Cuba is an island nation in the Caribbean Sea with land area of over forty-two thousand miles, two thousand of them coastline. Cuba is located 50 miles west of Haiti, 87 miles south of the Bahamas, 90 miles south of Florida, 30 miles east of Mexico, and 91 miles north of Jamaica.
More than 4,000 islands and cays (small, low-elevation, sandy islands) are found in the surrounding sea and bays. The mainland terrain is mostly flat with rolling plains, rugged hills, small mountains minimal natural inland water formations.
Cuba's climate is tropical and controlled by the gulf stream and trade winds. The dry season lasts from November to April and the monsoon season from May to October.
Pico Turquino is the tallest peak in Cuba. It is located in the southeast part of the island, in the Sierra Maestra mountain range. The name comes from the Spanish word turqui, meaning turquoise, and pico…peak.
Laguna de Leche (Spanish for "Milk Lagoon", also called Laguna Grande de Morón) is the largest natural fresh water lake in Cuba and has a total surface of 25.9 square miles. The white color is caused by the lake's limestone bed. In 1940 the Chicola Channel was built and connected the lake to the Bay of Buena Vista, allowing for the sugar processed in Morón to reach the small port of Chicola. In the process, the lake was contaminated with sea water, and it lost its characteristic white color. The channel was closed in 1988.
Turquino National Park (also called Sierra Maestra National Park) was established on January 8, 1980. The park is home to the before mentioned Pico Turquino, and also contains the mountains Pico Cuba, Pico Real and Pico Suecia.
Zaza Reservoir is the largest man-made reservoir in Cuba. It is located in central Cuba and has an average volume of nearly two-hundred billion gallons. It was developed on the course of the Zaza, Yayabo, Taguasco and Tuinucú Rivers. The 4 mile long dam was built over a 3 year period and was completed on December 7, 1971, at a cost of 27 million Cuban pesos ($29million). A hydroelectric plant was in 1978. The water of the reservoir is used to irrigate the vast farmlands to the south all the way to the Caribbean coast. The dam contians and supports fresh water fishing, a popular island activity, for both commercial and recreational.
Before the arrival of the Spanish, the island was inhabited by native peoples known as the Taíno and Cibone.
In 1511, the first Spanish settlement was founded by Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar at Baracoa. The Spanish enslaved the approximately 100,000 indigenous people who resisted conversion to Christianity. In hopes of finding gold the native tribes were almost completely whiped out by diseases brought over by the sailors and conquistadors.
Cuba remained a Spanish colony for almost 400 years (1511–1898), with an economy based on plantations agriculture, mining and the export of sugar, coffee and tobacco to Europe and later to North America.
The work was done primarily by African slaves, because of its adventatious proximity to the U.S. For those four hundred years the Island was controlled by the small land-owning elite of Spanish settlers.
The product of Spaniard/European and slave, Criollos (much like the creoles in American south, became a large group during this time.
Slavery remained the predominant source of labor but was abolished in 1886. Again, as in the U.S ., the African and native descendent minority continued to be socially and economically oppressed by the European land owners.
Cuba is home to over 11 million people and is the most populous island nation in the Caribbean. Its people, culture, and customs draw from its rich European and Native cultures.
Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar: conquistador of Cuba
Many years of imperialist control, exploitation, war and revolution has shaped and defined the Cuban people. The Ten year war, War of 1895 and Spanish-American war, and a foreign policy of US intervention left the Cuban people no strangers to revolution and change.
After the Spanish-American war, Cuba was granted independence, with special rights and privileges to the US. During a Cuban revolt the US backed Fulgencio Batista. Batista, a Military leader, became the President and Dictator of Cuba from 1933-44 and again in 1952-59. His pro US dictatorship helped improve US - Cuban relations but at the cost of a repressive and corrupt government.
This corrupt Regime was the impetus for the Cuban Revolution and the end of US “imperialism” in Cuba
Perhaps one of the last Communist/socialist institutions left in the world, Cuba is in the grips of overall poverty and social decline, while they have made large social strides in education and overall healthcare.
