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December 2006

Cuba, the largest of the Greater Antilles, is located between the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean, 150 km. (93 mi.) south of Key West, Florida. Cuba covers 110,860 km. (44,200 mi.), about the size of Pennsylvania. Havana (pop. 2 million) is the capital and largest city; other major cities include Santiago de Cuba, Camaguey, Santa Clara, Holguin, Matanzas, Cienfuegos, Pinar del Rio, and Guantanamo. U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay is the oldest U.S. base overseas, operating since 1903 when the U.S. government obtained a perpetual lease.

The country’s terrain is mostly flat to rolling plains, with rugged hills and mountains up to 2,000 meters (6,000 ft.) in the southeast. The climate is tropical, moderated by trade winds; dry season (November-April); and rainy season (May-October).

Cuba’s population consists of 11 million people; 70% urban, 30% rural. Spanish is the official language, with a literacy rate of 95%. Cuba is a multiracial society with a population of mainly Spanish and African origins: 51% mulatto, 37% white, 11% black, 1% Chinese. 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.

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.

Fidel Castro, Chief of State since 1959, brought Cuba onto the world stage by inviting Soviet support in the 1960s. Cuba was declared a socialist state on April 16, 1961. For the next thirty years after the declaration, Cuba received substantial economic and military assistance from the U.S.S.R.--generally estimated at $5.6 billion annually--which kept its economy afloat and enabled it to maintain an enormous military establishment. Cuba is slowly recovering from severe economic recession following the withdrawal of former-Soviet subsidies. In August, 2006 while undergoing intestinal surgery, Castro temporarily transfered power to his brother, Raul Castro.

CIA World Factbook; U.S. Dept. of State Background Notes, 06/2005, 08/2004