Produced by Jonathan Ingram, Leonard D Johnson and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.
[Illustration: TOWER OF LA FUERZA
OLD AND NEW
ALBERT G. ROBINSON
I. OLD CUBA
II. NEW CUBA
III. THE COUNTRY
IV. THE OLD HAVANA
V. THE NEW HAVANA
VI. AROUND THE ISLAND
VII. AROUND THE ISLAND (_Continued_)
VIII. THE UNITED STATES AND CUBA
IX. CUBA’S REVOLUTIONS
XII. THE STORY OF SUGAR
XIII. VARIOUS PRODUCTS AND INDUSTRIES
XIV. POLITICS, GOVERNMENT, AND COMMERCE
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
Tower of La Fuerza, Havana
The Morro, Havana
A Planter’s Home, Havana Province
Iron Grille Gateway, El Vedado, suburb of Havana Watering Herd of Cattle, Luyano River, near Havaria Royal Palms
Custom House, Havana
Balconies, Old Havana
Street in Havana
Street and Church of the Angels, Havana A Residence in El Vedado
The Volante (now quite rare)
A Village Street, Calvario, Havana Province Street and Church, Camaguey
Cobre, Oriente Province
Hoisting the Cuban Flag over the Palace, May 20,1902 A Spanish Block House
Along the Harbor Wall, Havana
Country Road, Havana Province
Street in Camaguey
A Peasant’s Home
OLD AND NEW
Christopher Columbus was a man of lively imagination. Had he been an ordinary, prosaic and plodding individual, he would have stayed at home combing wool as did his prosaic and plodding ancestors for several generations. At the age of fourteen he went to sea and soon developed an active curiosity about regions then unknown but believed to exist. There was even then some knowledge of western Asia, and even of China as approached from the west. Two and two being properly put together, the result was a reasonable argument that China and India could be reached from the other direction, that is, by going westward instead of eastward.
In the early autumn of the year 1492, Columbus was busy discovering islands in the Caribbean Sea region, and, incidentally, seeking for the richest of the group. From dwellers on other islands, he heard of one, called Cubanacan, larger and richer than any that he had then discovered. A mixture of those tales with his own vivid imagination produced a belief in a country of wide extent, vastly rich in gold and gems, and already a centre of an extensive commerce. Cruising in search of what he believed to be the eastern coast of Asia, he sighted the shore of Cuba on the morning of October 28, 1492. His journal, under date of October 24, states: “At midnight I tripped my anchors off this _Cabo del Isleo de Isabella_, where I was pitched to go to the island of Cuba, which I learn from these people is very large and magnificent, and there are gold and spices in it, and large ships and merchants. And so I think it must be the island of Cipango (Japan), of which they tell such wonders.” The record, under date of Sunday, 28th of October, states: “Continued for the nearest land of Cuba, and entered a beautiful estuary, clear of rocks and other dangers. The mouth of the estuary had twelve fathoms depth, and it was wide enough for a ship to work into.” Students have disagreed regarding the first Cuban port entered by Columbus. There is general acceptance of October 28 as the date of arrival. Some contend that on that day he entered Nipe Bay, while others, and apparently the greater number, locate the spot somewhat to the west of Nuevitas. Wherever he first landed on it, there is agreement that he called the island Juana, in honor of Prince Juan, taking possession “in the name of Christ, Our Lady, and the reigning Sovereigns of Spain.”
His record of the landing place is obscure. It is known that he sailed some leagues beyond it, to the westward. While on board his caravel, on his homeward voyage, he wrote a letter to his friend, Don Rafael Sanchez, “Treasurer of their most Serene Highnesses,” in which the experience is described. The original letter is lost, but it was translated into Latin and published in Barcelona in the following year, 1493. While the Latin form is variously translated into English, the general tenor of all is the same. He wrote: “When I arrived at Juana (Cuba), I sailed along the coast to the west, discovering so great an extent of land that I could not imagine it to be an island, but the continent of Cathay. I did not, however, discover upon the coast any large cities, all we saw being a few villages and farms, with the inhabitants of which we could not obtain any communication, they flying at our approach. I continued my course, still expecting to meet with some town or city, but after having gone a great distance and not meeting with any, and finding myself proceeding toward the north, which I was desirous, to avoid on account of the cold, and, moreover, meeting with a contrary wind, I determined to return to the south, and therefore put about and sailed back to a harbor which I had before observed.” That the actual landing was at or near the present port of Nuevitas seems to be generally accepted.
Columbus appears to have been greatly impressed by the beauty of the island. In his _Life of Columbus_, Washington Irving says: “From his continual remarks on the beauty of scenery, and from his evident delight in rural sounds and objects, he appears to have been extremely open to those happy influences, exercised over some spirits, by the graces and wonders of nature. He gives utterance to these feelings with characteristic enthusiasm, and at the same time with the artlessness and simplicity of diction of a child. When speaking of some lovely scene among the groves, or along the flowery shores of these favored islands, he says, “One could live there forever.” Cuba broke upon him like an elysium. “It is the most beautiful island,” he says, “that ever eyes beheld, full of excellent ports and profound rivers.” A little discount must be made on such a statement. Granting all that is to be said of Cuba’s scenic charms, some allowance is to be made for two influences. One is Don Cristobal’s exuberance, and the other is the fact that when one has been knocking about, as he had been, for nearly three months on the open sea and among low-lying and sandy islands and keys, any land, verdure clad and hilly, is a picture of Paradise. Many people need only two or three days at sea to reach a similar conclusion. In his letter to Luis de Santangel, Columbus says: “All these countries are of surpassing excellence, and in particular Juana (Cuba,), which contains abundance of fine harbors, excelling any in Christendom, as also many large and beautiful rivers. The land is high, and exhibits chains of tall mountains which seem to reach to the skies and surpass beyond comparison the isle of Cetrefrey (Sicily). These display themselves in all manner of beautiful shapes. They are accessible in every part, and covered with a vast variety of lofty trees which it appears to me never lose their foliage. Some were covered with blossoms, some with fruit, and others in different stages according to their nature. There are palm trees of six or eight sorts. Beautiful forests of pines are likewise found, and fields of vast extent. Here are also honey and fruits of thousand sorts, and birds of every variety.”
