FRONTLINE/World [home]

Search FRONTLINE/World

FRONTLINE/World Rough Cut

Rough Cut: Cuba: The Art Revolution
Background Facts and Related Links
Learn more about Cuba's political history and follow links to cultural information.

Country Profile

With more than 11 million residents, Cuba is the most populous country in the Caribbean. The island nation gained independence in 1902 after 388 years of Spanish rule.

Fidel Castro spearheaded Cuba's transformation into a Communist republic in February 1959 when his forces overthrew the Batista government. A self-professed Marxist-Leninist, Castro created the first Communist state in the Western Hemisphere.

Up until July 2006, when Castro underwent emergency intestinal surgery and temporarily ceded power to younger brother Raul, he had held the title of the world's longest-ruling current leader. Though the 80-year-old ruler recently announced his recovery, his brother continues to serve as temporary president.

Ties between the United States and Cuba have been shaky for decades. The American trade embargo, imposed on the Communist nation in 1961, pushed Castro further toward a Soviet alliance. The embargo, designed to put economic pressure on Castro's government, has become one of the longest-running trade bans in modern history.

Castro's heavy reliance on subsidies from the Soviet Union led to Cuba's crippling economic recession in the 1990s following the Soviet collapse, when the former U.S.S.R. withdrew $6 billion in annual subsidies.

Cuba's economic situation stabilized in the late 1990s as it improved relations with Latin American countries and the European Union. Cuba also allied itself with China, Venezuela and Bolivia.

Many of the Cubans who fled their country during the early years of Castro's regime settled in Florida, and their strong support of the trade embargo has shaped U.S. policy toward Cuba. Politically active Cuban Americans who support the anti-Castro lobby hope for a democratic future in Cuba, although they see this happening only when Castro is no longer in power.

The country is one of many contrasts: Although Cubans live difficult lives and often stand in line for basic necessities, the government offers every citizen health care. With one of the lowest infant mortality rates in the world and some of the world's best doctors, Cuba prides itself on its medical care. The country also has one of the highest literacy rates of any country at 97 percent.

Many European trends in art, architecture, music and fashion washed up on Cuban shores during the 19th and 20th centuries, as the island lies along major trade routes. The early 20th century produced some fine Cuban modernist painters, several of which are now featured in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and in other major museums around the world. The greatest of these painters was Wifredo Lam, a good friend of Pablo Picasso. Lam is famous for primitivism -- mixing African symbols and cubism.

The government's support of public art education and the effects of the U.S. trade embargo on the island have shaped the country's more recent cultural heritage. Given the harsh realities of the embargo, Cubans have been encouraged to become artists, poets, musicians and writers rather than industrialists.

More recently, international money has flowed into Cuba to help it develop mining industries and to boost the island's growing tourist sector.

Sources: CIA World Factbook; BBC News; The Guardian; PBS's Online NewsHour; The New York Times

Related Links

Guggenheim Exhibitions
Havana-based artists Los Carpinteros have exhibited their work worldwide, from Los Angeles to Shanghai. "Russian Embassy," a wooden sculpture created by the artists, graced New York City's Guggenheim Museum last year.

Newsreels From the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Culture
View excerpts from newsreels produced between 1960 and 1980 by the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Culture. Created by Fidel Castro in 1959, this agency was in charge of Cuban film production.

Los Carpinteros: Inventing the World
Los Carpinteros' 2005 exhibition premiered at the University of South Florida's Contemporary Art Museum before touring the United States.

This site focuses on Cuban art and culture, with news articles on authors, artists and other important figures from the island nation.

Contemplating Life After Castro
NewsHour correspondent Jeffrey Kaye talks to Cuban Americans about the possibilities for Cuba after Castro.

Cuban Mission of the United Nations
This site features official statements about Cuba made at the U.N. General Assembly and links to speeches by Fidel Castro, and it follows Cuba's relationship with the rest of the world.

Granma Newspaper
Cuba's official Communist Party newspaper is available online in five languages, including English.