Republic of Cuba

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Republic of Cuba

República de Cuba
Flag of Republic of Cuba
Coat of arms of Republic of Cuba
Coat of arms
Location of Republic of Cuba
and largest city
GovernmentMarxist-Leninist socialist state
• President
Miguel Díaz-Canel
Raúl Castro
• Victory of the Cuban Revolution
1 January 1959
• 2019 estimate

Cuba, officially the Republic of Cuba (Spanish: República de Cuba) is a country comprising the island of Cuba, as well as Isla de la Juventud and several minor archipelagos. Having fought against European and American colonizers and military occupation for its independence, the now-independent state is governed by the Communist Party of Cuba.

Its economy is run within the context of Marxism-Leninism. It began as a Soviet-style planned economy, but after the overthrow of the Soviet Union and subsequent loss of influence of the socialist bloc, Cuba became more vulnerable to the United States embargo against them and dependent of foreign trade and capital. Since then, they have been promoting extensive market reforms.[1]

Cuban healthcare is widely renowned throughout the world, achieving success in virtually every critical area of public health and medicine.[2] Cuba also promotes a healthcare diplomacy by sending doctors to underdeveloped nations which do not have advanced healthcare systems, as well as impressive innovation in biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.[3][4][5]


Pre-colonization (~3000 BCE - 1492)

When Christopher Columbus arrived in Cuba in 1492, there were three different indigenous peoples on the island: the Tainos, the Ciboneys and the Guanajatabeyes. The best estimates are that there were between 50,000 and 300,000 indigenous peoples at the time.[6]

The Tainos were the largest indigenous group of the island. They arrived in 1400s from the West Indies, and had 3 class divisions between them, chiefs (caciques), a small middle class that acted as advisers to the chiefs, and commoners. The Tainos were fishers, hunters and grew fruits, beans, peanuts, corn and cassava. They carved furniture, weaved cotton, baked cassava and used pepper to preserve meat. They used tobacco on religious ceremonies and lived in straw, palm-thatched houses.[6] After the Spanish occupation, tobacco became an impor­tant item for export.[7]

The cave-dwelling Guanajatabeyes were the first indigenous peoples on the island and the smallest in numbers. They were fruit and food gatherers and lived primarily on a sea mollusk diet. The Ciboneys were fishers, hunter-gatherers and also practiced some agriculture, and at some point they became servants of the Tainos.[6]

Colonization period (1492–1898)

In the next 70 years after Columbus' arrival in 1492, most of the indigenous peoples on the island were killed, largely due to Spanish systematic genocide, but also due to diseases brought by the Spanish, such as smallpox, typhus, influenza and measles.[6] Spanish colonialism in the Americas was motivated mostly by the Crown's desire for gold, silver and other precious metals. The settlers also had immediate interests for these travels, as they were to receive a share of the exploited value.[8] In 1510, Diego Velázquez, one of the richest settlers in Spain, was in charge of colonizing Cuban territory, beginning the conquest with a prolonged reconnaissance and conquest operation, plagued by bloody incidents. To safeguard trade, Spain decided to organize large fleets that would have the port of Havana as an obligatory stopover point, strategically located at the beginning of the Gulf Stream. Its prime exports were coffee, sugar, and tobacco. The Spanish aristocracy imported a lot of African slaves for this colony.

From 1790 to 1820, more African slaves were introduced into Cuba than in the previous century and a half. With a population that in 1841 already exceeded a million and a half inhabitants, the Island harbored a highly polarized society. Between an oligarchy of Creole landowners and Spanish merchants and the slave masses. Slavery was an important source of social instability, not only because of the frequent rebellion by slaves - both individually and in groups - but also because the repudiation of the said institution gave rise to conspiracies with abolitionist purposes, none of which were indigenous-led.

Around 1850 the colony received an influx of lower-class Spanish immigrants, but even they were treated poorly by the aristocracy: sixteen or eighteen-hour workdays, seven days weekly, were common, and work conditions in for example the tobacco industry were rife with poor pay, monotony, and health hazards.

