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Cuba, officially known as the Republic of Cuba, is a large island country in the Caribbean Sea, consisting of the main island of Cuba, a smaller island called Isla de la Juventud and several small archipelagos. When added together, the total land area of the republic is 42,000 square miles.  Cuba is situated approximately 90 miles south of the United States, east of Mexico and the Bahamas, north of the Cayman Islands and Jamaica and northwest of Haiti and the Dominican Republic.  Havana is the capital and largest city in Cuba, while Santiago de Cuba is its second-largest.
 
Christopher Columbus first landed on the island of Cuba in 1492 and claimed the area for the Kingdom of Spain, of which it would remain a colony until 1898 and the end of the Spanish American War.  Four years later, in 1902, Cuba claimed its independence from the United States and established a democracy, albeit a fragile one characterized by radical politics and corruption.  In 1952, then President Fulgencio Batista set up an authoritative regime, leading to several years of political repression and crippling economic regulations, eventually leading to revolt and the July 26 movement that ousted Batista in 1959.  The administration of Fidel Castro followed, and by 1965 Cuba had become a single-party state under the newly revived Communist Party of Cuba, which it remains today under the leadership of Fidel Castro’s brother, Raul Castro.
 
As of the latest census data, the population of Cuba was roughly 11.2 million, with men slightly outnumbering women.  The population is very diverse, and the racial makeup, according to the census is white (65%), black (10%), mulatto, or mestizo (25%) and Asian (1%).  Some experts question the validity of these statistics, as the population of Cuba has very complex origins and intermarriage between diverse groups is very commonplace.  The national and official language of Cuba is Spanish, which is spoken by an overwhelming majority of the population.  This form of Spanish, called Cuban Spanish is unique to the island.  Other languages spoken in the country include Haitian Creole and Lucumi, a dialect of the West African language Yoruba that is used for liturgical purposes by practitioners of the cultish and controversial religion called Santeria.  Prior to 1992 Cuba was officially an atheist state, as the government maintained churches were nothing but fronts for subversive political activity.  However, this distinction was reversed in 1992 and Cuba officially became a secular country.  Today Roman Catholicism, brought to Cuba by the Spanish, is the predominant faith, although it is often practiced in concert with the West African religion of Santeria.
 
Education in Cuba
 
Education in Cuba is under the direction of the national government and is a major priority of the country.  All institutions in Cuba are nationalized and the government spends nearly 11 percent of its total budget to fund the system.  As with many communist states, educational policy and organization is guided by Marxist ideology, and school uniforms are required for all students, in colors that represent their grade level.
 
Education is free and compulsory for students between the ages of 6 and 15 or 16 (end of basic secondary education).  The system is divided between primary school, a six-year program for students aged 6-11; basic secondary education, a three-year program for students aged 12-15; and a choice between pre-university education and technical/professional education, both two-year programs for students aged 16-18.  The curriculum in primary and basic secondary school is based upon the principles of “hard work, self-discipline and love of country.”  At the primary level this curriculum consists of lessons in dance, gardening, health and hygiene and Cuban revolutionary history.  Once students successfully complete the compulsory or basic portion of secondary education, they qualify to enroll in either pre-university education or technical and professional education.  Students who finish their pre-university courses are awarded the Bachillerato, or diploma, and are eligible to enroll at one of Cuba’s many universities, while those who finish the technical and professional track will be the awarded one of two titles:  skilled worker or middle-level technician.  Students with these titles are eligible to immediately enter the workforce or continue their education at one of the technological institutes.
 
Higher education in Cuba is provided by a variety of institutions, including universities, higher institutes, higher pedagogical institutes, centers of higher education and higher polytechnic institutes. Cuba currently has 47 universities and a total university enrollment of approximately 112,000 students.  These universities offer undergraduate, graduate, post-graduate and specialized degrees in a number of major academic fields.

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