Cuba

Basic Information

Area: 110,860 sq. km (42,803 sq. miles)
Population: 11.2 million
Capital City: Havana (population 2.2 m)
People: Ethnically mixed population (white 66%; mixed race 22%; black 12%), Chinese 1%
Languages: Spanish
Religion(s): The State is secular in Cuba; the main religions are, Catholicism, Santeria (an informal mixture of Christianity and African religions brought over by slaves), and Protestantism.
Currency: Cuban Peso (Moneda Nacional and Convertible Peso (CUC)
Major political parties: Only party – Cuban Communist Party or PCC (Fidel CASTRO Ruz, First Secretary)
Government: Cuba has a one party system of government and is the only country in the Western Hemisphere with a Communist government. Over 46 years after the Cuban revolution, Fidel Castro remains Head of State and leader of the Communist Party. The Vth Party Congress in October 1997 reaffirmed the Revolution's political direction and named Raul Castro as Fidel's chosen successor.
President of the Council of State: Commander-in-Chief, Dr Fidel Castro Ruz (since 1959)
First Vice-President of the Council of State: General of the Army, Raul Castro Ruz
Foreign Minister: Felipe Perez Roque
Membership of international groups/organisations: Cuba's memberships include United Nations (UN), Organisation of American States (OAS – excluded from formal participation since 1962), WHO, WTO, WO and others.

Geography

Cuba is the largest island in the Caribbean, located between the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean.

History

Pre-Colombian Cuba occupied by Amerindian tribes: the Guanahatabey, TaŪnos, Siboneys and Caribs.
1492 Christopher Columbus lands on Cuba, the start of Spanish occupation.
1762 British forces take control of Havana.
1763 British hand Cuba back to the Spanish.
1868-78 Ten Years War: Cuba loses to the Spanish.
1895-8 War of Independence: End of Spanish rule.
1902 Republic of Cuba is created.
1934-58 Fulgencio Batista effective Head of State for 17 of these 25 years.
1959 Triumph of the Revolution. Fidel Castro Ruz takes control.

Economy

Basic Economic Facts

Nominal GDP (Billion US$):30.239 billion (2003 actual)
Nominal GDP per head (US$):2,695 (2003 actual)
Inflation rate:6% (2004 est)
Main industries:tourism, sugar, nickel, tobacco, and agriculture.

The Cuban economy had experienced a gradual recovery since its 'freefall' in the early 1990s. This followed the collapse of the former Soviet Union, Cuba's preferential partner in trade and aid, and Cuba was forced to take tough economic measures. These included the legalisation of the use of hard currency and of some private enterprises, as well as reform of agricultural production and land tenure to permit more private ownership. Nonetheless private enterprise is still heavily restricted. Furthermore, 2003/2004 proved to be difficult years for the Cuban economy, with droughts, hurricanes and power shortages, increasing US economic restrictions and falling foreign investment. Tourism is now a key foreign exchange earner for Cuba, with over 2m visitors a year bringing in about $2bn dollars in revenue. However, GDP levels are still below those of the late eighties. In October 2004, the Government announced that the dollar would no longer be used in commercial transactions, ostensibly to reduce the vulnerability of the Cuban economy to US measures throughout 2004 to limit the flow of hard currency to the island. The Cuban peso and Cuban Convertible Peso were both revalued (the latter by 8%) against the US Dollar and other foreign currencies in early 2005.

Shortages of basic foodstuffs and medicines, and poor public transport are all still regular features of daily life for ordinary Cubans. The national average wage is roughly $10-15 a month at real market prices. The state provides basic rations of food; education and health are free and good by regional standards; utilities are subsidised heavily and most, if they do not 'own' their houses, pay little or no rent. Nevertheless only those with regular access to foreign currency - through remittances (now limited by US measures introduced in May 2004), or by working or providing services for foreigners - can achieve a reasonable standard of living and ownership of cars and freedom to travel are extremely limited.

