Republic of Cuba
Identification. Christopher Columbus landed on the island in 1492 and named it Juana after Prince Juan, the heir apparent to the throne of Castille. The name "Cuba," an abbreviation of the indigenous word Cubanacán, held sway.
Location and Geography. The island lies about ninety miles south of the Florida Keys. Its western tip begins about 125 miles (210 kilometers) from Cancún and extends 750 miles (1,207 kilometers) east-southeast. The area of the country is 48,800 square miles (110,860 square kilometers). About a third of the island is mountainous, consisting of the Guaniguanco chain in the western province of Pinar del Rio, the Escambrey in the south-central province of Las Villas, and the largest system, the Sierra Maestra, in the western province of Oriente. Between these mountain systems is a large plain in the western province of Matanzas and another in the eastern province of Camaguëy. Since the European conquest, the western third of the island has exercised military, political, economic, and cultural dominance.
The capital is Havana on the northern coast of the western third of the island. The second largest city is Santiago de Cuba in the province of Oriente, where the Roman Catholic archbishopric was established in the colonial era. Although Santiago sometimes is called the "second capital," the economic importance of the port of Havana has given it a hugely disproportionate role in the definition of the national culture.
Demography. Recent population estimates range from 11.06 million to 11.17 million. At least 50 percent of the population is classified as mulatto (mixed African and European descent), although the cultural privilege assigned to whiteness probably causes many mulattos to minimize their African heritage. Thirty-seven percent of the population claims to be exclusively white, and 11 percent is classified as "negro." The remaining 1 percent is Chinese, the result of the importation of 132,000 Chinese indentured laborers between 1853 and 1872 to replace the loss of labor caused by the impending end of African slavery. In 1862 the African population was larger than that of whites. Although the larger slave-holding plantations were in the west, escaped and emancipated slaves often fled east, where they could more easily hide or establish themselves on small unclaimed plots of land in Oriente. Thus, it is there that Afrocuban art, religion, and music were most strongly expressed and the cultural movement "afrocubanismo" began.
Linguistic Affiliation. Nearly all Cubans speak Spanish exclusively. The dialect is similar to that in the other Hispanic Caribbean islands, although the rhythmic speaking and the use of highly expressive hand gestures are distinctly Cuban. Languages spoken by the indigenous population are extinct. French was spoken for a short time by slave-holding European refugees from the 1791 Haitian revolution but this has since died out.
Symbolism. The three major symbols of national identity have arisen from the three struggles for independence. The national anthem was composed at the start of the first war for independence, the Ten Years War (1868-1878). It is a call to arms that evokes the image of the peasants of the town of Bayamo in the eastern heartland. The second national symbol is the flag. It has a white star imposed on a red triangle, modeled on the triangular symbol of the Masonic lodges in which the struggle against Spain was organized. The triangle is imposed on
History and Ethnic Relations
Emergence of the Nation. The Cuban nation has arisen from a history of colonial and imperial domination. Formal colonial status under Spain was ended only by the invasion by the United States in 1898, when military and corporate interests made the island a de facto colony of the United States.
After the triumph of the Revolution on 1 January 1959, Cuba became truly independent for the first time since the colonial invasion of 1511.
The Pre-Columbian population was about 112,000, consisting mostly of Arawak (Taino and Sub-Taino) in the central and eastern region and a few Ciboneys (also called Guanahacabibes) who had fled the advance of the Arawak and moved west to Pinar del Rio. Indigenous lands were quickly distributed to European conquistadors and gold prospectors, and indigenous persons were enslaved and given to Europeans for use in mining and agricultural projects (a system called the encomienda ). Indigenous people who resisted were murdered. Malnutrition, overwork, suicide, and brutality made the indigenous population virtually extinct within fifty years of the conquest.
The indigenous past was largely abandoned and forgotten, save only a few cultural survivals in language and architecture. The only people left on the island were peninsulares (those born in Spain), creoles (colonists of European decent who were born on the island), and African slaves. The struggle between these three groups determined the character of the colony and the meaning of Cuban-ness ( cubanidad ). Peninsulares came to earn their fortunes and return to Spain. Their privileged status as colonizers depended on the maintenance of colonial structures; thus, their loyalty was to Spain even if they were lifelong residents of the colony. Peninsulares had an almost exclusive claim to administrative (governmental) offices and ecclesiastical appointments and a near monopoly on much trade with Spain and other nations.
The peninsulares' privileges and wealth evoked the resentment of the creoles, who outnumbered them. There were creole elites, especially merchants in Havana, whose privilege was dependent on the colonial status of the island, but most eastern creoles increasingly saw their interests as opposed to those of Spain. Their emerging nationalist sentiment was countered by increasing anxiety among the African majority. After the British occupation of Havana in 1752, slaves who had been stolen from Africa comprised the majority of the population. After the Haitian revolution of 1791, creoles and peninsulares thought that only the presence of the Spanish army could maintain order and their privilege. This fear added to the reluctance of the slave-holding creole elite to support the movement for independence. But the eastern planters had less to fear from a slave revolt, since their farms were much smaller and had far fewer slaves.
Hence, the contestation over the meaning of Cubanness was between eastern planters, African slaves, freed blacks, impoverished white farmers, and urban workers one the one side, and peninsulares and western creole elites on the other side. Planters in Oriente organized for revolution in Masonic lodges, since the Catholic churches were staffed by Spanish clergy. In 1868, the eastern planters, loosely organized into a Liberation Army, declared war on Spain by issuing the "Shout from Yara," which called for complete freedom from colonialism, declaring gradual and indemnified emancipation of slavery, and imploring western planters to join the struggle for independence. This "Ten Years War" failed, but not before causing economic ruin, especially in Oriente and Camagüey. The Pact of Zanjón in 1878 ended the war and promised reform, but many of the surviving belligerents were dissatisfied with the maintenance of colonial authority, and the reforms were not forthcoming. The Afrocuban General Antonio Maceo continued skirmishing but finally conceded defeat in 1880.
Over the next seventeen years, the efforts of the poet and statesman José Martí, "Father of the Cuban Nation," gave the independence cause a cohesive political ideology which the first insurrection had lacked. Working from the United States, he formed the Revolutionary Junta to raise money and awareness. United States capitalists largely favored independence, since the removal of Spain would leave the island defenseless against an economic invasion; using "freedom" and "democracy" as the ideological excuse, they asked the United States government to intervene on behalf of the independence movement.
That movement had become stronger economically and militarily, and even some western planters began to favor independence. When war broke out in Oriente in 1895, the belligerents had a better organized civil organization and a more aggressive military strategy. Indeed, the war was almost won by 1898, and Spain was ready to negotiate independence. However, when an explosion sank the USS Maine in Havana harbor, U.S. businessmen and war-hungry Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt seized on the excuse to invade Cuba. The United States blamed Spain for the explosion and declared war on it. Spain was quickly defeated, and in the Treaty of Paris in 1898, the United States claimed ownership of the remaining Spanish colonies (Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines).
Imminent victory for Cuban independence fighters had been stolen by another colonial power, the United States. Cubans protested. In 1901, the United States agreed to withdraw from Cuba militarily, but only under extreme conditions, including a ninety-nine year lease to a naval base at Guantánamo in Oriente, veto power over trade and military treaties, and the right to intervene in the island's internal affairs. The legislation containing these conditions, the Platt Amendment, was drafted in Washington and inserted verbatim into the first Cuban constitution of 1902.
