Culture

Here’s A Brief Look At The History Of The Cuban People And The Island They Call Home

Most of us might think of white-sand beaches, tropical dances, colorful cars, and big cigars when Cuba is mentioned, but there’s so much more to this Caribbean island than meets the eye. The result of nearly fifty years of embargo and isolation might have put the country through some financial hardships in the past but also meant that it developed its very own, distinctively unique character and culture. Indeed, Cuba’s history is filled with fascinating facts. Here’s a list to prove it.

It was once called Isla Juan.

@Brian Godfrey / Flickr

Shortly after Christopher Columbus arrived at the Caribbean, his famous ships -La Nina, La Pinta and the Santa Maria- reached the northern shores of Cuba. Columbus claimed the territory for the Kingdom of Spain and named the island Isla Juan, after the prince of Asturias.

The origin of the name.

@Patrick Annable / Flickr

Cuba’s name is widely believed to derive from the Taino language and it may translate either to ‘’great place’’ (coabana) or “the place where fertile land is plenty’’ (cubao). There are also some who believe that the island got its name from the homonymous Portuguese town.

It was inhabited long before Columbus.

@Sami Keinänen / Flickr

During the pre-Columbian era, the island was inhabited by three different indigenous tribes: the Taino people that migrated from Hispaniola, the Ciboney people that came from South America and the Guanahatabey people.

Havana is much older than you’d think.

Cuba Old timer Havana old. Digital Image. Pixabay. 2018.

Initially named San Cristobal de la Habana, the city was one of the first Spanish settlements on the island, founded in 1515. Today, Havana is the capital and most populated city in Cuba.

European diseases brought the downfall of indigenous peoples.

@Theodor Hensolt / Flickr

Forcing the natives to work in harsh conditions under a tough regime was not the only reason behind their undoing. In fact, their population saw a dramatic decline due to contagious European diseases -primarily measles and smallpox- for which they had developed no immune mechanisms.

The 10 Years’ War.

Cuban volunteers in the barracks. Digital Image. Wikimedia Commons. 2009

Cuba’s first war of independence began in 1868, led by Carlos Manuel de Déspedes, a sugar plantation owner who proclaimed independence and called all natives, regardless of race, to unite and fight for freedom. The conflicts between Cuba and Spain went on for a whole decade and war also became known as the “Guerra Grande” or Great War.

An offer to buy Cuba was denied.

Digital Image. Wikimedia Commons. 2010

The United States has attempted to invade independent Cuba several times throughout their history – without much success. After it became clear that conquering the Caribbean island was probably an unattainable goal, the American government offered to buy it from Spain in 1848 for $100 million, but the offer was quickly declined.

The mysterious explosion that started a war.

@Tim Evanson/Flickr

In 1898, the explosion of a United States naval ship called Maine shook Havana harbor. Almost three hundred men were killed in this calamity. Numerous investigations were conducted but revealed no culprits, causing outrage in the States with the press proclaiming ‘’Remember the Maine! To hell with Spain!” The explosion led to the Spanish-American war that started the same year.

Ernest Hemingway lived in Havana, Cuba for twenty years.

Ernest Hemingway at the Finca Vigia, Cuba 1946. Digital Image. Wikimedia Commons

Even though Hemingway was an American, he is one of the most prominent literary figures in Cuban history. The famous author moved to Havana in 1940 and went on to write some of his most famous works there, including ‘’The Old Man and the Sea” and “To Have and Have Not.”

Cuba’s nickname comes from its physical shape from an aerial view.

Map of Cuba. Digital Image. Wikimedia Commons. 1994

You might have heard Cubans refer to their country as “El Caiman” or “El cocodrilo”, meaning crocodile in Spanish. Have you ever wondered why? The answer is simple. Just look at any map and you’ll find that Cuba looks like an alligator from an aerial view.

¡Revolución! Cuba is the first communist country in the western hemisphere.

@Pignews.com / Flickr

Led by Fidel Castro, a rebel army of communist revolutionaries came to power in 1959. Castro went on to rule Cuba for almost 50 years until he stepped down due to health issues in 2008, with his younger brother Raúl taking his place.