The Cuban authorities remain firmly committed to maintaining a planned economy, but will continue to carry out enterprise restructuring and to seek foreign business participation.

Under the Foreign Investment Law passed in 1995 (which allows 100% foreign ownership in certain circumstances), Cuba started actively seeking foreign participation in commercial activities. There are opportunities for establishing joint ventures or other forms of commercial association in Cuba, although investors face practical difficulties, and often need patience. It should also be noted that recent times have seen a growing reluctance to deal with business partners from the EU. Since 2004, the Cuban government has actively encouraged investment from China and Venezuela (especially in the nickel and energy sectors), while cutting back on the small and medium sized private investment joint ventures. Through central planning and sacrifice, Cuba has, for the region, an unusually diversified economy - including a prominent biotechnology industry Other positive developments include the re-structuring of the banking sector, resulting in the formation of the new Central Bank (both in May 1997)A poor hard currency debt situation, lack of medium and long-term finance and a perception of threat from the Helms/Burton legislation remain significant potential deterrents for foreign suppliers. Of late there has been a marked move towards greater centralisation and a reversal of some of the limited openings in the nineties.

International Relations

Cuba's Relationshio with the UK

The UK, along with EU partners, shares the same goal as the US (i.e. a peaceful transition to a pluralist democracy in Cuba). But our approach differs fundamentally from the US on the means to achieve this. We favour constructive engagement rather than isolation. EU Member States adopted a Common Position on Cuba on 2 December 1996. This states the EU's objective as being to encourage a process of transition to pluralist democracy and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, via intensified dialogue with the Cuban authorities and all sectors of Cuban society. Progress towards these objectives is the key to improved EU/Cuba relations. The Union evaluates the Common Position every twelve months. Each review so far has concluded there has been no substantive political or economic reform in Cuba, while recognising some of Cuba's achievements on social and economic rights (e.g. the Right to Education).

The United Kingdom and Cuba have full diplomatic relations, unbroken since they were established in 1902 following Cuba's independence. However, the crackdown on opposition in March 2003, summary trials and long sentences has made engagement with the Cuban government more difficult. The UK, along with EU partners, introduced a series of measures to express EU discontent with the crackdown on human rights. These measures included the invitation of the peaceful opposition to Embassy events and the limitation of ministerial visits. As a response, the Cuban Government “froze” contact with EU embassies from summer 2003.

The European Council temporarily suspended these measures on 31st January 2005, at the same time reaffirming the Common Position of 1996. Around the same time, the Cuban Government ended its “freeze” on contact with EU Embassies in Havana, although access for EU Embassies remains difficult. The EU Common Position was reviewed in June 2005 At this time, the European Union expressed regret at the lack of any further releases of political prisoners since December 2004 or any other advances in human rights. It welcomed the progress made to date in developing closer relations with Cuban civil society and reiterated its willingness to maintain a constructive dialogue with the Cuban authorities.

Recent Visits

Former Foreign Office Minister Bill Rammell visited Cuba in March 2005. This was the first visit of an EU Minister since the suspension of the special measures introduced by the EU in response to the human rights crackdown in Cuba in March 2003 (see above). His visit focused on important bilateral areas such as anti-drugs work as well as human rights concerns.

In 1998 Baroness Symons (then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State) made the first visit by an FCO Minister since the Revolution. Brian Wilson MP has visited Cuba as Trade, Scotland Office and Energy Minister respectively. The then FCO Minister Baroness Scotland visited Cuba in September 2000. Alan Johnson MP, Minister of State for Trade and Industry was HMG's representative at the 2001 Havana International Trade Fair. Jane Davidson AM, Welsh Minister for Education and Lifelong Learning, visited Cuba in February 2002. Baroness Amos visited Cuba in June 2002 as FCO Minister for the Caribbean.

There has been extensive exchange of parliamentarians, business delegations, trades unionists, academics and officials in fields including trade, investment, health, justice, science, agriculture, finance, culture and sport.

