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Welcome to our Cuba page! We hope that you are able to find any information you're looking for on Cuba and Cuban refugees. On this page, you will find information on traditional Cuban cullture, geography of the country, and stories of refugees fleeing their country for safety. We invite you to explore, enjoy, and give any feedback you feel is necessary.


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The capitol of Cuba is Havana. Cuba is located between the North Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. Cuba is 40,543 square miles and it is the sixteenth-largest island in the world. Cuba is slightly smaller than the state of Pennsylvania. Guantanamo Bay Naval Base is located here. The climate is tropical with set dry and rainy seasons. Natural resources include ore, petroleum and timber.

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Cuban Flag


Cuba has a population of 11,230,229 people. Around 50% of the Cuban people are female. Ten percent of the Cuban population are older than 65, 69% are in between the ages 15-64 years old and 21% of Cubans are under the age of 14. The population growth rate is .39%. The language spoken in Cuba is Spanish. Their ethnic groups vary between Mulatto (mixed race) - 51%, White - 37%, Black - 11%, and Chinese - 1%. Most Cubans are Roman Catholic, Episcopalians and Methodist.


Before Castro came into power, the president was Batista. He had full support of the United States government. In 1956, a group of rebels (including Castro) sailed from Mexico to Cuba and tried to take power. Their first attempt to overthrow the government failed, however, and they were forced to go into hiding in the mountains. By 1958, a large percentage of Cubans were against Batista. The United States did not want Batista to loose power, so they sent more weapons to Cuba. Unfortunately, this did not help Batista.On January 1, 1959, Castro and his rebels group, along with the support of students and Catholics, overthrew Batista. Batista fled to Portugal and later Spain.

Cuban leader Castro.

Before Refugee Crisis

This is a picture taken by David Harvey of the everyday life of Cubans.

Fidel Castro was Prime Minister from 1959 to 2006 when he handed power over to his brother, Raul, for medical reasons. By May 1961, Castro had declared Cuba a socialist republic and himself a Marxist-Leninst. At this time he also formalized Cuba's alliance with the Soviet Union. This caused thousands of Cubans to flee the country by boat or plane.
The fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 caused Cuba's economy to decline severely. By the late 1990's the economy had returned to normal. Cuba had also improved relations with the Soviet Union.
"There's not a whole lot to do in Cuba for many people, because they don't really have the material possessions or the recreational activities that some other people do," said photographer David Harvey. "But the quality that they do have is the ability to make something out of nothing, and that goes for everything that they do."

Traditions and Culture

The culture of Cuba has both African and Spanish influences. After the island was discovered by Christopher Columbus, Spanish colonists settled and brought with them African slaves to work on plantations. The native Cuban people were mistreated almost to extinction, and the combination of Spanish and African culture made up what we know as Cuban culture. [5]

FOOD - Black beans and root vegetables are the most commonly used food item in Cuban cuisine.
After the Cuban revolution in 1959, food shortages were common, and since then conditions have improved little. When food was available,
chances were it was of very low quality. Nineteen percent of the population has been reported to be undernourished.

Common Dishes - arroz congri (rice and beans)
tostones (dried fruit)
ajiaco (meat and vegetable stew)
empanadas de carne (meat-filled pies)
The only fast food resteraunt is a Cuban chain called El Rapido, first opened in 1995. [5]

MUSIC - Most of the instruments used in traditional Cuban music are of African origin (maracas and wooden drums). Cuba is commonly known for its "Son" form of music, which branches off into the different styles of the salsa, mambo, and rumba.

Cuban Music Jam Session

Above is a clip of a typical Cuban styled band

"Apple iTunes and iPod. Mi Swing Es Tropical Island."

Check out the cool iPod ad. Pretty sure it's Cubans being profiled but not totally sure [13].

Weddings - There are many Cuban traditions associated with Cuban weddings. During the festivities of a wedding, there is a money dance, which consists of pinning money to the bride's dress to help pay for the honeymoon. The bride and groom are also asked to give gifts to all of the guests in addition to receiving gifts of their own.

New Years Eve - Cuban stories state that eating 12 red grapes at midnight ensures good luck for the 12 months of the new year. [5]

If you are interested in learning more about Cuban culture, visit the links below.

"The Cuban population is a melting pot of ethnic mixes from every corner of the world. In the early days slaves cross bread with masters creating the mulattos of today..." [11]

Photographs showing Cuban people and their culture [12]

Refugee Cause

Most refugees flee from Cuba because they are either Anti- Communist or the are against a governmental idea. They are always in a minority and if they do not leave the country they will most likely be killed by Communists. Castro wants citizens who are against him to leave, because he does not want the refugees threatening his power. These people disagree with the way their country is run and Castro does not want them to corrupt his loyal citizens. Once a Cuban obtains refugee status they remain in the country until the UN gets them on a plane to America. It is hard for Cubans to become refugees quickly because they have to pay their government about 800 American dollars to leave and the average income for Cubans are 3- 4 American dollars Most Cuban refugees will lose their jobs once they are named a refugee. Cubans who do not obtain refugee status usually make their own raft and sail to Miami, Florida. If they touch American land before the Coast Guard catches them, they are named parolees and the IRC supports them as if they were refugees. Most people confuse parolees with illegal immigrants and Cuban refugees. [6]


Cubans trying to flee to America caught by the Coast
Guard will be sent back to Cuba.