After the Spanish–American War, Spain and the United States signed the Treaty of Paris (1898), by which Spain ceded Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Guam to the United States for the sum of US $20 million and Cuba became a protectorate of the United States.

The Popular Socialist Party of Cuba was formed in Havana in 1925. It was later renamed the "Communist Revolutionary Union". In 1961 the party merged into the Integrated Revolutionary Organizations (ORI), the precursor of the current Communist Party of Cuba.

The Batista era (1940-1959)

While the reactionary right-wing dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista reign saw relatively high GDP growth, human development indicators portray dismal social conditions, particularly among the rural peasants. Batista's regime left the majority of the Cuban people mired in poverty and illness, reporting a 91% malnutrition rate among agricultural workers.[9]

The mortality rates of the general population was usually high. Poor hygiene, inefficient sanitation and malnutrition contributed to the infant mortality rate of 60 per 1000 lives, maternal mortality rate of 125.3 per 1000, and a life expectancy of 65 years.[10] In contrast, Cuba today has an infant mortality rate of 4.2 deaths per 1000 lives as of 2021,[11] a maternal mortality rate of 36 per 100,000 live births as of 2017,[12] and a life expectancy of 79 years as of 2021.[13]

The rural population in Batista's era suffered from dismal health conditions, having only one rural hospital for the whole island, and only 11% of farm workers drank milk.[14] The infrastructure of households was also extremely underdeveloped under Batista. In a 1953 census, 54% of rural homes had no toilets of any kind. Only 2.3% of rural homes had indoor plumbing, compared with 54.6% of urban homes. In rural areas, 9.1% of houses had electricity, compared with 87% of houses in urban areas. Illiteracy and unemployment were widespread according to the same census, showing that nearly one-quarter of the people 10 years of age and older could not read or write and the unemployment rate was 25%.[9] In 1958, under the Batista dictatorship, half of Cuba's children did not attend school.[15]

Revolutionary movement (1953–1958)

Due to the inertia and inability to govern of the bourgeois political parties, a movement of a new type was born, headed by Fidel Castro, a young lawyer whose first political activities had developed in the university environment and the ranks of orthodoxy. On July 26, 1953, a crew of revolutionaries, including Fidel Castro, assaulted Fort Moncada but failed. Nonetheless, the Cuban working classes were growing increasingly restless, and consequently, the neocolonial government (headed by Fulgencio Batista) suppressed trade unions, strikes, and censored much of the press. The failed attack inspired the creation of The 26th of July Movement, a Cuban vanguard revolutionary organization and later a political party led by Fidel Castro.

In 1955, Fidel Castro was introduced to Che Guevara. During a long conversation with Fidel on the night of their first meeting, Guevara concluded that the Cuban's cause was the one for which he had been searching and before daybreak, he had signed up as a member of the July 26 Movement.

On 2 December 1956, Fidel Castro and Che Guevara along with 82 men landed in Cuba, having sailed in the boat Granma from Tuxpan, Veracruz, ready to organize and lead a revolution. Attacked by Batista's military soon after landing, many of the 82 men were either killed in the attack or executed upon capture; only 22 regrouped in the Sierra Maestra mountain range. While in the Sierra Maestra mountains the guerrilla forces attracted hundreds of Cuban volunteers and won several battles against the Cuban Army. By January of 1959, the Cuban masses had successfully overthrown the neocolonial government and Batista fled to Europe.

Having discussed the revolutionary war itself, we may now move on to discussing the achievements of the Cuban socialist state.

Republic era (1959-)

The republic era of Cuba began after the Cuban Revolution successfully took power. Shortly after the victory of the revolution, Cuba carried out a profound agrarian reform which ended latifundia [a highly unequal land estate system] in the island and distributed land to thousands of formerly landless small farmers. Initiatives in the cities were also made. Urban reform brought a halving of rents for Cuban tenants, opportunities for tenants to own their housing, and an ambitious program of housing construction for those living in marginal shantytowns. New housing, along with the implementation of measures to create jobs and reduce unemployment, especially among women, rapidly transformed the former shantytowns.[16]

The Cuban revolution has also made great strides in eliminating discrimination and inequality. In the last 40 years Cubans have greatly reduced differences in income between the lowest and the highest paid persons. Women have benefited significantly from the revolution as they have educated themselves and entered the labor force in large numbers. The differences among Cubans of different races have also been reduced.[16]

Fidel Castro became First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba in 1961. He was replaced in 2011 by his brother Raul Castro. Miguel Díaz-Canel replaced Raul in 2021.


