Cuba is a multiracial society with a population of mainly Spanish and African origins. The largest organized religion is the Roman Catholic Church. Afro-Cuban religions, a blend of native African religions and Roman Catholicism, are widely practiced in Cuba. Officially, Cuba has been an atheist state for most of the Castro era. In 1962, the government of Fidel Castro seized and shut down more than 400 Catholic schools, claiming that they spread dangerous beliefs among the people. However, in 1991 the Communist Party lifted its prohibition against religious believers seeking membership and a year later the constitution was amended to characterize the state as secular instead of atheist.
The Catholic church is the largest independent institution in Cuba today, but continues to operate under significant pressure. The Cuban government continues to refuse to allow the church to have independent printing press capabilities, to have full access to the media, or to establish institutions, such as local schools.
In November of 1996, President Castro invited Pope John Paul II to visit Cuba after an agreement was reached on some of the issues important for the church to carry out its religious activities in Cuba and prepare for the visit. During the Pope's visit, the Cuban government permitted four open-air masses, provided media coverage, and assisted with transportation of the public to the masses. In 1997 Christmas was officially recognized as a holiday for the first time since 1969 and the following year was permanently reinstated as a national holiday. Visas were issued for additional priests and religious figures to enter Cuba. While on the island, Pope John Paul II spoke of broadening the space and freedom of action of the Catholic church and asked Fidel Castro to grant a prisoner amnesty. The Cuban Government responded by freeing at least 300 prisoners, some 70 of which were being held on political charges. His visit is seen as an important, positive event for bringing a message of hope and the need for respect of human rights.
Other Cuban religious groups--including evangelicals who are the most rapidly growing of all religious organizations--have also benefited from the increased openness toward religion. In the summer of 1999 the government permitted them to hold a series of large open-air ceremonies as part of an island-wide "evangelical celebration." Although particularly hard hit by emigration, Cuba's small Jewish community continues to hold services in Havana and has pockets of faithful in Santiago, Camaguey, and other parts of the island. Assistance from Jewish communities abroad, including arranging for visiting rabbis and rabbinical students, helps to keep the Hebrew faith alive in Cuba.
Population: 11,141,997 (July 2000 est.)
0-14 years: 21% (male 1,221,602; female 1,157,846)
15-64 years: 69% (male 3,849,135; female 3,829,599)
65 years and over: 10% (male 503,711; female 580,104) (2000 est.)
Population growth rate: 0.39% (2000 est.)
Birth rate: 12.68 births/1,000 population (2000 est.)
Death rate: 7.31 deaths/1,000 population (2000 est.)
Net migration rate: -1.52 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2000 est.)
at birth: 1.06 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.06 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 1.01 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.87 male(s)/female
total population: 1 male(s)/female (2000 est.)
Infant mortality rate: 7.51 deaths/1,000 live births (2000 est.)
Life expectancy at birth:
total population: 76.21 years
male: 73.84 years
female: 78.73 years (2000 est.)
Total fertility rate: 1.6 children born/woman (2000 est.)
Ethnic groups: mulatto 51%, white 37%, black 11%, Chinese 1%
Religions: nominally 85% Roman Catholic prior to CASTRO assuming power; Protestants, Jehovah's Witnesses, Jews, and Santeria are also represented
definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 95.7%
female: 95.3% (1995 est.)
People - note: illicit migration is a continuing problem; Cubans attempt to depart the island and enter the US using homemade rafts, alien smugglers, or falsified visas; some 3,800 Cubans took to the Florida Straits in 1999; the US Coast Guard interdicted about 40% of these migrants