Having landed at this indefinitely located point, Columbus, believing that he had reached the region he was seeking, despatched messengers to the interior to open communication with some high official of Cathay, in which country he supposed himself to be, the idea of Cipango apparently having been abandoned. “Many at the present day,” says Washington Irving, “will smile at this embassy to a naked savage chieftain in the interior of Cuba, in mistake for an Asiatic monarch; but such was the singular nature of this voyage, a continual series of golden dreams, and all interpreted by the deluding volume of Marco Polo.” But the messengers went on their journey, and proceeded inland some thirty or forty miles. There they came upon a village of about fifty huts and a population of about a thousand. They were able to communicate only by signs, and it is quite certain that the replies of the natives were as little understood by the messengers as the questions were by the natives. The messengers sought something about which the natives knew little or nothing. The communications were interpreted through the medium of imagination and desire. Nothing accomplished, the commission returned and made its disappointing report. Washington Irving thus describes the further proceedings: “The report of the envoys put an end to the many splendid fancies of Columbus, about the barbaric prince and his capital. He was cruising, however, in a region of enchantment, in which pleasing chimeras started up at every step, exercising by turns a power over his imagination. During the absence of the emissaries, the Indians had informed him, by signs, of a place to the eastward, where the people collected gold along the river banks by torchlight and afterward wrought it into bars with hammers. In speaking of this place they again used the words Babeque and Bohio, which he, as usual, supposed to be the proper names of islands or countries. His great object was to arrive at some opulent and civilized country of the East, with which he might establish commercial relations, and whence he might carry home a quantity of oriental merchandise as a rich trophy of his discovery. The season was advancing; the cool nights gave hints of approaching winter; he resolved, therefore, not to proceed farther to the north, nor to linger about uncivilized places which, at present, he had not the means of colonizing, but to return to the east-south-east, in quest of Babeque, which he trusted might prove some rich and civilized island on the coast of Asia.” And so he sailed away for Hispaniola (Santo Domingo) which appears to have become, a little later, his favorite West Indian resort.
[Illustration: THE MORRO _Havana_]
He began his eastward journey on November 12th. As he did not reach Cape Maisi, the eastern point of the island, until December 5th, he must have made frequent stops to examine the shore. Referring to one of the ports that he entered he wrote to the Spanish Sovereigns thus: “The amenity of this river, and the clearness of the water, through which the sand at the bottom may be seen; the multitude of palm trees of various forms, the highest and most beautiful that I have met with, and an infinity of other great and green trees; the birds in rich plumage and the verdure of the fields, render this country of such marvellous beauty that it surpasses all others in charms and graces, as the day doth the night in lustre. For which reason I often say to my people that, much as I endeavor to give a complete account of it to your majesties, my tongue cannot express the whole truth, nor my pen describe it; and I have been so overwhelmed at the sight of so much beauty that I have not known how to relate it.”
Columbus made no settlement in Cuba; his part extends only to the discovery. On his second expedition, in the spring of 1494, he visited and explored the south coast as far west as the Isle of Pines, to which he gave the name _La Evangelista_. He touched the south coast again on his fourth voyage, in 1503. On his way eastward from his voyage of discovery on the coast of Central America, he missed his direct course to Hispaniola, and came upon the Cuban shore near Cape Cruz. He was detained there for some days by heavy weather and adverse winds, and sailed thence to his unhappy experience in Jamaica. The work of colonizing remained for others. Columbus died in the belief that he had discovered a part of the continent of Asia. That Cuba was only an island was determined by Sebastian de Ocampo who sailed around it in 1508. Baron Humboldt, who visited Cuba in 1801 and again in 1825, and wrote learnedly about it, states that “the first settlement of the whites occurred in 1511, when Velasquez, under orders from Don Diego Columbus, landed at Puerto de las Palmas, near Cape Maisi, and subjugated the Cacique Hatuey who had fled from Haiti to the eastern end of Cuba, where he became the chief of a confederation of several smaller native princes.” This was, in fact, a military expedition composed of three hundred soldiers, with four vessels.
