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Youth, Isle of

Isle of Youth, Span. Isla de la Juventud, island and special municipality (1989 est. pop. 71,500), 1,180 sq mi (3,056 sq km), off SW Cuba, from which it is separated by the Batabanó Gulf. Until 1978 it was called Isle of Pines. The island's capital is Nueva Gerona. Pine forests cover much of the island, and there are many mineral springs. Marble is quarried from low ridges in the northern part; the southern quarter of the island is an elevated plain. The economy is based on fishing and agriculture (primarily citrus fruits, some vegetables). Until the break in U.S.-Cuban relations in the early 1960s, much of the land was owned by American citizens, and the mild, healthful climate and excellent fishing waters made the island an attractive resort. Bibijagua beach remains popular. Sighted by Columbus in 1494, the Isle of Youth was later used as a penal colony and was a rendezvous for buccaneers. During the colonial period it was a summer resort and a rest area for the Spanish military. The island was ceded to the United States after the Spanish-American War (1898), and because its name was omitted from the Platt Amendment, which defined Cuba's boundaries, it was claimed by the United States as well as by Cuba. Finally, in 1907, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that the island did not belong to the United States; a treaty was later signed (1925) confirming the island as Cuban. Near Nueva Gerona is a large prison, often used for political prisoners. During the regime of Fidel Castro, himself jailed there in 1953, the island has been extensively beautified, but political prisoners are incarcerated there in large numbers. The Isle of Youth has suffered frequent damage from hurricanes.

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