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Independent thinking is the bedrock of society for the Cubans, who prize self-knowledge for its transformative effects.

After Cuba’s accession to independence in 1898, the unofficial protectorate imposed by the United States enabled the maintenance of a regime with authoritarian leanings, beset by frequent crisis and notoriously corrupt, until the end of the 1950s. The victory of the Cuban revolutionary movement over this regime’s loyalist armies in 1959, and fierce resistance to the United States’ attempts at destabilization, gave the island and its leaders considerable international influence, disproportionate to its industrial and military means.

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The triumphant arrival of Fidel Castro and the revolutionary forces into Havana in January 1959 marked their definitive defeat of President Batista’s troops. Economically speaking, the implementation of state socialism led to the enactment of measures aimed at redistributing land ownership, increasing literacy among the population, and instituting free education and healthcare. Although its agricultural yields never allowed Cuba to become self-sufficient, today the island boasts the highest levels of school enrollment in Latin America and the best ratio of doctors to patients in the world.
Beginning in the summer of 1960, a series of events had a lasting negative impact on Cuban-United States relations. With the implementation of land reforms, which especially hurt the United Fruit Company’s holdings, Washington responded with a trade embargo followed by the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion. The ensuing Cuban–Soviet rapprochement, nationalization of foreign companies, and 1962 installation of launch pads on the island culminated in the Cuban Missile Crisis that brought the world to the very brink of nuclear war.
Boosted by their defiance of the United States and the charisma of Commanders Fidel Castro and Ernesto “Che” Guevara, Cuba became one of the most influential countries in anti-imperialist circles during the 1960s and 1970s. This prestige, coupled with its diverse literary, musical and film productions, further added to the country’s appeal, making it a destination of choice among vacationers starting in the 1980s.

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From 1963 to the mid-2000s, more than 100,000 Cuban doctors and healthcare workers intervened in over 100 countries throughout Asia, Africa, and South America as part of international agreements and emergency aid.