Cuba conquered its identity and matured, guided by patriots such as the poet José Martí and, in 1959, it became the first socialist country in the Americas: by virtue of this option, in the last decade of the 20th century, when the Soviet Union fell apart, gave support, lived in a unique position of continental isolation.
According to Proexchangerates.com, the Republic of Cuba is made up of about 3,175 islands and islets. The country has a total area of 110,922 km2 and is located slightly south of the Tropic of Cancer. The island of Cuba is the largest in the group and occupies an area of 105,007 km2 alone, which makes up almost 95% of the mainland of the entire archipelago. Its shape is elongated and is oriented from northwest to southeast over about 1,250km. The width varies from 31 to 191km. Another important island is that of Youth, formerly the island of Pinos (dos Pinheiros). The state of Florida, in the United States, is 145km away.
The most notable orographic accident is the Sierra Maestra, a 250km mountain range between Cape Cruz and Guantánamo Bay, to the southeast. The Turquino peak, at 1,974m, is its culmination. The gentle slope that the island presents to the south facilitates the formation of inlets, such as those on the Zapata peninsula.
Coastal corals formed the new continental shelf on which the archipelago rests. It was subjected to successive lifting and lowering movements. If the sea dropped a few tens of meters, almost all the islands in the archipelago would be united, since they are portions of the same platform. There are numerous natural ports.
Located in a tropical region and influenced by the high pressure center of the North Atlantic, Cuba comprises two distinct climatic zones: the dry plain and the area exposed to cyclones. The dominant climate in most of the archipelago records temperatures that range between 22.5o C in January and 27.8o C in August. The pluviometric index is approximately 1.380mm, suitable for the extensive plantations of sugar cane, coffee and tobacco, which cover a large part of the cultivated soil. The rainy season extends from May to November, when violent hurricanes also occur.
The relief of the island determines two fluvial slopes of very different characteristics, although all rivers are short and of low volume. Among more than 500 water courses, just under half flow from the north. The most important river is the Cauto, which flows into the south, after covering 250 km, of which eighty are navigable.
The lakes are small and some have fresh water, others salt water. The biggest one is the Leite lagoon, connected to the sea through three natural channels. Its coloring is due to calcium carbonate deposits accumulated at the bottom and removed by sea currents.
Flora and fauna
Plant life is represented by more than eight thousand species, of which some six thousand are superior plants. Many of them are native to the archipelago. Much of the original vegetation has been replaced by sugar cane, coffee and rice plantations. Pine, mahogany and ebony, exported in large quantities, are of good quality.
Animal life is particularly rich and varied with regard to invertebrates, with more than seven thousand different species of insects and four thousand terrestrial and marine molluscs. Sponges are the basis of a thriving industry, as well as fish farming, with dozens of species of fish of considerable commercial value. Among reptiles, turtles and iguanas stand out, as well as two different species of crocodiles that are almost extinct, but protected.
Before the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus, in 1492, cybels and guanahatabeys inhabited western Cuba, while the Taínos occupied the rest, including some other islands in the archipelago.
Cuba was spotted by Colombo on his first trip, on October 27, 1492. After naming it Juana, he adopted the Castilian version of the Coabaí or Cubanacán indigenous place names, which respectively designated the island and a village in the interior. In 1511, Diego Velázquez founded the first settlement in Baracoa, with about 300 Spaniards.
In the first decades of colonization, gold mining proved to be unprofitable and contributed to the decimation of the indigenous population, forced to work in the mines. Soon the island became a point of scale and supply for the numerous expeditions that the Spanish carried out to Florida, to the Yucatan peninsula and to the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, in search of precious metals.
The main difficulties that Spanish colonists had to face were epidemics, hurricanes and attacks by pirates and navigators from other European countries, who were trying to establish their own settlements on the island, with the intention of obtaining free ports for their trade. The Spanish fleet connected almost all of Hispanic America to the metropolis through Cuba, which increased the commercial and strategic importance of the island.
Throughout the 18th century, agricultural development intensified, which depended more and more on sugar cane plantations and African slaves. Cuba was one of the few Hispanic territories in America that remained faithful to the metropolis after the French invasion of the Iberian peninsula. In 1821 an independence movement arose, but his mentors, including the poet José Maria de Heredia, were arrested and punished.
In the second half of the 19th century, the Cuban sugar industry became the most modern in the world and came to account for more than a third of world production. However, the huge extent of the sugarcane plantations has led to the deforestation of much of the island.