Cuba, republic (42,804 sq mi/110,922 sq km; 1991 est. pop. 10,705,000, including Isla de Juventud), consisting of the isl. of Cuba and numerous adjacent isls.; Havana (Span. La Habana). Cuba is the largest of the Greater Antilles and westernmost country in the West Indies and lies strategically at the entrance of the Gulf of Mexico, with the W sect. only 90 mi/145 km S of Key West, Fla. The S coast is washed by the Caribbean Sea, the N coast by the Atlantic Ocean, the Fla. Straits, and the Gulf of Mexico, and in the E the Windward Passage separates Cuba from Haiti. The shores are often marshy and are fringed by coral reefs and keys. There are many fine seaports—Havana (the chief import point), Cienfuegos, Matanzas, Cárdenas, Nuevitas, Santiago de Cuba, and Guantánamo (a U.S. naval base since 1903). Cuba has 3 mt. regions: the Sierra Maestra in the E, rising to 6,560 ft/2,000 m in the Pico Turquino; a lower range, the scenic Sierra de los Órganos, in the W; and the Sierra de Trinidad, or Escambray, a picturesque mass of hills amid the plains and rolling country of central Cuba, a region of vast sugar plantations. The rest of the isl. is level or rolling terrain. The topography, the semitropical and generally uniform climate, and the soil are suitable for various crops, but sugarcane has been dominant since the early 19th cent.; it is grown on about 2/3 of all cropland. Some attempts at diversification have been made, but the program of agr. reform established by the Castro govt. did not lessen the continued dominance of sugar. Sugar and its derivatives account for bet. 65% and 75% of the value of all exports. Other important exports include nickel, fish, citrus fruits, and cigars. High-quality tobacco is grown, especially in the Vuelta Abajo region of Pinar del Río prov., and coffee, rice, corn, citrus fruits, and sweet potatoes are important. However, the emphasis on export crops (sugar and, to a lesser degree, tobacco) necessitates the importation of much food. Petroleum was also a major import when the USSR was supporting the Cuban economy and, in the mid-1990s, Cuba continued to trade sugar for Rus. oil. Large-scale fishing operations have been encouraged in recent decades, and that industry is now one of the largest in Lat. Amer. Livestock raising has also been highly developed. Mfg. is centered chiefly in the processing of agr. prods.; sugar milling has long been the largest industry. Some consumer goods (e.g., textiles, fertilizer, cement) are also manufactured, as well as chemicals and steel. Mining has never been of major importance, although Cuba’s nickel deposits are among the largest in the world and are gaining in importance. Extraction is difficult because of the presence of other metals in the nickel ore, but production has nevertheless increased considerably and nickel is the country’s 2d most valuable export item (after sugar). Large amounts of copper, chromite, and cobalt are also mined, as well as lesser quantities of salt, lead, zinc, gold, silver, and petroleum. There is also oil drilling near Veradero Beach. Limestone, clay, gypsum, and sulfur production easily meet the country’s needs. There are immense iron reserves, but problems of extraction and purification are even greater than with nickel, and iron production is still slight. The country’s main trading partners are Mexico and Canada (the latter’s investments in Cuba’s hotels and nickel mines is in defiance of the U.S. embargo). Cuba’s attempts to promote tourism have met with limited success ever since the loss of U.S. business in the 1960s and because of the low quality of hotels and other services. From a low of less than 30,000 in the mid-1970s, the number of tourists surpassed 1,000,000 in 1997 for the first time since the 1959 revolution. Tourists from the Soviet bloc have been replaced recently by Europeans (esp. Italians and Spaniards), while Eur. investment has refurbished hotels. The isl. was inhabited by several different Native Amer. groups when it was visited in 1492 by Christopher Columbus. The Span. conquest began in 1511 under the leadership of Diego de Velázquez, who founded Baracoa and other major settlements. Cuba served as the staging area for Span. explorations of the Americas. As an assembly point for treasure fleets, it offered a target for Fr. and Br. buccaneers, who attacked the isl.’s cities incessantly. The indigenous pop. were quickly destroyed under Span. rule, soon replaced as laborers by black Afr. slaves, who contributed much to the cultural evolution of the isl. and sustained the sugar economy. Despite pirate attacks and the trade restrictions of Span. mercantilist policies, Cuba, “the Pearl of the Antilles,” prospered. In the imperial wars of the 18th cent. other nations coveted the Span. possession, and in 1762 a Br. force captured Havana; England returned Cuba to Spain (1763) in exchange for Florida. Cuba remained a Span. colony even as most of Spain’s possessions became (early 19th cent.) independent republics. The slave trade expanded rapidly, reaching its peak in 1817. Sporadic uprisings were brutally suppressed by the Spaniards. Cuban discontent with Span. rule grew and finally erupted (1868) in the unsuccessful Ten Years War. Failing to achieve substantive change, revolutionary leaders, many in exile in the U.S., planned a 2d war of independence, launched in 1895 with the writer José Martí as its leader. There was strong Amer. sentiment in favor of the rebels, which, after the suspicious sinking of the U.S. battleship Maine in Havana harbor, led the U.S. to declare war on Spain. The Span. forces capitulated, and a treaty, signed in 1898, set the stage for Cuba to become an independent republic. U.S. military occupation of the isl. continued until 1902, and economic and political influence prevailed until 1958. Cuba became an independent republic in 1902 with Estrada Palma as its 1st president, but the isl. remained under U.S. protection, and the U.S. also had the right to intervene in Cuban affairs. U.S. investment in Cuban enterprises increased, and plantations, refineries, RRs, and factories passed to U.S. ownership. This economic dependence led to charges of “Yankee imperialism,” strengthened when a revolt headed by José Miguel Gómez led to a further U.S. military occupation (1906–1909) and again in 1912 to assist putting down Afro-Cuban protests against discrimination. Sugar