Despite economic pressure, Cuba has largely succeeded in providing a decent quality of life for its people and maintaining economic development. As of 2020, Cuba has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the world, of just 1,59%.[17] Compared to the vast majority of developing countries in Latin America, Africa and southern Asia, Cuba scores extremely well on virtually all indicators of socioeconomic development: life expectancy, access to healthcare and housing, education levels, employment rates, status of women and infant mortality rates.[18]


Cuba exports a total of $1.21 billion as of 2019. Its exports are composed of rolled tobacco ($287M), raw sugar ($211M), nickel mattes ($134M), hard liquor ($97.3M), and zinc ore ($78.4M). The most common export destinations are China ($461M), Spain ($127M), Netherlands ($65.5M), Germany ($64.7M), and Cyprus ($48.9M).[19]


Cuba imports a total of $5.28 billion as of 2019. Its imports are composed of machinery and appliances ($884M), poultry meat ($286M), wheat ($181M), soybean meal ($167M), corn ($146M), and concentrated milk ($136M). The most common import partners for Cuba are Spain ($1.01B), China ($790M), Italy ($327M), Canada ($285M), and Russia ($285M).[19] The Cuban economy is heavily reliant on food imports, with 70% to 80% of its food requirement being imported from outside.[20]

Sustainable development and environmental preservation

Cuba is the most sustainably developed country worldwide, achieving high levels of social performance with low levels of ecological impact.[21][22]



Cuba has a public education system from the primary to the superior levels, free to its citizens. Around 12% of Cuba's GDP is invested in public education, the highest percentage on GDP devoted to education worldwide.[23] The literacy rate of the adult population is 99.75%, the highest in Latin America.[24] One of the most significant developments in Cuban education was the National Literacy Campaign of 1961, spearheaded by Che Guevara, a campaign recognized as one of the most successful initiatives of its kind, which mobilized teachers, workers, and secondary school students to teach more than 700,000 persons how to read. This campaign reduced the illiteracy rate from 23% to 4% in the space of one year.[16]


Cuba's healthcare system is based on public investment and universal provision. Around 11% of its GDP is devoted to healthcare, the highest among Latin American countries.[25] As a result of this, free healthcare is guaranteed for all citizens, and Cuba's health indicators are highly ranked both regionally and globally.[9] Besides the investment, another important factor of success in Cuban healthcare model is its strategy.[26] Cuban medicine has made some impressive achievements, such as eliminating mother-to-child HIV and syphilis transmission.[4]


With a rate of undernourishment of only 2.5%,[27] Cuba is one of only 17 nations worldwide to have a score lower than 5 on the Global Hunger Index.[28] Compared to the United States, Statesians are more than twice as likely to die from malnutrition than Cubans.[29]

Over the last 50 years, comprehensive social protection programs have largely eradicated poverty and hunger. Food-based social safety nets include a monthly food basket for the entire population, school feeding programs, and mother-and-child health care programs.[20] The average Cuban consumes approx. 3300 calories per day, far above the Latin American and Caribbean average. Approx. 2/3 of nutritional needs are met by monthly food rations, while the rest is bought independently.[30]

Common issues

Cuban Exiles to the USA

The most common argument against Cuban socialism is that the Cuban exile population (and their strong distaste for socialism) somehow "proves" that socialist Cuba is terrible. However, this omits a key fact: the exiles come primarily from the wealthy class of Cuba. According to a study in the journal Social Problems:

Comparison of the occupational, age, and educational composition of the community with the Cuban population indicates that the refugees are better educated and come from higher status occupations than the population from which they have exiled themselves... more recent exiles are more representative of the Cuban population, but the rural worker is still vastly underrepresented.

