An Idiot’s Guide to Cuba

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For those not interested in politics and history, Cuba is merely a country that manufactures the world’s most famous cigars. That being said, Cuba is so much more than that; it is a nation of struggle, success and failure. It is one of the last - if not the last - remaining Marxist-Leninist Communist States (I know that sounds complicated already, but bear with me).

Cuba is the largest island in the Caribbean with around 11 million inhabitants. It hosts a diversity of ethnicities, with some Cubans being the descendants of aboriginal Taino and Ciboney people, as well as Spanish colonialists who controlled Cuba from the 15th Century till the end of the 19th Century, African slaves, and people from Russian descent (due to the Soviet-Union’s close relationship with the country).

Similarly to Egypt, Cuba had a leader that was controlled by a foreign state up until 1959. It was not the English though, but the Americans who propped up Fulgencio Batista to become a neo-colony of the United States. In 1959, a group of militant revolutionaries led by Fidel and Raul Castro as well as Ernesto Che Guevara landed on the coast of Cuba and made their way through each city, liberating it from Batista’s iron fist. At the end of the revolution, Fidel Castro appointed himself head of state, giving positions of power to his most trusted allies during the uprising.

Under Castro’s rule, Cuba began transforming into a seemingly successful experiment. Education was part of the ideological campaign the revolutionaries were boasting; they believed and still believe that education is a tool of empowerment which must be made available to every citizen. In 1957 the literacy rate was 80 percent, which was already higher than Spain (former colonizer). Upon seizing control in a short span of time, the literacy rate skyrocketed to 99.8 percent and has fluctuated very slightly to this day. This was largely thanks to the training of teachers, the provision of free education throughout school and university, and the fact that school is compulsory from the ages six to 15.

Additionally, Cuba has one of the most celebrated medical systems in region, with some commentators even going so far as to claim that the Cuban health care system is superior to that of their American counterparts. Castro has allowed for universal health care to exist and an emphasis on the training of doctors, with students coming in from South America to receive medical training in Cuba. To display this in numbers, in 1957 there were 32 infant deaths per 1,000 live births, while in 2009 that number had gone down to five per 1,000.

Naturally, Cuba is not the socialist utopia leftists wish it was. There are many flaws in the system; the most stark being Cuba’s human rights record. The Cuban government, led by Castro, has always had a tight grip on political dissent and opposition. The country holds the second highest number of incarcerated journalists in the world, following China. The Human Rights Watch stated that: “Cubans are systematically denied access to basic rights to free expression, association, assembly, privacy, movement, and due process of the law.”

Since the 1960s, the U.S. increasingly placed sanctions against Cuba during a heated period of the Cold War. Ultimately the U.S. totally banned all trade with Cuba as well as froze all Cuban assets in America. In response to that, the Cuban government (already establishing itself as a socialist government) aligned itself with the Soviet-Union and became a thorn in the side of its U.S. counterpart. Cuban diplomats and Castro himself have constantly claimed that the embargo (which is imposed by the U.S. and most of its allies) has hurt the Cuban people the most, which there is significant evidence to support. Between 2014 and 2015, Former U.S. President Barack Obama was able to initiate an end to the embargo with Cuba and to re-establish relations, a move that was welcomed by the Cubans.

Image from radioradio.it

On 19 April 2018, Raul Castro announced that he would be stepping down and that Miguel Diaz-Canel would assume the role of president. Little is known about Canel other than the fact that he is not a Castro, which means - for the first time since 1959 - someone who is not a Castro will be ruling Cuba. That being said, many are skeptical about the 57-year-old claiming that he was educated and nurtured by the Castros, meaning that he will not stray far from their politics.

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