Trade and Investment with the UK

British business interest in Cuba grew significantly following the opening up of the Cuban economy to foreign investment and the recognition of Cuba's potential as an economic motor for the Caribbean. British expertise is being deployed in diverse sectors, including power generation, IT, biotechnology and agro-industry, the latter especially in response to demands from the important tourism sector. In addition to business visitors, who take advantage of officially supported trade missions and trade fairs, approximately 160,000 British tourists visited Cuba in 2004. UK figures show exports to Cuba of about £11.5m in 2004, but Cuban records suggest considerably more UK goods than this enter Cuba via third countries elsewhere in the region. The British Embassy produces a regular electronic newsletter called 'Think Cuba' on investment and other opportunities. Further information on Cuba's trade and investment with the UK can be found on following pages of the UKTI website:

Law enforcement co-operation

The UK enjoys excellent counter-drugs co-operation with Cuba. Since 1995, HM Customs and Excise trainers have worked with Cuban customs officers in the airports at Havana, Varadero, Holguin and Santiago under UK-funded training programmes. Cuba has also participated with distinction in joint UK/EC-funded regional training programmes, itself helping run and deliver Caribbean-wide courses in Havana in November 2001 and July 2002. In 2005, the Embassy funded successful courses in tackling drugs and money laundering.

The UK has also funded further programmes in areas such as child protection.

UK Development Assistance

The British Embassy in Havana runs the Small Grants Scheme on behalf of the British Department for International Development (DfID). The SGS provides an opportunity for local communities and organisations within Cuba to access funding for small-scale community-based development projects, in which the primary beneficiaries are the most disadvantaged.

Projects in Cuba recently financed by the SGS have focused on development of less favoured communities, help to socially disadvantaged children, empowerment of women and other sectors through basic education, and agricultural and agro-ecological sustainable issues. SGS funds around 15 projects per year throughout the country. Since the Cuban Government’s decision in July 2003 to refuse any direct EU aid, SGS projects have been funded through international partners including Save the Children and UNDP.

EU Development Assistance

The United Kingdom contributes significantly through the EU aid programme. Over the last decade the Community has financed close to 125M€ of assistance measures, mostly in the field of humanitarian aid benefiting an estimated 16% of the total population in Cuba. Under the NGO co-financing scheme projects and partners in a variety of sectors, including agriculture, health and education have been supported. The economic co-operation facility focused on projects contributing to economic and legal reform, promoting contacts between European and Cuban firms as well as enhancing the business administration skills of Cuban executives in charge of running companies. Over 30 British Universities and academic institutions are participating in these programmes.

Other co-operation programmes with Cuban participation: INCO (network of research institutes), ALPHA (network of universities), URBAL (network of cities), ECIP (investment promotion) and AL-INVEST. As of 2002, Cuban partners may also apply for support under the newly created @lis programme to support ICT development in Latin American countries.

Unfortunately, the Cuban Government decided to decline all direct EU aid in July 2003. Since then, the Cubans have not accepted any direct aid from the EU.

Cultural Relations

Since 1998, the British Council has worked to expand their programme in Cuba, focussing on English language training, science and technology and the promotion of the arts. A British Council Manager is based in the British Embassy in Havana. Information about the work of the British Council in Havana can be obtained on their website:

Human Rights

Cuba's record on civil and political rights falls well below accepted international standards, and is of continuing concern. People are denied freedom of expression and assembly, and a free press. Opposition parties are prohibited. In July 2005 the Cuban authorities suppressed peaceful demonstrations and arrested a number of demonstrators. 15 remain in jail without trial. In April 2003, 75 Cuban dissidents were sentenced to up to 28 years in jail under draconian laws after being found guilty of being financed and directed by the US Interests Section in Havana. Fifteen have since been conditionally released on health grounds. Cuba also broke a 3-year moratorium on executions by imposing the death penalty on 3 Cubans who had tried to hijack a ferry to Miami. The EU has in response, strongly condemned the wave of arrests, and called for the immediate release of prisoners, while expressing disappointment at the end of the de facto moratorium on the death penalty. Bill Rammell, the former FCO Minister for Human Rights also summoned the Cuban Ambassador to express UK concern over the crackdown on opposition, and raised human rights in every subsequent meeting with the Ambassador. Human rights was one of the main elements of Mr Rammell’s programme during his visit to Cuba in March 2005. The EU continues carefully to evaluate its relations with Cuba to ensure a measured and proportionate response to Cuban actions.