Hatuey deserves attention. His name is not infrequently seen in Cuba today, but it is probable that few visitors know whether it refers to a man, a bird, or a vegetable. He was the first Cuban hero of whom we have record, although the entire reliability of the record is somewhat doubtful. The notable historian of this period is Bartolome Las Casas, Bishop of Chiapa. He appears to have been a man of great worth, a very tender heart, and an imagination fully as vivid as that of Columbus. His sympathies were aroused by the tales of the exceeding brutality of many of the early Spanish voyagers in their relations with the natives. He went out to see for himself, and wrote voluminously of his experiences. He also wrote with exceeding frankness, and often with great indignation. He writes about Hatuey. The inference is that this Cacique, or chieftain, fled from Haiti to escape Spanish brutality, and even in fear of his life. There are other translations of Las Casas, but for this purpose choice has been made of one published in London about the year 1699. It is given thus:
“There happened divers things in this island (Cuba) that deserve to be remarked. A rich and potent Cacique named Hatuey was retired into the Isle of Cuba to avoid that Slavery and Death with which the Spaniards menaced him; and being informed that his persecutors were upon the point of landing in this Island, he assembled all his Subjects and Domestics together, and made a Speech unto them after this manner. “You know, (said he) the Report is spread abroad that the Spaniards are ready to invade this Island, and you are not ignorant of the ill usage our Friends and Countrymen have met with at their hands, and the cruelties they have committed at Haiti (so Hispaniola is called in their Language). They are now coming hither with a design to exercise the same Outrages and Persecutions upon us. Are you ignorant (says he) of the ill Intentions of the People of whom I am speaking? We know not (say they all with one voice) upon what account they come hither, but we know they are a very wicked and cruel People. I’ll tell you then (replied the Cacique) that these Europeans worship a very covetous sort of God, so that it is difficult to satisfy him; to perform the Worship they render to this Idol, they will exact immense Treasures of us, and will use their utmost endeavors to reduce us to a miserable state of Slavery, or else put us to death.” The historian leaves to the imagination and credulity of his readers the task of determining just where and how he got the full details of this speech and of the subsequent proceedings. The report of the latter may well be generally correct inasmuch as there were Spanish witnesses present, but the account of this oration, delivered prior to the arrival of the Spanish invaders, is clearly open to a suspicion that it may be more or less imaginary. But the historian continues: “Upon this he took a Box full of Gold and valuable Jewels which he had with him, and exposing it to their view: Here is (said he) the God of the Spaniards, whom we must honor with our Sports and Dances, to see if we can appease him and render him propitious to us; that so he may command the Spaniards not to offer us any injury. They all applauded this Speech, and fell a leaping and dancing around the Box, till they had quite tired and spent themselves. After which the Cacique Hatuey resuming his Discourse, continued to speak to them in these terms: If we keep this God (says he) till he’s taken away from us, he’ll certainly cause our lives to be taken away from us; and therefore I am of opinion it will be the best way to cast him into the river. They all approved of this Advice, and went all together with one accord to throw this pretended God into the River.”
But the Spaniards came and encountered the resistance of Hatuey and his followers. The invaders were victorious, and Hatuey was captured and burned alive. Las Casas relates that while the poor wretch was in the midst of the flames, tied to a stake, “a certain Franciscan Friar of great Piety and Virtue, took upon him to speak to him of God and our Religion, and to explain to him some Articles of Catholic Faith, of which he had never heard a word before, promising him Eternal Life if he would believe and threatening him with Eternal Torment if he continued obstinate in his Infidelity. Hatuey reflecting on the matter, as much as the Place and Condition in which he was would permit, asked the Friar that instructed him, whether the Gate of Heaven was open to Spaniards; and being answered that such of them as were good men might hope for entrance there: the Cacique, without any farther deliberation, told him that he had no mind to go to heaven for fear of meeting with such cruel and wicked Company as they were; but he would much rather choose to go to Hell where he might be delivered from the troublesome sight of such kind of People.” And so died the Cacique Hatuey. Four hundred years later, the Cuban Government named a gunboat _Hatuey_, in his honor.
The Velasquez expedition, in the following year, founded Baracoa, now a small city on the northern coast near the eastern extremity of the island. It is a spot of exceeding scenic charm. It was established as the capital city, but it held that honor for a few years only. In 1514 and 1515, settlements were established at what is now Santiago, at Sancti Spiritus, Trinidad, and Batabano. The latter was originally called San Cristobal de la Habana, the name being transferred to the present city, on the north coast, in 1519. It displaced the name Puerto de Carenas given to the present Havana by Ocampo, who careened his vessels there in 1508. Baracoa was made the seat of a bishopric, and a cathedral was begun, in 1518. In 1522, both the capital and the bishopric were transferred to Santiago, a location more readily accessible from the new settlements on the south coast, and also from Jamaica which was then included in the diocese. Cuba, at about this period, was the point of departure for an important expedition. In 1517, de Cordoba, with three vessels and 110 soldiers, was sent on an expedition to the west for further and more northerly exploration of the land discovered by Columbus in 1503. The coast from Panama to Honduras had been occupied. The object of this expedition was to learn what lay to the northward. The result was the discovery of Yucatan. Cordoba returned to die of wounds received in a battle. A second and stronger expedition was immediately despatched. This rounded the peninsula and followed the coast as far as the present city of Vera Cruz. In 1518, Hernan Cortez was _alcalde_, or mayor, of Santiago de Cuba. On November 18, of that year, he sailed from that port in command of an expedition for the conquest of Mexico, finally effected in 1521, after one of the most romantic campaigns in the history of warfare. All that, however, is a story in which Cuba has no place except that of the starting point and base of the expedition. There is another story of the same kind, a few years later. The first discovery of Florida is somewhat uncertain. It appears on an old Spanish map dated 1502. Following the expedition of Ponce de Leon, in 1513, and of Murielo, in 1516, Narvaez headed an expedition from Cuba in 1528 with some three hundred freebooters. They landed in Florida, where almost the entire band was, very properly, destroyed by the Indians. In 1539, de Soto sailed from Havana, with five hundred and seventy men and two hundred and twenty-three horses, for an extended exploration. They wandered for three years throughout what is now the southern part of the United States from Georgia and South Carolina westward to Arkansas and Missouri. After a series of almost incredible experiences, de Soto died in 1542, on the banks of the Mississippi River at a point probably not far from the Red River. These and other expeditions, from Cuba and from Mexico, to what is now territory of the United States, produced no permanent results. No gold was found.
