Ch 6: Cuba’s Natural Resources

Cuba is the largest Island in the Caribbean Sea, stretching 750 miles from east to west, but only around 60 miles wide in most places, with an advantageous variety of different habitats, from mountain forests to jungles and grasslands. High mountains and rolling hills dominate about one third of the Island, with the other two thirds covered by fertile lowland plains used mainly for farming. The climate is tropical, moderated by the trade winds, and ideally suited to a vast and bountiful range of natural resources.

Crop Products
Cuban coffee is unrivalled, and at one period its export was greater than Java's. Today barely enough is raised for local consumption. Cocoa is an important export, but there is scope for great development, especially in the eastern highlands. Magnificent cotton has been raised on the Coast, but the industry has languished since the earlier days, when productive enterprise was taxed out of existence. The prevailing price and the restrictions planned in the Southern States is creating a new opportunity. Honey and wax are simple staples.
   Sugarcane is one of the most important crops, and is grown on large plantation areas in the south of the Island. Tobacco, used for some of the world's finest cigars, is found especially in the Pinar del Río Province.
   Bananas, oranges, lemons, limes, melons, grape fruit, pine apples, dates, grapes and figs are finding a ready market, and fruit farming is attracting thousands of settlers who are making it a success. Many English and Canadian fruit growers in Florida are now turning their attention to the more attractive climate and soil of Cuba. Potatoes, yams, onions, beans, and other more humble products are also being raised with profit.
   Cocoa-nuts grow everywhere, and the oil is a growing industry. Cassava, cinnamon, vanilla, indigo and sago are also exported in increasing quantities. Rubber has been cultivated with local success. The mango, tamarind, pomegranate and guava flourish. Pickled mangoes are a popular relish in the United States, and the delicious confections of jelly and paste made from the guava also find a ready market there and in France and Spain, though these conserves are not well known in England. Those who have not eaten guava jelly with cream cheese have missed an epicurean dish. Almonds and honey are produced largely to make a rich Cuban sweetmeat which now also is exported.
   Rice and corn are also raised successfully in Cuba, but only for local consumption. Henequen and other fibrous plants grow plentifully, and could form the basis for much greater industries than are at present developed.

Timber Wealth
The forests of Cuba, estimated at 15,000,000 acres, are rich in rare and hard woods. Cedar, mahogany, ebony, and teak abound, with satin wood, the beautiful granadillo, the majagua of shaded green, the everlasting acana, lignum-vitae, the cuia and jiqui which never rot, rosewood and logwood, in amazing quantities. The pine, rare in the torrid zone, is found, in some districts. The royal palm flourishes everywhere, and every item is of use in the country where it builds barks and thatches houses, its seeds fatten stock, and its sprouts are more tender than cabbage. There are some fibrous barks like that of the majagua, which make splendid ropes, and many varieties of good building timber.
   With such equipment, and the present training in arts and crafts in the schools, Cuba will one day have factories which will supply the world with exclusive furniture. Until then the forest wealth must be exploited for export, and timber land yearly increases in value, though an English syndicate a few years ago was offered some of the best at 5 shillings per acre in a district which fetched £10 an acre five years later. But there are still great opportunities in Cuban timber.

Mineral Wealth
In minerals, also, the Island has vast undeveloped stores: iron, copper, manganese, lead, zinc, talc and cobalt, some gold and silver, and rich deposits of bitumen. In the Eastern province iron and manganese mines supply high-grade ore to the greatest American steel company, one district alone producing more than a million tons of ore yearly. Copper also is mined in increasing quantities, and until an internal spring was tapped to defy pumping, an English company worked a magnificent property successfully. Hatuey had golden statues and, in 1620, Albarracin wrote of the land as a tangible El Dorado, but so far the proved riches rest with the baser metals, and gold, of which many traces are found, still holds its quantitative secret in the serpentine formation. Bitumen is also mined in several districts.
   Petroleum, discovered by Humboldt, is now pumped in the Western provinces from borings in plutonic, igneous rocks, which seem merely to have tapped the seepage from enormous oil fields in the Cretaceous and Jurassic systems below. There is also promise of abundant natural gas. Marble, magnificent rock crystal, and alabaster are common in Cuba, and madreporite, capable of beautiful polish for solid decoration, is almost unheeded. Ruskin had magnificent specimens from Cuba in his collection.

Flora and Fauna
Many pages could be devoted to the rich natural vegetation, the rare tropical plants and orchids, bright flowers and creepers. The bird life is curious, as there are many indigenous varieties of gorgeous plumage with exotics of the Temperate zone, pheasants, ducks, quail, grouse, etc. Game is so abundant that hunters often subsist for weeks on the birds, deer and rabbits they shoot, helped by edible tubers and wild fruit, and fish if they are on the coast. Visitors should consult the exhaustive works of Poey, the Cuban naturalist, if they desire to study the animal life.
   Enormous alligators of placid disposition haunt the more remote rivers. The huge but pacific maja is an alarming but inoffensive member of the python variety which children can feed with impunity. The juba is also common and far more pugnacious, but there are no deadly snakes. There are beautiful lizards of every size and variety. There are few dangerous wild animals. Ugly and formidable boars are hunted on horseback. There are wild dogs also of a vicious type, and tiger cats sometimes mistaken for leopards. The jutia is a remarkable vegetarian, not known elsewhere, a cross between a giant rat and huge squirrel, cousin to the kinkajou.
   There are many pests; scorpions, tarantulas and centipedes, but none of the fatal variety. Land crabs hunt in droves and are frequently annoying. Cannibal ants are similar to the West African variety and jiggers also. But, with due respect to some writers, the mosquito in my comprehensive experience of districts, is generally rare and innoxious except near certain swamps and on the sand keys. Enormous fireflies make wonderful effects at night.
   There are over 600 varieties of fish in Cuban waters, many very beautiful. In the clear channels between the cayos thousands of gaudy families are reared in plain view before they brave the cosmopolitan dangers outside. Every kind of sport is afforded from spearing huge crustaceans by torchlight, netting or trawling the common species, or for the ambitious angler there are scores of sporting varieties, including the aguja, one of which would feed a battalion, and the largest types of sharks. The manatee is often speared, and the giant octopod avoided. Enormous turtles abound.

A Land of Opportunity
With its wealth of natural resources, Cuba is an attractive country to visit and offers a wide field for individual enterprise. During the War of Independence one-third of the people perished. The population is still less than 60 per square mile, and with large communities grouped near the important cities there is plenty of room for settlers especially in the eastern provinces. The Island is endowed with a rich, moist soil, suitable for every necessary of life. There has been a natural tendency for the present population to centre its energies on the production of sugar and tobacco to the neglect of other enterprises which the improvement in communication makes promising. Many settlers are now attracted to the Island, especially from the United States and Canada. For those with some capital and resource, and fond of outdoor life, there are splendid opportunities.
   Compared with the pioneer conditions in the North and West of America, the settler in Cuba has a bed of roses. There are no climatic rigours to face. The natural means are at hand to build a simple but comfortable homestead to start with. In the rich soil, crop follows crop the year round. Vegetables can be raised in a few weeks, chickens thrive, and fodder is abundant for horses and cattle. The prime necessaries of life, therefore, are easily available.
   The settlers' future rests, as elsewhere, on patience and perseverance, but with the primary groundwork of subsistence easily solved, the challenge and the opportunity for the evolution of successful plantation life offers many attractive features.

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