In 1906, Cubans again protested United States intervention, prompting another military occupation that lasted until 1909. The United States ambassador became the de facto head of state by virtue of his ability to command another invasion. The Cuba Colonizing Company, a U.S. corporation, sold land to any United States citizen who wished to profit from cheap lands, gradually transforming ownership of the island to non-Cubans. Some Cubans benefitted from this arrangement, but most resented it to no small extent. When the United States allowed President Gerado Machado y Morales to make himself a dictator (1924–1933) and ignore civil law in favor of violence and corruption, Cubans promulgated a new constitution that abnegated the hated Platt Amendment, although it left the Guantánamo naval base intact. But hopes for independence were again dashed when Fulgencio Batista, who had in 1934 staged a coup to install himself as a military dictator, seized power again in 1952 and removed the elected president. United States support of the Batista dictatorship enraged the majority of Cubans.
One year later in 1953 a small group of independence fighters attacked the Moncada army barracks in Oriente. They were quickly defeated, and most were summarily executed. The leader of the attack, a lawyer named Fidel Castro Ruz, was saved by the intervention of the Roman Catholic archbishop of Santiago de Cuba. At his trial, Castro delivered a five-hour speech entitled "History Will Absolve Me," the publication of which disseminated his message of true independence. The date of the attack became the name of a national revolutionary movement, the Movimiento 26 de Julio.
When Castro was released from jail, he, along with his brother Raul Castro, Che Guevara, and a small group of revolutionaries fled to Mexico to plan another military attack. Castro himself traveled to New York and Miami to raise funds. On 2 December 1956, the small group landed about one hundred miles west of Santiago in a small ship named "Granma." Nearly all were captured, but the three leaders and a few others fled into the Sierra Maestra mountains, where they were joined by thousands of Cubans. The guerillas were supported with food, water, and shelter by the peasants of Oriente, nearly all of whom wanted an end to not only the Batista dictatorship but also to its chief sponsor, the United States military.
The guerillas were vastly outgunned by Batista's U. S. army-trained and equipped military forces, but they had the support of the population, knowledge of the terrain, the cooperation of some army deserters, and the work of nonmilitary revolutionaries in other parts of the island. The "Revolutionary Directorate" of University of Havana students, the Communist Party, and the 26 July Movement had been sabotaging Batista since the Moncada attack. With such a cooperative effort, it took only three years to topple the dictator.
When they entered Havana in tanks at the end of December 1958, the guerrillas were greeted by millions of ebullient Cubans. Batista had fled to Miami with $300 million (U.S.) of embezzled funds, soon to be joined by other wealthy Cubans who had profited from his dictatorship. For the first time since the European conquest, Cuba was free. When on 8 January 1959 Castro spoke to the masses in Havana, a white dove is said to have alighted on his shoulder, proving to many Cubans that the Revolution had indeed been an act of God.
National Identity. There are several ways in which the development of a national culture can be traced. Afrocuban cultural forms, particularly music and dance, were crucial to the definition of the new nation during the neocolonial republic. Afrocubanismo, the syncretic result of the African majority's culture and that of the dominant European minority, was the "conceptual framework of modern Cuban culture." African rhythms were inserted into popular music, and the Eurocuban dances "danza" and "contra-danza" and the Afrocuban dances "son" and rhumba became popular. When Cuba was threatened with a diminution of its national identity because of the U.S. economic colonialism beginning in 1898, nationalist sentiment found in the Afrocuban music and dance of Oriente province a unique Cubanness free of foreign cultural and ideological influence. For a time, Afrocubanismo was the centerpiece of nationalist representation.
But a different political/ideological agenda stresses the appropriation of United States cultural, ideological, and political ideas in the development of the Cuban character. Though products and ideas did flow from north to south and back again, this argument contains an extreme privileging of the upper classes and white Cubans over the majority, reducing all of culture to the materialism of the rich, who bought American fashion, Cadillacs, and appliances, and sent their children to expensive North American private schools. But there was a world of cultural production which had nothing at all to do with North America and was quite independent of its influences, such as Afrocubanism in Oriente. Probably since 1898 and certainly since 1959, Cubanness has been informed by a proud nationalism, and Cuban nationalism is configured as precisely the opposite of everything "American." Resentment over the two military invasions of 1898 and 1906, the suffocating economic imperialism from 1902-1959, and the internationally-censured economic embargo has caused most Cubans to reject everything North American. Indeed, the more the United States government tries to strangle the Cuban people with its clearly unsuccessful embargo, and the more right-wing the Cuban American Foundation becomes, the stronger Cubans' commitment to the Revolution grows. Even those who might otherwise resist the Castro government are moved to defend the ideal of Cuba Libre. And since the most vehement opponent of the Revolution is the United States, a country which attempted to colonize Cuba just 50 years ago, the Revolution can convincingly claim to be the sole option for freedom.
Ethnic Relations. Martídeclared in the 1890s that there were no blacks or whites in Cuba, only Cubans, but this was more an ideological call to unity against the colonial powers than a description of reality. Neither the gradual abolition of slavery from 1880 to 1886 nor the transfer of power from Spain to the United States alleviated the racial tension that was a heritage of slavery. After the abolition of slavery in 1886, Afro-Cubans organized in the Central Directorate of Societies of the Race of Color. Nine years later, as much as 85 percent of the rebel army was composed of black soldiers, who expected that when the war was won they would have an improved position in society. When that did not happen, Afro-Cubans founded the Independent Party of Color in 1908, but this was banned in 1910. In 1912, a protest of that ban led to a massacre of Afro-Cubans in Oriente. In the following years, the marginalization of darker mulattos and Afro-Cubans continued despite the popularity of Afrocuban music and dance.
The Revolution of 1952–1959 declared the establishment of an egalitarian society, and since racism was a product of capitalism it was assumed that it would disappear under socialism. But even today, Afro-Cubans are effectively absent in the highest levels of the government. Castro admitted in 1986 that more Afro-Cubans and women should be represented in the Central Committee, but racism is deeply embedded in the white Cuban ideology. Cubans are acutely aware of fine gradations in phenotypes and have words to describe every shade of brown and black.
Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space
In the colonial period, the port of Havana was strategically valuable as a military post, administrative center, and shipping port. For this reason, Havana has been privileged in terms of public expenditures, economic investment, health and educational institutions, and physical infrastructure. When the Revolution came to power, it faced the task of equalizing differential development within Havana and between it and the rest of the island. When the wealthiest Cubans fled to Miami, their mansions were distributed to poor working people. Unequal urban–rural development was dramatically transformed by the state's installation of plumbing and electricity in remote rural areas; the building of hospitals, schools, and day care centers in small towns; and a raising of the rural standard of living so that it was closer to that in Havana. Since 1990, the economic crisis has again so impoverished the countryside that rural people have poured into Havana to seek jobs in the tourism sector. To stem this tide, the regime has made it illegal for persons from other provinces to reside in the city.
Cubans are accustomed to being in close quarters both at home and in public; the culture does not value privacy and private space as highly as does United States culture. Socializing often takes place on the street or in line for food and goods. Cubans are not defensive even of bodily space: physical affection is commonly displayed, and physical contact among strangers is not problematic. Being in constant relation with others, socializing in groups, and sharing both social space and body space are the norm. In this way, the socialist preference of collectivity and community over individuality and privacy coincides with the Latin American tendency toward group cohesion and commitment.
But this closeness in Cuba is also a necessity, since new housing construction has been a failure of the Revolution. Construction materials have been in constant shortage because of the U.S. embargo and the need to concentrate construction efforts on Import Substitution Industrialization. To solve this problem, in the early 1970s, the Revolution tried a novel new approach to self-help: the microbrigades. Coworkers would build new housing together; in exchange, they would be supplied with material, granted paid leave from their jobs, and given ownership of the new housing. The microbrigades created not only new housing but also day care centers, schools, and other public buildings. Private construction using black market materials has also compensated somewhat for the housing shortage, but most people live in cramped quarters. This creates tremendous stress, especially for couples who are hard pressed to find privacy.