Another thing to consider is that the exile took place during a time of conflict and difficulty for Cuba; the revolution was still very new, and the government had not entirely established itself yet. This likely explains why there were some outliers (i.e. exiles from the working-class population), although the majority were still from the wealthy sectors of Cuban society.


  1. Communist Party of Cuba (1997). Economical resolution of the 5th Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba (Spanish: Resolución económica V Congreso del Partido Comunista de Cuba). (PDF link)
  2. Carol Lynn Esposito (2018). Against all odds: Cuba achieves healthcare for all – An analysis of Cuban healthcare. The Journal of the New York State Nurses' Association, volume 45, number 1. (PDF link to journal)
  3. John M. Kirk (2015). Healthcare without borders: Understanding Cuban medical internationalism. University Press of Florida. (Library Genesis link)
  4. 4.0 4.1 World Health Organization (2015). WHO validates elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis in Cuba.
  5. Alexandra Sifferlin (2014). Why Cuba is so good at fighting ebola. Time Magazine.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Clifford L. Staten (2005). 'Early Cuba: Colonialism, Sugar and Nationalism: Cuba to 1868' in The history of Cuba. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 9781403962591 (Library Genesis link)
  7. Rex A Hudson (2002). 'Historical setting', in Cuba: a country study. Washington, DC: Federal Research Division, Library of Congress. ISBN 0844410454 (Library Genesis link)
  8. Eric Williams (1984). 'Gold and sugar' in From Columbus to Castro; The History of the Caribbean, 1492–1969. London: A. Deutsch. ISBN 0233000909 (Library Genesis link)
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Andrea Carter (2013). Cuba's food-rationing system and alternatives. Cornell University. (PDF link)
  10. LA Binn (2013). Cuba: healthcare and the revolution. West Indian Medical Journal.
  11. Macotrends. Cuba infant mortality rate 1950-2021
  12. Macrotrends. Cuba maternal mortality rate 2000-2021
  13. Macrotrends. Cuba life expectancy 1950-2021
  14. C. William Keck, Gail A. Reed (2012). The curious case of Cuba. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2012.300822 (Sci-Hub link)
  15. Jonathan Glennie. “Cuba: A development model that proved the doubters wrong”. The Guardian, 5 August 2011.
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 Oxfam (2002). Cuba: social policy at the crossroads. (PDF link)
  17. Cuba: Unemployment rate from 1999 to 2020. Statista.
  18. Clifford L. Staten (2005). 'Cuba and its people' in The history of Cuba. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 9781403962591 (Library Genesis link)
  19. 19.0 19.1 Cuba. Observatory of Economic Complexity.
  20. 20.0 20.1 United Nations World Food Program. Cuba.
  21. Jason Hickel (2019). The sustainable development index: Measuring the ecological efficiency of human development in the anthropocene. Ecological Economics. doi:10.1016/j.ecolecon.2019.05.011 (Sci-Hub link)
  22. As world burns, Cuba number 1 for sustainable development: WWF. Telesur.
  23. World Bank (2010). Cuba – Government expenditure on education, total (% of GDP).
  24. World Bank (2012). Cuba – Literacy rate, adult total (% of people ages 15 and above).
  25. Richard S. Cooper, Joan F Kennelly, Pedro Orduñez-Garcia (2006). Health in Cuba. International Journal of Epidemiology. doi:10.1093/ije/dyl175 (Sci-Hub link)
  26. Richard S. Cooper, Joan F Kennelly, Pedro Orduñez-Garcia (2006). Health in Cuba. International Journal of Epidemiology. doi:10.1093/ije/dyl175 (Sci-Hub link)
  27. World Bank (2018). Cuba – Prevalence of undernourishment (% of population).
  28. Global Hunger Index (2020. Cuba.
  29. Our World in Data (2017). Death rate from malnutrition, 1990 to 2017 (Cuba and United States).
  30. FAS, USDA (2008). Cuba’s food & agriculture situation report. (PDF link)

External links