Cuba is a multiracial society with a population of mainly Spanish and African origins. The largest organized religion is the Roman Catholic Church, but evangelical protestant denominations continue to grow rapidly. Afro-Cuban religions, a blend of native African religions and Roman Catholicism, are widely practiced in Cuba. Officially, Cuba was an atheist state from 1959 to the early 1990s, when the Communist Party lifted its prohibition against religious believers seeking membership and the constitution was amended (1991) to characterize the state as secular instead of atheist. In 1962, the revolutionary government seized and shut down all the private schools, including more than 400 Catholic schools. To date, the government does not permit religious education in public schools nor the operation of private primary or secondary schools of any kind.
Although the Cuban constitution recognizes the right of citizens to freedom of religion, religious groups experience various degrees of official interference, harassment, and repression. The Ministry of Interior engages in active efforts to control and monitor the country's religious institutions, including through surveillance, infiltration and harassment of religious professionals and practitioners. The most independent religious organizations--including the Catholic Church, the largest independent institution in Cuba today--continue to operate under significant restrictions and pressure imposed on them by the Cuban Government. The government restricts religious institutions' access to the media, the Internet, and printing presses; their ability to have full control of ordainments or adequate numbers of foreign priests or pastors to work in the country; and their ability to establish socially useful institutions, including schools and universities, hospitals and clinics, and nursing homes. All registered denominations must report to the Ministry of Interior's Office of Religious Affairs. Twenty-five denominations, including Presbyterians, Episcopalians, and one group of Methodists, are members of the Cuban Council of Churches (CCC), which comes under state control and oversight. Most CCC members are officially recognized by the state, though several, including the Evangelical Lutheran Church, are not registered and are recognized only through their membership in the CCC. Another 31 officially recognized denominations, including Jehovah's Witnesses and the small Jewish community, do not belong to the CCC. The government tends to be most tolerant of churches that maintain close relations to the state through the CCC.
Other Cuban religious groups--including evangelical Christians, whose numbers continue to grow rapidly--also have benefited from the relative relaxation of official restrictions on religious organizations and activities. Although particularly hard hit by emigration, Cuba's small Jewish community continues to hold services in Havana and has members in Santiago, Camaguey, and other parts of the island. See also the Department's report on international religious freedom for further information.
Population: 11.2 million; 76% urban, 24% rural (official 2010 statistics).
Ethnic groups: 65% white, 25% mixed, 10% black (official 2002 Cuba census).
Language: Spanish. Literacy--99.8% (25 years and older, according to Cuban Government sources).
Work force (5.07 million): Services (including education, health and social services)--42%; agriculture--19%; commerce and tourism--12%; industry--11%; transport, storage, and communications--6%; construction--5%; mining, electricity, gas and water--2%.
Cuba is the largest Caribbean island, about the size of England, and the most westerly of the Greater Antilles group, lying 145km (90 miles) south of Florida. A quarter of the country is fairly mountainous. West of Havana is the narrow Sierra de los Organos, rising to 750m (2461ft) and containing the Guaniguanicos hills in the west. South of the Sierra is a narrow strip of 2320 sq km (860 sq miles) where the finest Cuban tobacco is grown. The Trinidad Mountains, starting in the centre, rise to 1100m (3609ft) in the east. Encircling the port of Santiago are the rugged mountains of the Sierra Maestra. A quarter of the island is covered with mountain forests of pine and mahogany.
Official Name: Republic of Cuba
Area: 110,860 sq. km. (44,200 sq. mi.); about the size of Pennsylvania.
Cities: Capital--Havana (pop. 2 million). Other major cities--Santiago de Cuba, Camaguey, Santa Clara, Holguin, Guantanamo, Matanzas, Cienfuegos, Pinar del Rio.
Terrain: Flat or gently rolling plains, hills; mountains up to 2,000 meters (6,000 ft.) in the southeast.
Climate: Tropical, moderated by trade winds; dry season (November-April); rainy season (May-October).
Spanish settlers established the raising of cattle, sugarcane, and tobacco as Cuba's primary economic pursuits. As the native Indian population died out, African slaves were imported to work the ranches and plantations. Slavery was abolished in 1886.
