Collier's New Encyclopedia (1921)/Cuba

CUBA, the largest and most westerly of the West Indies. It stretches in the form of a narrow crescent, convex on the N. side, at the entrance of the Gulf of Mexico, which it divides into two channels, the N. W., 124 miles wide, and the S. W., 97½ miles at its narrowest part.

Topography.—Cuba is 775 miles long from Cape Maysi on the E. to Cape Antonio on the W., with a breadth varying from 30 miles to 160 miles, a coastline of 1,976 miles, and an area of 44,215 square miles. Only about one-third of the coast-line is accessible to vessels, the remainder being beset by reefs and banks. The shores, low and flat, are liable to inundations, but there are numerous excellent havens. A watershed running lengthwise through the island, rises into mountainous heights only in the S. E., where are the Sierra de Maestra, shooting up in the Pico de Tarquinto to 8,400 feet, and the Sierra del Cobre (copper). The mountains, composed of granite overlaid with calcareous rocks, and containing minerals, especially copper and iron, are clothed in almost perennial verdure, wooded to the summits. Carboniferous strata appear in the W., schistose rocks on the N. coast. The limestone rocks abound in caverns, with magnificent stalactites. Mineral waters are plentiful. The rivers running N. and S., are navigable for only a few miles by small boats, but are very serviceable for irrigation of the plantations, and supply excellent drinking water. The climate, more temperate than in the other West Indian islands, is salubrious in the elevated interior, but the coasts are the haunt of fever and ague. No month of the year is free from rain, the greatest rainfall being in May, June, and July. Earthquakes are frequent in the E. Hurricanes, less frequent than in Jamaica, sometimes cause widespread desolation. A hurricane in 1846 demolished 1,872 houses and sank 216 vessels, and another in 1870 caused the loss of 2,000 lives.

Soil, Productions, Etc.—The soil of Cuba is a marvel of richness, and a large part is still covered with virgin forest containing magnificent mahogany, cedar, ebony, logwood, lignum-vitæ, pine and caiguaran. The vegetation of Cuba also includes tamarind, palms, ferns, lianas, etc. Among the cultivated products are sugar, tobacco, coffee, cacao, rice, maize, cotton, esculent roots and tropical fruits. Among the animals are a species of tailless rat peculiar to Cuba, a great abundance of birds, including the mockingbird, a species of vulture (valuable as a scavenger), woodpecker, partridge, flamingo, and albatross. Of noxious animals and insects there are the crocodile, scorpion, and mosquitoes. The rivers and seas are well stocked with fish, the turtle abounding in the shallows and sandy places of the beach. The chief crops of the country are sugar and tobacco. The abnormal demand for sugar during the World War, especially from the date of the entrance of the United States into it, produced conditions in Cuba which resulted in great prosperity among the sugar planters and, in fact, throughout all classes on the island. The sugar crop in 1918 was 4,048,480 tons, and in 1919, 4,446,229 tons. The total area planted to sugar was nearly 1,400,000 acres, and there were over 200 sugar mills in operation. The vast speculation in sugar in 1919 and 1920 resulted in financial conditions which made it necessary to take stringent measures to prevent complete collapse of the banking system. A moratorium was declared which lasted for the greater part of 1920 and into 1921. The value of the tobacco manufactured in 1918 was $13,829,627. Other important productions were rum, alcohol, live stock, lumber. Rich mineral resources, especially in the province of Oriente, iron, copper, zinc, lead, gold, and petroleum, are found there in abundance. In other districts in the island there were also valuable mineral deposits. In 1919 there were about 4,000 workmen employed in the iron mines. Iron was exported to the United States averaging 50,000 tons a month. In 1918-1919 the sugar crop was 4,446,220 tons.

Commerce.—The total imports in 1919 were $315,587,167, and the exports, $447,221,963. The exports in the order of their importance were sugar, unmanufactured tobacco, iron, gold, copper ores, manufactured tobacco, molasses, hides and skins. The total imports from the United States in the fiscal year 1920 amounted to $396,565,049. The total exports to the United States amounted to $235,469,608.

Transportation.—There were in 1920 3,200 miles of railway in Cuba. The roads having the longest mileage were the United Railways of Havana, 705; Cuba Railroad, 589; Cuban Central Railroad, 389; and the Western Railroad of Havana, 147. All the important towns and seaports are connected by rail. Many large sugar estates have private lines connecting them with the main lines. Nearly 2,500 vessels enter the port of Havana annually. There are about 230 telegraph offices, and 9 wireless stations, operated by the government.

Finance.—The total revenue for 1918-1919 was £12,982,000 and the expenditures amounted to £10,878,973. The principal items of income are customs revenue and the tax on sugar. The chief items of expenditure were war and marine, and instruction. The foreign debt in 1819 amounted to 52,874,500 pesos, and the internal debt to 30,731,900 pesos, or a total debt of 83,606,400 pesos.