It has one of the highest literacy rates in the world.

@Javier Guillot Jiménez / Flickr

This is mainly due to the ‘’year of education’’, a campaign launched by Fidel Castro and Che Guevara that aimed to combat illiteracy by sending ‘’literacy brigades’’ to remote, rural areas to build schools and train teachers.

The government controls all the media.

@Pedro Szekely / Flickr

Four national television networks, six national radio channels, several newspapers, and the internet are all tightly controlled and monitored by the Cuban government, the same way they have been for the past 50 years.

Cuba’s “Special Period” was a difficult time.

@Pedro Szekely / Flickr

The harsh conditions and severe shortages in paper, fuel, and even food during the island’s economic depression in the 1990s led to this era becoming known as Cuba’s “Special Period in time of Peace” or ‘’Período especial.” The financial struggles were caused by the downfall of the Soviet Union and the following dissolution of the Comecon (Council for Mutual Economic Assistance).

It has nine sites on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

@Gabriel González / Flickr

These include the colonial fortifications of Havana, San Pedro de la Roca Castle, the historic centers of Cienfuegos and Camagüey, the landscapes of the first coffee plantations, the Viñales Valley and Trinidad and the Valley de los Ingenios as cultural sites. Additionally, Alejandro de Humboldt National Park and Desembarco del Granma National Park as natural sites.

An import ban made the people adapt and work to make sure their things still work decades later.

Cuba Havana Oldtimer. Digital Image. Pixabay. 2016

It’s hard to imagine Cuba without the presence of colorful old-school cars strolling by the oceanfront. But, have you ever pondered the reason why there are so many classic 1950’s cars in the country? It’s because Cuban authorities had implemented an import ban on cars up until recently. The ban was lifted in 2011. So those charming photos are just examples of Cuban ingenuity living under an oppressive regime.

The highest number of doctors worldwide are from Cuba.

Estudiaelam. Digital Image. Wikimedia Commons. 2015

Cuba has an impressive medical system and the highest number of doctors per capita in the world. In fact, Cuba has so many doctors that it has sent medical staff on international missions to over 40 countries. Cuban doctors played a significant role in fighting the Ebola epidemic in Africa.

Fidel Castro was a huge John Lennon fan.

@Gerry Zambonini / Flickr

Castro believed that Lennon was a real revolutionary in his own right. In 2000 he commissioned the construction of a statue of the famous singer of the Beatles in the famous John Lennon Park in Havana.

There were a record number of assassination attempts on Fidel’s life.

@Simone Ramella / Flickr

Fidel Castro probably did more to deserve the epithet ‘’cheater of death’’ than any other person ever has. Cuban officials claim the former leader survived more than 600 attempts – and that definitely wasn’t due to the plotters’ lack of imagination. Explosives, seductive women, cyanide pills, mob hits, a toxic dive suit, and even a poisoned milkshake were not enough to take down the hardcore politician, who proved to be a legendary survivor.

Cubans have very limited access to the Internet.

@Pedro Szekely / Flickr

Only a very small percentage of the country’s population enjoys open Internet access. Most people who do are doctors, engineers, academics or journalists.

Bacardi rum was originally from Cuba

@Graeme Maclean / Flickr

That’s right. The world-renowned brand of rum was made in Cuba, until it moved its facilities to Puerto Rico when Fidel Castro came to power, leaving Havana Club to claim the title of the most popular Cuban rum.


READ: Cuban Youths Are Skateboarding In Record Numbers And Don’t Want To Be Nationally Recognized As A Sport

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Here Are Nine Fascinating Facts You Probably Didn’t Know About Puerto Rico

Culture

Here Are Nine Fascinating Facts You Probably Didn’t Know About Puerto Rico

Pixabay

Over the last couple of years, Puerto Rico has been in the news probably more than ever. From the lingering effects of Hurricane Maria to the resignation of the island’s governor over a sexist and homophobic scandal, Puerto Rico has seen its share of environmental and political drama. Meanwhile, the island is also home to some of the world’s top artists – Ricky Martin, Bad Bunny, Residente – just to name a few.