Excerpts from Cuban Refugees as quoted from the memoirs Cuban Refugees and Finding Manana
To view or purchase these memoirs:

Joseph Frank Baraba: “We were forty men on the army truck, not too much room for anyone to move around. The roads were full of pot holes and bumps. Whenever we hit a large hole in the road, quickly we had to grab the railing of the truck. Looking at my watch I noticed it was 6 o’clock, we were riding for more than two hours, soon we would be nearing the coast. I tried to keep my mind off the situation. The brutality of the Castro regime was un-merciful, there were constant beatings, starvation, overwork, and yes even murders of the those who fought against their plight.” [1]

Gabriel Franchez: "The sunlight woke us up. It had been an unusually quiet evening, and for the first time in many days we had been able to enjoy a restful sleep. It was our fourth day sailing from Cuba to the U.S., but anxiety and worry had not allowed us to sleep through an entire evening.As I did several times a day, I began taking inventory of everything in the small sailboat: Almost half a gallon of water - a major concern; six pieces of stale bread, wrapped in nylon to keep them dry; a recipient containing a coconut dessert I had bought at premium price, which we were saving as a last resort because we knew it would make us thirsty; a small bag of powder milk, almost empty; half an avocado; six plums, and two mangoes left of the ten we managed to get just before leaving the island." [2]

Fanny Franchez: "Lucia could have climbed aboard that August morning too. But when she saw the sea she panicked. Besides, there was Cary, our then 5-year-old daughter, to think about. Trust me, it was extremely difficult for us to leave Cary behind. But risking her life in those shark-infested waters was just unconceivable for us.
The thought of leaving Cary in Cuba had prevented us from fleeing before. But eventually, Gabriel and I had had enough. We seized one of Castro's weakest moments in history to leave. The family's car, motorcycle, and television had been taken away from us by the police in Guayabal. Rumor had it that we were talking about leaving the country soon and, since nobody had a way to prove it, the police decided to confiscate our only assets. We had to tight our belts and save money to buy materials for a boat. In that sense, we were among the lucky ones. Most balseros' departures weren't that well-planned. Rafts were hastily cobbled together from anything they could find: plywood, inner tubes, tires, styro-foam, even doors." [2]

Mirta Ojito: “After a while wanting to leave became a way of life. It meant that my father scanned the paper for news of conflicts with other countries, calculating which enemy nation would be most likely to welcome fleeing Cuban refugees. My sister and I rarely got to wear our nicest outfits, because my mother saved them, pressed and covered in plastic, so we could look elegant upon landing in Madrid, which was the plan for a while, or New York, which was always the dream. As we got older, she stopped doing that and instead, saved the thickest fabrics she could.” [3]

Professional viewpoints

This is an interview with Josh who works at the IRC in Salt Lake City, Utah. He specifically works with Cuban refugees and Cuban parolees. He is very knowledgable about this subject and in this video he clears up any misunderstandings about Cuban refugees.


Cuban rafters rescued

(above) Three men are found sailing towards the U.S. from Cuba in a makeshift raft.
Many Cuban refugees come to the U.S. because they want a better life. Many risk
their lives on their rafts at sea, and only a few are able to stay in the U.S.


1) Baraba, Joseph F. Visions of Freedom. New York, 1997. 1-3.
2) Jamasmie, Cecilia. "Secret Hopes of Cuban Refugees." Orato (2006). 25 Apr. 2007
3) Ojito, Mirta. Finding Manana. True Stories. 25 Apr. 2007
4) "Culture of Cuba." 25 Apr. 2007
5) Cuban rafters rescued
Hurley, Chad, and Steve Chen. "Cuban Rafters Rescued." YouTube. Jan. 2005. 15 Apr. 2007
6) Josh. Personal interview. 24 Apr. 2007.
7) Taylor Kirk,
The Latin Americanist "__Cuban Flag." 2005, May 4, 2007.
8) Cuban Music Jam Session. 2006. You Tube. 3 May 2007
9) Mariel Boatlift. 1980. Key West. United States Coast Guard. 19 Apr. 2007
<http://www.uscg.mil United States Coast Guard>.
10)Harvey, David. National Geographic. "Life in Castro's Cuba."
11)"Cuban Culture." 2004. 9 May 2007
12) Hendriksen, Hans. "Cuba." 11 May 2007
13. "iTunes and iPod Mi Swing es Tropical Island." You Tube. 15 May, 2007. Betty Koyle. Date Accessed 17 May, 2007. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cxp5kHEzv70