Food and Economy
Food in Daily Life. Normal daily diet in Cuba is rather simple. Rice and beans are a staple, supplemented by fried plantains, tubers, and vegetables. Cucumbers are a cheap and abundant vegetable complement. While beef once was eaten by all segments of the population, pork and chicken have overtaken it as a more economical alternative. Pork is made into a low-quality ham called jamon vikin, which cost about $2 (U.S.) per pound in Havana in
Workers in a cigar factory, Havana. In the socialist system, all workers collectively "own" the factories they work in.
Historically, more than half the daily caloric intake has been imported. Despite efforts to reverse this situation, agriculture has been dedicated mostly to sugar. Both the United States, and later the Soviet Union, discouraged Cuba from diversifying agricultural production by penalizing it with negative terms of trade if it did not accept foreign imported grain. For this reason, the country has been unable to supply its citizens with adequate food since the collapse of the socialist trading network. Daily food rations have long been governed by the libretta, a booklet that rations monthly allowances of staples such as rice, oil, sugar, beans, and soap. Since the economic crisis of the 1990s (labeled "Special Period During Peacetime") caused the adoption of extreme austerity measures and a hugely diminished state sector, food allowances have been decreased to below-subsistence levels. Despite innovative attempts to feed themselves, many Cubans are going hungry. To improve food distribution and alleviate hunger, the free farmer's markets (MLCs), closed in 1986 because they had enabled some Cubans to become wealthy at the expense of others, have been reopened.
Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. Cubans are very fond of sweets, and a cake is a special treat normally reserved for birthdays. Ice cream is also a special treat and a national obsession; the national ice cream manufacturer "Copelia" is quite renowned for its very fine ice cream, and Cubans believe it is the best in the world. A "salad" of ice cream costs a Cuban 5 pesos, or twenty-three cents (U.S.).
Basic Economy. The economy is socialist, meaning that the population as a whole owns most of the means of production and collectively benefits from national economic activity. Private property is minimal, and private wealth is seen as a breach of the social contract by which all Cubans benefit equally from the resources of their island. Soon after the Revolution, most of the means of production were collectivized; agricultural plantations, industrial factories, and nickel mines were converted to "social property" of all Cubans collectively. The voluntary departure in the period 1960–1962 of many people who had become wealthy under the neocolonial dictators (1898-1959) facilitated this process as privileged Cubans fled to Miami and New Jersey. The state has used social property to pay for health care, social security, and education. Unfortunately, the state has reproduced the same two errors as have other socialist economies: first, a focus on production levels at the expense of efficiency; and second, an insistence on centralized planning in lieu of market forces. The first Revolutionary constitution established the "System of Direction and Planning of the Economy" (SDPE), a mechanism of centralized planning and establishment of production quotas. The mechanism of planning was the Central Planning Board (JUCEPLAN). The SDPE was a slightly more flexible system than was the Soviet model, but ultimately it too stifled innovation. But since the Special Period, the state has shown some willingness to compromise, allowing a great deal of private economic initiative and requiring state ventures to be fully self-sufficient.
There is a tension in Cuba between ideological purity and economic exigency; this is especially visible in the tourism sector, which has been growing rapidly since 1990. In 1987, the state created the corporation Cubanacán to negotiate joint ventures between the state and foreign enterprises for the construction of new facilities for tourism. Foreign capital has boosted tourism and saved the economy but has created ideological problems for the socialist Revolution: foreign capitalists and tourists are exploiting resources that belong to Cubans and have brought a culture and ideology that may not be compatible with socialist egalitarianism. To protect against ideological corruption, the state has separated tourism from the general economy by making some resorts inclusive, and by banning Cubans from some tourist areas. Tourist dollars thus do not benefit the general economy, and this situation has caused resentment among citizens banned from parts of their own country.
Land Tenure and Property. Before the 1959 revolution, Cuba was a highly stratified society in which 8 percent of the population held 79 percent of the arable land. Rural farm workers experienced extreme poverty and malnutrition, and almost no workers owned land. The Agrarian Reform Law of 1959 divided the largest estates and distributed land to two hundred thousand landless farm workers. In 1975, the National Association of Small Farmers led the effort to form agricultural cooperatives. By 1986, 72 percent of private farmers had chosen to participate in agricultural cooperatives. In exchange, the state provided them with seeds, fertilizer, mechanization, social security, modern housing, and lower income taxes. No small farmer was forced off his land against his will.
Commercial Activity. Under the extreme duress of the Special Period, the state has decentralized economic activity, allowing an explosion of private enterprise. In 1992, a constitutional amendment recognized the right to private ownership of the means of production. In 1993, President Castro announced one hundred new categories of authorized private economic activity. Commercial activity is now a mixture of social ownership of the major means of production, private ownership of some agricultural lands whose products are sold both to the state and in the free farmers' markets, small-scale artisans who sell to other Cubans and tourists, and the import of oil and other non-indigenous resources.
Major Industries. Tobacco and coffee have competed with sugar since the early nineteenth century, but land has always been most profitably used for sugar cultivation and external factors have discouraged crop diversification. Diversification of the economy has been hampered because first one superpower then another has traditionally used Cuba as nothing more than a sugar and citrus plantation. The revolutionary government has tried to engage in Import Substitution Industrialization to lessen its dependency on imported manufactured goods, but this effort has been hurt by a lack of fuel since Soviet and Russian oil subsidies ended in 1990. Much industrial equipment was of Soviet manufacture, and hence replacement parts are no longer available. Lack of fuel and replacement parts has led to the reintroduction of animal traction for agriculture in a retrenchment to a preindustrial past. Nickel is an abundant mineral resource, and its exportation was a major element of trade with the socialist states until 1989. The Revolution has had some success in developing biotechnology as an export sector, but there is has been hampered by a lack of bioindustrial inputs. Tourism has become the most promising new activity for the earning of hard currency. The most urgent need aside from food is petroleum, and the government is exploring offshore drilling.
Trade. The economic catastrophe that began in 1989 resulted from the collapse of the Council of Mutual Economic Assistance (COMECON), the trade network of socialist states. COMECON had facilitated the trading of sugar, citrus, and nickel at above-market prices in exchange for Soviet oil at below-market prices. Cuba was allowed to resell the Soviet oil and keep the profit. This advantageous arrangement allowed the country to construct an egalitarian society, but when the subsidy ended the economy was shown to be unstable. Cuba was suddenly forced to trade in a global capitalist market
View overlooking Havana. Cuban cities are extremely overcrowded.
The need to develop new trading partners is an urgent matter, and here again pragmatic exigency runs afoul of ideological coherence. Cuba can no longer afford to limit its trading partners to those who share its visions of justice and equality. It has been forced to cooperate economically with capitalist states whose political-economic ideologies are anathema to the socialist ideal. Spain is Cuba's leading trading partner, followed by Canada and Japan in volume of trading. Cuba has been aggressively pursuing an improvement in trade relations with Mexico, Brazil, and other Latin American states, and at least since 1991 has been seeking membership into CARICOM (Caribbean Common Market), which might partially replace the now-defunct COMECON.
Division of Labor. The Revolution was committed to offering higher education to all citizens who wanted partly it in order to replace the professionals who left in the early 1960s and partly to redress economic inequality. But the availability of a higher education has caused increasing numbers of young people to be dissatisfied with agricultural and industrial occupations, causing a chronic shortage of workers. Despite the efforts of the regime to reverse this situation, professional careers, including higher governmental positions, are disproportionately held by whiter Cubans, while Afro-Cubans are over-represented in agriculture and assembly line industry.