Of the inhabitants of Cuba, as found by the Spaniards, comparatively little is recorded. They seem to have been a somewhat negative people, generally described as docile, gentle, generous, and indolent. Their garments were quite limited, and their customs altogether primitive. They disappear from Cuba’s story in its earliest chapters. Very little is known of their numbers. Some historians state that, in the days of Columbus, the island had a million inhabitants, but this is obviously little if anything more than a rough guess. Humboldt makes the following comment: “No means now exist to arrive at a knowledge of the population of Cuba in the time of Columbus; but how can we admit what some otherwise judicious historians state, that when the island of Cuba was conquered in 1511, it contained a million inhabitants of whom only 14,000 remained in 1517. The statistical information which we find in the writings of Las Casas is filled with contradictions.” Forty years or so later the Dominican friar, Luis Bertram, on his return to Spain, predicted that “the 200,000 Indians now in the island of Cuba, will perish, victims to the cruelty of the Europeans.” Yet Gomara stated that there was not an Indian in Cuba after 1553. Whatever the exact truth regarding numbers, it is evident that they disappeared rapidly, worked to death by severe task-masters. The institution of African slavery, to take the place of the inefficient and fast disappearing native labor, had its beginning in 1521. Baron Humboldt states that from that time until 1790, the total number of African negroes imported as slaves was 90,875. In the next thirty years, the business increased rapidly, and Humboldt estimates the total arrivals, openly entered and smuggled in, from 1521 to 1820, as 372,449. Mr. J.S. Thrasher, in a translation of Humboldt’s work, issued in 1856, added a footnote showing the arrivals up to 1854 as 644,000. A British official authority, at the same period, gives the total as a little less than 500,000. The exact number is not important. The institution on a large scale, in its relation to the total number of whites, was a fact.
It is, of course, quite impossible even today to argue the question of slavery. To many, the offence lies in the mere fact; to others, it lies in the operation of the system. At all events, the institution is no longer tolerated in any civilized country. While some to whom the system itself was a bitter offence have found much to criticize in its operation in Cuba, the general opinion of observers appears to be that it was there notably free from the brutality usually supposed to attend it. The Census Report of 1899, prepared under the auspices of the American authorities, states that “while it was fraught with all the horrors of this nefarious business elsewhere, the laws for the protection of slaves were unusually humane. Almost from the beginning, slaves had a right to purchase their freedom or change their masters, and long before slavery was abolished they could own property and contract marriage. As a result, the proportion of free colored to slaves has always been large.” Humboldt, who studied the institution while it was most extensive, states that “the position of the free negroes in Cuba is much better than it is elsewhere, even among those nations which have for ages flattered themselves as being most advanced in civilization.” The movement for the abolition of slavery had its beginning in 1815, with the treaty of Vienna, to which Spain was a party. Various acts in the same direction appear in the next fifty years. The Moret law, enacted in 1870 by the Spanish Cortes, provided for gradual abolition in Spain’s dominions, and a law of 1880, one of the results of the Ten Years’ War, definitely abolished the system. Traces of it remained, however, until about 1887, when it may be regarded as having become extinct forever in Cuba.
For the first two hundred and fifty years of Cuba’s history, the city of Havana appears as the special centre of interest. There was growth in other sections, but it was slow, for reasons that will be explained elsewhere. In 1538, Havana was attacked and totally destroyed by a French privateer. Hernando de Soto, then Governor of the island, at once began the construction of defences that are now one of the special points of interest in the city. The first was the Castillo de la Fuerza. In 1552, Havana became the capital city. In 1555, it was again attacked, and practically destroyed, including the new fortress, by French buccaneers. Restoration was effected as rapidly as possible. In 1589, La Fuerza was enlarged, and the construction of the Morro and of La Punta, the fortress at the foot of the Prado, was begun. The old city wall, of which portions still remain, was of a later period. Despite these precautions, the city was repeatedly attacked by pirates and privateers. Some reference to these experiences will be made in a special chapter on the city. The slow progress of the island is shown by the fact that an accepted official report gives the total population in 1775 as 171,620, of whom less than 100,000 were white. The absence of precious metals is doubtless the main reason for the lack of Spanish interest in the development of the country. For a long time after the occupation, the principal industry was cattle raising. Agriculture, the production of sugar, tobacco, coffee, and other crops, on anything properly to be regarded as a commercial scale, was an experience of later years. The reason for this will be found in the mistaken colonial policy of Spain, a policy the application of which, in a far milder manner, cost England its richest colony in the Western Hemisphere, and which, in the first quarter of the 19th Century, cost Spain all of its possessions in this half of the world, with the exception of Cuba and Porto Rico.
While there is no point in Cuba’s history that may be said to mark a definite division between the Old Cuba and the New Cuba, the beginning of the 19th Century may be taken for that purpose. Cuba’s development dragged for two hundred and fifty years. The population increased slowly and industry lagged. For this, Spain’s colonial policy was responsible. But it was the policy of the time, carried out more or less effectively by all nations having colonies. England wrote it particularly into her Navigation Acts of 1651, 1660, and 1663, and supported it by later Acts. While not rigorously enforced, and frequently evaded by the American colonists, the system at last proved so offensive that the colonists revolted in 1775. Most of Spain’s colonies in the Western Hemisphere, for the same reason, declared and maintained their independence in the first quarter of the 19th Century. At the bottom of Cuba’s several little uprisings, and at the bottom of its final revolt in 1895, lay the same cause of offence. In those earlier years, it was held that colonies existed solely for the benefit of the mother-country. In 1497, almost at the very beginning of Spain’s colonial enterprises in the New World, a royal decree was issued under which the exclusive privilege to carry on trade with the colonies was granted to the port of Seville. This monopoly was transferred to the port of Cadiz in 1717, but it continued, in somewhat modified form in later years, until Spain had no colonies left.
