Cuba Children’s Encyclopedia (2005)

By | December 16, 2021

Socialism in the Tropics

The island of rum, sugar cane, plantations, cheap holidays, Afro-Cuban music, Fidel Castro and Che Guevara… Cuba is, however, even more: it is an example, for better or for worse, of the profound signs of colonization and of how tiring, difficult and contradictory the search for freedom and justice can be


The sugar island

At the entrance to the Gulf of Mexico, Cuba is the largest and most western of the Greater Antilles. Its territory also includes over 1,500 smaller islands.

The island consists of a long plain, dominated by mountains to the west and east (Sierra Maestra, with the highest peak, Pico Turquino, 1,972 m), and has mostly sandy and marshy coasts and rich in bays.

The climate is tropical, but is mitigated by the sea and cold winds from the north: it is hot and humid, with constant and not excessive temperatures; the rainy season runs from April to October, when the southern coasts are often hit by violent cyclones.

The population is concentrated in urban areas (more than 70%): the capital, Havana, has almost 2,200,000 residents. Santiago de Cuba is also important. To reduce immigration to large cities, a series of medium-sized cities (50 ÷ 100,000 residents) has been developed since the 1960s. Negroes and mulattoes, descendants of African slaves, make up almost two thirds of the population.

After the agrarian reform initiated by Fidel Castro, Cuban agriculture has experienced a certain variety of crops; the main product is still sugar, of which Cuba is the world’s largest exporter; also important are tobacco (the famous Havana cigars), coffee and tropical fruit. Most of the workers are employed in sugar refineries, rum distilleries and in tobacco processing. The country is also a large exporter of nickel. Finally, Cuba has recently become an important tourist destination again.

A colonial history

The original population of Cuba disappeared shortly after Christopher Columbus discovered the island in 1492. The diseases of the Spaniards (even if not serious, such as measles) were fatal to the natives, who did not have appropriate antibodies; but, above all, the colonizers forced them to a ferocious forced labor: already in 1524 it was necessary to import slaves to replace the Amerindians. For Cuba history, please check

The lands belonged to the Creole landowners, descendants of the first settlers, who depended on the export of sugar, controlled by Spanish merchants. Hostility between the two groups slowed down the independence process. After various revolts and civil wars (in one of these the national hero José Martí died in 1895), and the abolition of slavery only in 1886, in 1898 the United States occupied the island.

In 1902 Cuba became independent under the US protectorate. US companies controlled plantations and sugar factories, but sugar suffered the ups and downs of the international market: the Cuban economy continued to depend on the outside and social imbalances were very strong. Against this situation, Fidel Castro in 1959 led an insurrection, divided the estates, nationalized businesses and established a socialist regime. Its policy was opposed by the United States and a severely repressed internal opposition, and was instead supported by the Soviet Union. Towards the end of the 20th century, the regime attempted to mitigate internal and international conflicts, but without guaranteeing the typical freedoms of democratic states or solid economic development, despite good results in social policies.

Cuba Children's Encyclopedia