Cuba has survived more than 40 years of US sanctions intended to topple the government of Fidel Castro. It has also defied predictions that it would not withstand the collapse of its main supporter, the Soviet Union.
Since the fall of the US-backed dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista in 1959, Cuba has been a one-party state led by Mr Castro, who exercises control over virtually all aspects of Cuban life through the Communist Party and its affiliated mass organisations, the government bureaucracy and the state security apparatus.
Exploiting the US-Soviet Cold War, Mr Castro was for decades able to rely on strong Soviet backing, including annual subsidies worth $4-5 billion, and succeed in building reputable health and education systems. But, at least partly because of the US trade sanctions, he failed to diversify the economy, which continues to depend on sugar exports.
The disappearance of Soviet aid following the collapse of the USSR forced the government to introduce tight rationing of energy, food and consumer goods.
However, despite the US trade embargo a modest recovery has been made with the help of Canadian, European and Latin American investments, especially in tourism. Furthermore, some economic controls have been relaxed, with companies allowed to import and export without seeking permission and a number of free trade zones opening up.
But the legalisation of the US dollar since 1993 has created stark divisions between those with dollars and those without, while continuing hardships have led to an increase in prostitution, corruption, black marketeering and desperate efforts to escape in search of a better life.
The US leases the Guantanamo Naval Base on the eastern tip of the island.
Population: 11.3 million (UN, 2003)
Major language: Spanish
Major religion: Christianity
Life expectancy: 75 years (men), 79 years (women) (UN)
Monetary unit: 1 Cuban peso = 100 centavos
Main exports: Sugar, nickel, tobacco, shellfish, medical products, citrus, coffee
Average annual income: n/a
Internet domain: .cu
International dialling code: +53
President: Fidel Castro
President Castro: reputedly survived 600 CIA assassination attempts
Born in 1926, Fidel Castro received a Jesuit education before going on to Havana University, from where he received a doctorate in law. As a lawyer, he dedicated himself to helping the poor.
Mr Castro resorted to armed opposition to the Batista regime after failing to persuade a court that Mr Batista had violated the constitution by ousting President Carlos Prio Socarras.
He earned the enmity of the US by nationalising US-owned properties and has reputedly survived more than 600 CIA-sponsored attempts on his life.
Prime minister: Fidel Castro
First deputy prime minister: Raul Castro
Secretary of the executive committee of the cabinet: Carlos Lage
Economy and planning minister: Jose Luis Rodriguez
Foreign minister: Felipe Ramon Perez Roque
Interior minister: Abelardo Colome
The Cuban media is tightly controlled by the government and journalists must operate within the confines of laws against anti-government propaganda and the insulting of officials which carry penalties of up to three years in prison.
Private ownership of electronic media is prohibited by the constitution, and foreign news agencies must hire local journalists only through government offices.
In May 2000 the journalists’ organisation, the Committee to Protect Journalists, put Cuba on its list of nations where press freedoms are severely restricted. It said the Castro government continued to interrogate and detain independent journalists, monitoring their activities and preventing their free movement.
The US makes concerted efforts to reach Cuban listeners and viewers; government-backed stations Radio-TV Marti say they provide “balanced, uncensored” news for the Cuban people.
The stations beam programmes to Cuba from high-power transmitters, some based in the Florida Keys. The effectiveness - or otherwise - of the services has been debated in US government circles.
Granma - official Communist Party newspaper, online version in five languages including English
CHTV - subsidiary of Tele-Rebelde
Radio Rebelde - news, music and sport
Radio Reloj - 24-hour news
Radio Enciclopedia - instrumental music
Radio Habana Cuba - external broadcaster, programmes in Spanish, English, French, Portuguese, Arabic, Esperanto, Quechua, Guarani and Creole
Radio Progreso - entertainment and music
CMBF-Radio Musical Nacional - classical music
Agencia de Informacion Nacional (AIN) - national news agency
Prensa Latina - government agency