Cuba is the most populous Caribbean country. Its people, culture and customs draw from several sources including the aboriginal Taíno and Ciboney peoples, the period of Spanish colonialism, the introduction of African slaves, and its proximity to the United States. The island has a tropical climate that is moderated by the surrounding waters; however, the warm temperatures of the Caribbean Sea and the fact that the island of Cuba sits across the access to the Gulf of Mexico make Cuba prone to frequent hurricanes. Cuba, length 766 miles, is not a small island. Winston Churchill who knew Cuba well, considered Cuba to be a “…large, rich, beautiful island…”
|110,860 sq km
|85% Roman Catholic, Protestants, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jews, and Santeria are also represented
The native Amerindian population of Cuba began to decline after the European discovery of the island by Christopher Columbus in 1492 and following its development as a Spanish colony during the next several centuries. Large numbers of African slaves were imported to work the coffee and sugar plantation. Spanish rule, marked initially by neglect, became increasingly repressive, provoking an independence movement and occasional rebellions that were harshly suppressed. It was US intervention during the Spanish-American War in 1898 that finally overthrew Spanish rule. The subsequent Treaty of Paris established Cuban independence, which was granted in 1902 after a three-year transition period. Fidel Castro led a rebel army to victory in 1959; his rule has held the regime together since then. Cuba’s Communist revolution, with Soviet support, was exported throughout Latin America and Africa during the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. The country is now slowly recovering from a severe economic recession in 1990, following the withdrawal of former Soviet subsidies, worth $4 billion to $6 billion annually.
Costa Rica’s basically stable economy depends on tourism, agriculture, and electronics exports. Poverty has remained at roughly 20% for nearly 20 years, and the strong social safety net that had been put into place by the government has eroded due to increased financial constraints on government expenditures. Immigration from Nicaragua has increasingly become a concern for the government. Foreign investors remain attracted by the country’s political stability and high education levels, and tourism continues to bring in foreign exchange. The government continues to grapple with its large internal and external deficits and sizable internal debt. Reducing inflation remains a difficult problem because of rising import prices, labor market rigidities, and fiscal deficits. The country also needs to reform its tax system and its pattern of public expenditure. The current administration has made it a priority to pass the necessary reforms to implement the US-Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). CAFTA implementation would result in an improved investment climate.
The government continues to balance the need for economic loosening against a desire for firm political control. It has rolled back limited reforms undertaken in the 1990s to increase enterprise efficiency and alleviate serious shortages of food, consumer goods, and services. The average Cuban’s standard of living remains at a lower level than before the downturn of the 1990s, which was caused by the loss of Soviet aid and domestic inefficiencies. Since late 2000, Venezuela has been providing Cuba oil on preferential terms, and it currently supplies about 98,000 barrels per day of petroleum products. Cuba has been paying for the oil, in part, with the services of Cuban personnel, including some 20,000 medical professionals. In 2006, high metals prices continued to boost Cuban earnings from nickel and cobalt production.
The culture of Cuba is a complex mixture of different, often contrasting, factors and influences. Traditionally, Cuba is a meeting point of European, African, Amerindian and continental North American cultures. Since 1959, the Cuban Revolution has also greatly affected Cuban culture, down to the most basic levels of daily life. Much of Cuban culture, especially Cuban music, is instantly recognizable throughout the world. Being a very musical nation, Cubans love dancing and many types of dance have actually originated in Cuba.
Education in Cuba is nominally subsidized at all levels and controlled by the Cuban Ministry for Education. In 1961 the government nationalized all private educational institutions and introduced a state-directed education system. There are no tuition fees paid by school or university students and private schools or private universities are not permitted. Education expenditures continue to receive high priority. Nevertheless, the economic upheaval after 1991, known as the Special Period, strained Cuba’s long-standing efforts to ensure access to quality educational services. The system has been criticized for political indoctrination and for monitoring the political opinions of the students which may have lifelong consequences.