Cuba was the last major Spanish colony to gain independence, following a lengthy struggle begun in 1868. Jose Marti, Cuba's national hero, helped initiate the final push for independence in 1895. In 1898, after the USS Maine sunk in Havana Harbor on February 15 due to an explosion of undetermined origin, the United States entered the conflict. In December of that year Spain relinquished control of Cuba to the United States with the Treaty of Paris. On May 20, 1902, the United States granted Cuba its independence but retained the right to intervene to preserve Cuban independence and stability under the Platt Amendment. In 1934, the amendment was repealed, and the United States and Cuba agreed to continue the 1903 agreement that leased the Guantanamo Bay naval base to the United States.
Independent Cuba was often ruled by authoritarian political and military figures who either obtained or remained in power by force. Fulgencio Batista, an army sergeant, organized a non-commissioned officer revolt in September 1933 and wielded significant power behind the scenes until he was elected president in 1940. Batista was voted out of office in 1944 and did not run in 1948. Both those elections were won by civilian political figures with the support of party organizations. Running for president again in 1952, Batista seized power in a bloodless coup 3 months before the election was to take place, suspended the balloting, and began ruling by decree. Many political figures and movements that wanted a return to the government according to the Constitution of 1940 disputed Batista's undemocratic rule.
Fidel Castro, who had been active politically before Batista's coup, on July 26, 1953 led a failed attack on the Moncada army barracks in Santiago de Cuba in which more than 100 died. After defending himself in a trial open to national and international media, he was jailed, and subsequently was freed in an act of clemency, before going into exile in Mexico. There he organized the 26th of July Movement with the goal of overthrowing Batista, and the group sailed to Cuba on board the yacht Granma, landing in the eastern part of the island in December 1956.
Batista's dictatorial rule fueled increasing popular discontent and the rise of many active urban and rural resistance groups, a fertile political environment for Castro's 26th of July Movement. Faced with a corrupt and ineffective military itself dispirited by a U.S. Government embargo on weapons sales to Cuba and public indignation and revulsion at his brutality toward opponents, Batista fled on January 1, 1959. Although he had promised a return to constitutional rule and democratic elections along with social reforms, Castro used his control of the military to consolidate his power by repressing all dissent from his decisions, marginalizing other resistance figures, and imprisoning or executing thousands of opponents. An estimated 3,200 people were executed by the Castro regime between 1959-62 alone. As the revolution became more radical, hundreds of thousands of Cubans fled the island.
Castro declared Cuba a socialist state on April 16, 1961. For the next 30 years, Castro pursued close relations with the Soviet Union and worked in concert with the geopolitical goals of Soviet communism, funding and fomenting violent subversive and insurrectional activities, as well as military adventurism, until the demise of the U.S.S.R. in 1991.
Relations between the United States and Cuba deteriorated rapidly as the Cuban regime expropriated U.S. properties and moved toward adoption of a one-party communist system. In response, the United States imposed an embargo on Cuba in October 1960, and, in response to Castro's provocations, broke diplomatic relations on January 3, 1961. Tensions between the two governments peaked during the October 1962 missile crisis.
Real gross domestic product (GDP) grew by 2.1% in 2010, according to official statistics. However, Cuba uses a unique “social” method for calculating GDP which makes its figures impossible to compare with any other country in the world. The reported growth reflected a slight improvement on the 1.4% growth in 2009 and 1.9% growth the Cuban Government had forecast for 2010.
The Cuban Government continues to adhere to socialist principles in organizing its state-controlled economy. Most of the means of production are owned and run by the government and, according to Cuban Government statistics, about 83% of the labor force is employed by the state. An additional 5% of the labor force is employed by cooperatives closely connected with the state. Only 12% of the labor force works in the private sector, including private farmers, artists, and 142,000 self-employed ("cuentapropistas"), representing less than 3% of the entire workforce. More than 60% of the workforce is employed in non-productive sectors. However, the Cuban Government has announced its intention to undertake economic reforms to reduce the size of the state sector and create opportunities for small-scale enterprises. Implementation of these reforms remains pending.
The Cuban economy suffers first and foremost from a lack of productivity and an overdependence on the external sector. Cuba suffered a significant decline in gross domestic product of at least 35% between 1989 and 1993 as the loss of Soviet subsidies laid bare the economy's fundamental weaknesses. To alleviate the economic crisis, in 1993 and 1994 the government introduced a few market-oriented reforms, including opening to tourism, allowing some foreign investment, legalizing the dollar, and authorizing self-employment for some 150 occupations. These measures resulted in modest economic growth, although the official statistics are deficient and provide an incomplete measure of Cuba's real economic situation. From 2000 to 2009, Cuba experienced a series of severe economic disruptions, including lower sugar and nickel prices, increases in petroleum costs, devastating hurricanes in 2001, 2004, and 2008, a major drought in the eastern half of the island, increasing external debt, liquidity issues, and stagnant or decreasing agricultural and industrial productivity. Significant economic assistance from Venezuela, and to a lesser degree China, has helped keep the Cuban economy afloat.
