Cuba and the Cuban People
Cuba, 90 miles from Florida, is the biggest country in the Caribbean. The population of Cuba is approximately 11.2 million. Cuba has a 99.8% literacy rate. The median age is 37.8 years. Life expectancy is 77.64 years old. Cuba's average population density is 96 persons per sq km (249 per sq mi). Roman Catholics make up about 33 percent of the population. Three hundred thousand Cubans belong to the island's 54 Protestant denominations. About 50 percent of Cubans consider themselves nonreligious.
Cubans are generally warm-hearted, talkative, and friendly. The population is a mix of Caucasian descendants from Spain and black descendants imported from Africa in the 18th and 19th centuries. Approximately 66 percent of the population is white and mainly of Spanish descent, 22 percent is of mixed racial heritage, and 12 percent is black. Almost all of the people are native born. Asian people comprise 1% of the population. Most are of Chinese decent who arrived in the latter half of the 19th century. There is no racial discrimination in Cuba.
About 30% of Cubans are employed in government services and 22% are employed in industry, including sugar processing. Only one-fifth of the Cuban work force is engaged in agriculture.). The balance of Cubans work in commerce, transportation, or communications. In late 2010, the Cuban government announced it would dismiss 500,000 employees from their state jobs within six months with an additional 500,000 or more workers laid off after that.
Cuba's economy is in terrible condition and it has been experiencing a housing shortage for many years. Reasons for the economic decline include: lower prices for sugar, the end of Soviet subsidies in 1991, economic mismanagement, and devastating hurricanes and droughts. The government is trimming its social safety net, warning Cubans that cradle-to-grave entitlements can’t be sustained by current levels. The cuts include free education, health care, and subsidized electricity and bread. Even Cuba’s ration book, a keystone of Cuban society, is seeing cuts with rumors that it may be eliminated altogether. Cuba imports up to 80% of food used for rations.
The government is actively seeking to replace govenment employment with private sector employment in new small businesses. Since October, officials have issued about 80,000 self-employment licenses, of which about 30 percent are for food or food-service related activities. The licenses are limited to a list of 178 occupations. The Castro government wants to reduce its heavy dependence on imports. It is granting no-cost leases of state-owned land to Cubans who want to farm.
In April 2009, President Obama expanded travel and remittances for Cuban-Americans, restarted migration talks and loosened telecommunications regulations. The new rules allow financial transfers of up to $2,000 a year (up to $500 per quarter) from any American to any Cuban not in the senior ranks of the Cuban Communist Party. It also allowed more charter flights. In January 2011, the President expanded the rules to increase people-to-people contact including purposeful travel, including religious, cultural, and educational travel, and educational exchanges.
In recent years, the Cuban government has brought back Cuban music and tourism. In fact, Cuba has tripled its market share of Caribbean tourism in the past decade. In 2003, 1.9 million tourists, predominantly from Canada and the European Union, visited Cuba. Cuba has 4,195 keys, islands and islets, and more than 280 beaches. It's coast stretches for more than 5,746 kilometers (3,570 miles). Havana is a popular city with tourists. With 2.1 million inhabitants, Havana is the largest city in the Caribbean. Cuba's capital is a world-class artistic center with numerous galleries, theaters and literary centers. Visitors can rent a car or board a train or bus and go anywhere. No special rules or regulations hamper tourists. Hotels are numerous and prices vary from inexpensive to five-star luxury. Visitors can also stay in private homes. Santiago de Cuba is Cuba's second largest city.