Before I start with my journey through Cuba, you have to kind of know some political and economic basics about Cuba. Before that, let’s start with some history.
Where is Cuba located?
Only about 60 kms away from Cuba’s Arch-enemy the USA and close to Jamaika, Haiti& the Dominican Republic and the Cayman Islands Cuba is an Island in the Caribbeans.
picture: worldatlas.com , Retrieved from http://www.worldatlas.com/webimage/countrys/namerica/caribb/cucarib.gif
Very very briefly:
Spanish Colony, The Brits came, the French also wanted Cuba, everyone hated each other and fought each other to get the island, finally the Spanish won and got Cuba –> Spanish is the official language, the houses are mostly Spanish colonial style, etc…
At one point (beginning 19-hundreds), the Cubans got their independence formally, but actually they were a colony of the USA. Cuba was always interesting for the USA:
Presidents who tried to buy Cuba:
1808 Thomas Jefferson
1848 James Polk
1854 Franklin Pierce
1898 William McKinley
(Retrieved from Lonely Planet:Kuba)
So basically, Cuba was interesting for the USA for its natural resources (Almost all sugar cane exports went to the USA), but also the island was basically a sort of Las Vegas-Beach paradise for rich Americans who enjoyed themselves in the sun with nice rum and music.
Before the revolution, more than 70% of the land was owned by foreigners. Bananas, Coffee, Sugar was exported with the controversial United Fruits Company (which also took part in dirty political games and- who knows that?- survives even today under the new name Chiquita! Read more about United Fruits Company: nice article in German, available (Die Zeit) here, or in English (New York Times) here ).
Between Baracoa and Yumuri: This was the bay where United Fruits transported the fruits. It used to be very busy there, now it is a dead place. Oh, and the movie Robinson Crusoe was filmed there!
Well. The country actually became really wealthy, happy Americans and the winners of the Cuban capitalist boom enjoyed themselves with gambling and refreshments at the beach whereas the shadow of capitalism punished the simple people: unemployment, lack of education and health care and horrible conditions for peasants.
Oh yes, and the political system was also-excuse the expression- fucked up.
Fulgencio Batista who was backed up by the United States simply did not like the idea of elections and decided to just keep going as the president. The young lawyer, Dr. Fidel Castro, who wanted to participate in the presidential elections, was not amused at all…..
The revolution. Or: Lucky Castros!
The pissed-off Fidel Castro, together with his brother Raul and other intellectuals gather and think of how to overthrow the military dictator Batista.
In the end, they come up with the following action:
26 July 1953: A la French-revolution-style the battle at the Bastille, Castro and more than 60 people come up with their coup d’etat attempt and storm the Cuartel Moncada in Santiago de Cuba. Not a very smart move, only one guy came from Santiago and knew the city, even on their way they got lost…. So yes, Almost everyone got killed. Fidel and his brother survived, ended up in prison, were released though (some other prisoners got killed,though)….
The Cuartel Moncada in Santiago de Cuba. They even left the holes from the shootings
Castro and his crew left Cuba and mobilised in the exile where they also met ”El Che” Ernesto Guevara. On the Granma, they came back to Cuba, again almost everyone got killed, the Castros and Che Survived and they started their Jungle-Guerilla adventure in the mountains.
Genious group picked the day after New Year’s Eve to enter Havanna and declare their revolution. Scared Batista fled shortly before. (1959)
Socialismo o muerte! (Socialism or death)
> work on the literacy rate
> free education
> free health care
> kick out big-ass foreign companies (Bye Bye United Fruit!)
> economic and cultural independence from the United States
> Nationalize companies
> ”The beach is for everyone” –> Cultural and Free-time activities should be available for everyone
USA very angry –> Blockade (Embargo)
1959: Secret CIA memo from J.C. King to the CIA director: ”The US objective is now the overthrow [and] the elimination of Fidel Castro within one year”
Well. That didn’t work out that well.
1961, quote Eisenhower: ” The US could think of manufacturing [a] generally acceptable reason to invade Cuba.”
1961: The CIA forms a secret organisation as the first-step towards replacing Castro with a US puppet government
Since the West does not like the new era in Cuba, the island is forced to look for other partners. Cuba’s big brother: The Soviet Union
Cold War, Cuban missile crisis (Read more about it here )
After collapse of the Soviet Union –> the ”special period in times of peace”. The Cuban economy drops dramatically, people literally live from their ”hands in their mouths” with rice and beans.
In the 90s, Fidel has to come up with privatization measures in order to save the Cuban economy. Cubans are allowed to open small restaurants (under strict rules), and the country opens up for tourism. People are also allowed to rent out rooms now (casas particulares). In order to be competitive in the international market, the Peso Convertible (CUC), which is based on the Dollar rate, has to be introduced. Now,the Cuban economy consists of two currencies: The Peso Cubano, or Moneda Nacional which is used for purchases on the market and basic goods, and the CUC which is used for imported goods and more luxurious things (Beer,Vacation payments, Clothes,etc.)
Those privatization measures revive the Class System which is actually not the idea of socialism. But according to Castro, those measures are necessary in order to keep the revolution alive.
In 2006, Fidel resigns due to health problems, and his brother Raul takes over.
Ever since, Raul even comes up with more measures to open up the economy and end the isolation of the country.
And now, in 2014/2015, for the very first time it looks like Cuba and the USA are going to end their rivalry and start talks to end the embargo. (Read more about it here )
Alright, those are the most important historical facts which you should know in my opinion before starting your journey through Cuba.
I hope that I didn’t bore you too much with it.