Cuba, Geography

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Cuba, Geography

In 2007 Cuba had an estimated population of 11.4 million. With its land mass of 44,218 square miles, this creates a population density of more than 250 people per square mile. It is the largest archipelago in the Antilles and is situated between the Straits of Florida on the north, the Caribbean Sea on the south, the Windward Passage on the east, and the Yucatán Channel on the West.

Cuba rests on a sea shelf that was formed by deep and calm seas and provides one of the richest ecological water habitats in the world. There are plentiful bays, estuaries, beaches, cliffs, and island keys. The terrain is mostly flat, with some hills. The highest point is Turquino Peak (6,560 feet), located in the Sierra Maestra in the eastern part of the island. The Sierra de Trinidad is located on the southern shore of the central section of the island.

Mineral deposits in Cuba include kaolin, nickel reserves in the northeast, copper, chromium, iron, manganese, and oil. The climate is tropical, with rain and intense heat from May to October. The annual mean temperature is about 72 degrees Fahrenheit, but can exceed 100 degrees in the summer. Annual rainfall averages 54 inches. June through November marks the cyclone season, and the island's location makes it prone to frequent hurricane strikes. From November to April the climate is fresh and dry. Only 22 percent of the annual rainfall occurs during the winter months, and it comes from cold air masses to the north. The eastern part of the island is most affected by the decline in temperature, with measurements as low as 34 degrees Fahrenheit.

Rivers that cut across Cuba are short due to the long and narrow formation of the island. The Cauto is the longest river, at 155 miles. Vegetation is highly antropizada mainly in the plains, the Zapata March, and the Guanahacabibes Peninsula. Many native species of flora and fauna are found in the mountain zones and the keys. Pine trees grow throughout the island, and the royal palm tree (Roystonea regia) is considered native to Cuba. Animals that are native to Cuba include the Santa María snake (Epicrates angulifer), the bat species Philonycteris poeyi, and the hummingbird species Kellisuga relenae. There are no large, dangerous animals native to Cuba.

The Cuba economy is based on agricultural production. Seventy-five percent of arable land is under cultivation: 30 percent is pasture, 23.5 percent is forest, 18 percent is devoted to sugarcane, 2 percent is in citrus groves, 1.7 percent is devoted to coffee and cacao, 1.5 percent to rice cultivation, and 1 percent to tobacco. In livestock, Cuba has 40 million poultry, 5 million head of cattle, and 100,000 head of oxen. The principal agricultural income producers are sugar and sugar derivatives, rum, tobacco, textiles, and construction materials. Biotechnical products have recently joined Cuba's traditional exports as commercial products, and the tourism sector has increased significantly since the 1990s. Cuba's main exports are sugar and its derivatives, minerals, fish and shellfish, citrus fruits, beverages, and tobacco. Cuba imports fuel, food, raw materials for industry, fertilizers, machinery, and equipment.

The Cuban population is multiethnic. Indigenous people initially mixed with the Spanish following the Conquest. But disease and mistreatment all but eliminated the Indian population. An imported laboring class consisted of African slaves and smaller groups of Chinese immigrants and indentured servants who arrived from the late eighteenth through early twentieth centuries. According to Cuban census data available in 2007, the Cuban population is 37 percent white, 51 percent mulatto, 11 percent black, and 1 percent Chinese. The major migratory flows in the twentieth century occurred immediately after independence, when many Spanish sought jobs in the former colony, and after the 1959 revolution, when many Cubans emigrated for political, economic, and family reasons. The current rate of population growth is 2.6 percent annually.

The employment rate is around 42.3 percent of the total population. The annual death rate is 7 per 1,000 people, and the mortality rate for newborns is 6.3 deaths per 1,000, also one of the lowest in the world. The average life expectancy is 77 years. There is one doctor for every 165 inhabitants of the island, and nearly everyone over five years of age is educated.

The country is divided into fourteen provinces and the municipality of the Isla de la Juventud (Isle of Youth). The capital, Havana, has a population of 2.2 million (2005). Other major cities are Santiago de Cuba (494,913), Camagüey (326,774), Holguín (329,995), and Guantánamo (244,180). Seventy-six percent of the population is urban.

See alsoAfricans in Hispanic America; Explorers and Exploration: Spanish America; Indigenous Peoples.


Gutiérrez Domech, Roberto, and Manuel Rivero Glean. Regiones naturales de la isla de Cuba. Havana: Editorial Científico-Técnica, 1999.

Hudson, Rex A., ed. Cuba: A Country Study. 4th Edition. Washington, DC: Federal Research Division, Library of Congress, 2002.

McCook, Stuart George. States of Nature: Science, Agriculture, and Environment in the Spanish Caribbean, 1760–1940. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2002.

Pérez, Louis A. Winds of Change: Hurricanes and the Transformation of Nineteenth—Century Cuba. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001.

Pérez-López, Jorge F., and Jose Alvarez, eds. Reinventing the Cuban Sugar Agroindustry. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2005.

Scarpaci, Joseph L., Roberto Segre, and Mario Coyula. Havana: Two Faces of the Antillean Metropolis. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002.

                                        RaÚl Benavides