The austerity measures of the Special Period have caused massive worker displacement as lack of fuel, industrial inputs, and spare parts for machinery has forced the state to downsize or close many offices and factories. In 1991, the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) confirmed that the opportunity to work is a fundamental human right of every citizen, and so people whose workplaces are closed or downsized are given a generous package of material support and the opportunity to be transferred to the agricultural sector.
Classes and Castes. After 1959, class distinction became far less dramatic, so that occupation and class no longer determined access to health care, food, clothing, schooling, and shelter. Before the socialist revolution, only 45 percent of the population had completed primary education, 9 percent secondary, and 4 percent higher education. But by 1988, those numbers were 100 percent, 85 percent, and 21 percent respectively. The percentage of income earned by those in the lowest salary bracket rose dramatically, indicating a rapid and dramatic redistribution of wealth.
The reemergence of a privileged class in the Special Period is the direct result of capitalist "reform," as those who run the new private enterprises have access to imported luxury items while some of their fellow citizens starve. Those who live in a tourist area and have an extra room in their house or apartment are allowed to rent that room to tourists at market rates. Despite the heavy payments the state requires in return for authorization to do this, some citizens have amassed enormous material privileges in the midst of economic catastrophe for the majority. Throughout the Revolution, Cubans have accepted material hardship because, in a socialist country, everybody suffers equally when there are hard times. But now the poverty of the island is becoming increasingly distributed in a grossly inequitable manner. Capitalism assumes that wealth and poverty are not distributed equally, and the increasing presence of small pockets of wealth in a sea of poverty is rather distressing to most Cubans who were reared with socialist ideals of justice and equity in economic relations.
Symbols of Social Stratification. Along with capitalism and social stratification, commodification has begun to lay claim to the hearts and souls of Cubans who for 40 years have been shielded from the values of conspicuous consumption. For the young, who do not remember what capitalism was like before the Revolution, it is United States fashion which symbolize status. Anything with a label is in vogue, and a pair of Nike shoes or Levi's jeans are highly coveted. Material excess is increasingly embraced as indicative of social value.
Government. The political system is termed "Democratic Centralism." Every citizen has the right to participate in discussions of political, social, and economic issues, but that participation is somewhat constrained by the hierarchical structure of society and government. Authority ultimately rests with the central executive branch; both the issues discussed and the decisions made are determined by the President of the Republic. The 1976 constitution established a system of representative legislative bodies called the Organs of People's Power (OPP). Municipal, provincial, and national levels of the Peoples' Power debate issues and send the results to the next level of the hierarchy. The National Assembly of the OPP elects from its ranks a Council of State that can act on its behalf when it is not in session. From the Council of State is chosen the Council of Ministers, who have direct administrative responsibility for the executive departments. This is but one example of the conflation of the executive and legislative functions of the revolutionary government so that a system of checks and balances does not exist.
Leadership and Political Officials. Although according to the Constitution the OPP is technically independent of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC), in effect the party selects candidates for every level of the OPP, especially the National Assembly and the Councils of State and Ministers. In theory, the PCC only provides ideological guidance, but in practice, it exercises direct political power. While appointment or election to governmental posts does not require party membership, those who are not party members are far less likely to be approved as candidates for local OPP and therefore cannot easily begin a political career. The party is directed by its Central Committee, which is chosen every five years at a Party Congress. The First Secretary of the party chooses a smaller body of 25 persons called the Political Bureau that makes daily decisions. Since Fidel Castro is currently President of the Republic, First Secretary of the PCC, President of the Councils of State and the Council of Ministers, and Commander in Chief of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR), no decision can be made that does not meet with his approval. This limits citizens' abilities to genuinely participate in decision-making.
The ideals of the revolution are supported by a majority of the population, and even Cubans who do not support Castro recognize that the socialist government has vastly improved the standard of living of most Cubans. They do not want neocolonial status under the United States, nor do they long for the gulf between wealth and poverty that capitalism produces. Most Cubans probably will support the socialist project even after Castro is gone. To ensure continuity in leadership, Fidel has appointed his brother Raul to succeed him when he dies.
Social Problems and Control. The state has taken advantage of the propensity of Cubans to gossip and spy on their neighbors. Under the threats of invasion and internal turmoil, the government relied on an effective but potentially repressive mechanism for social control, the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR). These are groups of citizens who observe and document illegal, subversive, or terrorist activity and organize education, health, and community improvement projects. The CDRs were founded in September 1960 to discover and combat sabotage and internal terrorism. In April 1961, they were mobilized to fight against the invasion at the Playa Girón (Bay of Pigs). Once the invasion was defeated and the major counter revolutionary saboteurs and terrorists were expelled or fled, continuing external aggression from the United States provided an excuse to maintain the CDRs.
In their zeal to defend socialism, the CDRs have sometimes become oppressive organs of state police power. In the 1960s, social deviants denounced by the CDRs were sent to work camps under army supervision, called the Military Units to Aid Production (UMAPS), that were designed to reeducate counter revolutionaries, gays, and other deviants in revolutionary ideology and behavior. Those camps lasted only for two years before being disbanded, but fear of the CDRs and the National Police still operates as a powerful force for social control.
Military Activity. Critics of the Revolution point to the CDRs and to teenagers' compulsory one-year military service to claim that Cuba is a highly militarized society. In fact this claim is not true, since the unarmed CDRs are more gossip mills than militia-like brigades, and since a year of agricultural service is an acceptable substitute for the military service. It is true that the Cuban military has historically been very active internationally and is well known for its role in supporting liberation movements worldwide. The Cuban army has traveled all over the world fighting with subaltern peoples in the third world as they struggle for independence from neo-colonial powers or liberation from oppressive dictators. The most renowned effort in this regard has been in Angola, where Cuban soldiers fought against (apartheid) South Africa when it invaded its northern neighbor. Indeed, Nelson Mandela has credited Cuban efforts with a major role in bringing an end to Apartheid. In the fiscal crisis of the 1990s, Cuba has been forced to retrench almost completely from its military and extensive humanitarian commitments around the world.
Social Welfare and Change Programs
Social change programs usually are instituted by a ministry or institute of the state. Changes initiated by citizens are channeled through five mass organizations: Federation of Cuban Women (FMC), Confederation of Cuban Workers (CTC), Union of Cuban Youth (UJC), the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDC), and the National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP), through which the state both receives feedback from the people and implements its decisions. Aside from mass organizations and scholarly research institutes associated with a university, there is not much room for private initiative. The state claims that private-sphere movements for change are unnecessary, since the Revolution itself is deeply committed to the well-being of all citizens in the realms of employment, health care, education, housing, and food.
Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations
The state assumes full responsibility for all development projects and the well-being of its citizens and is reluctant the to admit need for external assistance. It is true that "freedom brigades" of supporters of socialism from North America and elsewhere have come to work during the sugar harvest, but these have been symbols of ideological support, not material charity. Another North American organization, Pastors for Peace, annually sends a shipment of medicine, food, and medical computers. Several agencies of the United Nations work in Cuba, including the United Nations Development Program, the United Nations Population Fund, the World Health Organization, and the World Bank. And the World Heritage Committee of UNESCO, (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) is involved in the architectural restoration of the colonial city of Trinidad and of Old Havana.
Gender Roles and Statuses
Division of Labor by Gender. As part of its commitment to constructing an egalitarian society, the Revolution has successfully incorporated women into agricultural, industrial, and professional occupations. By 1990, half the doctors and most of the dentists in the country were women.
In 1961, the Revolution began to construct day care centers to free women from constant child care long enough to develop a career or contribute to industrial, agricultural, or intellectual activity. Women's economically productive activity is thought to serve the country as a whole, and in fact women who choose not to work outside the home are sometimes subjects of censure for failing to contribute economically to the Revolution.
