The island extends about 1225 km (about 760 mi) from Cabo de San Antonio to Cabo MaisŐ, the western and eastern extremities, respectively. The average width is about 80 km (about 50 mi), with extremes ranging from 35 to 257 km (22 to 160 mi). The total area is 114,524 sq km (44,218 mi) including the area of the Isla de la Juventud, or Isle of Youth (formerly called Isle of Pines) and of other islands of the republic.
One of the extraordinary natural features of the island is the large number of subsurface limestone caverns, notably the caves of Cotilla, situated near Havana. Most of the numerous rivers of Cuba are short and unnavigable. The chief stream is the Cauto, located in the southeast. The coast of Cuba is extremely irregular and is indented by numerous gulfs and bays; the total length is about 4025 km (about 2500 mi). The island has a large number of excellent harbors, the majority of which are almost entirely landlocked. Notable harbors are those of Havana, C∑rdenas, Bahia Honda, Matanzas, and Neuvitas, on the northern coast, and Guant∑namo, Santiago de Cuba, Cienfuegos, and Tri nidad, on the southern coast.
Only two land mammals, the hutia, or cane rat, and the solenodon, a rare insectivore, are known to be indigenous. The island has numerous bats and nearly 300 species of birds, including the vulture, wild turkey, quail, finch, gull, macaw, parakeet, and hummingbird. Among the few reptiles are tortoises, the cayman, and a species of boa that may attain a length of 3.7 m (12 ft). More than 700 species of fish and crustaceans are found in Cuban waters. Notable among these are land crabs, sharks, garfish, robalo, ronco, eel, mangua, and tuna. Numerous species of insects exist, the most harmful of w hich are the chigoe and the anopheles mosquito, bearer of the malaria parasite.
Despite frequent raids by buccaneers and naval units of rival and enemy powers, the island prospered throughout the 16th and 17th centuries. Restrictions imposed by the Spanish authorities on commerical activities were generally disregarded by the colonists, who resorted to illicit trade with privateers and neighboring colonies. Following the conclusion (1763) of the Seven Years' War, during which the English captured Havana, the Spanish government liberalized its Cuban policy, encouraging colonization, expansion of commerce, and development of agriculture. Between 1774 and 1817 the population increased from about 161,000 to more than 550,000. The remaining restriction on trade were officially eliminated in 1818, further promoting material and cultural advancement.
During the third decade of the 19th century, however, Spanish rule became increasingly repressive, provoking a widespread movement among the colonists for independence. This movement attained particular momentum between 1834 and 1838, during the despotic governorship of the captain general Miguel de TacŘn (1777-1855). Revolts and conspiracies against the Spanish regime dominated Cuban political life throughout the remainder of the century. An uprising in 1844 of black slaves was brutally suppressed. A mov ement during the years 1848-51 for annexation of the island to the United States ended with the capture and execution of its leader, the Spanish-American general Narciso LŘpez (1798?-1851). Offers by the U.S. government to purchase the island were repeate dly rejected by Spain. In 1868 revolutionaries under the leadership of Carlos Manuel de C»spedes (1819-74) proclaimed Cuban independence. The ensuing Ten Years' War, a costly struggle to both Spain and Cuba, was terminated in 1878 by a truce granting many important concessions to the Cubans. In 1886 slavery was abolished. Importation of cheap labor from China was ended by 1871. In 1893 the equal civil status of blacks and whites was proclaimed.
The U.S. government intervened on behalf of the revolutionists in April 1898, precipitating the Spanish-American War. Intervention was spurred by the sinking of the battleship Maine in the harbor of Havana of February 15, 1898, for which Spain was blamed. By the terms of the treaty signed December 10, 1898, terminating the conflict, Spain relinquished sovereignty over Cuba. An American military government ruled the island until May 20, 1902, when the Cuban republic was formally instituted, under the presidency of the former postmaster general Tom∑s Estrada Palma. The Cuban constitution, adopted in 1901, incorporated the provisions of the Platt Amendment, U.S. legislation that established conditions for American intervention in Cuba.
Certain improvements, notably the eradication of yellow fever, had been accomplished in Cuba during the U.S. occupation. Simultaneously, U.S. corporate interests invested heavily in the Cuban economy, acquiring control of many of its resources, especially the sugar-growing industry. Popular dissatisfaction with this state of affairs was aggravated by recurring instances of fraud and corruption in Cuban politics.
The first of several serious insurrections against conservative control of the republic occurred in August 1906. In the next month the U.S. government dispatched troops to the island, which remained under U.S. control until 1909. Another uprising took place in 1912 in Oriente Province, resulting again in U.S. intervention. With the election of Mario GarcŐa Menocal (1866-1941) to the presidency later in the same year, the Conservative party returned to power. On April 7, 1917, Cuba entered World War I on the side of the Allies.
With the support of Batista, the head of the Cuban army and unofficial dictator of Cuban, the new president, the former political leader and soldier Federico Laredo Brô (1875-1946), put into operation a program of social and economic reform. Batista won the presidential contest of 1940 defeating RamŘn Grau San Martin, the opposition candidate. The promulgation in 1940 of a new constitution contributed further to the lessening of political tension.
In December 1941 the Cuban government declared war on Germany, Japan, and Italy; consequently it became a charter member of the United Nations in 1945. The presidential election of 1944 resulted in victory for Grau San Martin, the candidate of a broad coalition of parties. The first year of his administration was one of recurring crises caused by various factors, including widespread food shortages, but he regained popularity the following year by obtaining an agreement with the U.S. government for an increase in the price of sugar.
In 1948 Cuba joined the Organization of American States (OAS). Fluctuations in world sugar prices and a continuing inflationary sprial kept the political situation unstable in the postwar era. Carlos Prio Socarr∑s (1903-77), a member of the Aut»ntico party and a cabinet minister under Grau San Martin, was elected president in June 1948. Shortly after his inauguration a 10 percent reduction in retail prices was decreed in an attempt to offset inflation. Living costs continued to rise, however, leading to unrest and political violence. Fidel Castro, son of a wealthy Spanish plantation owner, attends the University of Havana and becomes a political gangster. He is accused of murdering a fellow student but the charges are later dropped.
Batista's opponent, Grau San Martin, withdrew from the campaign just before the election, charging that his supporters had been terrorized. Batista was thus reelected without opposition, and on his inauguration February 24, 1955, he restored constitutional rule and granted amnesty to political prisoners, including Castro. The latter chose exile in the U.S. and later in Mexico.
In the mid-1950s the Batista government insituted an economic development program that, together with a stabilization of the world sugar price, improved the economic and political outlook in Cuba. On December 2, 1956, however, Castro, with some 80 insurgents, invaded. The force was crushed by the army, but Castro escaped into the mountains, where he organized the 26th of July Movement, so called to commemorate the 1953 uprising. For the next year Castro's forces, using guerrilla tactics, the support of the New York Times, opposed the Batista government and won considerable popular support.
On March 13, 1957 university students, members of the Autentico Party assaulted the Presidential Palace to assassinate Fulgencio Batista. Betrayed by a young communist who informed against them they were massacred inside the Palace.
On March 17, 1958, Castro called for a general revolt.The United States turning against Fulgencio Batista placed an arms embargo on the dictator. Castro's forces made steady gains through the remainder of the year, and on January 1, 1959, Batista resigned and fled the country. A provisional government was established. Castro, although he initially renounced office, became premier in mid-February. In the early weeks of the regime military tribunals tried many former Batista associates, and some 550 were executed.