But unless you or your family are actually Puerto Rican, very few people really know the island. Scratch the surface, though, and you’ll uncover all manner of surprising facts far beyond the white sands and crystal-clear waters. Whether it’s science, geography or politics, here are nine fascinating insights into this unique and beautiful island.

1. Rum, Rum, And Más Rum

Credit: BacardiUSA / Instagram

Rum is the libation of choice, the island’s chief export, and the base ingredient in many of Puerto Rico’s best cocktails. Puerto Rico and rum go way back, about 400 years, give or take a decade. Bacardi and Don Q are the largest producers on the island.

Puerto Rico is the only rum producer in the world to maintain a minimum aging law for its rum. You can get three main categories of rum here: light, dark, and añejo, or aged.

2. It’s About The Size Of Connecticut

Credit: Google Earth

Given its population (it’s one of the most densely populated islands in the world), Puerto Rico is a relatively small place. If it were a state, it would be down near the bottom of the list in terms of size, even if you include the network of islands around the mainland.

3. It’s Home To The World’s Largest Radio Telescope

Credit: NASA Blueshift / Flickr

Not known as a scientific hub, Puerto Rico has a technological marvel nestled in the hills of Arecibo. The dish measures 1,000 feet in diameter, spans about 20 acres, and is the most sensitive radio telescope in the world.

There’s a chance you’ve seen the Arecibo radio telescope, even if you’ve never been to Puerto Rico before. In the climactic last scene in the James Bond movie Goldeneye, the (inevitable) showdown between 007 and the bad guy takes place right here.

4. It’s Mascot Is The Unique Coquí Tree Frog

Credit: UIG / Getty

Anyone who has been to Puerto Rico is familiar with the incredible coquí, which is native to the island. The inch-long amphibian has a powerful and melodic voice, and its high-pitched, chirrupy song can be heard for miles.

The coquís sing from dusk to dawn, and while the locals find this a lilting lullaby, unsuspecting foreigners aren’t always comforted by their song. But they are cute, and a much-loved symbol of Puerto Rico.

5. It’s One Of The World’s Beauty Queen Capitals

Credit: Alfredo Marcia / Flickr

The Miss Universe beauty pageant is one of the biggest and most famous across the globe. Among the countries whose representatives have won the title more than once is Puerto Rico. Despite the island’s small size and population in comparison with other countries, 5 winners have come from Puerto Rico: Marisol Malaret, Deborah Carthy Deu, Dayanara Torres, Denise Quinones, and Zuleyka Rivera.

6. The Island Was Home To Real Life Pirates

El Pirata Cofresi is Puerto Rico’s most famous, real-life pirate as the legend goes. Born in the seaside town of Cabo Rojo, he was encouraged to dream about exploring the sea from sailors in town.

According to Cofresi Palm Resort, as a pirate Cofresi would attack boats and share his spoils with the poor and as a result, people would help him hide. Compared to Robin hood for his actions, there is a story that says that some of his treasure may still be hidden.

7. It’s Home To Its Own Version Of The Galapagos Islands

Credit: US National Park Service

Off the western shore of mainland Puerto Rico you’ll find Mona Island, a natural reserve unspoiled by man. It has been compared to the Galapagos Islands for its natural beauty and its colony of iguanas. These iguanas, known as the Mona Iguana, are found nowhere else on earth, adding to the uniqueness of this ecosystem.

8. Coconuts Aren’t Native To Puerto Rico – Or The Americas At All

Credit: Unsplash

You might picture yourself on the beach sipping delicious coconut water out of a freshly cut coconut, but did you know that coconuts are not native to the Americas?

The coconut was introduced to Puerto Rico in 1542, after the Spanish imported it from the Far East. Soon after it became part of the colonial Spanish diet and eventually emerged in one of the most popular drinks on the island – the Piña Colada.

9. San Juan Served As Headquarters During The Spanish Inquisition

Credit: ViejoPR / Instagram

The Catholic Church has played an important role in the history and development of Puerto Rico since the early 1500s. As mentioned before, the oldest church still in use in the Americas was built in Old San Juan in 1522, yet, in 1519 Pope Leo X declared Puerto Rico the first ecclesiastical headquarters in the New World. 

