That eminent liberal Spanish leader, Emilio Castelar, in a speech in the Chamber of Deputies, in 1872, in regard to Cuba and Porto Rico, said, “How these islands are moving away from the American continent, and drawing nearer to the European!”
Well, indeed, might he make such a significant exclamation; for the illiberal commercial policy of Spain, her monopolies and tariffs, has been continually removing those islands farther and farther away from the United States. Although the magnificent island of Cuba—the pearl of the Antilles—is almost visible from our own shores, yet for all purposes of export trade with her she is about as distant from our country as the Sandwich Islands. Indeed, for such purposes she is more distant; for our exports to the Sandwich Islands, proportionately to their population, are about eight times the amount of those to Cuba.
The Spanish West Indies, Cuba and Porto Rico together, have a population of a little over two millions. Cuba itself is seven hundred miles long, with an average breadth of eighty miles, and possesses resources which, if they were developed, would sustain a population of twelve millions. Its surface, though for the most part very slightly undulating and covered with dense forests, is finely diversified. A mountain range runs through its whole length near the centre, the highest elevations, naked and rocky, being eight thousand feet above the sea. It has numerous rivers well stocked with fish, and many beautiful and fertile valleys. One of its cascades is remarkable for beauty. Its hill-sides and defiles are clothed with a variety of hard-wood trees of the evergreen species, of which the more valuable are the mahogany, which grows there to a huge size, the lignum vitæ, and the ebony. The palm, “queen of the Cuban forests,” with its deep green plumage; the giant-leaved and prolific banana and plantain, resembling tall Indian corn; the cocoa, with its Weeping foliage; and the “prim orange,” are abundant. Two hundred sorts of birds are native to the island. Marble of fine quality is found in the mountains, and there are valuable mines of copper. Coffee has been cultivated on the lower hill slopes with success, and its production could be largely extended. The Cuban tobacco has peculiar value, and is sought for the world over, the Americans alone being purchasers of over two million dollars’ worth of cigars from there every year. Cuba’s principal crop, however, is sugar, which amounts in value to over one hundred million dollars a year. Her advantage in its production over Louisiana, for example, is that in Cuba there is a space of four or five months, when all the mechanical work must be done, between the time when enough cane is ripe to justify starting the mills and the time when the cane begins to spoil; whereas in Louisiana this period is only about two months. Though some of Cuba’s coast lands are subject to overflow, she is uncommonly well supplied with fine harbors. Of her cities, Havana, the capital, has a population of two hundred and thirty-five thousand, Santiago de Cuba forty thousand, and Matanzas thirty-seven thousand. The sumptuous marble mansions of its capital, with their lofty porticoes and long colonnades, indicate something of its tropical wealth and luxury. Its cafés and restaurants are said to be but little inferior to those of Paris.