Many of us, as children, used to memorize the countries and their capitals and proudly recite them whenever we had the chance. Now, with a population of 2.2 million, we welcome you to Havana, which is not only the capital of Cuba but also the largest city in the Caribbean! The main sources of livelihood for the people here are cigars, sugarcane, and corn. Havana also holds significant importance in terms of tourism.
A Brief History of Cuba
On October 28, 1492 (during his first voyage), Christopher Columbus discovered the island that now belongs to Cuba and declared it as a part of the Spanish Kingdom. Given its geographical location, it could have led to different outcomes, but it remained under Spanish rule until the end of the Spanish-American War in 1898. Afterward, in 1902, it gained its independence.
Population and Religious Structure of Cuba
There is no article in the Cuban constitution related to religious organization. In other words, religion and state affairs are conducted separately. While there aren’t many believers in the country, 60% of the population is Catholic, 24% are atheists, and 5% are Protestant. Additionally, there are over 3,000 Muslims known to be in the country, and some of the population adheres to the Santeria belief, which is a mixture of tribal and Christian elements.
National Symbols of Cuba
The Cuban flag was first used after Cuba gained independence from Spain in 1898 and became the flag of the Cuban state, which gained freedom from U.S. colonization on May 20, 1902. The one-star flag, royal palm coat of arms, and the Bayamo March are the national symbols of the country.
Languages Spoken in Cuba
Spanish is the only official language of Cuba. Besides Spanish, Galician and Corsican languages are also spoken in the country. Another well-known fact is that Cuba is a highly tourist-oriented country. As a result of tourism, English has become widely spoken and used in hotels, restaurants, and tourist areas, and you can often encounter people speaking English.
Cuba’s Economy and Cigars
Over 90% of Cuba’s economy is state-controlled, primarily due to a governing ideology based on socialist principles. Many businesses are run by the state. Fishing and animal husbandry, important sources of production for socialist regimes, are essential to the country’s livelihood. Cuba is renowned for coffee and cigar production. The country’s major trading partners are China, Canada, Spain, and the Netherlands. Approximately 80% of the country’s food needs are met through imports.
The Land of Embargoes
After gaining independence from Spain on January 1, 1899, Cuba declared its independence. However, full independence had not been achieved as the United States still had the right to intervene in Cuba’s internal and external affairs. This complicated structure led to increased corruption and social injustice, setting the stage for a communist uprising. In this uprising, led by Fidel Castro, who headed the communist regime groups, the government was overthrown, and Castro became the president.
After taking office, Fidel Castro’s land reform and nationalization of private enterprises, which aimed to reduce U.S. influence, greatly troubled the United States, which had many investments in the country. These reforms led to a rapid deterioration of relations between the two countries. Castro closed all casinos owned by American businessmen. After this final straw, diplomatic relations between the two countries were severed. When Russia’s nuclear base in Cuba came into play, following some precautions, the United States decided to impose an embargo on Cuba. Since 1959, the United States has continued to enforce its trade embargo.
Currency Used in Cuba
Cuba has two types of currency. The national currency used in the country is the Cuban peso (CUP). Another currency, the convertible Cuban peso (dollar peso), is also in use. Generally, everyone living in the country uses the national peso for their general needs. Two different currencies are used due to the influx of foreign currency into the country through tourists. It’s safe to say that it serves its purpose because tourists have frequently pointed out the difference between the two currencies.
Cuban Culture and Daily Life
Now, let’s explore one of the most colorful aspects: culture, daily life, and festivals. When it comes to sharing common values, societies want to do it together, whether in difficult times or happy moments. Cuba is no different. For this purpose, there are many special days, from the July 26 Moncada Day activities, which mark the beginning of the revolution, to the Havana Carnival, which takes place every August, featuring colorful parades that go on day and night.
You can also see extensions of some festivals, such as the International Havana Ballet Festival, in celebrations held in Paris and Istanbul. Another significant event is the Havana Biennial, which takes art to the streets and is held in March. Another important festival held in the capital is the Havana Film Festival. The International Food Festival, where food and flavors from local and foreign cuisines are showcased, is another popular festival in Cuba.
Cuban cuisine is influenced by Spanish, Jewish, and African countries’ cuisines. Additionally, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that it’s influenced by Mexican cuisine, given its proximity to Mexico. One of Cuba’s classic dishes is Arroz Con Pollo, which is a type of rice dish. Cubans prepare this rice by adding vegetables like carrots, corn, bell peppers, peas, chicken, and some regional spices. Ajiaco soup, recommended for digestive health, contains various ingredients and is a staple in Latin American countries such as Cuba, Colombia, and Peru. Croquetas, made from shrimp, vegetables, and cheese, is one of the dishes that shows that the influence of Spanish cuisine still continues in Cuba.
What You Need to Know About Cuba
Now, let’s look at some general information you need to know about the country.
Population: 11.4 million
Currency: Cuban Peso
Official Language: Spanish
Calling Code: +53
Education, housing, and healthcare services are provided free of charge throughout the country. Some schools even offer open classes for everyone to attend and experience.
The most advanced craftsmanship in Cuba is wood carving.
Baseball is the most beloved sport in Cuba.
Men serve a 2-month military service in Cuba, while women can volunteer to join the military if they wish.
Cuba provides the world’s best medical education. There fore, many of the best doctors come from Cuba.