OFFICIAL NAME: Republic of Cuba
FORM OF GOVERNMENT: Socialist republic
OFFICIAL LANUAGE: Spanish
AREA: 42,802 square miles (110,860 square kilometers)
Map of Cuba
Cuba has many different habitats, from mountain forests to jungles and grasslands. There are even small deserts. These different ecosystems are home to unique plants and animals found only in Cuba.
Many interesting creatures live in Cuba's thick forests. Most famous is the bee hummingbird, the world's smallest bird. Adult bee hummingbirds grow to only two inches (five centimeters) long. The world's smallest frog also lives in Cuba.
PEOPLE & CULTURE
The mixture of native, African, and European influences in Cuba gives this island a lively culture that is known around the world. The introduction of communism to the country in 1959 has had a big impact on the people, both positive and negative.
Cuba's history is reflected in its food, language, art, and, most of all, its music. All year round, it seems as if bands are everywhere in Havana. The main musical form is called son, which combines lively rhythms with classical guitar.
Unlike most countries in Latin America, Cuba's favorite sport is not soccer. It's baseball! Baseball came to Cuba from the United States in the 1860s. Many international baseball stars have come from Cuba, and the Cuban national team is one of the best in the world.
Cuba is the largest island in the Caribbean Sea. Cuba and its neighbors form the Greater Antilles, a chain of islands created millions of years ago when two of Earth's tectonic plates collided.
Cuba is a long and narrow island. It stretches 750 miles (1,200 kilometers) from east to west, but is only 60 miles (100 kilometers) wide in most places.
High mountains and rolling hills cover about one-third of Cuba. The other two-thirds of the island are lowland plains used mainly for farming.
Photograph by Wrangel, Dreamstime
GOVERNMENT & ECONOMY
Cuba is a socialist state run by the Cuban Communist Party. Cubans vote for their leaders, but the communist party is the only legal party. Fidel Castro was president, prime minister, and commander of the armed forces until February 2008, when he stepped down due to a lengthy illness.
The United States has been hostile toward Cuba since the communists took power. Cuba had close ties to Russia until 1991, when the Soviet Union broke up. The breakup caused an economic crisis in Cuba, which had relied on financial help from Russia.
Cuba's original inhabitants were the Ciboney and Guanahatabey people. About a thousand years ago, the Taino people from Venezuela took over the island. In 1511, forces from Spain defeated the Taino and claimed the island as a Spanish territory.
The Spanish forced many of the Taino people into slave labor. Most died from overwork and from diseases brought by the Europeans. Hundreds of thousands of African slaves were then brought to Cuba, mainly to plant and harvest sugarcane.
American forces helped drive the Spanish out of Cuba in 1898, and by 1902, Cuba had won independence. But the United States had a strong influence over the island. In 1959, communist revolutionaries, led by Fidel Castro, took control.