|Isla de la Juventud, island
(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.