Cuban capitol
PHOTO
Cuban capitol
Tropical Cuba
PHOTO
Tropical Cuba
Old Havana
PHOTO
Old Havana
The Carribean island nation of Cuba's checkered political past and controversial human rights record has made it off-limits for US travelers for decades, while it's own off-limits domestic policy -- for example, citizens are punished with five years prison time for unathorized use of the Internet -- make it as culturally isolated as it's proximity to US shores have people from both nations curious about the other's.
 
From Reuters today comes a story about thawing US-Cuban relations, and with them, the prospect of Americans again travelling abroad to this tropical paradise and social outpost:

The United States and Cuba have been separated by a wide ideological gulf since Fidel Castro's 1959 Revolution.

For most of that time, Americans have been prohibited by their own laws from traveling to the communist-led Caribbean island under a 47-year-old U.S. trade embargo.

But that may change. Legislation to free travel by Americans to Cuba is pending in the U.S. Congress, and backers expect it could be approved in what they see as a developing thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations under U.S. President Barack Obama.

"If the travel ban is lifted, you'll probably see hundreds, hundreds of American yachtsmen going to Cuba the next day," said Timothy Ashby, a former U.S. Commerce Department official who studies Cuban commercial issues.
Fidel Castro overthrew Cuban government in 1959 and erected in its place a revolutionary government that expropriated private property, nationalised public utilities, tightened controls on the private sector, and closed down what it deemed to be unpopular industry. The government subsequently evicted many US citizens.  Eventually all opposition newspaper was shuttered and all radio and television stations turned to state control.  Moderates, teachers and professors were purged and dissents were held and tortured.  And estimated 15,000-17,000 people were eventually executed.  The U.S. imposed a complete diplomatic and commercial embargo on Cuba in 1963 but well over one million Cubans ultimately left the island for the United States.
 
Despite its harsh political past, Cuba is an attractive potential tourist destination for Americans, and their tropical beauty and bounty make its waters favored for watercraft owners and fishermen.   
 
From Wikipedia's entry on Cuba:

Sport is Cuba's national passion. Due to historical associations with the United States, many Cubans participate in sports which share popularity in North America, rather than sports traditionally promoted in other Latin American nations. Baseball is by far the most popular; other sports and pastimes in Cuba include basketball, volleyball, cricket, and athletics. Cuba is the dominant force in amateur boxing, consistently achieving high gold medal tallies in major international competitions. The government of Cuba however, will not be sending competitors to the "World Boxing Championships, based in the U.S. city of Chicago from October 21 to November 3; this to avoid the "theft" of athletes. The Cuban government official newspaper alleges: "As our people are all too well aware, the theft of anyone who stands out in Cuban society, whether s/he is an athlete, educationalist, doctor, artist, or any kind of scientist, has been the practice of various U.S. governments within that country's constant policy of aggression against our people. That felony was instigated at the very triumph of the Revolution in 1959 with the exit of thousands of doctors and engineers."

Cuban music is very rich and is the most commonly known expression of culture. The "central form" of this music is Son, which has been the basis of many other musical styles like salsa, rumba and mambo and an upbeat derivation of the rumba, the cha-cha-cha. Rumba music originated in early Afro-Cuban culture. The Tres was also invented in Cuba, but other traditional Cuban instruments are of African and/or Taíno origin such as the maracas, güiro, marímba and various wooden drums including the mayohuacan. Popular Cuban music of all styles has been enjoyed and praised widely across the world. Cuban classical music, which includes music with strong African and European influences, and features symphonic works as well as music for soloists, has also received international acclaim thanks to composers like Ernesto Lecuona.

Havana, the Cuban capitol, was the heart of the rap scene in Cuba when it began in the 1990s. During that time, reggaetón was also growing in popularity. The formation of Cubanitos in 2002 by ex-members of pioneering “underground” rap group Primera Base was a pivotal moment in the emergence of reggaetón in the capital and a watershed in Cuban rap. In the wake of this successful bid for a higher commercial profile, most rappers have followed one of two paths: dancing with the enemy and embracing reggaetón, or resisting the new genre vociferously. The resisters deride reggaetón for being trite and mindless, for promoting pointless diversion and dancing over social commitment and reflection with its lack of meaningful lyrics. Rap, on the other hand, was seen as a way to lyrically express their opinions about things such as racism, sexism, peace, the environment, sexuality, poverty and social inequalities. Despite this controversy, reggaetón has become the dominant form of popular music among Cuban youth. The relationship between Cuban rap and reggaetón continues to be debated today.

In addition, Cuban reggaeton has in the mind of conventional musicians of Cuba, "sold out" on their established culture. Prior to reggaeton, Cuba had a long established professionalism in music towards the early and mid 90's. The release and popular acceptance of reggaeton has created many openings for those with little or no experience in music. Music in Cuba is not the same as it was before, and much of the new artists that are exposing their creations now utilize electronics, synthetic sounds and technology to create music that was otherwise unheard of. This, created much dissent among the professionalized music industry within Cuba.

Dance in Cuba has taken a major boost over the 1990s. "Perreo", an exotic and slightly different form of grinding, has become one of the most accepted forms of dancing in clubs and music videos.

Cuban literature began to find its voice in the early 19th century. Dominant themes of independence and freedom were exemplified by José Martí, who led the Modernist movement in Cuban literature. Writers such as Nicolás Guillén and Jose Z. Tallet focused on literature as social protest. The poetry and novels of José Lezama Lima have also been influential. Writers such as Reinaldo Arenas, Guillermo Cabrera Infante, and more recently Daína Chaviano, Pedro Juan Gutiérrez, Zoé Valdés, Guillermo Rosales and Leonardo Padura have earned international recognition in the postrevolutionary era, though many of these writers have felt compelled to continue their work in exile due to ideological control of media by the Cuban authorities.

Cuban cuisine is a fusion of Spanish and Caribbean cuisines. Cuban recipes share spices and techniques with Spanish cooking, with some Caribbean influence in spice and flavor. Now food rationing, which has been the norm in Cuba for the last four decades, restricts the common availability of these dishes.[136] Traditional Cuban meal would not be served in courses; rather all food items would be served at the same time. The typical meal could consist of plantains, black beans and rice, ropa vieja (shredded beef), Cuban bread, pork with onions, and tropical fruits. Black beans and rice, referred to as Platillo Moros y Cristianos (or moros for short), and plantains are staples of the Cuban diet. Many of the meat dishes are cooked slowly with light sauces. Garlic, cumin, oregano and bay leaves are the dominant spices.

Haitian Creole is the second most spoken language in Cuba, where over 300,000 Haitian immigrants speak it. It is recognized as a language in Cuba and a considerable number of Cubans speak it fluently. Surprisingly enough, most of these speakers have never been to Haiti and do not possess Haitian ancestry, but merely learned it in the communities they lived in. In addition, there is a Haitian Creole radio station operating in Havana.

In February, 2008 Castro announced that he was resigning as President of Cuba.  On February 24, 2008 Raúl Castro was elected the new President.  Castro promised that some of the restrictions that limit Cubans' daily lives would be removed.