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Cuba is the largest Caribbean island and lies between the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean. It has a border with the United States because of the presence of the US Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. However, this does not signal the cooperation or rapport between Cuba and the United States that one might expect from such a relationship.
Although the United Stated helped Cubans overthrow Spain in the Spanish-American War in 1898, and Cuba was granted independence from the US in 1902, things have not gone smoothly in their relationship since. Fidel Castro was the head of an army of rebels who took over in 1959, and example of Soviet-supported Communist rule. Fidel Castro ruled until February 2008, at which time he turned the presidency over to his brother, Raul Castro. It remains a Communist state, and there has been a US embargo on Cuba since 1961.
The formal name of Cuba is Republic of Cuba, which in Spanish is Republica de Cuba. The capital is Havana, and it is divided into 14 provinces. Independence from the US is ignored officially and the national holiday is the Triumph of the Revolution of 1959, celebrated on January 1.
The lowest point is sea level at 0 feet (0 m), and the highest point is Pico Turquino at 6,578.08 feet (2005 m). With 42,803.29 square miles (110,860 sq km), Cuba is about the size of Pennsylvania.
The estimated population of Cuba in July, 2008 was 11,423,952, with most of the population between the ages of 15 and 64. Men and women are equally literate, with an overall literacy rate of 99.8%. As of the 2002 census, the population was 65.1% white, 24.8% mulatto and mestizo, and 10.1% black. Prior to the introduction of Communism, 85% of the population was Roman Catholic, with Protestants, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Santeria, and Jews, as well. The national language is Spanish.
Cuba’s economy is bolstered by its relationship with Venezuela. In 2008, nearly 73% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was estimated to come form the service industry, with 22.8% from industry and 4.4% from agriculture, even though 20% of the population is employed in agriculture. Industries include sugar, petroleum, and tobacco — Cuba is noted for its cigars — along with construction, metals, cement, machinery, and pharmaceuticals.
Cuban cooking joins elements of Spanish, Caribbean, and African cuisines. Important elements that transcend the various traditions include sugar cane, beans, rice, pork or beef, tubers, and plantains, all seasoned with a wide array of spices.