Living conditions in 2010 remained well below the 1989 level. Moreover, the gap in the standard of living is widening between those with access to convertible pesos and those without. Jobs that can earn salaries in convertible pesos or tips from foreign businesses and tourists have become highly desirable. It is not uncommon to see doctors, engineers, scientists, and other professionals working in restaurants or as taxi drivers. An estimated $1 billion in yearly remittances exacerbates the gap.
Prolonged austerity and the state-controlled economy's inefficiency in providing adequate goods and services have created conditions for a flourishing informal economy in Cuba. As the variety and amount of goods available in state-run peso stores has declined and prices at convertible peso stores remain unaffordable to most of the population, Cubans have turned increasingly to the black market to obtain needed food, clothing, and household items. Pilferage of items from the work place to sell on the black market or illegally offering services on the sidelines of official employment is common. A report by an independent economist and opposition leader speculates that more than 40% of the Cuban economy operates in the informal sector. Petty theft and corruption has reached such critical proportions that (now former) President Fidel Castro acknowledged it could bring the end of the revolution. In the last few years, the government has carried out an anti-corruption campaign, including the creation of a Comptroller General’s Office in 2009, repeated street-level crackdowns, and ongoing ideological appeals. So far, these measures have yielded limited if any results.
Fifteen years after the demise of the Soviet Union the Cuban Government found in Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela a new benefactor. The politically motivated preferential relationships with this country have replaced tourism as the main engine of growth for the Cuban economy since the second half of 2004. Its main component has been the exchange of medical services for oil at indexed prices and with long-term financing of up to 50% at subsidized interest rates. The transfer of financial resources from Venezuela to Cuba has also materialized in credits for projects at concessionary interest rates, the creation of joint ventures and a large number of cooperation projects.
As a whole, the preferential economic relationship with Venezuela has allowed the Cuban Government to more than double its import capacity, which had historically been closely related to GDP growth, and to carry out multibillion dollar investments both in infrastructure and productive sectors. This factor, together with almost tripled nickel prices in the world market between 2004 and 2008 explains the high growth rates registered in this period, but also allowed (now former) President Fidel Castro to start reversing some of the liberalizing and decentralizing reforms introduced in the 1993-2003 period.
In his February 24, 2008 inaugural address, Raul Castro said the Cuban Government would "advance in an articulate, sound and well-thought out manner" a series of measures that would raise the Cuban standard of living and tie individual prosperity to individual initiative and work performance. Castro also referred to excess "prohibitions and regulations," the simplest of which the Cuban Government would start removing "in the next few weeks." More complex "reforms," he said, could only be introduced after changes to certain legal regulations.
Since February 2008, Raul Castro's government has announced it would pursue the following initiatives: Expanding access to public land for private farmers; eliminating or reducing excessive subsidies, including food rations and subsidized lunches in workplace cafeterias; reducing inflated employment rolls; permitting some Cubans to own their homes; increasing wages and retirement pensions; raising the retirement age; upgrading public transportation systems and infrastructure; new licenses for private taxis to operate; limited deregulation of the construction industry; expanding access to certain previously restricted consumer goods (like cell phones, computers, microwaves, toasters, DVD players, motorcycles, air conditioners, electric ovens, and agricultural supplies and tools); consolidation and modernization of Cuba's family doctor program; and launching a new 24-hour television station to include mostly foreign-produced content.
In April 2010, President Raul Castro announced that there are more than 1 million “excess” workers in Cuba. In September 2010, the Cuban Government announced that more than 500,000 state workers, 10% of the workforce, would be laid off by the first quarter of 2011. To absorb these workers, the government said it would reduce regulations on private sector employment and expand the cooperative sector. In October 2010, the Cuban Government published new rules regulating the self-employment sector, including new activities (increasing the number of activities authorized to 178), opening the door for self-employed workers to hire labor, and introducing a new tax scheme to include taxes on sales, profit, payroll, and social security. By the end of 2010, the Cuban Government announced it had granted 75,000 new licenses for self-employment activities, which represents more than a 50% increase from the number authorized in 2009.