Cuba continues to be a country at war with itself. The government has complete control of a censored press and squelches most forms of government protest, imprisoning and sometimes torturing dissidents as traitors of Cuba. The Cuban Government, under Castro, has been accused of numerous counts of human rights violations.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union and because of the embargo with the US, Cuba has experienced many years of poverty. During the decline of the Soviet Union in the 70’s the standard of living in was very poor. Food rationing and breakdown in government aid and housing shortages left many Cubans homeless and on the brink of starvation. In a response to the overall destitude of the cuban people Castro began economic reforms in the mid-seventies.
As of 2002, some 1.2 million persons of Cuban background (about 10% of the current population of Cuba) reside in the U.S.
Cuban is a melting pot of cultures: Native, Spanish, Latin American, British, African, and American. There food is an eclectic mix of these cultures. The typical Cuban meal consists of: plantains, black beans and rice, (the three staples of their cuisine) Cuban bread (a hard, thin, almost papery toasted crust and a soft flakey middle.), pork with onions, and tropical fruits. The predominate spices are: Garlic, cumin, oregano and bay leaves. Pork sandwhiches (I’m told are similar to the Mexican Torta, and the italian panini, pressed in a plancha ) is something that is quintessentially Cuban and a staple of the workers.
Cuba is a country of loyal sports fans and enthusiasts. Because of its proximity to America, Baseball is by far the most popular. While Cuba has it’s own league, several players have made it over to play in MLB: Bert Campaneris, Jose Canseco, Mike Cuellar, Minnie Minoso, Tony Oliva, Rafael Palmeiro, Camilo Pascual, Tony Perez, Luis Tiant, and Zoilo Versailles. Other sports and pastimes include basketball, volleyball, and cricket.
Cuban music is very rich and is the most commonly known expression of culture. It has been adapted from many other musical styles: salsa, rumba and mambo and cha-cha-cha.
Rumba music attributes its origins from the African culture residing in Cuba.
Cuba's unique musical sound utilizes native instruments:the maracas, güiro, marimba and mayohuacan, as well as developed many instruments to create the distinctive “Cuban Sound” like the Tres , a three double-string guitar.
Over the Next few slides I would like to expand on the musicians of Cuba.
Born February 20th, 1927, Ibrahim Ferrer was a famous son and guaracha singer and lead vocalist for bandleader Pacho Alonso, in the 1950’s. After the revolution Ferrer became “disillusioned with singing and the struggles of life”. Thankfully he was found by Juan de Marcos González who was working with Ry Cooder on the Buena Vista Social Club. He had been working as a shoe shiner. Cooder describes the chance to work with Ferrer as something that happens "perhaps once in your life", and Ferrer as "the Cuban Nat King Cole". Ferrer realeased two albums after the initial Buena Vista release, including his first, and last solo album. He received a Latin Grammy in 2001 and a Grammy in 2004, but was not allowed in the country to receive it. After touring in Europe in 2005 he died August 6, 2005 in Cuba at the age of 78.
Born November 18th, 1907 Compay Segundo is an accomplished vocalist guitarist, and tres player. He is credited as the inventor of the armónico, a seven-stringed guitar-like instrument. He is most remembered for his duo with Lorenzo Hierrezuelo, Los Compadres. He composed and wrote the lyrics for Chan Chan , a tune which has become the “calling card” of the Buena Vista Social Club release. His lively spirit (Compay was almost 90 at the time the Buena Vista Social Club was recorded) is present in the video interviews, a little more than a year later. In an interview he boasted he had been “smoking for almost 85 years, and that his love for women gave him five children and he was working on his sixth.” He died July 13th, 2003 in Cuba.
Born June 22nd 1946 Eliades Ochoa is a Cuban singer and guitarist, playing both the tres and a variant called cuatro, he began practicing at five years old. In the film he comments on how he came from a musical family, “both my mother and father played the tres ”. He began playing in the streets and red light district of Cuba to help support his family at a young age. He lives and performs to this day in his distinctive cowboy boots and hat, a trade mark of his son playing style.