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Cuba has more than 11,200,000 people, with 75 per cent of them living in urban areas. The average density is 100.3 residents per square kilometre, with the most heavily populated spots being the cities of Havana (2,198,000), Santiago de Cuba (1,023,000) and Holguín (1,021,000). The country’s official language is Spanish, although most Cubans working in the tourism industry can communicate in English.
Cuba is a long and narrow island (1,200 kilometers from Cabo de San Antonio, the westernmost tip, to Punta de Maisí, the eastern tip). At its widest point it measures 210 kilometers and at its narrowest 32 kilometers. It is dominated by plains and has four major mountain ranges: the Guaniguanico mountains, in the west; Guamuhaya mountains in the central portion; the Sagua-Baracoa range; and the Sierra Maestra the east. The latter contains the country’s highest peak: Turquino, 1,974 meters high. The landscape is diverse, ranging from semi-deserts to tropical rain forests. The country has a large biodiversity and well-preserved ecosystems.
Cuba is a long, narrow island stretching 1,200 kilometres from Cabo de San Antonio at its western tip to Punta de Maisí, the eastern tip. At its widest point, it measures 210 kilometres; at its narrowest, 32.
The landscape ranges from semi-arid desert to tropical rainforests. While largely flat, Cuba has four major mountain ranges: the Guaniguanico mountains in the west; the central Guamuhaya mountains and Sagua-Baracoa range; and the Sierra Maestra the east. The latter boasts the country’s highest peak: Turquino, 1,974 metres. The country also has well preserved ecosystems and a diverse biosphere.
Flora and fauna
More than 300 protected areas in the country occupy some 22 per cent of the island. Six of these have been declared world biosphere reserves by UNESCO: Guanahacabibes Peninsula, Sierra del Rosario and Ciénaga de Zapata, in the west; Buenavista in central Cuba; and Baconao Park and Cuchillas del Toa in the east. More than half the island’s diverse flora and fauna are indigenous.
On October 27, 1492, Christopher Columbus discovered the Cuban archipelago during his initial voyage to the New World. Between 1511 and 1515, Diego Velázquez led the Spanish colonization of the island and founded the country’s first seven townships: Baracoa, Bayamo, Santiago de Cuba, Santísima Trinidad, Sancti Spíritus, Santa María del Puerto del Príncipe (Camagüey) and San Cristóbal de La Habana (Havana). Spanish domination lasted four centuries and ended with the country’s military occupation by the United States in 1898, which continued until 1902 when a neocolonial republic was established. The island’s history has been marked by repeated struggles for independence. The first was on October 10, 1868; the last began on July 26, 1953 with the attack on the Moncada Garrison led by Fidel Castro. This revolution culminated in the establishment of the current republic on January 1, 1959.
January 1: Liberation Day. Anniversary of the Triumph of the Revolution
May 1: International Workers’ Day
July 25, 26 and 27: Festivities for the Day of National Rebellion
October 10: Anniversary of the beginning of the Independence Wars
December 25: Christmas Day
The two pillars of the Cuban economy are tourism and sugar. Other major industries are tobacco, coffee, rum, honey, cocoa, citrus fruit, pharmaceuticals and biotechnology, as well as construction materials, fishing and mining. Cuba has the world’s largest nickel deposits (some 34 per cent of global reserves). It also mines copper and magnesium.
Education is provided free of charge at all levels and is compulsory through ninth grade. In 1961 the country eradicated illiteracy through the National Literacy Campaign. Specialized polytechnic institutes, universities and other higher education centers exist in all the provinces.
Cuba’s primary health care system is considered unique in Latin America. Medical services are provided free of charge to all Cubans. There is an extensive networks of medical centers (442 polyclinics and 281 hospitals), as well as other specialized centers. The infant mortality rate is 7.2 per 1000 live births and the life expectancy is 75 years. Cuba is among six countries in the world that produce interferon. Its vaccines against meningitis B and C and hepatitis B are unique in the world. These achievements are possible thanks to the existence of 211 scientific research and production institutes
Cuba has produced major international figures in literature and fine arts, film, ballet, modern dance and theatre.
The country is also renowned for its original rhythms such as the danzón, son, bolero, mambo, cha-cha-cha and more. Cuba’s prestigious cultural events attract international celebrities in dance, music, theatre and other arts.
Among these events are the Casa de las Américas literary contest, the Havana International Ballet Festival, the Festival of New Latin American Cinema and the International Jazz Festival.
Every year, Cuba hosts numerous international sports events. A world sports power, the country is known for boxing,baseball and volleyball, and boasts stars in track and field, fencing, judo, Greco-Roman and freestyle wrestling, chess and weightlifting.
The country’s Constitution guarantees total freedom of religion. The most commonly practised religion is Catholicism, although Afro-Cuban religions are deep-rooted.