Education.—Secondary and higher education is given by the government in accordance with the constitution. Six secondary schools are maintained, one in each of the six provinces. The total number of students in these schools was 2,087. In 1919 there were 334,671 pupils in the public schools and 5,877 teachers. University instruction is given at the University of Havana, which has faculties of liberal arts and science, medicine and pharmacy, and law.

Population, Etc.—The total population, in 1919, was 2,898,905; Havana, 697,583.

Government.—The government of Cuba is that of a republic, under a constitution adopted February 21, 1901. The executive officers include a President and Vice-President, and the legislative branch includes a Senate and a House of Representatives. The first election took place in 1902 and the control of the island was formally transferred to the National Government on May 20 of that year. The cabinet consists of secretaries of State, Justice, War, Marine, Interior, Finance, Agriculture, Commerce, Labor, Public Instruction, Public Works, Sanitation, and Charity. The Senate includes 24 members, four from each province, and the House of Representatives, 114, one for each 25,000 inhabitants.

History.—Cuba, spoken of as the Queen of the Antilles, was discovered by Columbus in 1492, the discoverer calling it “the most beautiful land that eyes ever beheld.” It was first settled by Spaniards at Baracoa in 1511. Havana, first settled in 1519, was reduced to ashes by the French in 1538, and again in 1554. For about one and a half centuries Cuba was in constant danger from French, Dutch, English, and West Indian filibusters. In 1762 the English, under Lord Albemarle, took Havana, which, however, was by the treaty of Paris next year restored to Spain. From 1789 to 1845 the island was a vast slave-trading center. Negro insurrections occured in 1845 and 1848. In the latter year the United States offered $100,000,000 to Spain for the island. Rebellions against Spanish rule broke out in 1849 and 1868. They were put down after long campaigns ; but in 1895 another insurrection attained by 1898 formidable proportions. The United States battleship “Maine,” while on a friendly visit, was blown up in Havana harbor, Feb. 15, 1898, and on April 19, the Congress of the United States adopted resolutions declaring Cuba independent. War with Spain began at once. Cervera's Spanish fleet was destroyed at Santiago de Cuba, July 3, and Santiago and its large army were surrendered on July 17. The leading military events of the war, so far as Cuba was concerned, were the fight at El Caney and San Juan, the battle at Santiago, and the struggle before Las Guasimas. Under the treaty of peace the island was evacuated Jan. 1, 1899, the United States then formally assuming the government, till the Cubans had adopted a written constitution and installed a satisfactory native government.

A Constitutional Convention assembled in Havana in Nov., 1900, when a constitution providing for a republican form of government was adopted. Thereupon the United States Congress authorized the transfer of the government, under certain conditions, which were confirmed in permanent treaty between Cuba and the United States in May, 1903. The first Congress of the Cuban Government met in Havana, May 5, 1902. Aug. 14, 1902, the Cuban Government authorized a loan of $35,000,000, redeemable in 30 years, the object being to assist sugarcane growers. A reciprocity treaty with the United States was signed on Dec. 12, 1902.

An insurrection broke out in 1906, which necessitated intervention on the part of the United States. A provisional government was established in August of that year, which continued until January 24, 1909, when the American authorities again evacuated the island, turning the administration over to the newly elected president, Jose Miguel Gomez.

The government prospered under the administration of General Gomez, but in 1911 discontent of the old soldiers who felt that they had not been sufficiently rewarded for their services led to uprisings. There was a threat of further American intervention, but the revolt was quelled by the authorities and order was quickly restored. In 1912 Mario Menocal was elected president. He at once addressed himself for financial and economic reforms, and in 1914 secured a large loan from the United States. President Menocal was re-elected in 1916. Up to the declaration of war by the United States against Germany, Cuba remained neutral, but on April 7, 1917, acting upon the advice of President Menocal, the Cuban Congress declared war against Germany. On the following day the German minister was given his passports. Several Cuban vessels in German waters were seized. War was declared against Austria-Hungary on Dec. 16, 1917. On April 3, 1918, the Cuban Congress passed a law authorizing the creation of an obligatory military service, applying to all male Cubans not expressly exempted, and to remain in force for two years, and for one year after the time of peace. The army was to be composed of 17,000 men in active service. This law was repealed in January, 1919. In 1920, Dr. Alfredo Zayas was nominated for president, by coalition of the Conservative and Popular parties. He was elected by the returns, but the election was disputed, and it was necessary to hold by-elections in 1921. Gen. Crowder as representative of the United States visited the island in the spring of 1921 in order to supervise the elections and otherwise guard the interests of the United States.