While Santiago was the capital of the island, from 1522 to 1552, trade between Spain and the island could be carried on only through that port. When Havana became the capital, in 1552, the exclusive privilege of trade was transferred to that city. With the exception of the years 1762 and 1763, when the British occupied Havana and declared it open to all trade, the commerce of the island could only be done through Havana with Seville, until 1717, and afterward with Cadiz. Baracoa, or Santiago, or Trinidad, or any other Cuban city, could not send goods to Santander, or Malaga, or Barcelona, or any other Spanish market, or receive goods directly from them. The law prohibited trade between Cuba and all other countries, and limited all trade between the island and the mother-country to the port of Havana, at one end, and to Seville or Cadiz, according to the time of the control of those ports, at the other end. Even intercolonial commerce was prohibited. At times, and for brief periods, the system was modified to the extent of special trade licences, and, occasionally, by international treaties. But the general system of trade restriction was maintained throughout all of Spain’s colonial experience. Between 1778 and 1803, most of Cuba’s ports were opened to trade with Spain. The European wars of the early years of the 19th Century led to modification of the trade laws, but in 1809 foreign commerce with Spanish American ports was again prohibited. A few years later, Spain had lost nearly all its American colonies. A new plan was adopted in 1818. Under that, Spain sought to hold the trade of Cuba and Porto Rico by tariffs so highly favorable to merchandise from the mother-country as to be effectively prohibitive with regard to many products from other countries. This, in general outline, is the cause of Cuba’s slow progress until the 19th Century, and the explanation of its failure to make more rapid progress during that century.
Naturally, under such conditions, bribery of officials and smuggling became active and lucrative enterprises. It may be said, in strict confidence between writer and reader, that Americans were frequently the parties of the other part in these transactions. In search through a considerable number of American histories, I have been unable to find definite references to trade with Cuba, yet there seems to be abundant reason for belief that such trade was carried on. There are many references to trade with the West Indies as far back as 1640 and even a year or two earlier, but allusions to trade with Cuba do not appear, doubtless for the reason that it was contraband, a violation of both Spanish and British laws. There was evidently some relaxation toward the close of the 18th Century. There are no records of the commerce of the American colonies, and only fragmentary records between 1776 and 1789. The more elaborate records of 1789 and following years show shipments of fish, whale oil, spermaceti candles, lumber, staves and heading, and other articles to the “Spanish West Indies,” in which group Cuba was presumably included. The records of the time are somewhat unreliable. It was a custom for the small vessels engaged in that trade to take out clearance papers for the West Indies. The cargo might be distributed in a number of ports, and the return cargo might be similarly collected. For the year 1795, the records of the United States show total imports from the Spanish West Indies as valued at $1,740,000, and exports to that area as valued at $1,390,000. In 1800, the imports were $10,588,000, and the exports $8,270,000. Just how much of this was trade with Cuba, does not appear. Because of the trade increase at that time, and because of other events that, soon afterward, brought Cuba into more prominent notice, this period has been chosen as the line of division between the Old and the New Cuba.
Compared with the wonderful fertility of Cuba, New England is a sterile area. Yet in 1790, a hundred and seventy years after its settlement, the latter had a population a little exceeding a million, while the former, in 1792, or two hundred and eighty years after its occupation, is officially credited with a population of 272,300. Of these, 153,559 were white and 118,741 were colored. Several forces came into operation at this time, and population increased rapidly, to 572,363 in 1817, and to 704,465 in 1827. In 1841, it was a little more than a million. But the increase in colored population, by the importation of African slaves, outstripped the increase by the whites. In 1841, the population was divided into 418,291 whites and 589,333 colored. The importation of slaves having declined, the year 1861 shows a white preponderance, since continued and substantially increased. Among the forces contributing to Cuba’s rapid growth during this period were a somewhat greater freedom of trade; the revolution in the neighboring island of Haiti and Santo Domingo, that had its beginning in 1791 and culminated, some ten years later, in the rule of Toussaint L’Ouverture; and an increased demand for sugar. One result of the Haitian disorder was the arrival, in eastern Cuba, of a large number of exiles and emigrants who established extensive coffee plantations. During the first hundred and fifty years of Cuba’s history, the principal industry of the island was cattle raising, aside from the domestic industry of food supply. The proprietors lived, usually, in the cities and maintained their vast estates in the neighborhood. To this, later on, were added the production of honey and wax and the cultivation of tobacco. With the period now under consideration, there came the expansion of the coffee and sugar industries. The older activities do not appear to have been appreciably lessened; the others were added on.
Europe and the Western Hemisphere were at that time in a state of general upheaval and rearrangement. Following the American Revolution, there came the French Revolution; the Napoleonic Wars; the war of 1812 between the United States and England; and the general revolt of the Spanish colonies. The world was learning new lessons, adopting new policies, in which the Spanish colonial system was a blunder the folly of which Spain did not even then fully realize. Yet from it all, by one means and another, Cuba benefited. Spain was fortunate in its selection of Governors-General sent out at this time. Luis de Las Casas, who arrived in 1790, is credited with much useful work. He improved roads and built bridges; established schools and the _Casa de Beneficencia_, still among the leading institutions in Havana; paved the streets of Havana; improved as far as he could the commercial conditions; and established the _Sociedad Patriotica_, sometimes called the _Sociedad Economica_, an organization that has since contributed immeasurably to Cuba’s welfare and progress. He was followed by others whose rule was creditable. But the principal evils, restricted commerce and burdensome taxation, were not removed, although world conditions practically compelled some modification of the commercial regulations. In 1801 the ports of the island were thrown open to the trade of friendly and neutral nations. Eight years later, foreign commerce was again prohibited. In 1818, a new system was established, that of a tariff so highly favorable to merchandise from Spain that it was by no means unusual for goods to be shipped to that country, even from the United States, and from there reshipped to Cuba. Changes in the rates were made from time to time, but the system of heavy discrimination in favor of Spanish goods in Spanish ships continued until the equalization of conditions under the order of the Government of Intervention, in 1899.