production increased, and in World War I the near destruction of Europe’s beet-sugar industry raised sugar prices and created explosive economic growth in Cuba in the early 1920s. The boom (called vacas gordas) was followed by collapse, however, and wild fluctuations in prices brought repeated hardship. Politically, the country suffered from fraudulent elections and increasingly corrupt administrations. The reforms of President Gerardo Machado (1925–1933) were followed by the era of Fulgencio Batista, a former army sergeant who dominated the political scene until 1959, either directly as president or indirectly as army chief of staff. In the 1930s, the U.S. changed tariff rulings to favor Cuba. However, economic problems continued, complicated by the difficulties of U.S. ownership of many of the sugar mills and the continuing need for diversification. Batista seized power through a military coup in 1952. An attack on July 26, 1953, by Fidel Castro and a few dozen guerrilla fighters against the Moncada jail (in Santiago de Cuba) was abortive. In 1956, however, Castro came by boat to E Cuba from Mexico and took to the Sierra Maestra. There, aided by Ernesto “Che” Guevara and others, he reformed his ranks and waged a much publicized guerrilla war. The U.S. withdrew military aid to Batista in 1958, and he finally fled on Jan. 1, 1959. Castro was soon in control of the nation. Despite its popular support, the revolutionary govt. proceeded with a severe program of political purges and suppressed all remaining public opposition. The new govt. concentrated on the provision of adequate medical care and education to the majority of the pop., with great success. Less successful, however, have been its attempts to diversify agr. production and achieve a self-sufficient economy. The expropriation of U.S. landholdings, banks, and industrial concerns led to the breaking (Jan. 1961) of diplomatic relations by the U.S. govt. That same year Castro declared his allegiance with the Eastern bloc. Opposition to Cuba’s Communist alignment was strong in the U.S., which responded with a trade embargo and sponsorship of the Bay of Pigs incident (April 1961), when CIA-trained forces landed on Girón Beach in an attempt to invade Cuba. The invasion was quickly crushed—a debacle esp. humiliating to the U.S. because of its direct involvement. Cuba’s significance in the Cold War was further dramatized the following year when the USSR began to buttress Cuba’s military power and to build missile bases on the isls. In a dramatic confrontation, U.S. President John F. Kennedy demanded (Oct. 1962) the dismantling of the missiles and ordered naval vessels to blockade the isl. After a period of great world tension, Soviet Premier Khrushchev agreed to withdraw the missiles. Cuba’s relations with other Lat. Amer. countries deteriorated quickly during this period because of its explicit intention of spreading the revolution to those countries by guerrilla warfare. In Feb. 1962, the OAS formally excluded Cuba from its council, and by Sept. 1964, all Lat. Amer. nations except Mexico had broken diplomatic and economic ties with Cuba. Cuban attempts to encourage revolution in other countries later abated, and by the early 1970s several nations resumed diplomatic relations. In the late 1960s and 1970s Cuba’s govt. policies went through a significant reformulation, including an increased leadership role among less-developed nations, an active program of military support for revolutionary movements around the world, and a reorganization of its domestic political and economic systems. In the 1970s and early 1980s, Cuban troops fought with revolutionary groups in Angola and Mozambique, resulting in the loss of thousands of Cuban soldiers. From 1961 to the late 1980s Cuba was heavily dependent on economic and military aid from the Soviet Union. In the late 1980s Cuban-Soviet relations became more distant as the Soviets moved toward a more liberal position, and with the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Cuba faced extreme economic difficulties as it lost its primary source of aid. Castro has remained in firm control; most of those who had initially opposed him have fled, and, despite economic disappointments, he has long enjoyed a large measure of popularity. However, the decision to allow emigration in 1980 resulted in an exodus of more than 125,000 people from Mariel, Cuba, to Fla. before it was halted, awakening the govt. itself as much as the outside world to the discontent of much of the Cuban pop. The Castro govt. has succeeded in providing free universal health care and education, as well as subsidized housing, but the economic difficulties caused by the collapse of Soviet aid and a continuing U.S. embargo have made it difficult for the govt. to overcome the dissatisfaction of segments of the pop. The collapse of the Soviet Union forced Cuba into the so-called Special Period in a Time of Peace, consisting of food and power shortages, factory closings, and an overall deterioration of social services (especially health care and education) and transportation. In 1993, local use of the U.S. dollar was legalized, as were more than 100 types of private-sector jobs. Though natl. leaders pledge allegiance to a socialist system, a free-market (and illegal black-market) economy flourishes. Foreign joint-venture projects have transformed the look of Havana and tourist resorts in the 1990s. Economic liberalization, however, did not stop thousands of rafters from leaving Cuba in 1994. In Aug. of that same year, a civil disturbance broke out on the Malecón, the seaside promenade of Havana, over food scarcities, power outages, and related difficulties. By 1997, the Cuban govt. had sought and formalized more than 200 joint-venture firms which seek to generate hard currency. The U.S. reversed its policy of granting automatic political exile status to all Cubans in 1994 and instead placed thousands in refugee camps in Guantánamo, Panama, and elsewhere. Principal institutions of higher learning are the Univ. of Havana (founded 1728, reorganized 1943 and 1960) and José Antonio Echeverría Polytechnic Inst. in Havana; Universidad de Oriente, in Santiago de Cuba; and Central Universidad de las Villas, in Santa Clara. Capital city or county seat is shown by the symbol  
The Columbia Gazetteer of North America. Copyright © 2000 Columbia University Press.