Cuba, country of the West Indies, the largest single island of the archipelago, and one of the more influential states of the Caribbean region.
The domain of Taino-speaking American Indians who had displaced even earlier inhabitants, Cuba was claimed by Christopher Columbus in 1492. It became the Spanish empire’s most important source of raw sugar in the 18th century and later earned the sobriquet “Pearl of the Antilles.” Though Spain had to fight several difficult and costly campaigns against independence movements, it retained rule of Cuba until 1898, when it was defeated by the United States and Cuban forces in the Spanish-American War. Cuba soon gained formal independence, though it remained overshadowed by the nearby United States.
On New Year’s Day, 1959, revolutionary forces led by Fidel Castro overthrew the government of dictator Fulgencio Batista. Two years later Castro proclaimed the Marxist-Leninist nature of the revolution. Cuba became economically isolated from its northern neighbour as it developed close links to the Soviet Union. However, the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s isolated Cuba still further, bringing on what Cubans euphemistically call the período económico especial(“special economic period”), a time of widespread shortages and financial uncertainty. By the early 21st century, Cuba had loosened some of its more restrictive economic and social policies, but the United States continued its decades-long economic embargo against the Castro regime, assuring that economic hardships would persist.
Life in contemporary Cuba is thus challenging, given the limited access to food, transportation, electrical power, and other necessities. Even so, many Cubans show a fierce pride in their revolutionary society, the only one of its kind in Latin America. The protagonist of anthropologist Miguel Barnet’s novel Canción de Rachel (1969; Rachel’s Song, 1991) describes it thus:
This island is something special. The strangest, most tragic things have happened here. And it will always be that way. The earth, like human kind, has its destiny. And Cuba’s is a mysterious destiny.
Cuba is a largely urban nation, although it has only one major city: Havana (La Habana), the capital and commercial hub of the country, on the northwestern coast. Handsome if rather run-down, Havana has a scenic waterfront and is surrounded by fine beaches, an attraction for increasing numbers of visitors from abroad. Cuba’s other cities—including Santiago, Camagüey, Holguín, and, especially, Trinidad—offer a rich legacy of colonial Spanish architecture to complement contemporary buildings. "Cuba" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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