Cuba’s indigenous people, arawaker, were basically exterminated during colonial times when Spain subdued Cuba. Today, the population is a mixture of descendants of all those who have come to the island in the last five hundred years, including slaves from Africa and workers from Asia. However, the majority are of Spanish origin.
At the beginning of the 16th century, when the Spaniards came to Cuba, there were between 80,000 and 100,000 arawakers on the island. Already after a few decades the number had dropped to a few thousand due to persecution, slave labor and European diseases.
- COUNTRYAAH.COM: Key populations estimated size and data of Cuba, including population density of how many people per square mile. Also included are facts for population and language.
From the 16th century onwards, the Spaniards brought in nearly one million African slaves in the country for work on the sugar and tobacco plantations that were built in Cuba. When the slave trade was abolished in the 19th century, workers from Asia were recruited and over 120,000 Chinese were attracted to Cuba as so-called contract workers. During the first three decades of the 20th century, immigration was dominated by Spaniards. Many immigrants also came from other European countries as well as from Haiti, Jamaica, South America and the United States. Cuba’s population today consists of a mixture of all these groups.
Nearly two-thirds of the residents are white, mainly Spanish kittens. The second largest group is people of mixed white and black origin. Blacks make up just under a tenth of the population (see also fact box).
Officially there is no racial discrimination, but the ruling class consists mainly of whites. The white population’s share of the population has decreased in recent years as the majority of emigrants have been white.
Cuba has a relatively young population, but low birth rates and emigration are increasing the proportion of the elderly. The majority of those leaving the country are young people seeking a better future abroad.
The flight over the sea
The communist takeover of power in 1959 led hundreds of thousands of Cubans to leave the country. Nearly one million people emigrated or fled between 1959 and 1980, most of them in the years immediately following the revolution. After the Cuba crisis in 1962 (see Modern History), regular relations between Cuba and the United States were interrupted. Thus, the opportunity to emigrate to the United States disappeared. Those who wanted to leave Cuba were now referred to flee over the sea in boats or on homemade rafts.
On several occasions, Cuba temporarily eased restrictions on travel. In 1980, 125,000 Cubans who were openly shown their dissatisfaction with the regime were allowed to emigrate to the United States. The economic difficulties that followed the fall of communism in Eastern Europe (see Modern History) gave rise to a new escape wave. In 1994, more than 35,000 Cubans set off across the ocean to the United States.
The mass escape caused the United States to partially abolish the automatic right to asylum enjoyed by the Cubans since 1966 and which has blown the refugee streams. An agreement was signed between the United States and Cuba. This meant that Cuba would reintroduce stricter border restrictions and that the United States would in the future return floating Cubans to Cuba. In 1995, the United States introduced the so-called “wet foot, dry foot” policy, which meant that Cubans who were brought to sea (wet foot) were sent back to Cuba or a third country while those who managed to land on American soil (dry foot) had to stop.
The agreement between Cuba and the United States also meant that the United States would grant visas for at least 20,000 Cubans per year. In practice, legal emigration to the United States never reached that level. The cost of an exit permit was so high, and the process so complicated, that most Cubans could not even consider leaving Cuba legally.
Under the reform policy initiated by the government in 2010, the rules were changed. In early 2013, the government announced that the Cubans no longer needed to apply for an exit permit. Now it was enough with a valid passport and a visa from the country to be visited. In principle, everyone was given the right to stay abroad for two years, provided they left Cuba legally.
The new rules were used by hundreds of thousands of Cubans who made more than a million trips abroad during the next three years. Many of them traveled to visit relatives in the United States.
Following the rapprochement between Cuba and the United States in 2014–2015 (see Foreign Policy), the United States finally abolished the right of asylum for Cubans. From the beginning of 2017, Cubans were allowed to apply for a residence permit in the US under the same conditions as everyone else. Cuba, in return, agreed to receive Cubans expelled from the United States and promised to amend a rule that said whoever left Cuba and had been away for more than four years was not entitled to return.
Most of the emigrants who have applied to the United States live in Florida today. Most of those who emigrated to Europe live in Spain.
Spanish is an official language, but both intonation and vocabulary have been influenced by African languages. Some words originate in the indigenous language of the Arawaks.
FACTS – POPULATION AND LANGUAGE
white 64%, people of mixed origin 27%, black 9% 1
Number of residents
11 484 636 (2017)
Number of residents per square kilometer
Percentage of residents in the cities
77.0 percent (2017)
Nativity / birth
10.9 per 1000 residents (2016)
Mortality / mortality
8.0 per 1000 residents (2016)
0.1 percent (2017)
1.7 number of births per woman (2016)
Percentage of women
50.0 percent (2017)
80 years (2016)
Life expectancy for women
82 years (2016)
Life expectancy for men
78 years (2016)
1st census 2012
Economic agreement with Russia
Russian President Dimitri Medvedev visits Cuba. The countries agree on a number of agreements on trade and economic cooperation. Chinese President Hu Jintao also visits the island, resulting in agreements on trade and Chinese investment in Cuba.
Many homeless people after the hurricane
Two hurricanes cause widespread damage in Cuba, leaving around 200,000 people homeless.
The EU abolishes sanctions
Despite opposition from the US, the EU abolishes its sanctions on Cuba. The sanctions had been introduced after the authorities seized 75 oppositionists in the summer of 2003 (see Modern History).
The pay system is being reformed
The principle of equal pay for all regardless of work so far is re-evaluated. Wage ceilings for workers at state-owned companies are abolished and companies are urged to adjust wages to reflect performance, ie skilled workers should receive higher salaries than others.
Farmers are allowed to grow on more land
Several reforms are being implemented to stimulate the production of private farmers. Among other things, they are given the right to use state land that has been in decline (about half of all arable land is estimated to be underutilized at this time). Farmers will also, for the first time, have the opportunity to choose for themselves what to grow and buy tools and other equipment in newly opened stores. In return, part of the harvest will go back to the state.
Economic bans are lifted
Several economic reforms are being launched. It is allowed to buy computers, DVD and video players and microwave ovens. The ban for Cubans to subscribe for mobile phones is lifted. Furthermore, the Cubans get the right to stay at the island’s tourist hotel and to rent cars. However, only a small part of the Cubans can afford to take advantage of the new opportunities as wages are very low.
New Castro at the party leader post
Raúl Castro succeeds his brother Fidel as head of state and government, while Fidel Castro retains the post of party leader. After taking office, Raúl Castro occupies virtually all of the most important posts in the powerful government of veterans of the 1950s revolution. Raúl Castro also gives the military increased influence in the council.