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The island is called by many: the land of a thousand names, referring to the names received from his discovery


We know of this island from the arrival of Christopher Columbus. It was on his second journey when he discovered that territory after reconnoitering the south coast of Cuba, believing until the last minute that Cuba was the beginning and end of the Asian continent.

He turned south-east on June 13, 1494, shortly after arriving caught sight of a large island with lofty mountains, rising majestically amid those labyrinths of banks and cays. He named this island San Juan Evangelista.



He anchored in it for firewood and water. He then turned south along the west coast, hoping to go round its end, and find his way to “La española” and expected to explore Jamaica.

In his navigation, he came to a sort of channel that opened between Evangelista and some opposite island, but after penetrating the deep bay of the Sigüanea, which penetrates far inland he found himself surrounded by land without provisions and with an angry crew.

Filled with hope and determination, he ordered his people to go ashore and repair their battered ships, while supplying food, firewood and water, to get out of this confused sea, following the same route as he had entered. He left the Sigüanea waters, turning to sail on June 25, crossed the groups of islands of that rout of ​​white, sometimes blue-green, and sometimes black color waters that had scared his people so much.

It was allegedly the place where he stayed for longer during his trips to the new continent. Some Cuban historians marked with a plaque the site where supposedly these events took place, close to the hotel's Diving Centre “El Colony”.

The Aborigines called it: Siguanea Ahao, Camaraco, Guanaja. Columbus never mentions in his book of navigation, the presence of its inhabitants. All indicates they fled when they saw the ships and their crews.

Researches, confirms the presence of Siboney culture, in two aspects: on the north lived the Cayo Redondo (culture stone), because their tools and utensils were elaborated with stones.

And the “Guayabo blanco “( snail culture), their instruments were made with the Strombus Gijas, a snail that was abundant in the south. All were harvesters, fishers and hunters.

These aborigines are completely naked, but knew the fire and used different instruments and tools to ensure their survival. These remains appear at sites where they lived, even temporarily, until resources were consumed. They lived very close to the coast.

The main locations in the south are in Punta del Este, Playa Blanca, Playa Larga, El Guanal, Carapachibey, Caleta Grande and Punta Frances. In the north of the island archeological remains are found in the cave of El Indio Sierra Home, Sierra San Juan, La Isabel, Guayabo Cayama, Nueva Gerona, La Esperanza and Los Indios.

The pioneer Siboney had a chance to survive in this beautiful island of 2,204 square kilometers. Undoubtedly the island was inhabited when Columbus arrived.

From the sixteenth to the eighteenth century it was called Evangelista, Santiago, Santa Maria, Pirate Island, and Treasure Island (served as a refuge for pirates) and as pirates used to bury their treasures in caves, beaches and mountains near the coast. The island is full of graves and legends, for many times, precious objects and old coins have been found. It has also been referred to by writers and novelists), Isle of Parrots (for the amount and variety of them).

The first pirate to stop at the island was Jean Francois La Roque in 1543. Since then this place came to be used to provide food, water, and wood also for the reparation of their ships, and an ambushing place for the Spanish.

The island was forgotten by the Spaniards and by the governors of Cuba, until 1565 when the privateer John Hawkins made it his refuge. Another famous pirate, Francis Drake (G.B), visited the island several times in the time of his lootings. His last visit was in 1586.

The first naval battle of the American continent was fought in Siguanea in 1596. The Spanish fleet commanded by Bernardino Delgadillo y Avellaneda caught unaware the English fleet under Admiral Thomas Baskerville, who had taken over after the death of Drake in Portobelo, He was recovering and prepared his ships to return to England with the booty captured. There he was defeated, and some very battered British ships escaped.

Later that century, the Dutch privateer Van Caerden and the English pirate John Oxman used the Island as barracks. The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries witnessed other pirates who visited the island, as the privateer Henry Van Vyn after seizing a Spanish fleet. In 1628, the pirate Pieterzon Pieter Hayn, wooden leg, used it as shelter. A year later, the Dutchman Cornelius Cornelizoon Hol, used the island to attack Havana. Then in 1638, repeated the action to attack the fleet coming from Central and South America.

These events make lives of the people settled there very hard. In 1627 was conquered by Captain Hernando de Pedroso, who passed in on to his successors, many of whom never got even to know it, less show any concern or attention for the island and its people.

In 1660 Francis el Olonés made the island his hiding place for some time. Diego Zayas Bazán y Rojas, then owner of the Isle of Pines, could influence the authorities for the colonization of the island to ensure the integrity of their property and the population against attacks from the sea bandits.

From 1668 the presence of many sea wolves, increases such as Henry Morgan who repaired his ships before attacking Havana. Bartholomew the Portuguese took refuge in there in 1677. And in 1678 the French pirate Pierre Franquesnay established his headquarters in the island. Also the English, Sharper Bartholomew in 1680 and William Dampier in 1686, who later became a writer to tell his adventures.

From the eighteenth century, Britain, France and Holland, who had promoted and practiced piracy, now outlawed it ,as they now need to trade with their goods, It is then, when Spain became a Corsican fleet together with Cubans who prowled around the Antilles. In this century, other pirates were on the island, as the English Charles Gran in 1702 , and Spanish, Bartoomé Valadon in 1718 and in 1719 John Rackham, known as Calico Jack.

