Page last updated at 08:54 GMT, Monday, 29 December 2008

Cuba: Key facts and figures

Cuba is the largest island in the Caribbean, 144km (90 miles) from the shores of the United States.

For nearly 50 years it was ruled by President Fidel Castro, who seized power at the head of a small band of rebels in January 1959.


Unsuccessful attack on Santiago de Cuba
Fidel Castro and a small group of rebels launch an unsuccessful attack on Santiago de Cuba in July 1953. Castro later flees to Mexico where he meets Argentine-born Che Guevara. They return to Cuba aboard a small boat, the Granma, with a band of fighters in 1956.
Surviving rebels flee to the mountains of Sierra Maestra
Surviving rebels flee to the Sierra Maestra, a mountainous region, where they beat off repeated attempts by Cuban forces under the country's leader, Fulgencio Batista, to crush their rebellion. In May 1958, rebels defeat an army advance of several thousand.
Castro begins offensive in August 1958
Castro begins his main offensive in August 1958, sending two columns of forces westwards. Guevara's rebels seize the provincial capital of Santa Clara on 28 December. Camilo Cienfuegos leads a second force to a key victory in Yaguajay on 31 December.
Castro's troops enter Santiago de Cuba
Batista flees into exile on 1 January 1959. Guevara and Cienfuegos lead victorious rebels into Havana the following day. A triumphant Castro enters Santiago de Cuba, before marching to Havana. The number killed in the conflict is unclear, but afterwards thousands of Cubans leave the island.
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Fidel Castro only officially relinquished the post of president to his brother Raul in February 2008 after a prolonged bout of ill health.

Cuba was conquered by the Spanish following the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492 and became an important asset for Spain, which brought in African slaves to work the coffee and sugar plantations.

A series of strongmen held power in the years that followed independence in 1902, including Fulgencio Batista, who staged two coups.

Batista fled Cuba after the insurgency by nationalist rebels.

Cuban government structure

After the revolution, Fidel Castro aligned Cuba with the Soviet Union and declared the island a Socialist republic.

He introduced a new constitution and became president in 1976.

His control was felt in nearly all aspects of Cuban life through the Communist Party and its affiliated organisations, government bureaucracy and the state security apparatus.

The National Assembly endorsed Raul Castro as the country's first new leader for nearly 50 years in early 2008.

Proportional circles showing imports/exports

Fidel Castro's Soviet alliance brought trade with the Communist bloc and annual subsidies of up to $6bn (4bn).

But it also provoked a commercial, economic and financial embargo by the US.

The embargo and the Soviet collapse in 1991, led to recession and the start of what Mr Castro termed a "Special Period" of austerity.

Pie charts showing origin of imports and exports

Cuba says the embargo - repeatedly condemned by the UN - has cost it billions of dollars and led to shortages of food, medicines and goods.

The island relies heavily on tourism - its biggest earner in 2007, bringing in $2.2bn. Other services - such as professional medical services - brought in about $5bn, mainly from Venezuela.

Graph showing literacy rate

Despite its economic difficulties, Cuba has stuck to its revolutionary ideals of education, welfare and healthcare.

Literacy and infant mortality rates are more in line with the US than Latin America.

Major expansion in higher education means more than half of 18 to 24-year-olds study at university level.

Cubans have lived with state rationing since 1961 in a bid to ensure everyone has access to essential goods.

This often fails to meet monthly needs and many turn to a 'black market' economy.

Since he came to power, Raoul Castro has initiated some small economic reforms - including abolishing equal pay - which he hopes will encourage production and services.

Graphs showing infant mortality and life expectancy

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