In April 2011, the Communist Party Congress (CPC) held a party congress for the first time in 14 years, and endorsed reforms previously introduced by President Raul Castro. Most notably, these reforms include allowing the purchase/sale of private property and possible credit mechanisms for small businesses and cooperatives.
Reforms introduced so far, at a very slow pace, have been insufficient to reverse the deep systemic crisis first brought to light with the departure of Soviet economic support and exacerbated by a liquidity crisis that peaked in 2008-2009.
Exports of professional services, mainly doctors and nurses to Venezuela, has been the main source of hard currency revenues for the Cuban economy since 2005.
Sugar, which was the mainstay of the island's economy for most of its history, has fallen upon troubled times. In 1989, production was more than 8 million tons, but by 2009, it had fallen to barely 1 million tons. Inefficient planting and cultivation methods, poor management, shortages of spare parts, and poor transportation infrastructure combined to deter the recovery of the sector. In June 2002, the government announced its intention to implement a "comprehensive transformation" of this declining sector. Almost half the existing sugar mills were closed, and more than 100,000 workers were laid off. The government promised that these workers would be "retrained" in other fields, though it is unlikely they will find new jobs in Cuba's stagnant economy. The sugar sector has continued to decline since the restructuring, with output registering a downward trend and averaging just 1.6 million tons from 2003-2009.
Tourism figures prominently in the Cuban Government's plans for development, and a top official casts it as at the "heart of the economy." Havana devotes significant resources to building new tourist facilities and renovating historic structures for use in the tourism sector. Roughly 1.7 million tourists visited Cuba in 2001, generating about $1.85 billion in gross revenues; in 2003, the number rose to 1.9 million tourists, predominantly from Canada and the European Union (EU), generating revenue of $2.1 billion. In 2004, the number of tourists to Cuba crossed the 2 million mark (2.05 million), including the so-called "medical tourists" from other Latin American countries seeking medical treatment at Cuban facilities. Since 2004, the volume of tourists has remained relatively consistent, at 2.32 million (2005), 2.2 million (2006), 2.1 million (2007), 2.35 million (2008), 2.42 million (2009), and 2.53 million (2010). Tourism revenue, however, fell 11% in 2009 due to visitors traveling for less time and spending less money per person. Tourism revenue in 2010 rebounded only slightly to $2.4 billion.
According to the Cuban Ministry of the Basic Industry (MINBAS), nickel became the leading export and the top foreign exchange earner in 2007, valued at approximately $2.8 billion. Nickel extraction in 2007 was 2.2% higher than in 2006. The main market for nickel exports is China. Cuba produced between 75,000 and 76,000 tons of nickel in 2007. The Cuban Government predicted that nickel and cobalt production would reach a record 80,000 tons in 2008. The world nickel price dropped sharply in 2008, and nickel revenue fell 47% to $1.5 billion. Prices fell further in 2009, and revenue was $870 million. In 2010, world nickel prices rebounded and revenue most likely returned to 2008 levels, although Cuba has not yet released final revenue figures.
Cuba's pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry is another emerging sector, ranking third in foreign sales behind nickel and oil products, and ahead of traditional products such as tobacco, rum, and sugar. Exports of pharmaceutical and biotech products were between $300 and $350 million in 2007-2008 and jumped to $520 million in 2009.
Remittances also play a large role in Cuba's economy. Cuba does not publish accurate economic statistics, but academic sources estimate that remittances total from $800 million to $1.5 billion per year, with most coming from families in the United States. U.S. regulatory changes announced in April 2009 allow unlimited remittances to family members, excluding certain Cuban Government officials and members of the Cuban Communist Party. The total amount of family remittances that an authorized traveler may carry to Cuba is now $3,000. In January 2011, the United States announced further changes that permit anyone under U.S. jurisdiction to send up to $500 per quarter to anyone else in Cuba (with the same exclusions as above). The changes also authorize unlimited remittances to religious organizations in Cuba.