In his book published in 1840, Mr. Turnbull states that “the mercantile interests of the island have been greatly promoted by the relaxation of those restrictive regulations which under the old peninsular system bound down all foreign commerce with the colonies of Spain, and laid it prostrate at the feet of the mother-country. It cannot be said that the sound principles of free trade, in any large or extended sense of the term, have been recognized or acted upon even at the single port of Havana. The discriminating duties imposed by the supreme government of Madrid on the natural productions, manufactures, and shipping of foreign countries, in contradistinction to those of Spain, are so stringent and so onerous as altogether to exclude the idea of anything approaching to commercial freedom. There is no longer, it is true, any absolute prohibition, but in many cases the distinguishing duties are so heavy as to defeat their own object, and, in place of promoting the interests of the mother-country, have had little other effect than the establishment of an extensive and ruinous contraband.” Under such conditions as those existing in Cuba, from its beginning practically until the establishment of its political independence, industrial development and commercial expansion are more than difficult.
One of the natural results of such a system appeared in the activities of smugglers. The extent to which that industry was carried on cannot, of course, be even guessed. Some have estimated that the merchandise imported in violation of the laws equalled in value the merchandise entered at the custom houses. An official publication (American) states that “from smuggling on a large scale and privateering to buccaneering and piracy is not a long step, and under the name of privateers French, Dutch, English, and American smugglers and buccaneers swarmed the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico for more than two centuries, plundering Spanish _flotas_ and attacking colonial settlements. Among the latter, Cuba was the chief sufferer.” Had Cuba’s coasts been made to order for the purpose, they could hardly have been better adapted to the uses of smugglers. Off shore, for more than half its coast line, both north and south, are small islands and keys with narrow and shallow passages between them, thus making an excellent dodging area for small boats if pursued by revenue vessels. Thoroughly familiar with these entrances and hiding places, smugglers could land their goods almost at will with little danger of detection or capture.
Another heavy handicap on the economic progress of the island appears in the system of taxation. Regarding this system, the Census of 1899 reports as follows:
“Apart from imports and exports, taxes were levied on real and personal property and on industries and commerce of all kinds. Every profession, art, or manual occupation contributed its quota, while, as far back as 1638, seal and stamp taxes were established on all judicial business and on all kinds of petitions and claims made to official corporations, and subsequently on all bills and accounts. These taxes were in the form of stamps on official paper and at the date of American occupation the paper cost from 35 cents to $3 a sheet. On deeds, wills, and other similar documents the paper cost from 35 cents to $37.50 per sheet, according to the value of the property concerned. Failure to use even the lowest-priced paper involved a fine of $50.
“There was also a municipal tax on the slaughter of cattle for the market. This privilege was sold by the municipal council to the highest bidder, with the result that taxes were assessed on all animals slaughtered, whether for the market or for private consumption, with a corresponding increase in the price of meat.
“Another tax established in 1528, called the _derecho_ _de averia_, required the payment of 20 ducats ($16) by every person, bond or free, arriving in the island. In 1665 this tax was increased to $22, and continued in force to 1765, thus retarding immigration, and, to that extent, the increase of population, especially of the laboring class.
“An examination of these taxes will show their excessive, arbitrary, and unscientific character, and how they operated to discourage Cubans from owning property or engaging in many industrial pursuits tending to benefit them and to promote the material improvement of the island.
“Taxes on real estate were estimated by the tax inspector on the basis of its rental or productive capacity, and varied from 4 to 12 per cent. Similarly, a nominal municipal tax of 25 per cent was levied on the estimated profits of all industries and commerce, and on the income derived from all professions, manual occupations, or agencies, the collector receiving 6 per cent of all taxes assessed. Much unjust discrimination was made against Cubans in determining assessable values and in collecting the taxes, and it is said that bribery in some form was the only effective defense against the most flagrant impositions.”
Some of the experiences of this period will be considered in special chapters on Cuba’s alleged revolutions and on the relations of the United States to Cuba and its affairs. One point may be noted here. The wave of republicanism that swept over a considerable part of Europe and over the Western Hemisphere, from 1775 to 1825 had its direct influence in Spain, and an influence only less direct in Cuba. In 1812, Spain became a constitutional monarchy. It is true that the institution had only a brief life, but the sentiment that lay beneath it persisted and had been repeatedly a cause of disturbance on the Peninsula. Something of the same sentiment pervaded Cuba and excited ambitions, not for national independence, but for some participation in government. A royal decree, in 1810, gave Cuba representation in the Cortes, and two deputies from the island took part in framing the Constitution of 1812. This recognition of Cuba lasted for only two years, the Constitution being abrogated in 1814, but it was restored in 1820, only to cease again three years later. Representatives were again admitted to the Cortes in 1834, and again excluded in 1837. The effect of all this was, perhaps, psychological rather than practical, but it gave rise to a new mental attitude and to some change in conduct. The effect appears in the numerous recurrences of open protest and passive resistance in the place of the earlier submission. Writing in 1855, Mr. J.S. Thrasher stated that “the essential political elements of the island are antagonistic to those of the mother-country. While the Cortes and the crown have frequently declared that Cuba does not form an integral part of the Spanish monarchy, but must be governed by special laws not applicable to Spain, and persist in ruling her under the erroneous and unjust European colonial system, the growing wealth and increasing intelligence of the Cubans lead them to aspire to some share in the elimination of the political principles under which their own affairs shall be administered. A like antagonism exists in the economic relations of the two countries. While the people of Cuba are not averse to the raising of such revenue as may be required for the proper wants of the State, in the administration of which they may participate, they complain, with a feeling of national pride, that fiscal burdens of the most onerous kind are laid upon them for the expressed purpose of advancing interests which are in every sense opposed to their own. Thus, Spain imposes taxes to support a large army and navy, the principal object of which is to prevent any expression of the public will on the part of the people of Cuba. Another class of impositions have for their object the diversion of the trade of Cuba to channels which shall increase the profits of the agriculturists and mariners of Spain without regard to the interests of the people of the island.”
