Isla de la Juventud
Isla de la Juventud
|• Total||2,419.27 km2 (934.1 sq mi)|
|• Density||35.6/km2 (92.3/sq mi)|
|Time zone||EST (UTC-5)|
Isla de la Juventud (“Isle of Youth”) is the second-largest Cuban island and the seventh-largest island in the West Indies (after Cuba itself, Hispaniola, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Trinidad, and Andros Island). The island has an area 3,056 km2 (1,180 sq mi) and is 100 km south of the island of Cuba, across the Gulf of Batabanó. The island lies almost directly south of Havana and Pinar del Río, and because of its superficial extension, population and for its economic characteristics, is considered to be a Special Municipality, not being a part of any province. The Isle of Youth is, therefore, administered directly by the central government of Cuba.
The largest of the 350 islands in the Canarreos Archipelago (Archipiélago de los Canarreos), the island has an estimated population of 100,000. The capital and largest city is Nueva Gerona in the north, and the second-largest and oldest city is Santa Fe in the interior. Other communities include Columbia, Mac Kinley, Santa Bárbara, Cuchilla Alta, Punta del Este, Sierra de Caballos and Sierra de Casas.
The island was called the Isle of Pines (Isla de Pinos) until it was renamed in 1978.
Little is known of the pre-Columbian history of the island, though a cave complex near the Punta del Este beach preserves 235 ancient drawings made by the native population. The island first became known to Europeans in 1494 during Christopher Columbus’s second voyage to the New World. Columbus named the island La Evangelista and claimed it for Spain; the island would also come to be known Isla de Cotorras (“Isle of Parrots”) and Isla de Tesoros (“Treasure Island”) at various points in its history.
Pirate activity in and around the area left its trace in English literature. Both Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson and Peter Pan by James Matthew Barrie are rooted in part on accounts of the island and its native and pirate inhabitants, as well as long dugout canoes (which were often used by pirates as well as indigenous peoples) and the American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus) on the island.
Following the victory of the United States in the Spanish-American War, Spain dropped all claims to Cuba under the terms of the 1898 Treaty of Paris. Isla de la Juventud was not mentioned in the Platt Amendment, which defined Cuba’s boundaries, and this led to competing claims to the island by the United States and the now-independent Cuba. In 1907, the U.S. Supreme Court decided, in Pearcy v. Stranahan, that control of the island was a political decision not a judicial one. In 1925 a political settlement was reached, resulting in the Hay-Quesada Treaty which was signed between the U.S. and Cuba, and recognized Cuban ownership.
Geography and economy
Much of the island is covered in pine forests, which is the source of the island’s large lumber industry. The northern region of the island has low ridges from which marble is quarried, while the southern region is an elevated plain. Agriculture and fishing are the island’s main industries, with citrus fruit and vegetables being grown. A black sand beach was formed by volcanic activity.
The island has a mild climate, but is known for frequent hurricanes. It is a popular tourist destination, with many beaches and resorts, including Bibijagua Beach. Until the Cuban government expropriated all foreign-owned property in the early 1960s, much land was owned by Americans.
In 2004, the province of Isla de la Juventud had a population of 86,637. With a total area of 2,419.27 km2 (934.09 sq mi), the province had a population density of 35.8 /km2 (93 /sq mi).
The main transportation to the island is by boat or aircraft. Hydrofoils (kometas) and motorized catamarans will make the trip in between two and three hours. A much slower and larger cargo ferry takes around six hours to make the crossing, but is cheaper. The province has only one municipality, also named Isla de la Juventud.
From 1953 to 1955, Cuban leader Fidel Castro was imprisoned in the Presidio Modelo on the Isla de la Juventud by the regime of Fulgencio Batista after leading the failed July 1953 attack on the Moncada Barracks in the Oriente Province. After the Cuban Revolution, the same facility was used to imprison counterrevolutionaries, and people allegedly otherwise opposing the revolution. Huber Matos (a comandante in the revolutionary army who attempted to resign) and Armando Valladares were also imprisoned there. Matos says he was tortured there.
Presidio Modelo is now closed, and turned into a museum. It has been replaced by more modern prisons. These include (MAS = maximum security prison; COR = correctional):
- Prison El Guayabo (MAS)
- Center for Reeducation of Minors (COR)
- Correctional Los Colonos (COR)
- Paquito Rosales Cueto (1 y 11) (COR)
- Prison la 60 (Columbia) (COR)