But men continue to expect women to perform housework and maintain child-rearing responsibilities even if they have full-time careers outside the home and participate in FMC and PCC activities. The People's Power attempted to address this recalcitrance by enacting a generous maternity law in 1974 and the "Family Code" in 1975. This code defined domestic chores as the responsibility of both partners and required husbands to do half the
Men harvesting tobacco in Pinar del Rio. Tobacco is an important crop in Cuba, and high–quality Cuban cigars are famous around the world.
The Relative Status of Women and Men. As in the United States, despite women's formal legal equality, they are grossly under-represented in the highest levels of the party, the government, and the military. The resilience of Cuban gender norms is not only a matter of entrenched misogyny; it is encoded into the Revolution itself. Victorious guerillas entered Havana in tanks sporting machetes, machine guns, and long beards from their years in the jungle, having defended their women and motherland. A 1965 newspaper editorial declared that the Revolution is "a matter for men." Nonetheless, iniquitous gender relations have indeed been disrupted by the socialist revolution, and Cuban women are far better off than women in most of Latin America and the rest of the world in terms of education and career options, reproductive rights and health, formal legal protections against discrimination and domestic violence, social supports during child-rearing, and aggressive enforcement of paternity laws.
Marriage ,Family, and Kinship
Marriage. In the nineteenth century, anxiety about the Afrocuban majority gave rise to efforts to "whiten" the population. This agenda, combined with a chronic shortage of women, led to the development of both a legal code and an informal code which calculated not only ethnicity but also wealth, family reputation, and virginity status to determine which mixed-ethnicity marriages were permissible. The turning of illicit unions into acceptable marriages was part of a social agenda that sought to alleviate anxiety over race relations, illegitimacy, and the shortage of white women, especially in rural areas.
In the countryside, marriage, as with all civil institutions before the Revolution, was far less formal than it was in Havana province. Most rural areas in the east did not have the regular services of a priest, and colonial governmental institutions did not function well. The result was a tradition of marriages that followed regional customs but did not have the benefit of legal or ecclesiastical sanctioning.
In its early years, the Revolution made provisions to formalize "common-law" couplings. While some social-reproduction functions of the family
A group of women walk past apartments in Havana. Housing is at a premium in Havana, and it is not uncommon for families to share an apartment.
Domestic Unit. In addition to liberating women economically, the Revolution has attempted to liberate women's bodies and sexuality. Safe, legal, and free abortion is available on demand for any woman who has reached the age of majority (sixteen years). Contraceptives are widely available, even to young girls, along with effective sex education which is more progressive and honest than that in most other nations. However, the liberation of female sexuality, allowing young girls as well as boys to experiment sexually without social censure, has resulted in a high rate of pregnancy among girls under age sixteen. Adolescent boys have thus enjoyed increased sexual access but are not psychologically or economically prepared to participate in the care and upkeep of their children, resulting in a high number of very young single mothers. The state has exhorted men to take greater responsibility, and child support payments are extracted from some irresponsible men's salaries, but these efforts have met with only partial success. Hence a typical domestic unit includes a grandmother who is involved in the rearing of the youngest generation, often without the presence of the children's father. Ironically, the participation of grandmothers in child rearing allows men to ignore their parental responsibility and household chores. Domestic units are thus likely to be multigenerational and defined around women, while men come and go in search of work or extramarital recreations.
Inheritance. Inheritance is not a major issue in a poor socialist country where significant private property is an exception. Some houses and apartments are privately owned and can be inherited, but the state limits the freedom of an heir to dispose of an inherited housing unit if other Cubans live in it. Most agricultural land has been collectivized or is part of a cooperative and thus is not inheritable. Smaller private property such as heirlooms, clothing, and cars are inherited according to kinship lines without state intervention.
Kin Groups. The family has lost some of its importance as the Revolution has taken over some of its economic and social functions. Families are much smaller now and less likely to include wide horizontal connections (though vertical, intergenerational connections continue, and libretta combining is sometimes necessary). It may be, though, that as the state loses its ability to meet the basic material needs of its citizens in the current economic crisis, the family will again increase in prominence.
Infant Care. Beginning in infancy, the government attempts to instill in citizens the values of socialism. For children, this means teaching the values of collective cohesion and self-forgetting in the interest of the group. Tendencies toward individualism and selfishness, including the use of favorite pacifiers and blankets, are discouraged. It is in the child care centers that this early socialization occurs.
Child Rearing and Education. Socialization for integration into the socialist project continues throughout childhood. The general lesson is that individual achievement should be harnessed for the good of the whole; children are encouraged to think about their classmates and have concern for other people's well-being. By the teenage years, high school education includes a year of socialization into the productive life of the nation, as children spend a year away from home in a combination boarding school with agricultural work. This gives the youth a chance to develop social skills with others from different areas, teaches the values of cooperative participation in a common project, gives parents a break from caring for teenagers, teaches agricultural skills to those who wish to make farming their career, and adds to the agricultural workforce.
Higher Education. All children receive a primary education. Youths who are preparing for college and pass the entrance examinations attend an academically-oriented school called pre-universitario. Those who are best suited for agricultural or industrial careers attend technical schools. Higher education is fully funded by the socialist government, and the state pays university and technical students a monthly stipend for food and lodging. Higher education is so accessible that more people attend universities than there are white-collar jobs available.
Being generous and hospitable is a highly valued quality. Unlike in Central America, houses are not protected by metal fences, doors are left open, and visitors are always welcomed. It is rude not to greet every man with a handshake and every woman with a kiss on the cheek. Touching as a demonstration of affection is not taboo and does not carry a sexual connotation. Cubans do like to complain and argue heatedly; it is said that an argument is not finished until everyone collapses from exhaustion. But this kind of argument is performative and relieves social tension. More intense interpersonal conflict requires a more subtle approach; Cubans loath open conflict, and so the social norm is to minimize interpersonal conflicts by expressing them through innuendo rather than direct accusation.
Religious Beliefs. Religious faith and practice have not been as influential in the culture of Cuba as in other Latin American nations, for two reasons: first, in the colonial period the Catholic clergy were almost entirely peninsular (born in Spain). They represented the external power of Spain, and hence Catholicism itself was suspect, especially with the population which supported independence. Secondly, there simply were not very many priests in the rural areas, especially in Oriente. Those Cubans who chose to maintain a faith practice were left to produce a religiosity of their own design. The popular religiosity which did develop among white and creole Cubans was a local version of Catholicism enriched with African influences.
Santería is a product of this religious syncretism. Because of the demographic history of the island, Santería—a religious system of the Yorubá people of Nigeria who were brought as slaves—is more prevalent in the eastern region. It is based on the maintenance of relationships, both among people and between people and deities called orishas. Since orishas were comparable to and interchangeable with Catholic saints, slaves could put on a face of Catholic piety while worshiping their own gods.
Since the relaxation of state censure in the 1990s there has been an increase of Protestant missionary activity on the island. Catholic church membership is on the rise, and Pope John Paul II was welcomed to the island in January 1998 to the cheering of crowds of both the faithful and the curious. Evangelical Protestantism is growing at an even faster rate, fed perhaps by the desperate material
People during a street festival.
Religious Practitioners. Many religious persons, including priests, participated in the Revolution and supported its ideals, but when it was discovered in 1961 that churches were being used as bases of counterrevolutionary plotting, all foreign priests were invited to leave the island. This hostility was cemented by the declaration of atheism in the first socialist constitution in 1976. Practicing religious leaders and the faithful were thereafter excluded from some professions and promotion to high governmental offices. However, Castro was impressed by the Liberation Theology of Latin America, which sided with the poor in their struggles against oppressive governments and neoliberal capitalism. The leading role of Christian religious leaders in the socialist Nicaraguan revolution was particularly noted by Castro, whose attitude toward religion softened considerably as a result. In the 1980s, more freedom was given to print religious materials and preach, and in 1991, faith was removed as an impediment to party membership.
