Cuba has survived more than 40 years of US sanctions intended to topple the government of Fidel Castro. It also defied predictions that it would not survive the collapse of its one-time 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 and – since February 2008 – by his annointed successor younger brother Raul.

Fidel exercised 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.