Beginning in November 2004, the government mandated that U.S. dollars be exchanged for "convertible pesos"--a local currency that can be used in special shops on the island but has no value internationally--at an 8% exchange rate conversion plus up to 2% in fees. In addition, the Cuban Government levies a 10% tax on every conversion of U.S. dollars (and only U.S. dollars). This results in nearly 20% in fees that disproportionately affect Cubans who receive remittances from relatives in the United States. However, Western Union announced in December 2010 that it received permission from the U.S. and Cuban governments to remit payments in Cuban convertible pesos, thus avoiding the 10% tax on U.S. dollars. The Cuban Government captures dollar remittances by allowing Cuban citizens to shop in state-run "dollar stores," which sell food, household, and clothing items at a high mark-up averaging over 240% of face value.
Foreign Investment and Debt
To help keep the economy afloat, Cuba has actively courted foreign investment in targeted sectors. This investment often takes the form of joint ventures with the Cuban Government holding half of the equity, management contracts for tourism facilities, or financing for agricultural crops. A new legal framework laid out in 1995 allowed for majority foreign ownership in joint ventures with the Cuban Government. In practice, majority ownership by the foreign partner is nonexistent. The number of joint ventures increased from 1990 to 2002, reaching a peak of 403. Since 2002, the number of joint ventures has steadily declined to 218 in 2009. Responding to this decline in the number of joint ventures, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Investment explained that foreign investment is not a pillar of development in and of itself. Moreover, a hostile investment climate, characterized by inefficient and overpriced labor imposed by the communist government, dense regulations, and an impenetrable bureaucracy, continue to deter foreign investment. Investors are also constrained by the U.S.-Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (Libertad) Act that provides sanctions for those who "traffic" in property expropriated from U.S. citizens.
In August 2010, the Cuban Government published a new law that extended the leases foreign investors could sign from 50 years to 99 years, exclusively for tourist properties. In December 2010, Cuban authorities announced that they were in talks with international firms to build up to 16 new golf courses in 2011. Currently there is only one 18-hole golf course in Varadero and one 9-hole course in Havana.
Another negative factor surfaced by the end of 2008 when the Cuban Government, facing a cash crunch, sought to renegotiate outstanding commercial debts and opted to freeze funds deposited in Cuban banks by foreign investors and suppliers. Cuba's precarious economic position is complicated by the high price it must pay for foreign financing. The Cuban Government defaulted on most of its international debt in 1986 and does not have access to credit from international financial institutions like the World Bank. Therefore, Havana must rely heavily on short-term loans to finance imports, chiefly food and fuel, and structured financial instruments tied to more stable revenue sources (e.g., nickel, tourism, and remittances). Because of its poor credit rating, an $18 billion hard currency debt, and the risks associated with Cuban investment, interest rates have reportedly been as high as 22%.
The small private sector has been tightly controlled and regulated, with set monthly fees paid regardless of income earned and frequent inspections yielding stiff fines for violations of any of the many self-employment regulations. In 1993 the Cuban Government legalized self-employment for some 150 occupations in an attempt to provide jobs for workers laid off due to the economic crisis brought on by the loss of Soviet subsidies and to bring some forms of black market activity into more controllable channels.
A 2004 UN Economic Commission on Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) report recommended that Cuba "redesign the parameters of competition in the public, private and cooperative sectors [and] redefine the role of the state in the economy." It recommended more flexibility in self-employment regulations, property diversification, economic decentralization, and a role for the market. Rather than expanding private sector opportunities, from 2003-2007 the government stopped issuing new licenses for most categories of self-employment, and tried to squeeze more of these private sector entrepreneurs out of business. Many opted to enter the informal economy or black market, and others closed. These measures reduced private sector employment from a peak of 209,000 to 142,000 in 2009. Later moves allowed greater room for private businesses in a very limited number of areas (taxis, barber shops).
In 2010-2011, the government increased to 178 the number of authorized activities in the self-employment sector and announced other intended reforms for the private, cooperative, and state sectors.
GDP (official 2010 statistics, based on constant 1997 prices): $51.01 billion.
Real annual growth rate: 3.2% (2001); 1.4% (2002); 3.8% (2003); 5.8% (2004); 11.2% (2005); 12.1% (2006); 7.3% (2007); 4.1% (2008); 1.4% (2009); 2.1% (2010).
GDP per capita income (2010 est., based on constant 1997 prices): $4,545.
Average monthly salary: $20.
Natural resources: Nickel, cobalt, iron ore, copper, manganese, salt, timber, oil, natural gas.
Agriculture: Products--sugar, citrus and tropical fruits, tobacco, coffee, rice, beans, meat, vegetables.
Industry: Types--sugar and food processing, oil refining, cement, electric power, light consumer and industrial products, pharmaceutical and biotech products.