Rituals and Holy Places. Because of the unpopularity and suppression of religion in the early revolutionary period, public Christian rituals are rare.
There are no holy sites to which pilgrimages are made, although the cathedrals in Santiago and Havana are symbolic and continue to offer Mass. More common is a home altar that may include both Catholic and African elements. Afrocuban religion is more likely to be celebrated publicly in Oriente. The churches continue to celebrate events on the Christian calendar, but these rituals do not generally spill out into the streets.
Death and the Afterlife. There is no common pattern of belief regarding the afterlife. Santería maintains a belief in the survival of ancestor spirits, and the Christian faithful have a theology of heaven. Funerals are celebrated and may invoke religious imagery, but more common is a secular ceremony in which the deceased is remembered for her contribution to the socialist project.
Medicine and Health Care
The Revolution's greatest success has been an astonishing improvement of the health of the population since 1959: Cubans have benefitted dramatically in the last forty years, with lower infant and maternal mortality rates, a higher average caloric consumption, and a vastly reduced number of persons served by each doctor. Cuba has joined the United States and Canada as the only three nations in the Western Hemisphere to have been granted "best health status" by the United Nations. Since health care is not a matter of profit, and there are no insurance companies in search of wealth, Cuba can provide high-quality health care at a reasonable cost.
Part of this success is due to an innovative system of distribution of health services and a focus on preventive medicine. "Polyclinics" in the municipalities have specialists who treat any number of illnesses. These specialists have been supplemented since 1985 with family physicians, who are even more widely distributed throughout the neighborhoods and focus on prevention and health maintenance.
There are rural areas in which alternative medical practitioners use traditional methods of healing, and there is an element of Santería that seeks spiritual aid to cure physical illness. However, the revolutionary government has great faith in biomedical science as the vehicle for modernization and has invested heavily in biotechnological research. Cuba has engaged in a massive program of humanitarian overseas aid, placing thousands of doctors, nurses, and public health technicians all over the second and third worlds.
Several factors threaten the stability and efficacy of Cuba's health care system. The worsening of the United States embargo as a result of congressional legislation means that not only can medical equipment and medicines not reach Cuban ports, but neither can the latest research reports and scholarly journals. Also, the hierarchical nature of government and society discourages popular participation. The result is a top-down approach to treatment with little patient-doctor consultation. Finally, in the severe spending restrictions of the Special Period, the state can not provide the same level of services it did when the economy was stable. Some health care professionals have been forced to abandon medical practice in favor of work in the more lucrative tourism industry.
Two significant events in the history of Cuba are celebrated annually with great fanfare. The first is the symbolic date of the triumph of the Cuban Revolution on 1 January 1959, when Batista fled to Miami and the Sierra Maestra guerillas arrived in Havana. This celebration coincides neatly with New Year's. The second event is the attack on the Moncada barracks by Fidel and his fellow revolutionaries on 26 July 1953, symbolically beginning the final and triumphant Cuban Revolutionary movement. This celebration coincides with the annual "carnival" in both Santiago and Havana. Carnival, consisting of song and dace, outlandish costume, and much drinking and eating, has a history which far precedes the Revolution.
The Arts and Humanities
Support for the Arts. The Revolution's stated goal is to nurture the development of each citizen's abilities, even if those talents are not economically productive. The state supports promising artists and art schools, creating the Cuban Film Institute, the National Cultural Council, and the National School for the Arts. There has recently been some external funding as the international art world has taken great interest in Cuban artistic production.
Literature. Writers enjoy the privileged position of visionary thinkers, partly a result of the fact that the hero of Cuban nationalism was a poet, José Martí. In the early years of the Revolution, there was considerable censorship, but the state relaxed censorship in 1987 and now allows critical ideas to be debated openly as long as they do not incite treason.
Graphic Arts. Though artistic production is supported by the state, in the past it was also ideologically constrained by state censors. But now that Cuban art has become popular in the United States and Europe, it has become a potential source of external revenue from tourists and art dealers. The state has become more permissive toward protest art since it became financially lucrative.
Film has been a popular and successful form of art since 1959. Havana hosts the internationally renowned New Latin American Film Festival every year. Cubans love going to the cinema; it is a favored and inexpensive form of recreation, and since film production has been socialized, going to the movies only costs about fourteen cents.
Performance Arts. Expressive language, music, and dance are a cultural heritage that Cubans express frequently. Any Cuban can dance and enjoys performing at Carnival, for tourists, or at parties. Afrocuban music is performed on street corners and in living rooms all over the island. Cuba is also known worldwide for the National Ballet of Cuba, whose founder and artistic director, Alicia Alonso, continues to guide the company and attend performances. In keeping with the ideals of the socialist state, the ballet is supported by public funds, so that it is accessible to all citizens, costing only about twenty-five cents per performance.
The State of the Physical and Social Sciences
Scientists in all fields are supported by the state, which sees scientific advancement as the key to the success of the socialist project. Medical research has been especially successful. But in the current economic crisis, the state has been unable to maintain its scientists and laboratories as it did in the past. The United States embargo makes it difficult to obtain even basic laboratory supplies.
As to the social sciences, the government has supported thousands of historians, anthropologists, philosophers, and economists. There is some limitation on social scientific research, since the state does not permit the publication of findings that suggest an abandonment of the socialist project or of the PCC. Within that constraint, any investigation or finding can be published and debated, even if it calls for reform.
Balari, Eugenio. "Agricultural Policy with Social Justice and Development." In Sandor Halebsky and John Kirk, eds., Transformation and Struggle: Cuba Faces the 1990s, 1990.
Dilla, Haroldo. Comrades and Investors: The Uncertain Transition in Cuba, translated by Michael Gonzales, 1998.
Halebsky, Sandor, and John Kirk, eds. Transformation and Struggle: Cuba Faces the 1990s, 1990.
Hatchwell, Emily, and Simon Calder. Cuba in Focus: A Guide to the People, Politics, Culture, 2000.
Helg, Aline. Our Rightful Share: The Afro-Cuban Struggle for Equality, 1886–1912, 1995.
Monreal, P. "Sea Changes: The New Cuban Economy." Report on the Americas XXXII 5: 21–29, 1999.
Moore, Robin. Nationalizing Blackness: Afrocubanismo and Artistic Revolution in Havana, 1920–1940, 1997.
Pérez-López, Jorge, ed. Cuba at a Crossroads: Politics and Economics after the Fourth Party Congress, 1994.
Pérez, Louis. Cuba: Between Reform and Revolution, 1996.
——. On Becoming Cuban: Identity, Nationality, and Culture, 1999.
Peters, P. and J. Scarpaci, Cuba's New Entrepreneurs: Five Years of Small-Scale Capitalism, 1998.
Smith, Lois, and Alfred Padula. Sex and Revolution: Women in Socialist Cuba, 1996.
Thomas, Hugh. Cuba, or the Pursuit of Freedom, 1998.
Cultural Information - Cuba
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Answers to your intercultural questions from a Canadian and a local point of view.
Cultural Information - Conversations
Question: I am meeting someone for the first time and I want to make a good impression. What would be good discussion topics?
Cubans are very sociable and friendly with a good sense of humor. They are willing to chat with a stranger and are very respectful of foreigners. Topic on weather is a good ice breaker (Cubans love/hate their climate) for conversations. Cubans also enjoy talking about national food, their families or will ask you questions about yours.