[Illustration: A PLANTER’S HOME _Havana Province_]
Yet in spite of these severe restrictions and heavy burdens, Cuba shows a considerable progress during the first half of the century. It is far from easy to reach fair conclusions from contemporaneous writings. Naturally, Spanish officials and Spanish writers strove to make the best possible case for Spain, its policies and its conduct. The press of the island was either under official control or stood in fear of official reprisals. The Cuban side, naturally partisan, appears to have been presented chiefly by fugitive pamphlets, more or less surreptitiously printed and distributed, usually the product of political extremists. Among these was a man of marked ability and of rare skill in the use of language. He was Don Antonio Saco, known in Cuba as the “Immortal Saco.” In a letter written to a friend, in 1846, he says, “The tyranny of our mother-country, today most acute, will have this result–that within a period of time not very remote the Cubans will be compelled to take up arms to banish her.” That British observers and most American observers should take the side of the Cubans is altogether natural. Writing in 1854, Mr. M.M. Ballou, in his _History of Cuba_, says: “The Cubans owe all the blessings they enjoy to Providence alone (so to speak), while the evils which they suffer are directly referable to the oppression of the home government. Nothing short of a military despotism could maintain the connection of such an island with a mother-country more than three thousand miles distant; and accordingly we find the captain-general of Cuba invested with unlimited power. He is, in fact, a viceroy appointed by the crown of Spain, and accountable only to the reigning sovereign for his administration of the colony. His rule is absolute; he has the power of life and death and liberty in his hands. He can, by his arbitrary will, send into exile any person whatever, be his name or rank what it may, whose residence in the island he considers prejudicial to the royal interest, even if he has committed no overt act. He can suspend the operation of the laws and ordinances, if he sees fit to do so; can destroy or confiscate property; and, in short, the island may be said to be perpetually in a state of siege.”
The student or the reader may take his choice. On one side are Spanish statements, official and semi-official, and on the other side, Cuban statements no less partisan. The facts appear to support the Cuban argument. In spite of the severe restrictions and the heavy burdens, Cuba shows a notable progress during the 19th Century. Governors came and went, some very good and others very bad. There were a hundred of them from 1512 to 1866, and thirty-six more from 1866 to 1899, the average term of service for the entire number being a little less than three years. On the whole, the most notable of the group of 19th Century incumbents was Don Miguel Tacon, who ruled from June 1, 1834, until April 16, 1838. His record would seem to place him quite decidedly in the “reactionary” class, but he was a man of action who left behind him monuments that remain to his credit even now. One historian, Mr. Kimball, who wrote in 1850, describes him as one in whom short-sightedness, narrow views, and jealous and weak mind, were joined to an uncommon stubbornness of character. Another, Mr. M.M. Ballou, says that “probably of all the governors-general that have filled the post in Cuba none is better known abroad, or has left more monuments to his enterprise, than Tacon. His reputation at Havana (this was written 1854) is of a somewhat doubtful character; for, though he followed out with energy various improvements, yet his modes of procedure were so violent that he was an object of terror to the people generally, rather than of gratitude. He vastly improved the appearance of the capital and its vicinity, built the new prison, rebuilt the governor’s palace, constructed a military road to the neighboring forts, erected a spacious theatre and market house, arranged a new public walk, and opened a vast parade ground without the city walls, thus laying the foundation of the new city which has now sprung up in this formerly desolate suburb. He suppressed the gaming houses and rendered the streets, formerly infested with robbers, as secure as those of Boston or New York.” Another writer, Mr. Samuel Hazard, in 1870, says: “Of all the governors who have been in command of the island Governor Tacon seems to have been the best, doing the most to improve the island, and particularly Havana; making laws, punishing offences, and establishing some degree of safety for its inhabitants. It is reported of him that he is said, like the great King Alfred, to have promised the Cubans that they should be able to leave their purses of money on the public highway without fear of having them stolen. At all events, his name is cherished by every Cuban for the good he has done, and _paseos_, theatres, and monuments bear his great name in Havana.” The Tacon theatre is now the Nacional, and the Paseo Tacon is now Carlos III. The “new prison” is the _Carcel_, or jail, at the northern end of the Prado, near the fortress of La Punta. Don Miguel may have been disliked for his methods and his manners, but he certainly did much to make his rule memorable.