As a result, Puerto Rico became the epicenter of the Spanish Inquisition – one of the most barbaric and infamous events of Western civilization.

Coronavirus Sparks History Lesson In Mexico As Citizens Learn About Cocoliztli

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Coronavirus Sparks History Lesson In Mexico As Citizens Learn About Cocoliztli

latinamericanstudies.org

Mexico is struggling to combat the effects of the global Coronavirus pandemic. So far, the country has almost 25,000 confirmed cases and nearly 3,000 deaths, with the worst still expected to come. With the country confronting one pandemic, it’s been forced to look back into history at another pandemic of epic proportions some 500 years ago.

We all know that the arrival of the Spaniards to the Americas brought disease and famine that left millions of Native Americans dead. However, one epidemic in particular has always mystified both modern-day scientists and Indigenous cultures that survive to this day.

During the 16th century, Mexico suffered a demographic catastrophe with few parallels in world’s history. In 1519, the year of the arrival of the Spaniards, the population in Mexico was estimated to be between 15 and 30 million inhabitants. Eighty-one years later, in 1600, only two million remained.

Cocolitzli was a massive epidemic that killed millions of Indigenous Mexicans – particularly the Azteca – shortly after the arrival of the Spanish.

From 1545 to 1550, Aztecs in what is today southern Mexico experienced a deadly outbreak. Anywhere from five to 15 million people died. Locally, it was known as cocoliztli, but the exact cause or causes has been a mystery for the past 500 years.

Based on the death toll, this outbreak is often referred to as the worst disease epidemic in the history of Mexico. Subsequent outbreaks continued to baffle both Spanish and native doctors, with little consensus among modern researchers on the cause.

It’s long been accepted that Europeans brought with them smallpox and other contagious diseases that wiped out Native populations. In fact, before the cocolitzli outbreak, smallpox killed an estimated eight million Indigenous Mexicans in just over a year.

What did this cocolitzli outbreak look like across the country?

The outbreak started in 1545 when disaster struck the Aztec nation. The disease had a very short course, lasting three to five days. It started abruptly with high fever, vertigo, severe headache, insatiable thirst, red eyes and weak pulse. Patients became intensely jaundiced, very anxious, and restless. Subsequently, hard painful nodules appeared behind one or both ears, sometimes so large that they occupied the entire neck and half of the face. 

Within five years as many as 15 million people – an estimated 80% of the population – were wiped out in an epidemic the locals named “cocoliztli”. The word means pestilence in the Aztec Nahuatl language. Its cause, however, has been questioned for nearly 500 years.

Scientists have tried to identify the cause of the epidemic and it turns out it might have been from a common type of bacteria.

Credit: Christina Warriner / YUCUNDAA ARCHAEOLOGICAL PROJECT

According to study author Åshild Vågene from the Max Planck Institute, the strain is a bacterial infection that causes a type of enteric fever nearly identical to typhoid. While that specific strain of salmonella is much rarer today, Vågene says it would have spread similarly. Any food or water contaminated with the strain would have turned deadly once ingested.

Salmonella enterica—subset Paratyphi C to be exact—was present in the DNA of ten different individuals buried at the only known burial site, Teposcolula-Yucundaa, associated with cocoliztli.

Historians and archaeologists have long suspected that a blood-borne illness was responsible for cocoliztliDepictions by both Spanish and indigenous artists show the infected with nose bleeds and coughing up blood.

“This is one of the diseases that doesn’t leave any visible clues on the skeleton,” Vågene told National Geographic, adding that very few diseases do.

The epidemic has many worried about Covid-19’s effects on today’s Indigenous communities.

It’s difficult to say why the cocoliztli was so deadly for the Indigenous community, but they may also have been suffering from malnourishment as a result of a great drought that afflicted the region at the time.

If the bug wasn’t present in the Americas before European arrival, the locals may have lacked a strong natural immune response to the disease and made them more susceptible. Whatever the pathogen, it swept through the region like a storm. At the time, historian Fray Juan de Torquemada wrote, “In the year 1576, a great mortality and pestilence that lasted for more than a year overcame the Indians … the place we know as New Spain was left almost empty.”