A common topic among Cubans is the political and economic situation in the country. Nowadays, people speak about it more openly than before. If you are a foreigner, people would try to explain some things that might not be obvious to you right away, such as how the country works, or how to do things “the Cuban way”. However, try to be neutral in your opinion and just listen at first, since your opinions come from an “outsider’s point of view”. A good starting point would be to let the Cuban person know why you are in the country. Cubans are very helpful and will try to assist in every possible way. Sometimes they can appear a little too intrusive as they try to assist.
Cubans talk about everything without difficulty as they are very curious to learn about other cultures and many subjects. It is very rare that you would have a bad impact on them.
Good discussion topics would be to ask question about Cuban culture (music, movie, visual arts, etc.) and of course to share some information about Canadian culture. It is not recommended to talk about Cuban politics when you first meet someone; wait until you have developed a closer relationship to the person. They could get suspicious if you want to talk about it on the first conversation.
Cultural Information - Communication Styles
Question: What do I need to know about verbal and non-verbal communications?
Cubans have a very open communication styles. Verbal communication is direct and may be considered somehow blunt by Canadian standards. Cubans are courteous but prefer to address issues directly and not tangentially. If they consider a subject is of a delicate nature, they may refer to someone for advice.
Greetings are very important in such a way that people greet each other even if they have not met previously. Saying hello when entering a place is very common and is a sign of good manners.
Cubans often use physical gestures when communicating. From a distance, you can almost infer what a conversation is about based on hand movements, facial expression and body posture. People usually keep eye contact when talking. It is considered a sign of trust, respect and it indicates that you are really engaged in the conversation.
In formal situations, a handshake is acceptable for men and women. Cuban men usually shake hands and hug friends when meeting or saying goodbye. Cuban women kiss one cheek and hug female and male friends. Kisses are not usual among men, unless they are family or old friends.
If you’re a woman travelling alone in Cuba, it is important to know that some men can whistle at you. However, this doesn’t mean that there is a danger. It’s something very usual in the streets.
Cubans speak loudly and with a lot of passion. If you don’t understand Spanish, it may appear they are arguing and are mad at each other. Be aware that Cubans can get closer to you and also touch you when they talk. This can bother you if you’re not used to such communication behavior.
Cultural Information - Display of Emotion
Question: Are public displays of affection, anger or other emotions acceptable?
Cubans usually show their emotions openly. Displaying of affection are very common and frequent. Someone coming from another country may be shocked to observe how openly those displays occur in public sometimes. Cubans prefer to settle issues openly instead of simmering discrepancies. However, displays of anger qualifies as a negative public behaviour.
Yes. Cubans are very expressive. They call each other with nick names and they always kiss and hug when they meet. The usual way to say hello to someone you know is with one kiss on the cheek.
Cultural Information - Dress, Punctuality & Formality
Question: What should I know about the workplace environment (deadlines, dress, formality, etc.)?
Deadlines: Cubans mostly are lenient with deadlines. A work has to be label urgent to be treated as such otherwise it will be remanded to a later date.
Dress: In general, Cubans tend to dress in a casual way, unless the dress code states differently (e.g.: working positions where wearing uniforms are the norm). Since temperatures are very high, suits are not usually worn by men. A type of shirt called guayabera usually made out of cotton is worn instead and considered elegant.
Formality: Cuban people are highly informal in their personal relationships. They are willing to bond with a stranger even if it appears superficial. Unless informed otherwise, briefly even at the first encounter the “Usted” (You treatment of respect) will be substituted by “Tú” (You treatment for friends, relatives and children). When at work, a more formal style of communication is used especially when communicating with supervisors or managers. It is common that co-workers become friends, so communication is less formal.
Cubans are very proud people and they always dress well when they go out for a meeting or an activity. They appreciate a person out in public giving attention to the way they present themselves and their appearance.
Cubans usually arrive on time to appointments but it’s not a big deal for them to be late as well.
Cultural Information - Preferred Managerial Qualities
Question: What qualities are most highly regarded in a local superior/manager? How will I know how my staff view me?
Supervisors and managers are respected when they are hardworking, modest and experienced as well as respectful towards their subordinates. They earn their subordinate’s appreciation when they are knowledgeable and are well informed about their work. Cubans appreciate being consulted and their opinions taken into consideration. A manager acting without consulting its subordinates will be obeyed but not considered a respectful person. Eventually someone will openly confront his/her management style.
It is advised, without diminishing the authority, to establish open and honest relationships with subordinates. They will perceive you as someone in charge by knowledge and not simply by appointment.
The way you express and present yourself should show that you’re an important person. They expect you to be serious and well presented to consider you a manager. They will not really believe your position if you try to be funny and familiar.
Cultural Information - Hierarchy and Decision-making
Question: In the workplace, how are decisions taken and by whom? Is it acceptable to go to my immediate supervisor for answers or feedback?
Usually, decisions are made by directors or managers without consulting employees. Staff could be asked directly at a meeting about their opinions and suggestions on how to proceed on a certain topic, but it is the manager who ultimately decides. Sometimes employees avoid giving their opinions, because they are not sure if they are going to be taken into account.
Hierarchy is respected in the workplace. Usually, decisions are taken by the director or supervisor. It is possible to have a good discussion without fear while maintaining a lot of respect. While respect of hierarchy is very important, it is always possible to have a discussions.
Cultural Information - Religion, Class, Ethnicity, & Gender
Briefly describe the local culture’s attitudes regarding the following: Gender, Class, Religion and Ethnicity. What impact would the above attitudes have on the workplace?
Gender: Although the macho mentality is still prevalent, Cuban society has achieved a high level of equality between men and women. Nowadays, more women hold key positions in the government as ministers, directors, or managers.
Class: Class was almost non-existent or not visible during the 1960-1980 period. After the collapse of the communist bloc in Europe and the opening of the trade with Western countries, class differences have emerged constituting a reality in the Cuban society today.
It should be noted that there are two currencies in Cuba. Workers who earn their salary in Cuban Pesos (CUP) usually have a hard time acquiring basic products for daily life as well as having access to some services. The case is different for a sector of the population who has income in Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC), such as musicians, athletes, employees of firms, embassies and tourism, and people who own private businesses. In general, government policies have preserved the basic rights to all its citizen such as universal education, health care and employment.
Religion: Cubans are very open towards religion. Catholic and African religions are the prevalent ones. For approximately 30 years, government policies discouraged any type of religious activities. After the collapse of the communist bloc in Europe, the government re-evaluated its approach to religion and the Cuban population openly returned to religious practises.
Ethnicity: Cuba is a multi-ethnic nation with a highly mixed population. Most Cubans are from Spanish and African descent. People of Asian origin are also common, in a lesser ratio. A high percentage of the population could be qualified as mestizo or mulato (a mix of races). The number of people of aboriginal origin is very low, and they usually live in the eastern part of the country, mainly Guantánamo.
Usually, Cubans are very open minded. Women take an important place in every type of organisation. There is no noticeable separation between Classes. There is a recognizable difference between boss and employees but you can easily see a boss engaging in conversation with employees (e.g. a doctor can be seen having a conversation with a worker without protocol). In recent years, an acceptance to religion is being noticed. Even people who don’t practice religion are becoming curious to learn about religion.
Cultural Information - Relationship-building
Question: How important is it to establish a personal relationship with a colleague or client before getting to business?
Cubans value personal relationships over professional ones. Having good personal relationships will open many doors that may get obstructed/closed otherwise. Before getting to business, it is a good idea to establish a rapport with your colleague or client. It is even acceptable to ask some personal questions about their family or what they like to do in their spare time.
Cubans are very warm who give great value to relationships. It is important to be approachable to establish a sincere relationship. You will give a bad impression if you appear cold and unfriendly. Once you established a relationship, you will be surprised by the amount of generosity and loyalty you receive. They usually pay a lot of attention to their relationships.
