Things That Matter

Here’s How Cuba’s Tumultuous History Forced A Cuban Diaspora That Changed The World

Cuba Getty Images | Minube

One of the most complicated histories of any Latin American country has to be that of Cuba. From its colonization to its decades-long dictator, Cuba has endured a painful and passionate battle with leadership. The people of Cuba, however, have been and remain the adoring champion of their country, regardless of who was at the helm. Here’s a look back at how the Cuba we know now came to be.

The colonization of Cuba by Christopher Columbus.

CREDIT: Instagram/#ChristopherColumbus

The Ciboney are the first people to inhabit the island of Cuba, and they are part of the indigenous group named Taíno from the Caribbean. In 1492 Christopher Columbus arrived in Cuba and claimed the island for Spain. In 2014, a DNA study conducted on the people living in Cuba showed that their genetic ancestry is made up of 72 percent European, 20 percent African and 8 percent Native American.


The Spanish conquest of Cuba follows.

CREDIT: Unsplash

Now that Spain has taken over Cuba, in 1510 the Spanish conquest begins under the leadership of Diego de Velazquez, who establishes Baracoa and other settlements.

The first African slaves arrive in Cuba in the 1520s.

CREDIT: Unsplash

Between 1526-1527, more than 600,000 Africans were forcibly taken to Cuba and thousands of them did not survive the journey over the Atlantic. According to Traces of the Trade, between the 1780s and the 1860s, the slave population increased from 39,000 to 400,000. The primary source of labor for the slaves was sugarcane and coffee crops.

British interference.

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In 1763, a British force took hold of the Havana port and for a ten-month period brought in thousands of more slaves that would work the sugarcanes. The Brits eventually conceded and gave up Havana back to Spain.

The Ten Years War and end of slavery.

CREDIT: Instagram/@irector_2015

Cuban-born planters and other wealthy natives fought to gain control of Cuba from Spain between 1868–1878. The war ended when Spain promised that the natives would have more control over the land, which never honestly took shape. Those actions, however, led to the end of Slavery in 1886.

Author and activist Jose Marti started second fight for independence.

CREDIT: Instagram/@espoir_dina

Cuban activist Jose Marti led the second war of independence in 1895. Despite being killed during the battle with Spanish troops, Marti left behind volumes of writings. In one such piece titled “The Spanish Republic and the Cuban Revolution,” he wrote that Cubans had to be independent of Spain because Cuban people have a different culture than the Spanish. “Cubans do not live as Spaniards live…They are nourished by a different system of trade, have links with different countries, and express their happiness through quite contrary customs. There are no common aspirations or identical goals linking the two peoples, or beloved memories to unite them…Peoples are only united by ties of fraternity and love.”

The birth of the Communist Party quickly changed the political landscape of Cuba.

CREDIT: Wikipedia: Sergeant Fulgencio Batista

Diego Vicente Tejer founded the Socialist Party in Cuba in 1899, and would later join the Cuban National Party. This movement in Havana led to the formation of the Communist Party in 1925, which in turn led to Sergeant Fulgencio Batista leading a coup to overthrow the General and President of Cuba Gerardo Machado.

The rise of Fidel Castro marks a troubling change.

CREDIT: Wikipedia: Fidel Castro

In 1953, activist and law student Fidel Castro had one central target in mind. He teamed up with rebellion groups with the sole purpose to overthrow the Batista regime. His first attempt, however, would be unsuccessful.


Fidel and Che start plotting a bloody coup.

CREDIT: @CdVinEnglish / Twitter

After Castro’s failed attempt at overthrowing the government, he fled to Mexico. That is when he first met Argentine Marxist-Leninist Che Guevara in 1956. Castro liked Guevara’s approach and his duality as a doctor and a solider. In the book titled “Fidel: A Biography of Fidel Castro,” Castro said Guevara was more of an advanced revolutionary than he. Together they plotted to overthrow Batista, but this time with a small group and strategy.

Castro successfully overthrows the Batista regime.

CREDIT: Unsplash

In 1959, together with a 9,000-strong guerrilla army, Castro, Guevara and Castro’s brother Raúl, force Batista to not only give up his reign in Cuba but to flee. Castro then declares himself prime minister, his brother, Raúl, becomes his deputy and Guevara becomes third in command.

The ’60s usher in a trying time for the Cuban people.