Cuba has ratified four of the six UN human rights instruments. They are:

  • International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD (1972));
  • Convention Against Torture (CAT (1995));
  • Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC (1991)). [In 2000, Cuba signed the Optional Protocols to CRC on i) Child Soldiers and ii) the Sale of Children and Child Prostitution];
  • Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women CEDAW (1980)). [In 2000, Cuba also signed the Optional Protocol to CEDAW – Right of individual petition to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women].

The two UN covenants not ratified or signed by Cuba are:

International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

In February 1999, a Cuban National Assembly extraordinary session approved a law to 'Protect the Independence and Economy of Cuba' from US aggression. This provides for prison sentences (depending on the offence) of up to 30 years and fines of USD 5000 for those found guilty of collaborating with the 'constant economic, political, diplomatic, propaganda and ideological war against our nation'. The new legislation was greeted by international concern.

After a period of religious intolerance in the early years of the Revolution, there has more recently been growing tolerance of the Church, though its activities are still tightly controlled. Catholicism was never as strong in Cuba as in the majority of Latin American countries. But, even so, the Catholic Church is seen as one of the few non-State organisations with national influence. The Pope made his first visit to Cuba in 1998, when he called on Cuba to open up to the world and the world to Cuba. Protestant churches are also being revived. The Cuban Government offered Christmas as a permanent public holiday in 1998 and there were other forward moves in Church/State relations. In January 2002, the Cuban Government authorised the founding of a Greek Orthodox Church in Havana.

There is some civil society activism in Cuba. In May 2002 the Varela Project, calling for a referendum under the Cuban constitution on civil and political freedoms, was presented to the Cuban parliament. Oswaldo PayŠ, author of the project, visited the UK in January 2003 and met the former FCO Minister responsible for Human Rights, Bill Rammell. Varela attracted support from those inside and outside Cuba who wish to see peaceful change to a democratic system of government; EU Heads of Government issued a statement in support of it in June 2002. Oswaldo PayŠ was awarded the European Parliament’s Sakharov prize for freedom of thought in 2002. The Cuban authorities said that a committee of the National Assembly discussed the petition but rejected it because it proposes amendments to the Constitution.. In March 2003, they subsequently sentenced dozens of people involved in the projects to sentences of up to 28 years, alleging US-sponsored activity. Despite the crackdown, PayŠ has continued to collect signatures for the Varela project (there are now more than 35,000) and is currently working on a "National Dialogue" to encourage the Cuban people to become re-engaged with the political process.. In December 2005, the UK Government invited Paya to the UK to undertake a programme of visits and to speak at the EU-NGO forum on Freedom of Expression in London. Regrettably, he was unable to travel because the Cuban authorities denied him an exit visa to leave Cuba. His presentation was shown on video at the forum and scheduled meetings with Foreign Office Minister Lord Triesman, Amnesty International, the press and others were held by teleconference.

Dissident and former political prisoner Marta Beatriz Roque held a General meeting of her National Assembly to Promote Civil Society on 20-21 May 2005. This was the largest meeting of independent civil society since the Cuban Government came to power. Several European parliamentarians and journalists who tried to attend were expelled.

The Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White) are another important civil society group in Cuba. These wives and family members of political prisoners hold peaceful vigils and marches for the release of their relatives. The Damas de Blanco were awarded the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in December 2005. They were not permitted by the Cuban Government to travel to collect their award.