Cultural Information - Privileges and Favouritism
Question: Would a colleague or employee expect special privileges or considerations given our personal relationship or friendship?
When you become friends with a colleague, you are sharing more than the time at work, communication could become less formal, and you can occasionally share details of your personal life. So, some considerations or privileges might be expected. An open discussion on the topic may discourage such expectations.
Cubans sometimes see privileges as a way to improve the situation of their family. It is important to know that many Cubans live in a modest condition and they will be very grateful to receive your help.
Cultural Information - Conflicts in the Workplace
Question: I have a work-related problem with a colleague. Do I confront him or her directly? Privately or publicly?
Cuban people usually maintain good relationships at work. However, when problems arise, Cubans prefer direct confrontation to discuss either personal or work-related issues. It is recommended to address the person privately at first, and do not involve your co-workers. Cubans are open to criticism but they will discuss if not in agreement with a given idea.
When management has to be involved, it is recommended to balance the approach to the work-related problem. The management course of action will have a decisive influence on the outcome.
Cubans don’t like conflicts. They prefer to resolve issues privately. It is not common to see people yelling at each other in public during a conflict. They usually have a way to resolve conflicts with calmness and even with good humor.
Cultural Information - Motivating Local Colleagues
Question: What motivates my local colleagues to perform well on the job?
Cuban employees are very responsible and usually perform well on the job. However, taking into account the low salaries they receive, an improvement in working conditions, as well as a promotion that leads to a raise, are good reasons to motivate them perform better on the job.
Recognition from the colleagues and from the management are also an incentive.
A good salary, good conditions and good relation between colleagues.
Cultural Information - Recommended Books, Films & Foods
To help me learn more about the local culture(s), please recommend: books, films, television shows, music and foods.
Books and suggested readings:
- José Martí, Cuban National Hero (Poetry, Essays) - Ismaelillo y Versos sencillos (poetry); Nuestra América (essay); En los Estados Unidos (compilation).
- José María Heredia (Poetry) - Oda al Niágara (Niagara).
- Cirilo Villaverde (Fiction) - Cecilia Valdés (novel).
- Nicolás Guillén, Cuban National Poet (Poetry) - Poesía de amor.
- José Lezama Lima (Fiction) - Paradiso (novel).
- Alejo Carpentier (Fiction) - El siglo de las luces (novel).
- Dulce María Loynaz (Fiction) - Jardín (novel); Poemas sin nombre (poetry).
- Leonardo Padura Fuentes (Fiction) - El hombre que amaba a los perros (novel).
- Memorias del subdesarrollo (Memoirs of underdevelopment) – Directed by Tomás Gutiérrez Alea
- Fresa y Chocolate (Strawberry and chocolate) - Directed by Tomás Gutiérrez Alea
- Havanastation - Directed by Ian Padrón
- Vestido de Novia – Directed by Marilyn Solaya
- Conducta - Directed by Ernesto Daranas
- El ojo del Canario- Directed by Fernando Pérez
- Ernesto Lecuona (pianist and composer)
- Beny Moré (singer)
- Rita Montaner (singer)
- Chucho Valdés (pianist and composer)
- José María Vitier (pianist and composer)
- Leo Brouwer (composer, orchestra conductor, and guitarist)
- Silvio Rodriguez (singer and composer)
- Pablo Milanés (singer and composer)
- Van Van (popular music band)
- Duo Buena Fe (singers and composers)
- Ballet nacional de Cuba “Alicia Alonso” (dance)
- Ballet Liz Alfonso (dance)
- Congrí (Mix of black bean and rice cooked in the bean broth and with spices)
- Roasted Pork
- Boiled cassava with garlic dressing
- Fried ripe plantain
- Avocado salad
- Black bean soup
- Okra with pork
- Deserts: rice pudding, custard, sweet shredded coconut.
Cuban cinema is the best way to learn about the culture. Like the people, the movies are witty and funny with self-mokery and second degree humor. Here are some suggestions: Fresa y chocolate, Guantanamera, La lista de espera, La Muerte de un burocrata and the very beautiful documentary Suite Habana.
Some of the most popular authors are Zoé Valdes, Wendy Guerra, Jesus Diaz and Pedro Juan Gutiérrez.
Cultural Information - In-country Activities
When in this country, I want to learn more about the culture(s) and people. What activities can you recommend?
In Havana City, places you can visit and things to do:
- Museum of Fine Arts
- Museum of the Revolution
- The Capitol Building
- La Cabaña Fortress
- University of Havana
- Cannon Shot Ceremony in La Cabaña Fortress (everyday, at 9:00pm)
- Visit La Bodeguita del Medio, in Old Havana, traditional food.
Places to visit outside of Havana City:
- Viñales and Soroa, in Pinar del Río
- Varadero Beach
- Santa Clara
- Santiago de Cuba
- Cubadisco – music festival – May
- International Book Fair – February
- International Guitar Festival – May
- Havana Ballet Festival – October- November
- International Festival of New Latin-American Cinema – December
- International Jazz Festival – December
It should be noted that baseball is the National Sport. Many Cubans follow their team at the National League of Baseball Championship throughout the year.
Newspapers: Granma, Juventud Rebelde, Trabajadores, Tribuna de La Habana
Magazines: Bohemia, Palabra Nueva, Alma Mater
Every big city has a list of festival and cultural events. Cubans are very attached to their culture and these events are very popular. When there’s no festival or particular event, there’s always an exhibition or a show programmed regularly.
Cultural Information - National Heroes
Question: Who are this country's national heroes?
José Martí is the Cuban National Hero. Born in 1853, in Havana. He is a poet, writer, journalist, translator, but mainly the most advanced and outstanding political thinker and Cuban revolutionary leader. He died in the first battle he participated; in the War of Independence (1895-1898).
Carlos Manuel de Céspedes (1819-1874). He is lawyer and landowner from Bayamo who is also the initiator of Ten Years' War (also known as the Great War) (1868-1878).
Antonio Maceo (1845-1896). He was born in Santiago de Cuba. Small landowner, joined the Ten Years' War, during which he reached the rank of general. He fell in battle during the War of Independence (1895-1898).
José Marti, Che Guevara and Nicolas Guillen.
Cultural Information - Shared Historical Events with Canada
Are there shared historical events between this country and Canada that could affect work or social relations?
There are no historical events between Canada and Cuba that could affect work or social relations.
I don’t think so. Every collaboration with Canada has a great signification for Cubans. They always see Canadians as good partners in many areas: economy, art, education, health, etc.
Cultural Information - Stereotypes
What stereotypes do Canadians have about the local culture that might be harmful to effective relations?
Mostly it is the stereotype that every Cuban loves salsa music, baseball, drinks rum and smokes cigars or lies on a beach the year through.
Many Cubans do not like nor know how to dance salsa or simply prefer classical music or rock. Many do not like or even understand baseball. Also many Cubans do not drink at all or smoke.
As for lying on a beach: Cubans do not go to the beaches during the Cuban winter (barely Canadian spring temperatures) because it is too cold.
Canadians, in general, are perceived by Cubans as friendly, respectful, engaging and open to discuss any topic. However, still persist the image of a predominant white Canadian society (mostly created by the influx of traditional tourism to Cuba).
That some of them are looking for tourists to get out of Cuba.
Cultural Information - About the Cultural Interpreters
The SME was born in Havana City, Cuba, and studied at Havana University. She currently lives in Ottawa, Canada.
I created a cultural organisation dedicated to artistic exchange between Cuban and Québec. We organised some festival where theater, music, visual art and cinema were presented in Cuba and also in Montreal. Every Canadian delegation brought their culture and also provided help by donating medication, furniture, computer, etc. The project took place from 1997 to 2003. We reunited around 80 persons during these years.
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