CREDIT: Unsplashed

Cuba’s chaotic climate within its government led the U.S. to stop providing military aid, which certainly didn’t help Batista during Castro’s coup. These occurrences gave way to an unsettled relationship between the U.S. and Cuba. In 1961, the U.S. ended all diplomatic relations with Havana. The Bay of Pigs only made matters worse. Castro then proclaimed Cuba a communist state and began an allied relationship with Russia.

Cuba’s new leader cracks down on the country.

CREDIT: Unsplash

With Castro as the new leader, the lives of the Cuban people changed drastically and with devastating results.

The mass exodus.

CREDIT: Unsplash

On April 20, 1980, Castro directed anyone that wishes to leave the island, free to do so and can aboard the Mariel Boatlift. More than 125,000 Cubans left to the U.S., however, many of those on board were also prisoners who were released. According to History.com, of those 125,000 “more than 1,700 were jailed, and another 587 were detained until they could find sponsors.” Decades before, shortly after Castro took power, thousands of Cubans fled across the globe to escape a regime responsible for countless deaths and disappearances.

The capture, and international crisis, of Elian Gonzalez.

CREDIT: Wikipedia: Elian Gonzalez

In 1999, Elizabeth Brotons Rodríguez, her child Elian, and a few others fled Cuba on a boat to the U.S. The boat capsized, and she drowned. Elián and two others survived after fishers had rescued them. They arrived on U.S. soil where U.S. officials handed Elián over to his relatives in Miami. Elián’s father in Cuba, who was divorced from his mother, wanted his son back. U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno ordered Elián to return to his father, but the relatives in Miami did not give him up. Federal agents had to enter their home and forcefully get Elián away from his relatives. Elián became a symbol of Cubans wishing to leave Cuba and Castro’s dictatorship to force his people to live under his rule. Years later, as an adult, Elián said in an interview that he never regretted leaving the U.S. for Cuba, but that one day he would like to return “to give my love to the American people”.

Cuban exiles and immigrants take their culture to free socities around the world.

CREDIT: Instagram/@gloriaestefan

Aside from Cuba’s infamous leaders such as Marti and Castro, Cuba has many other famous Cubans including artist Gloria Estefan, her husband Emilio Estefan. Also, singer Celia Cruz, actor Andy García, baseball player Jose Canseco, and artist Pitbull. There are many Cubans responsible for taking their culture and introducing the sounds of salsa and the taste of sofrito far and wide in the world.

Cuban cuisine makes a splash internationally.

CREDIT: Instagram/@cuballama

Cuban sandwiches are probably the most instantly recognized of Cuban foods, but have you ever tried ropa vieja? Shredded beef, white rice, green olives, avocados, and tostones, it’s the best.

Fidel hands the country over to his brother Raúl continuing the Castro dynasty on the island.

CREDIT: Unsplash

In 2006, Fidel’s brother Raúl Castro takes over presidential duties of Cuba after Fidel recovers from his medical issues. It wasn’t for another two years that Fidel officially resigned and that his brother took over as appointed President by the National Assembly.

Obama visits Cuba opening relations after decades of strained relations.

CREDIT: Unsplash

In 2014, the U.S. and Cuba began diplomatic talks and re-established their new relationship. Two years later, for the first time in 88 years, a U.S. president visited Cuba. President Barack Obama visited the country for three days.

Cuba re-opens its door to the U.S.

CREDIT: Unsplash

While some travel restrictions initially applied between the U.S. and Cuba, the country opened its door to American tourists for the first time in decades.

The death of Fidel Castro was celebrated by Cuban exiles around the world.

CREDIT: Instagram/@federico.miceli.9

On No. 25, 2016, Fidel Castro succumbed to his death at the age of 90. In 2018, a new era began in Cuba with the announcement of new president Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, who was hand-picked by Raúl Castro, furthering the Castro regime. Fidel’s death was welcomed news in Cuabn exile communities aroud the world hoping for a return to democracy and freedom in Cuba.


READ: 25 Odd Facts About Cuba To Know Before You Visit

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Trump Has Made It More Difficult For Cubans To Seek Asylum So Many Are Being Forced To Settle In Mexico

Things That Matter

Trump Has Made It More Difficult For Cubans To Seek Asylum So Many Are Being Forced To Settle In Mexico

kpbs.org

Among the dilapidated buildings in Downtown Juárez lies Little Habana, a new restaurant emblazoned with Cuban flags, classic car art, and blasting reggaeton music providing the local growing community of Cuban asylum seekers a reminder of home. 

