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22 Things You Never Knew About Cuba

Updated June 14, 2019 51.3k views22 items

As the relationship between Cuba and the United States changes, Americans are discovering a new fascination with this long-embargoed Atlantic neighbor. It's been five decades or so; but at long last, the U.S. government has decided that the Cuban Embargo isn't going to crush Communism in the Western Hemisphere.

True also is that, as stupid as cutting Cuba off from American trade may have been, it's had the unexpected side effect of creating a bizarrely wonderful kind of pocket universe. A place where cab drivers drop tourists off at cantinas in 1957 Studebakers. Where you won't find a Coke, but you will find free penis enlargement. Where hummingbirds can land on your thumb, and where you won't find much Wifi - but you will find that 98% of the population can quote Hemingway on demand. True, there aren't many boats on the water; but under that water lay pristine coral reefs the envy of anyone else in the civilized world. 

Nobody really knows what kind of wonders will open to America, now that we're back on speaking terms with Havana. But one thing's for sure: In this little pocket universe, this consumerism and pollution-free Galapagos of social evolution, this tiny piece of parallel reality called Cuba, which split off from our own reality some 50 years ago... there's a whole world of wonders, now waiting to be found.
  • 1

    Is That Lennon or Lenin?

    Fidel Castro was a huge fan of the Beatles, and of John Lennon in particular. He had a statue of the musician commissioned and placed in a park in Havana. The name of that park? John Lennon Park.
  • 2

    Treeless in Havana

    Photo: CIFOR / flickr / CC-BY-NC 2.0
    Cuba was once a densely forested tropical wonderland. But many of the nation's forests have been utterly destroyed thanks to coal mining, nickel mining, and a need for wood products on the island. Wood is, in fact, Cuba's single largest import. 
  • 3

    Classy, Jack. Classy.

    Just hours before the Cuban Embargo went into effect, President John F. Kennedy bought 1,200 hand-rolled Cuban cigars
  • 4

    It's an Oasis of Literacy

    Photo: quattrostagioni / flickr / CC-BY 2.0
    Despite what Cold War propaganda may tell you, Cuba has one of the highest literacy rates in the world. About 99.8% of people over 15 years old can read and write. For perspective, in 2003, about 14% of Americans read at a "Below Basic" level, which basically means they're "functionally illiterate." Granted, those numbers have improved quite a bit in the last decade, owing almost entirely to the rise of the internet and texting. But even before the belated and partial rise of computer culture in the country, Cubans absolutely crushed America in terms of literacy.