Cuba, country of the West Indies, the largest single island of the archipelago, and one of the more-influential states of the Caribbean region. It is a multicultural, largely urban nation, although it has only one major city: Havana, the capital and commercial hub of the country, on the north west coast.
Handsome if rather run-down, Havana has a scenic waterfront and is surrounded by fine beaches, an attraction for increasing numbers of visitors from abroad, Cuba’s other cities—including Santiago, Camagüey, Holguín, and, especially, Trinidad—offer a rich legacy of colonial Spanish architecture to complement contemporary buildings.
The capital, Havana
The domain of the Arawakan-speaking Taino, who had displaced even earlier inhabitants, Cuba was claimed by Christopher Columbus for Spain in 1492.
It became the Spanish empire’s most-important source of raw sugar in the 18th century and later earned the sobriquet “Pearl of the Antilles.” Though Spain had to fight several difficult and costly campaigns against independence movements, it retained rule of Cuba until 1898, when it was defeated by the United States and Cuban forces in the Spanish-American War.
On New Year’s Day, 1959, revolutionary forces led by Fidel Castro overthrew the government of dictator Fulgencio Batista. Two years later Castro proclaimed the Marxist-Leninist nature of the revolution. Cuba became economically isolated from its northern neighbour as it developed close links to the Soviet Union.
Since 1965, the state has been governed by the Communist Party of Cuba. The country was a point of contention during the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States, and a nuclear war nearly broke out during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.
However, the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s isolated Cuba still further, bringing on what Cubans call the período especial (“special period”), a time of widespread shortages and financial uncertainty.
By the early 21st century, some of its more-restrictive economic and social policies had been relaxed, but the United States continued its decades-long economic embargo against the Castro regime, though the December 2014 announcement of the resumption of diplomatic relations between the two countries held promise of the embargo’s removal. While it was not immediately lifted, it was relaxed to allow import, export, and certain limited commerce.
Life in contemporary Cuba is thus challenging, given the limited access to food, transportation, electrical power, and other necessities. Even so, many Cubans show a fierce pride in their revolutionary society, the only one of its kind in Latin America.
Cuba is situated just south of the Tropic of Cancer at the intersection of the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean Sea.
Haiti, the nearest neighbouring country, is 48 miles (77 km) to the east, across the Windward Passage; Jamaica is 87 miles (140 km) to the south; the Bahamas is within 50 miles (80 km) of the northern coast; and the United States is about 90 miles (150 km) to the north across the Straits of Florida.