Trade: Exports (2009)--$2.88 billion f.o.b.: nickel/cobalt, oil and oil derivatives, pharmaceutical and biotech products, sugar and its byproducts, tobacco, seafood, citrus, tropical fruits, coffee. Major export markets (2009)--Venezuela $533 million (19%); China $517 million (18%); Canada $434 million (15%); Netherlands $237 million (8%); Spain $155 million (5%); Russia $88 million (3%); Brazil $69 million (2%); Netherlands Antilles $59 million (2%); France $45 million (2%); others $742 million (26%). Imports (2009)--$8.91 billion f.o.b.: petroleum, food, machinery, chemicals. Major import suppliers (2009)--Venezuela $2.6 billion (29%); China $1.17 billion (13%); Spain $753 billion (8%); United States $675 million (8%); Brazil $509 million (6%); Italy $324 million (4%); Mexico $303 million (3%); Canada $292 million (3%); Vietnam $276 million (3%); Germany $275 million (3%); others $1.7 billion (19%).
Cuba has two currencies in circulation: the peso (CUP), and the convertible peso (CUC), both of which are fixed by the government. In March 2011, the Central Bank announced that it decided to re-establish the parity between the CUC and the U.S. dollar, which was altered in April 2005 from $1 per CUC to $1.08 per CUC (0.93 CUC per $1), both for individuals and enterprises. Individuals can buy 24 Cuban pesos (CUP) for each CUC sold, or sell 25 Cuban pesos for each CUC bought; enterprises, however, must exchange CUP and CUC at a 1:1 ratio. The Cuban Government taxes and receives 10% of each conversion of U.S. dollars into CUCs.
Official statistics are available from the Cuban Office of National Statistics. For alternative statistics, see the Economist Intelligence Unit.
Cuba is a totalitarian communist state headed by General Raul Castro and a cadre of party loyalists. Castro replaced his brother Fidel Castro as chief of state, president of Cuba, and commander-in-chief of the armed forces on February 24, 2008. The first Communist Party Congress (CPC) since 1997 was held in April 2011. On April 19, the final day of the CPC, Raul Castro was officially named first secretary of the Communist Party. He announced that 80-year-old Jose Ramon Machado Ventura would remain second-in-charge and 78-year-old Vice President Ramiro Valdes would remain as number three. The CPC also marked Fidel Castro’s formal resignation from official responsibilities within the party, although he will likely remain an important symbolic figure. Also proposed at the congress were two 5-year term limits for top party and government positions, but the party will not take up the issues of succession and its role in government again until January 2012, when it will hold the next party conference. The Cuban Government seeks to control most aspects of Cuban life through the Communist Party and its affiliated mass organizations, the government bureaucracy, and the state security apparatus. The Ministry of Interior is the principal organ of state security and control.
According to the Soviet-style Cuban constitution of 1976, the National Assembly of People's Power, and its Council of State when the body is not in session, has supreme authority in the Cuban system. Since the National Assembly meets only twice a year for a few days each time, the 31-member Council of State wields power. The Council of Ministers, through its nine-member executive committee, handles the administration of the economy, which is state-controlled except for a small private market sector. Raul Castro is President of the Council of State and Council of Ministers, and Jose Ramon Machado Ventura serves as First Vice President of both bodies. In total, there are five Vice Presidents in the Council of State and seven in the Council of Ministers.
Although the constitution theoretically provides for independent courts, it explicitly subordinates them to the National Assembly and to the Council of State. The People's Supreme Court is the highest judicial body. Due process is routinely denied to Cuban citizens, particularly in cases involving political offenses. The constitution states that all legally recognized civil liberties can be denied to anyone who opposes the "decision of the Cuban people to build socialism."
The Communist Party is constitutionally recognized as Cuba's only legal political party. The party monopolizes all government positions, including the Council of State and judicial offices. Though not a formal requirement, party membership is a de facto prerequisite for high-level official positions and professional advancement in most areas. A small number of non-party members have been permitted by the controlling Communist authorities to serve in the National Assembly. The Communist Party through its front organizations approves candidates for all elected offices. Citizens do not have the right to change the government.
Cuba is a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and sits on the UN Human Rights Council. In February 2008, Cuba signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, but has yet to ratify either document. In spite of this, Cuba places severe restrictions on many of the rights described in the UDHR and continues to engage in harassment, surveillance, arbitrary detention, and imprisonment of peaceful human rights activists and political opponents.
