Cuba, formerly a Spanish colony and called the Queen of the Antilles, is the largest island of the West Indies. It lies at the entrance of the Gulf of Mexico, between the Straits of Florida and the Caribbean Sea, with Haiti and Santo Domingo immediately east of it and the British island of Jamaica to the south. It is 730 miles long, and on the average 80 miles wide, with an area of 44,164 square miles.
There are many good harbors, that of Havana being one of the largest and finest in the world. On the southeast are mountains, the tallest peak, Pico de Tarquino, rising 7,670 feet. Only in the province of Oriente are the mountains formidable or unavailable for cultivation. Mineral water and caverns in which are beautiful stalactites abound. No month is free from rain, but the temperature does not materially differ from that of Florida, though frosts are unknown. Earthquakes in the east are frequent, and the island is sometimes swept by hurricanes, one of which in 1846 destroyed 216 vessels and 1,872 houses.
In natural resources Cuba is far the richest of the Antilles, and could support over 15,000,000 people. The soil is exceptionally rich, easily worked and capable of the greatest degree of tillage. Some localities are rich in minerals, as asphalt, copper, iron and lead. Native plants number over 3,350. Virgin forests contain immense quantities of many varieties of valuable timber. There are no venomous snakes nor dangerous wild beasts. Tobacco, coffee, cotton and fruits are raised; but the great crop and export is sugar. Cuba depends wholly upon agriculture for its prosperity, the sole manufactures being cigars and sugar.
The main trade is with the United States, and the reciprocity-treaty made in 1891 has increased the trade between the two countries. The cultivation of oranges and potatoes for export is growing, the Cuban potato equalling that of Bermuda. The capital is Havana, which has a university. (Population over 300,000.) The other cities are Santiago de Cuba, Matanzas, Cienfuegos, Puerto Principe and Cardenas. The larger cities are mostly on the coast, a fact that indicates their commercial character. Five or six railways are in operation, and nearly as many more are being built.
The island is divided into six provinces or political divisions, which since 1898 have been in considerable social, commercial and political disorganization. This was restored to some semblance of order under the excellent administration of the United States governor-general, Leonard Wood. Cuba was the most important colony of Spain, and was ruled by a captain-general. Columbus discovered the island in 1492, and said it “was the most beautiful land that eyes ever beheld.” From 1868 to 1878 Cuba was in a state of revolution, which greatly retarded its growth. Its many slaves were freed in 1878.
Population, 2,150,112. As native whites form 59% of the population, colored people 32% and foreign whites 9%, their numbers would seem to be 1,166,402 Spaniards and Creoles, 649,050 negroes and mulattoes, 15,000 Chinese coolies and 182,545 foreign whites. Immigration has increased rapidly. In 1902 the immigrants numbered 11,000, but in 1905 they were over 54,000 in number, excluding 6,000 colonists or settlers from the United States.
The later history of the island may be briefly told. In 1895 the Cubans again revolted, claiming that the treaty of 1878 had never been kept in good faith; that, while names and forms had been changed, the tyrannical and oppressive policy of Spain had been continued. After desultory outbreaks in different provinces, a Cuban force of 10,000 men was organized under Maximo Gomez and Antonio Maceo, both of whom had been leaders in the former revolt (1868-78). For three years the war raged, marked by desperate bravery as well as by most cruel atrocities and the devastation of the island by fire and sword, without decisive results.
The cruelties practiced by the Spaniards upon the Cubans, including innocent women and children, excited universal horror, and led to repeated protests on the part of the United States government. Spanish hatred of the United States was thus engendered, which reached a climax when the United States battleship Maine, on a friendly visit in the harbor of Havana, was destroyed by a submarine mine on Feb. 15, 1898. Hostile action quickly followed, and war between Spain and the United States was declared on April 24.
On July 3 the American fleet under Admiral Sampson destroyed Spain's strongest fleet off Santiago. Meanwhile Santiago was besieged by the United States forces under General Shafter. A fierce battle was fought on July 1, and on July 17 the Spanish general surrendered with his army of 25,000 men. Peace negotiations followed, and by treaty signed on Dec. 10, 1898, Spain surrendered all sovereignty over Cuba, and ceded Porto Rico to the United States. On Dec. 28th the United States formally took the island over for military occupation temporarily.
It was the declared policy of the United States to promote the independence of Cuba and surrender all jurisdiction in the island so soon as a firm and stable government should be established. To this end, under military occupation of the island, the United States proceeded to establish order, organized civil and municipal governments, established schools throughout the island and provided for a convention of the people, under which a constitution was formed and the Republic of Cuba established. On May 20, 1902, the authority of the United States was withdrawn, and on the same day Tomas Estrada Palma, who had been elected president of the republic, was inaugurated.
Four years later he was re-elected, but gross frauds were charged, disaffection spread and in September of 1906 the island was swept with a whirlwind of revolution. The government was helpless. President Palma called upon the United States to intervene as provided by treaty, and resigned his office, the insurgents acquiesced and laid down their arms, and for a second time the United States assumed temporary jurisdiction of the island and established a provisional government. After administering the island for two years, during which many reforms were inaugurated and public tranquillity was restored, the provisional government caused a popular election to be held in December, 1908. This resulted in the election of a new government with José Miguel Gomez as President. This new government was duly inaugurated and in February, 1909, the authority of the United States was finally withdrawn and the Republic of Cuba was again established.
The New Student's Reference Work (1914) pp. 484-485.