NPR recently reported about the new eatery that owner Cristina Ibarra opened four months ago once she noticed the burgeoning Cuban community that’s developing in the area.

She ran a taco business for 20 years before opening up a place that’s meant to evoke home for the refugees. 

“The Cubans leave their hotels and come to eat at the restaurant as if it were their own home,” Ibarra told NPR. “They stretch out, relax and talk. They share their experiences, their fears, their accomplishments … and that gives me tremendous satisfaction right now.”

The dishes are not interpretations but authentic recipes since all of her 14 employees are from the Caribbean island and advise her on menu items.

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Vamos a probar #ComidaCubana

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The menu includes traditional fare like ropa vieja, pork chunks in a tomato stew, and three different types of rice. Her efforts extend to the decor and interior as well with bright orange and yellow walls, art depicting a street scene in Cuba, and, naturally, the lone star amid the red, white, and blue of the Cuban flag hanging on the wall. 

The restaurant opening occurred around the time of a new policy introduced by the Trump administration nicknamed  “remain in Mexico” since it requires those seeking asylum in the U.S. to wait in Mexico while their claims are processed. Before the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) policy, those seeking asylum could reside in the U.S. while they waited. 

The number of Cubans at U.S. entry ports and categorized as “inadmissibles” by Customs and Border Protection continues to increase with more than 20,000 expected to seek entry this year.

In 2016 during the Obama administration,  the U.S. deported 64 Cubans but in 2018, the Trump administration deported 463 and this year that number will increase to 560, the LA Times added. 

So far this fiscal year, 6,312 Cubans have arrived in El Paso seeking asylum, whereas the previous fiscal year had 394, according to Custom and Border Protection figures 

“This is a terrible moment for Cuban migrants. There’s desperation and alarm because of the latest measures,” Yaimí González, a 41-year-old who fled Cuba three months ago, said to The Wall Street Journal.

“I just don’t see a solution to our situation,” González added. She now sells french fries at a stand in Ciudad Juárez making $10 a day, which barely pays for the guesthouse room that she shares with four Cuban male migrants, WSJ reports. 

Though MPP affects all asylum seekers, Cubans have historically received better treatment as they were viewed as political refugees.

For decades, Cubans caught at sea would be forced to return but if they stepped foot on U.S. soil they could stay and seek permanent residence after a year and a day. Obama ended the policy, known as “wet foot, dry foot” – in January 2017 and Trump has not reinstated it. 

Now the Trump administrations has banned U.S.-based cruise ships from traveling to Cuba, economically affected groups catering to tourists on the island, and he also imposed restrictions on sending money to the island. 

While they wait for a decision on their case, economics continue to plague Cuban migrants who find work where they can in order to pay for whatever housing they can find in what’s considered one of the most dangerous cities in the world. 

NPR spoke with Melba, 32, a waitress at Little Habana who arrived in April and told them that she’s found meaning in her work as she tends to fellow Cubans who, like her, eagerly await to find out if they’ll ever make it to the U.S. 

She and her husband rent a hotel room for about $12 a day and she earns about $20 per day plus tips at the restaurant, NPR reports. This is in stark contrast to her life in Brazil, where she worked as a doctor for nearly a decade as part of a Cuban government exchange program, the LA Times reports. When she was asked what she’d say to Trump if she could, she told the publication, “In Cuba, there is no freedom like you live.”

As the Trump administration continues to make it harder for Cubans and fellow asylum seekers to gain admission to the U.S. and the economy on their island deteriorates, places like Little Habana provide not only a taste of home but a respite from the inhospitable treatment they otherwise receive outside the restaurant walls. 

Some People Don’t Believe The Cuban Government Is Being Honest About The Number Of People Living To 100

Culture

Some People Don’t Believe The Cuban Government Is Being Honest About The Number Of People Living To 100

Alexander Kunze / Unsplash

Longevity is both the question and the answer to experts seeking to understand communities that live longer than average. In the U.S., wealth is often more correlated to health, with greater access to both healthcare and self-care. Cuba, however, is not a wealthy country. With the average monthly income being publicly listed as $30 per month, experts are puzzled as to why there are 2,070 Cubans living over 100 years old on the island.