In primary school the so-called “Cumulative School File.” is introduced. This is a little like a report card, but it is not limited to academic achievements. It measures “revolutionary integration,” not only of the student but also of his family. This file documents whether or not the child and family participate in mass demonstrations, or whether they belong to a church or religious group. The file accompanies the child for life, and is continually updated. His university options will depend on what that file says. If he does not profess a truly Marxist life, he will be denied many career possibilities.
In 1994 in a UNHCR report the Special Rapporteur, Mr. Carl-Johan Groth, wrote: “17. According to the information received, the so-called “cumulative school record” and “employment record” make it possible to monitor the ideological integration of individuals virtually throughout their lives, by including not only purely academic or employment-related material, but also information regarding their membership in mass organizations, functions performed in such organizations, level of activism, ideological features of family members, misconduct, etc. Often individuals are expelled from educational institutions, dismissed from their jobs or subjected to some form of discrimination for expressing, in some way, views inconsistent with the official ideology.”.
School attendance is compulsory from ages 6 to 16 and all students, regardless of age or sex, wear school uniforms with the color denoting grade level. Primary education lasts for six years. Secondary education is divided into basic secondary education and pre-university secondary education. The curriculum in primary and secondary schools is based upon principles of “hard work, self-discipline and love of country”. Students are required to work in agriculture three times a week. At the end of basic secondary education, pupils can choose between pre-university education and technical and professional education. Those who complete pre-university education are awarded the Bachillerato. Technical training leads to two levels of qualification – skilled worker and middle-level technician. Successful completion of this cycle gives access to the technological institutes.
Higher education is provided by universities, higher institutes, higher pedagogical institutes, centers of higher education and higher polytechnic institutes. All higher education institutions are public. The Ministry of Higher Education (Ministerio de Educación Superior (MES)) is responsible for policy in matters of undergraduate and postgraduate education. It controls teaching, methodology, courses and programmes and the allocation of student places, as well as the specialization courses offered by centres of higher education which come under the control of other ministries. All institutions have the same status. Cuba has 47 universities and total university enrollment is approximately 112,000 citizens.
Membership in the Communist Party also affects a student’s chances of being admitted to any of Cuba’s universities.
The US State department states that Cuba has been among the most literate countries in Latin America since well before the Castro revolution. The improvement in literacy after this is impressive, but not unique, among Latin American countries. Panama, Paraguay, Colombia, Brazil, El Salvador, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, and Haiti — which all ranked just behind Cuba in this indicator during the 1950s – have equaled or bettered Cuba’s improvement when measured in percentage terms.
Critics also dispute that education is “free”, since from the time a young person reaches seventh grade until he or she completes twelfth grade, he or she is required to spend 30 days without pay each year working on the land. Later, university graduates have to do “social service”, a period of some three years work carried out by the graduate wherever he is sent. Furthermore, since the state must cover all costs out of its revenues, critics would observe that parents, in concert with other tax payers, indirectly pay for the education of their children.
In addition to criticism of the “Cumulative School File” described above, critics also note that from the time they are in elementary school onward, students will hear that God does not exist, and that religion is “the opium of the masses.” If any student speaks about God, his or her parents will be called to the school, warned that they are “confusing” the child, and threatened. The Code for Children, Youth and Family provides for a three-year prison sentence for any parent who teaches a child ideas contrary to communism. The code states: No Cuban parent has the right to “deform” the ideology of his or her children, and the state is the true “Father.” Article 8 of that same code reads, “Society and the state work for the efficient protection of youth against all influences contrary to their Communist formation.”
In order to enter university, students are required to pass an entry examination to show they possess the basic knowledge required. In order to take this examination students need a letter from the Committee for the Defense (CDR) CDR of the Revolution vouching for their “political and moral background”. It is reported that often people are unable to take the examinations because their letter from the CDR was unfavorable. In one case a student was not allowed to take the examination as the letter stated that he “had friendly relations with elements who wished to leave the country”.
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