WE are now to visit the largest, richest, and most valuable island of the West Indies, an island which the Spaniards called “The Pearl of the Antilles,” and one so important to us that we have to a certain extent taken it under our protection. This is Cuba, so situated that it commands the two entrances to the Gulf of Mexico by the Strait of Florida and the Yucatan Channel, and also the Windward Passage, which is the chief entrance from the Atlantic Ocean to the Caribbean Sea. If the entrances to the Gulf were shut off, it would disturb the commerce of our southern states and of the whole Mississippi valley, and the closing of the Windward Passage would be of great damage to our trade with South America and that which comes by way of the Isthmus of Panama.
Cuba is so important to the United States that in our treaty relations we have provided that the island shall never make any agreement with any foreign power which might endanger its independence, that it shall not incur foreign debts beyond what its current revenues can easily pay, and that it shall not do anything that might affect us or our trade.
We have also the right to establish naval stations on the island, and, on the whole, our relations with it are such that, although it is an independent republic, it is generally looked upon as a dependency of the United States, and many think that it will some day ask to be admitted to the Union.
Notice the shape of the island as it lies on the map.
The Spaniards compared it to a bird’s tongue, with the root in the Caribbean Sea and the tip just licking the Yucatan Channel. How long and how narrow it is, and how winding its coast! If the coast line could be stretched out, it would be longer than the distance from Boston to San Francisco and back, and on every part of it there are excellent harbors, so that it is easy to export the products by sea.
Now look again at the map. Cuba is like a cornucopia, or horn of plenty, and this word just describes it. It is the most fertile of all the West Indies. It has no deserts, no barren hills, and only a few large swamps. Much of it is still wild, but almost the whole can be tilled. The eastern part is mountainous, but the mountains are green to their tops, and they have valuable forests and minerals.* The middle is made up of gently sloping plains, upon which are the largest and richest sugar fields of the world, and in the west are picturesque mountains with beautiful valleys, where is produced the finest tobacco known to man.
The whole island is covered with a luxuriant vegetation. It has more than three thousand native plants and millions of acres of valuable forests. It has twenty-six varieties of palms, the finest of mahogany and dyewoods, and also trees bearing tropical fruits. There are flowers every-where; and beautiful birds, including different varieties of parrots, are found in the woods. Is it any wonder that the Spaniards thought it a jewel?
Cuba was discovered by Columbus, and settled by the Spaniards. When Columbus first came, it had several hundred thousand Indians, ruled by nine independent chiefs. The Indians had slight forms and pleasant faces, and the explorers said they were a good people. They were gentle and friendly. They had huts as well built as those of the poorer Cubans of today, and near them little farms, where they cultivated cotton, pineapples, tobacco, manioc, and Indian corn. The Spaniards enslaved them, and treated them so cruelly that they soon disappeared.
After that, negro slaves were imported to take the place of the Indians, about a million negroes being brought over from Africa for this purpose. Then the slaves were freed, and they, with :their descendants, form a large part of the population of the island to-day.
Cuba has now more than two and one half million people, including whites, blacks, and mulattoes. The whites are mostly the descendants of the Spaniads. There are more of them than any of the other ;`and they form the ruling class, owning most of the land. They include emigrants from Spain and other parts of Southern Europe, and also Americans, Germans, English, and French. The blacks are the descendants of the slaves, and the mulattoes come from the negroes who have intermarried with the whites, and also with the Chinese who were brought in years ago to work on the plantations. Many of the whites are wealthy and well educated. Some are graduates of the best of our colleges, and others have studied in Europe. Spanish is the language used everywhere ; but many of the people speak English, as well, and we shall have no trouble in traveling about.
We leave Port Royal in the morning, and shortly after dinner get our first sight of Cuba. There are cocoanut trees lining the. s ore, and behind them are great mountains, rolling one over the other, their tops in the clouds.
We make our way slowly along between Haiti and Cuba, sailing over the very spot where our fleet conquered that of Spain during the Spanish-American War, and staying for a few hours at Santiago.
We can see nothing of Santiago until we come into the harbor. The channel is narrow, and we have to wind this way and that to get through. We cross the place where Hobson sank the Merrimac, go by Morro Castle, a great fort on a bluff at the right, and finally anchor in front of a city of white buildings, with roofs of red tiles, backed by smoky blue mountains. It is Santiago, the chief city of eastern Cuba.
The buildings are small and of the Spanish style, making us think of Madeira. They are usually of one or two stories, close to the street, with walls painted in all the colors of the rainbow. Many of them have large windows, with iron bars, so that they look much like prisons. They have heavy barred doors.
We shop awhile at the stores, and then return to the wharves, where we watch the ships taking on copper and iron ore from the mountains near by. The ore is brought by train and boat to Santiago, and thence exported to the United States and Europe.
We are still looking on when the steamer whistles its warning to leave. We hurry on board, and soon find our-selves out at sea, some distance from land. We sail for a time in a northeasterly dirction, and then, rounding Cape Maisi, turn to the northwest and steam along until at last we come to the port of HAVAVANA.