Since the Cuban missile crisis of the early 1960's (which brought the USA and Soviet Union to the brink of nuclear conflict), through some 40 years of Fidel Castro's idiosyncratic style of Communist dictatorship, Cuba has stood defiant of the wishes of its giant American neighbour.
Cuba's people, meanwhile, endured isolation, hardship, restriction, surveillance and the occasional brutality of this system of governance, turning 'making do' into an art form. One symbol of this is cars - the prized possession of a very few - which are often large ex-US versions for the 1950's and 1960's, but proudly, brightly repainted.
Bring into the mix a tropical Caribbean setting and strong Latin influence (Cuba was one of Columbus's first discoveries) and one can see why pre-Castro Cuba was a playboy playground, and a byword for Latin chic. It's hard to remember now that Cuba was once a favoured holiday destination for the 'smart set' and held up as a paragon above many of it's Latin American neighbours.
There is nothing sophisticated about Cuba today. Longstanding adherence to the failed Communist model, long after it had diminished in Europe, and 50 years of standoff with Western development, have left Cuba well behind most of the Western Hemisphere.
Grinding poverty is the lot for most Cubans. Strict government control is enforced over all economic and social developments. Foreign aid has made little difference. The growing modern mass-tourist trade does little to improve the lives of most Cubans.
After a long illness, Fidel Castro handed over the Presidency to his brother Raul in 2008. But the iconic Fidel still dominates the country, and relatively little change is possible whilst he remains. What will happen after Fidel Castro dies? Will his brother establish a stable rule? Will Raul seek to preserve Fidel's legacy, or will he become a reformer?
No-one knows what the future holds for this strategically important island.
Christians in Cuba
Castro's Cuba has been hard on Cuba's Christians. Some have suffered direct persecution - imprisonment, the burning of Bibles and the destruction of churches. They are heavily restricted in worship and outreach, and continually harassed. Cubans are intended to have no other God than Castro. In addition, Christians have suffered particularly from the isolation from their brothers and sisters abroad, and development in world Christianity.
There has been some improvement in the situation in Castro's later years. Christmas Day was formally reinstated in 1998 after its abolition in 1969, while in 1998 the Pope was allowed to visit Cuba. But life for most Cuban Christians remains very hard.
The Cuban Church nevertheless is growing fast. People are coming to Christ. But it is very difficult to obtain permission to build churches to contain the new converts.