Religious Beliefs and Practices. Catholicism has been the principal religion of Cuba, although Methodist, Baptist, and Presbyterian schools, churches, and missions and a number of other religious groups also thrived in the prerevolutionary period. Researchers contend that the Catholic church had less influence and significance in Cuban society than in many other Latin American countries, which in part accounts for reduced hostilities during the period of strong separation between religion and the revolutionary government (1959-1983). The emergence of liberation theology and Cuban government recognition of a role for religion in revolutionary society resulted in improved relations between the churches and the Cuban government in the latter part of the 1980s.
Afro-Cuban Santería, a syncretic religion that draws on both the Yoruba and Catholic cultural heritages, is deeply engrained in Cuban culture and has at least the tacit respect of practitioners of other religions.
Arts. Under the revolutionary government, Cuba has expanded the number of libraries from 100 to 2,000 and of museums from 6 to 250. Workshops and institutes in music, dance, theater, art, ceramics, lithography, photography, and film are available to amateurs and professionals in the 200 casas de cultura, A new film industry and film school have produced internationally acclaimed works, and several publishing houses, of which the Casa de las Américas is the best known, have produced and reproduced an unprecedented number of publications. Political poster art, street theater, and experimental workplace theaters have been distinctive contributions of the revolutionary period. The rich Afro-Hispanic culture, including the traditional guajiro (folk) songs and dances, have been emphasized with new vigor since 1959.
Medicine. Between 1959 and 1964, almost one-half of Cuba's 6,300 physicians left the island, and the United States imposed a trade embargo that cut off essential medicines. As part of its campaign to increase the availability of medical care, Cuba has since trained more than 16,000 doctors. Medical care is completely free and available to all; Cuba has also sent many physicians and other healthcare workers to more than twenty-six countries to provide care, training, and biomedical research. Using the medicalteam approach and emphasizing preventative health care, the government expanded the former mutualistas (health-maintenance organizations) to include urban and rural polyclinics, more rural hospitals, and extensive neighborhood health-education and disease-prevention programs. Modern techniques and equipment available from the socialist bloc improved health-care delivery dramatically.
The rapid decline in the importation of medicine, equipment, and pharmaceutical-industry supplies from the former socialist bloc, and the limited availability of hard currency for purchases created a medical crisis in 19931994. Shortages of food and chemicals for water treatment led to outbreaks of diseases, including an optic and paralytic epidemic that was stemmed only with the help of the international community. Emphasis on herbal and traditionalist methods of treatment has increased with the loss of manufactured medications.
Death and Afterlife. Funeral rituals and beliefs regarding death and afterlife continue to reflect the combined Santería and Roman Catholic heritage.