The Republic of Cuba is an island located in the northern Caribbean where the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Caribbean Sea intersect. Haiti, its closest neighbor, is situated about 48 miles to the east. Jamaica is located about 87 miles to the south of Cuba. The Bahamas archipelago is located on the northern part of Cuba. Cuba is also situated about 90 miles south of Florida, the southernmost state in the United States. The Republic of Cuba remains one of the few surviving socialist countries in the world. Unlike in capitalist countries, Cuba’s government plays dominant roles in the economic, social, media, and political life of the people, as is characteristic of socialist countries. Dissent or open criticism of the operations of government are not tolerated. To maintain full control of power, and restrict the operations of internal and external agencies opposed to the socialist government, the Cuban government engages in extensive surveillance, primarily for intelligence gathering and to prevent activities that might undermine its power, authority, and influence. After reviewing the history of Cuba, this entry focuses on modern-day Cuba and the role of surveillance in Cuban society.

History of Cuba

Diego Velazquez de Cuellar was the first Spanish person to found a settlement in Cuba, called Baracoa, in 1511. San Cristobal de la Habana, which later became the capital city, was founded in 1515. The Spanish colonizing authorities created a feudal like economic system, with the Taino natives as the peasants. A measles outbreak in Cuba in 1529 decimated most of the native population, although even before the measles outbreak, the indigenous peoples’ population was already in decline from several factors, including their inability to withstand Euro-Asian infectious diseases, and from hardship resulting from their oppression by the Spanish colonial authorities.

On appointment as governor of Cuba in 1548, Gonzalo Perez de Angulo released all the natives from their bondage. Angulo also relocated the headquarters of Cuba from Santiago to Havana. Cuba’s development, relative to the other Caribbean islands was slow, although its agricultural economy was diversified and it was more urbanized than the other islands.

In the 18th century, a major historical event transformed Cuba’s economy and altered its political alliance: The Seven Years’ War. This war began in 1754 and was fought on three continents. Spain, Cuba’s colonial authority, aligned with France during the war to fight the British. By 1762, the British expedition prevailed and took over control of Havana. It subsequently started importing and exporting goods to North America and the Caribbean colonies instead of Spain, and it imported slaves from West Africa to work in the sugar plantations. British control and occupation of Havana ceased in 1763, following the signing of the Treaty of Paris. The treaty transferred the ownership of Florida to Britain, with Spain regaining control of Cuba.

The economic transformation of Cuba was also accelerated by the Haitian Revolution (1791–1804). Cuba intensified its importation of slaves, bringing in about 325,000 slaves from Africa between 1790 and 1820. By 1817, Cuba’s population was reported to be 630,980, comprising 291,021 Caucasians, 224,268 African slaves, and 115,691 persons of mixed ethnic heritage who had regained their freedom. At the time, Cuba had a slave policy, called coartacion, whereby slaves could buy their freedom. As a result, many former slaves worked in industries in urban areas. By 1860, the number of free people of color in Cuba was 213,167, which was about 39% of the nonwhite population.

Carlos Manuel de Cespedes, a plantation owner, led the 1868 Cuban Ten Years’ War against Spain. The rebellion was bolstered by 2,000 Chinese, who had previously been imported as indentured laborers, and African slaves freed by Cespedes to assist him in the war. Following the Pact of Zanjón, the rebellion was called off in 1878, with Spain agreeing to grant Cuba greater autonomy. Cuba formally abolished slavery in 1875.

Despite these conflicts, Spain retained its control of Cuba until 1898, when Cuba joined forces with the United States to defeat Spain and declared its independence from Spain. The 1898 Treaty of Paris was signed at the end of Spanish-American War, which forced Spain to relinquish Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Guam to the United States for US$20 million. The Republic of Cuba however, was born in May 20, 1902, when Cuba declared its independence from the United States.

Modern-Day Cuba

In 1959, Fidel Castro and his revolutionary forces overthrew the government of Fulgencio Batista. Castro declared the new regime a socialist government and aligned itself with the former Soviet Union. The Communist Party’s First Secretary is the president of Cuba, who serves a 5-year term, with no time limits. The National Assembly consists of 609 members who serve a 5-year term. Cuban citizens of age 16 years or older without a criminal record are eligible to vote in the national elections. In 2008, Raul Castro replaced his brother as the new president of Cuba.

In line with the socialist political system, the government is the dominant actor in the economy, employing more than 78% of the workforce. The media is controlled by the government. Eighty-five percent of the estimated population of 11 million are said to own their houses, and Cubans are not required to pay property taxes and mortgage payments cannot exceed 10% of the total household income. In the 21st century, Cuba’s literacy rate of 99.8% is one of the highest in the world. Its life expectancy at birth of 78.3 years is also one of the highest in the world. Cuba’s medical system is considered among the best, and Cuba was recognized globally as the first country to eradicate the transmission of HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) and syphilis from a mother to child. It is also the only country to achieve the standard of sustainable development as defined by the World Wide Fund for Nature.

Nonetheless, the denial of civil and human rights remains a big issue on the island. To maintain its power over the social and economic life of Cuban society, the government has deployed sophisticated surveillance technology. Government agencies use this technology to gather intelligence, monitor the citizens’ actions and utterances, and limit nonconformist activities. Furthermore, citizens are often encouraged to spy on one another. Opponents of such an extensive use of surveillance argue that it undermines the privacy and human rights of the people; proponents, however, assert that the security interests of the government and the population as a whole override the rights of the individual. Because the socialist government in Cuba is not accountable to the people and does not appear to consider the privacy and human rights of its people, many individuals and groups concerned about human rights consider the government control of the surveillance apparatus to be problematic.

O. Oko Elechi

See also Cuban Missile Crisis

Further Readings

Dominguez, Jorge I.Cuba: Order and Revolution. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 1978.

Horowitz, Irving L.Cuban Communism. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Books, 1988.

Gott, Richard. Cuba: A New History. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2004.

Wright, Irene A. The Early History of Cuba, 1492–1586. New York, NY: Macmillan, 1916.