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Cuba. A land where the music is good, the drink flows freely and the tourists come for both. Oh, and it's famous for its cigars.
A brief history of Cuba: Cuba was a island in the Caribbean inhabited by the native Tainos before the Spaniards arrived in the 1500s and colonized the place. The Tainos who weren't killed off through disease were assimilated into the colonist population. The Spanish colonists brought in African (mostly Yoruban, though they were from many different parts of Africa) slaves to operate plantations and such.
Eventually, the Spanish colonists became upset with Spain and started to fight a war of liberation, which was unpleasant enough before the United States, flexing its muscles on the world stage, became involved. It entered the war on the pretense of caring about Cuba's freedom and claiming that Spain had attacked the US, following the still-mysterious 1898 sinking of the USS Maine off the Cuban coast. The war became called the Spanish-American War; the US was victorious and Cuba became an American protectorate. During this time a chess player named Capablanca became famous around the world. He went on to become a Chess Master and is now regarded as one of the greatest players of all time.
The United States had plans for exploiting Cuba just as fiercely as the Spanish, but that sort of went awry when Cubans started asking for a greater voice in government. Under the terms of something known as the Platt Amendment, the US gave Cuba its nominal independence, though the American shadow continued to hover over Cuba thanks to Washington's cozy relations with president/dictator Fulgencio Batista; the establishment of the now-infamous Guantanamo Bay military base was just one of the many strings attached to the country's "freedom". Along with the US government and "legitimate" US businesses, the American mafia became heavily involved in the island, turning it into something like Las Vegas East. This state of affairs continued until the 1959 Cuban Revolution, in which Fidel Castro took over the country. The Castro regime's policies rapidly led to a complete breakdown of American/Cuban relationships, the eviction of the Mafia, and a total economic embargo.
The resulting "Bay of Pigs" amphibious assault by a troop of Cuban exiles was an embarrassing failure. Seeing it as a way of fending off the US, Castro began cultivating a relationship with the Soviet Union. Things got hairy during the Cuban Missile Crisis, wherein the US learned that the Soviet Union had transferred some missiles to Cuba. After several days of nuclear brinkmanship and frantic diplomacy, the two superpowers avoided all-out war, leading to a relative thaw in US-USSR relationships. Castro was not present at the talks concerning the crisis.
From 1966 to 1989 Cuba would aid Angola in its military conflict against South Africa under apartheid (same apartheid as in Lethal Weapon) in the 1960 and financed a number of revolutionary insurgencies around the world, such as the Sandinista, or the South African Freedom movement, all consider terrorist organisations at the time by the department of state, unlike the Afghan mujahideen (see Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters). As a result of this Castro is considered by some one of the founding fathers of Namibia, Angola, and Free South Africa. Nelson Mandela and Fidel Castro are reported to be close friends. Che Guevara would die in such type of effort in Bolivia, executed by CIA officers to avoid a trail, in 1967.
The status quo in Cuba tottered along until the Soviet Union's collapse in the late 1980's. This had an immediate and devastating effect on the Cuban economy since USSR was the main commercial partner of Cuba for decades, while the U.S insisted on blockading the economy hoping the regime would collapse. In what is known as "the Special Period" (early 90s), Cuba's economy suffered immensely, with simple necessities like toilet paper and food becoming even harder to find. Cuba started to focus more on tourism, and enough trade was attracted from Europe to prevent a descent into the Crapsack World-ness of some of its Caribbean neighbors. Cuba continues to suffer shortages of every day commodities, a situation not helped by the ongoing US embargo, fiercely maintained through every US Presidential Administration for the past fifty years.
Until his official retirement in 2008, Castro was one of the longest-serving leaders in world history who wasn't a monarch. His brother Raul has taken over and he's no young 'un; what will happen after his passing is anyone's guess.
If you like crumbling Spanish architecture, 1950s cars and lovely beaches uncluttered with stupid tourists, ballet and the best music Latin America has to offer, modern Cuba is the place to go. Also notable is the country's human development (average healthcare, education, nutrition, life expectancy, et al.) which throughout the last decades has been higher than those of the countries that surround it and Latin America in general. All this despite the crumbling infrastructure, the secret police, the embargo, and the continued repression of free speech and human right abuses against those elements deemed "counter-revolutionary" (sure sounds like China doesn't it? except for the embargo part that is).
Cuba in fiction
- The Clive Cussler novel Cyclops
- The Airwolf episode "Mad Over Miami".
- The movie Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights is set in Cuba on the eve of the revolution.
- Cuba in Axis Powers Hetalia is a big guy who loathes America but hangs around with Canada.
- The Godfather Part II has a number of scenes set in pre-Castro Havana.
- Red Zone Cuba
One of the most notable things about Cubans to non-Cubans is their way of speaking Spanish. The stereotypical Cuban speaks Spanish quickly, slurring words and leaving off word endings. It's pretty similar to Puerto Rican Spanish.
Some characteristics of Cuban Spanish include...
- velarization of 'n' (so that pan [pan] becomes [paŋ])
- debuccalization of s in syllable coda (so that perros ['peros] becomes ['peroh])
- deletion of final intervocalic d (so that acabado [aka'bado] becomes [aca'bao])
- doubling consonants when an r is before them (so that parque ['paɾke] becomes ['pakke])
- r becoming l in certain situations (so that vivir [bi'biɾ] becomes [bi'bil])
Cubans in rural areas say things like 'comenos' (rather than 'comemos') and 'haiga' (a leftover form 17th century colonial Spanish, as opposed to modern 'haya'), although the latter can be found all throughout Latin America.
Cubans use different vocabulary, too. For example, 'coger' is a Perfectly Cromulent Word in Cuban Spanish and only means 'to get' as opposed to the more obscene meaning of 'fuck' that it has in most of Spanish America. 'Papaya', however, is slang for vulva and so the Papaya fruit is called 'frutabomba' instead. 'Guagua' meaning bus is pretty well-known; it is also used in the Canary Islands and comes from the beeping sound that buses make. Cuban Spanish has quite a few loanwords from American English, like 'pulover' for shirt, 'chor' for shorts, and (for some people!) 'frigidaire' for refrigerator. Cubans can say 'elevadór' (whereas the word is 'acensor' in many other places), 'keik' and 'pai' (cake and pie). The diminutive for words with a t in the last syllable is formed with 'ico/ica' rather than 'ito/ita' so that 'chiquita' becomes 'chiquitica' rather than 'chiquitita' (and yes, that ABBA song does sound odd).
It's important to note that not all Cubans speak the same way. The phonological changes mentioned above may change depending on the speaker so that some may not say 'pakke' or 'peroh' but keep other features. It varies, and there are different accents within Cuba, too.