Earlier in 1765, the Earl of Ricla intended to colonize the island, but his project failed as he had to go back to Spain. Its owner at that time, Domingo Duarte, made some effort in trying to be recognized, but nobody cared.

In 1787, Commander Julian Terry and Lacy presented to the count of Santa Clara, captain general of Cuba, a voluminous report of his studies and work entrusted to him to organize the colonization. By this time the island had 300 inhabitants, but again, they forgot it.

In 1822, a pirate named Pepe the Mallorcan with a small group of outlaws became the owner of the island. The English pressed Spain to take measures to prevent acts of piracy in these waters that harmed them and did jeopardize the route of their ships, otherwise, Britain would take its control. With the approval of the Spanish authorities, the British did away with the Mallorcan and his people in one year.

This event made the Captain General Francisco Dionisio Vives to colonize the island and to found the city of Nueva Gerona in 1830 in memory of the defense of the Catalan city that General Vives had done in the Spanish War of Independence. The island was named Colonia reina Amalia, in memory of the third wife of Ferdinand VII.

However, in 1787 a small town named Santa Fe had been formed before Nueva Gerona, despite the refusal of the colonial authorities to the founding of a town on the River Jicaro, constantly harassed by corsairs and pirates.

From the colonization of the island, former soldiers were sent in 1831. These were black militant who lived in St. Augustine in Florida who simultaneously preformed their profession with agricultural work.

In 1847 the church of Nuestra señora de los Dolores was built, two elementary schools, a prison, a civilian hospital and the town hall. Migration to the new town went slowly. History records that a troop of 14 soldiers settled. In 1850 the barracks was built, and six years later was turned into a military hospital.

Under the domination of Spain, the brand new colony began to be called “The Island of the deportees”, accurately because all those opposed to the metropolis for their ideas of independence were deported there since 1868. In the late nineteenth century was known as Isla de Pinos (for the abundance of pine tree forests).

The result of a census of the island in 1899 was 3,200 inhabitants, but the greater number of people lived in Santa Fe. After the independence of Cuba, the jurisdiction of the island remained subject to negotiations with the United States, which claimed the Island to be part of this country.

U.S. President William McKinley stated that it was transferred by Spain under the Treaty of Paris to his territory, but under the administrative jurisdiction of Cuba. While still not been passed the Platt Amendment, the first land speculating a company was established which began a process of accumulation of land and selling them for plots.

In this situation, in 1903, about 500 American families moved in, allowing the emergence of new towns with different architecture and a modern infrastructures, such as: Columbia, McKinley, Santa Barbara The New, Los indios , San Pedro, Bibijagua., Los Almácigos, San Francisco de las Piedras. By 1913 there were more than 1,600 Americans residents. A similar population to that of the “Isla de los pinos”.

Nueva Gerona and Santa Fe were places of residence of many of them, as in many farms and they cultivated the land an increasing their productive activity with the cultivation of citrus, watermelon, melon, cucumber and other minor crops, livestock, fisheries, mining of gold, tungsten, copper and marble, as well as the exploitation of the timber.

With the growth of the colony, the coastal shipping increased and six sea and river ports were built. Shipping lines increased as well as warehouses, shops, taverns, coffee bars, hotels and spas. They built bridges, roads, railways, airport, customs, cultural institutions and clubs, schools, churches, media organizations, cemetery, etc...

However, after the Hay-Quesada treaty in 1925 the sovereignty of Cuba on Isla de Pinos was recognized. The majority of the American families returned to their country selling their land and some remained with the local dwellers.

In 1931 a giant circle jail was opened called the Model Prison with a capacity for over 6,000 inmates. Replica of the Joliet prison in Illinois, USA. For this was called the Isle of Prisoners.

Each director who took over the prison left a trail of men killers, corruption, decay and violence. Until 1935, 532 prisoners were registered officially deaths. Pablo de la Torriente Brau, imprisoned there, tells the story of the murders, assaults, abuse and suffering of prisoners and called his book "Model Prison". It was also given the name of “the Island of the 500 murders.”

During World War II, it was used as a concentration camp for foreigners: Japanese, German and Italian.

Since its opening to its closing, the prison became a center of torture, death and horror in all stages. It was used to house political prisoners who always had the possibility of not seeing a new dawn. That prison housed future presidents, as Ramon Grau San Martin, Fidel Castro and Raul Castro, ministers and prominent political personalities opposed to the governments of the time. From 1959 it was called La Siberia de Cuba for the existing prisoners from that date. The prison was closed in 1967 and in 1973 was declared National Monument.

From all over the country, young people came to radically change the face of the Isle of Pines and lay the economic and social foundations that made the island to be called in 1978 the Island of Youth, (Isla de la juventud) The Island was also visited by thousands of young people from around the world, and other provinces of Cuba, who studied in the numerous schools around the country.

In the late twentieth century, it had a population of 87,000 inhabitants, and is still called by the same name, although is also referred to as (Isla joven) Young Island, Isle of Grapefruit, (Isla de las toronjas) Thousand Island Names,(La isla de los mil nombres) or simply The Island (La isla)

Many names for the island, but all of then fitting correctly with facts or situations throughout his young and long history. Little is known of its five centuries of existence, four of them, with an impairment of its recognition and forgotten civilization. Long for the significant events or stories and legends transmitted by word of mouth between successive generations of its inhabitants, but there is still much history to uncover and much of the island to discover. The island that declined to be English, Spanish or American.

© Isla de la Juventud 2011
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