In June 2010, the Catholic Church announced that the government would begin releasing dozens of political prisoners. Since that time, more than 40 political prisoners have been released, including nearly all of the prisoners recognized by Amnesty International as “prisoners of conscience.” Many of the released prisoners were arrested during a crackdown in March 2003 known as the “Black Spring,” when authorities rounded up 75 prominent independent journalists, opposition leaders, and human rights activists, eventually condemning them to lengthy prison terms (from 6 to 28 years) for their activities. Most of the releases have been conditioned on the immediate departure of the prisoners for third countries, although a few have been allowed to remain in Cuba.
Since the government does not allow international monitoring of its prisons and does not release information about the prison population, it is difficult to accurately count the number of political prisoners in Cuba, Estimates from human rights groups range from as low as 30 to more than 100. In addition, human rights groups have noted that while the number of political prisoners has decreased, the number of short-term detentions (typically aimed at disrupting planned civil society activities) has increased significantly, from around 900 in 2009 to more than 2,000 in 2010.
Prison conditions are harsh and life-threatening. Overcrowding is rife. Although physical torture is rare, cruel treatment of prisoners--particularly political prisoners and detainees--is common. Prison authorities sometimes beat, neglect, isolate, and deny medical treatment to inmates. Authorities also sometimes deny family visits or limit exposure to sunshine. In February 2010, political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo died following a hunger strike of over 80 days, undertaken to call for the release of political prisoners and improvements in prison conditions. The government has so far refused to allow international monitoring of its prisons, including visits by the Red Cross and the United Nations.
The law subordinates freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of assembly to the aim of building a “socialist society.” Criticism of national leaders can lead to imprisonment. The government maintains complete control over all forms of mass media, including newspapers, radio and television. The Communist Party, enshrined in the constitution as “the superior leading force of society and of the state,” determines content and editorial tone, resulting in almost complete uniformity across all broadcasts and publications. Independent journalists face censorship as well as detention and harassment by state security. Similarly, the government limits access to the Internet to a small number of professionals and party faithful and employs monitoring and blocking technologies to further restrict freedom. Cuba estimates that 14% of its population has access to the Internet; international estimates are lower, making Cuba among the least-wired countries in the world.
Authorities have used surveillance, short-term detentions, and state-organized mobs to interfere with unauthorized meetings and public demonstrations. Civil society groups have reported dozens of cases in which state security and police prevented or broke up meetings using house arrests, short-term detentions, and checkpoints around a planned meeting site. The government also continues to regularly employ organized mobs to humiliate opponents and interfere with peaceful assemblies. Although the government characterizes counter-demonstrations as spontaneous, participants arrive in government buses and openly coordinate with state security officials.
Authorities also have interfered with privacy and engaged in pervasive monitoring of private communications. Cubans regularly report concerns about private mail and phone conversations being monitored. Recent documentaries shown on state-controlled television included both audio and video of conversations taken covertly and used without permission of the parties involved.
The government also restricts freedom of movement, both domestically and internationally. Cubans must obtain permission to change their place of residence and can be forcibly returned to their home province if they are illegally resident. This law is most commonly employed in the capital, where thousands of people reside illegally and at least dozens are returned to the provinces on a weekly basis.
For international travel to all destinations, Cubans must receive an exit permit. The Cuban Government routinely denies exit permits to political opponents and human rights activists. In addition to political opponents, the government will not grant an exit visa to some types of professionals (e.g., doctors, nurses, etc.) until they have worked in Cuba for a certain number of years after completing their education.
The Cuban Government routinely violates international labor standards. The law does not allow workers to form and join independent unions of their choice. The only legal labor union in the country is the Central de Trabajadores de Cuba (CTC), or the Workers’ Central Union of Cuba, whose leaders are chosen by the CP. The CTC's principal responsibility is to ensure that government production goals are met. It does not bargain collectively, promote worker rights, or protect the right to strike. The government harasses, detains, and has imprisoned leaders of unauthorized labor movements.
For additional information, see also the Department's Country Report on Human Rights Practices for Cuba.
Type: Communist state; current government assumed power by force January 1, 1959.
Independence: May 20, 1902.
Political party: Cuban Communist Party (PCC); only one party allowed.
Administrative subdivisions:14 provinces, including the city of Havana, and one special municipality (Isle of Youth).