Like many other communities of centenarians, experts suspect a strong family system is a key to a long life. Other experts suspect Cuba is lying.

The data on thousands of people living to 100 is released by Cuba’s Ministry of Public Health.

@AFP / Twitter

The data itself is based on the first quarter of 2017, which showed that more than 1,200 of the centenarians were women. According to the communist nation, 19.8 percent of its people are 60 years and older.

“Centennials now represent one of the fastest-growing segments of the population, with very special socioeconomic and health implications,” Dr. Alberto Fernández Seco, director of the Ministry’s Department of the Older Adult, Social Assistance and Mental Health told Juventud Rebelde.

Dr. Fernández Seco credits Cuba’s free healthcare for the success of its citizens.

“Health care is free in Cuba, a country with has an average life expectancy of 79.5 years. Photo: AFP” Digital Image. AFP. 2 July 2019.

What’s more is that Dr. Fernández Seco says the population isn’t demented, disabled or heavily dependent. The majority of those 100 years and older live with their family.

Rigoberta Santovenia, 102, credits her family for her ripe age.

“Rigoberta Santovenia, 102, at her home in Havana. Photo: AFP” Digital Image. AFP. 2 July 2019.

She lives with her 68-year-old daughter, Regla, who takes care of her. “I’m very family oriented — I love my children, my grandchildren, my six great-grandchildren. I’ve never been alone,” she said.

Regla is convinced her mom will make it to the “120 Club.”

“Rigoberta Santovenia, 102, reads a newspaper at her house in Havana. Photo: AFP” Digital Image. AFP. 2 July 2019.

In 2003, Fidel Castro’s personal doctor, Eugenio Selman-Housein, created the “120 Club,” which is promoted to this day. Dr. Raul Rodriguez, President of the “120 Club” maintains that “biologically, it has been proven that humans can live for 120 to 125 years.”

Regla thinks her mother was born to live to 120 years old. “Her great-grandmother was a slave. Slave blood seems to be stronger — that’s why she’s kept going so long,” Regla said. Rigoberta continues to read the newspaper every day without reading glasses.

Delia Barrios, 102, also says that it’s her family that keeps her going.

“Delia Barroso, 102, blows out the candles on her birthday cake at a party in Havana. Photo: AFP” Digital Image. AFP. 2 July 2019.

“I don’t feel like I’m this old. I have a family … that loves me a lot. That helps me to feel good,” she said. Barrios uses a motorized wheelchair–one that her great-granddaughter Patricia likes to join for the ride.

When Barrios was 60 years old, she was diagnosed with colon cancer and moved to the U.S.

“Delia Barroso (left) receives a present at her 102nd birthday party in Havana. Photo: AFP” Digital Image. AFP. 2 July 2019.

Twenty years later, she moved back to Cuba so she could be cared for by family. She lives with her granddaughter, Yumi, 59. Barrios says she spent her youth dancing, drinking, and smoking.

Plus, like most of our abuelas, she’s still dressed for success.

@newsroll / Twitter

For Cubans, reaching 100 isn’t the goal. They want to join the “120 Club,” and to live as you’ve still got two decades ahead of you, once you’ve reached 100 years old, certainly offers motivation.

Some experts, however, think Cuba is smudging the numbers for propaganda’s sake.

@EmbassyofRussia / Twitter

Robert Young, an expert with the U.S. Gerontology Research Group, does acknowledge the family support system as a significant factor. “We see that in Japan, too,” he says. On the other hand, he thinks the numbers are meant to propel “a myth that’s used for ideologic propaganda purposes.”

The methods of manipulation are shocking.

@AFP / Twitter

An expert on the matter for Cuba, specifically, Vincent Geloso, says that Cuban doctors “have targets to reach or they’re punished.” Geloso references a similar government’s strategy–the Soviet Union used to record infant deaths as miscarriages to keep down mortality rates.

Regardless, Cuba’s life expectancy relative to revenue is truly remarkable.

@ANTICONQUISTA / Twitter

It doesn’t add up to other countries. Experts have a range of theories ranging from the low rate of car ownership and resultant accident deaths to even the 1990’s food rationing that kept diabetes rates down while other countries’ skyrocketed.

Whatever the case may be, many feliz cumple’s a Cuba.

READ: A Brazilian Social Security Worker May Have Discovered the Oldest Living Person Ever

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