CRS History in Cuba
Cuba is the largest and most populous island in the Caribbean, with an area of 114,524 square miles — half the size of the United Kingdom — and a population of 11.3 million people whose cultural roots are tied to Spain and Africa. Some 2.3 million people live in the capital, La Habana, which enjoys a tropical climate but lies at the heart of the hurricane belt.
In the early 1990s, the collapse of the Soviet empire, Cuba's major economic supporter, ushered in difficult times for the Cuban people. In an attempt to alleviate suffering, the Catholic Church was given permission to open a Caritas Cubana office in 1991. At the request of the Catholic Church in Cuba, and in coordination with Caritas Cubana, Catholic Relief Services joined the effort in 1993. Together, we created a program aimed at alleviating suffering, promoting human dignity and enhancing the ability of Caritas Cubana to respond to the social and pastoral needs of the people.
Although Cuba has been subject to a U.S. trade embargo that has lasted more than 40 years, the Cuban government has, in recent years, reported an increase in foreign investment, subsidized oil imports, tourism, and the exporting of traditional goods such as nickel, tobacco and coffee.
These economic benefits have not reached the majority of the population. Despite having access to free education and health benefits, daily life for most Cubans is marked by grinding poverty and frustration over shortages of goods and excessive government control. Cuban society has become increasingly split between those who have access to benefits and the vast majority of Cubans who are left to face increasing hardships.
Within this context, the Catholic Church plays an important role, ministering to the spiritual and material needs of all Cubans through Caritas Cubana.