There is no reliable information that shows the progress of the island during the 19th Century. Even the census figures are questioned. A reported 432,000 total population in 1804 is evidently no more than an estimate, yet it is very likely not far from the actual. Concerning their distribution throughout the island, and the number engaged in different occupations, there are no records. There are no acceptable figures regarding the respective numbers of whites and blacks. Nor is there any record of the population in 1895, the year of the war for independence. From the definite tabulation, under American auspices, in 1899, showing 1,576,797, it has been estimated that the number in 1895, was a little less than 1,800,000, the difference being represented by the disasters of the war, by the result of reconcentration, and by departures during the disturbance. The general result seems to be that the population was practically quadrupled. A somewhat rough approximation would show the blacks as multiplied by three, to an 1899 total of 505,000, with the whites multiplied by four, to a total of 1,067,000. Nor are there figures of trade that afford any proper clue to the growth of industry and commerce. There are records of imports and exports from about 1850 onward, but before that time the matter of contraband trade introduces an element of uncertainty. An American official pamphlet on Cuban trade carries the statement, “the ascertainment of full and exact details of the commerce of Cuba prior to the close of Spanish dominion in the island is an impossibility. The Spanish authorities, as a rule, published no complete returns of Cuban trade, either foreign or domestic. Except with regard to Spain and the United States, most of the existing commercial statistics of Cuba, prior to 1899, are fragmentary and merely approximative. Spain and the United States have always kept a separate and distinct trade account with Cuba; but the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and other European countries excepting Spain, formerly merged their statistics of trade with Cuba in one general item embracing Cuba and Porto Rico, under the heading of “Spanish West Indies.” Since 1899, however, all the Powers have kept separate accounts with Cuba, and the statistics of the Cuban Republic have been reasonably full and accurate.”
[Illustration: IRON GRILLE GATEWAY _El Vedado, Suburb of Havana_]
Cuba’s recorded imports in 1894 show a total value of $90,800,000, and exports show a value of $102,000,000. Writing about the year 1825, Humboldt says: “It is more than probable that the imports of the whole island, licit and contraband, estimated at the actual value of the goods and the slaves, amount, at the present time, to fifteen or sixteen millions of dollars, of which barely three or four millions are re-exported.” The same authority gives the probable exports of that time as about $12,500,000. The trade at the beginning of the century must have been far below this. The official figures for 1851 show total imports amounting to $34,000,000, and exports to $33,000,000, but the accuracy of the figures is open to question. The more important fact is that of a very large gain in population and in production. The coffee industry, that assumed important proportions during a part of the first half of the century, gradually declined for the reason that sugar became a much more profitable crop. Now, Cuba imports most of its coffee from Porto Rico. Because of its convenience as a contraband article, there are no reliable figures of the tobacco output. Prior to 1817, the commodity was, for much of the time, a crown monopoly and, for the remainder of the time, a monopoly concession to private companies. In that year, cultivation and trade became free, subject to a tax on each planter of one-twentieth of his production.
As we shall see, in another chapter, Cuba at last wearied of Spanish exactions and revolted as did the United States, weary of British rule and British exactions and restrictions, more than a hundred years earlier.
Description of the physical features of a country seldom makes highly entertaining reading, but it seems a necessary part of a book of this kind. Some readers may find interest if not entertainment in such a review. The total area of the island, including a thousand or more adjacent islands, islets, and keys, is given as 44,164 square miles, a little less than the area of Pennsylvania and a little more than that of Ohio or Tennessee. Illustration of its shape by some familiar object is difficult, although various comparisons have been attempted. Some old Spanish geographers gave the island the name of _La Lengua de Pajaro_, “the bird’s tongue.” Mr. M.M. Ballou likened it to “the blade of a Turkish scimitar slightly curved back, or approaching the form of a long, narrow, crescent.” Mr. Robert T. Hill holds that it “resembles a great hammer-headed shark, the head of which forms the straight, south coast of the east end of the island, from which the sinuous body extends westward. This analogy is made still more striking by two long, finlike strings of keys, or islets, which extend backward along the opposite coasts, parallel to the main body of the island.” But all such comparisons call for a lively imagination. It might be likened to the curving handles of a plow attached to a share, or to any one of a dozen things that it does not at all clearly resemble. Regarding the Oriente coast, from Cape Cruz to Cape Maisi, as a base, from that springs a long and comparatively slender arm that runs northwesterly for five hundred miles to the vicinity of Havana. There, the arm, somewhat narrowed, turns downward in a generally southwestern direction for about two hundred miles. The total length of the island, from Cape Maisi on the east to Cape San Antonio on the west, is about seven hundred and thirty miles. Its width varies from a maximum, in Oriente Province, of about one hundred and sixty miles, to a minimum, in Havana Province, of about twenty-two miles. It has a general coast line of about twenty-two hundred miles, or, following all its sinuosities, of about seven thousand miles. Its north coast is, for much of its length, steep and rocky. Throughout the greater part of the middle provinces, there is a border of coral reefs and small islands. At the western end, the north coast is low, rising gradually to the eastward. At the eastern end, the northern coast is abrupt and rugged, rising in a series of hills to the elevations in the interior. Westward from Cape Maisi to Cape Cruz, on the south coast, and immediately along the shore line, runs a mountain range. From here westward, broken by an occasional hill or bluff, the coast is low and marshy.
Probably the best description of the topography and the orography of the island yet presented is that given by Mr. Robert T. Hill, of the United States Geological Survey. In his book on Cuba and other islands of the West Indies, Mr. Hill says:
“As regards diversity of relief, Cuba’s eastern end is mountainous, with summits standing high above the adjacent sea; its middle portion is wide, consisting of gently sloping plains, well-drained, high above the sea, and broken here and there by low, forest-clad hills; and its western third is a picturesque region of mountains, with fertile slopes and valleys, of different structure and less altitude than those of the east. Over the whole is a mantle of tender vegetation, rich in every hue that a flora of more than three thousand species can give, and kept green by mists and gentle rains. Indenting the rock-bound coasts are a hundred pouch-shaped harbors such as are but rarely found in the other islands and shores of the American Mediterranean.
“But, at the outset the reader should dispossess his mind of any preconceived idea that the island of Cuba is in any sense a physical unit. On the contrary, it presents a diversity of topographic, climatic, and cultural features, which, as distributed, divide the island into at least three distinct natural provinces, for convenience termed the eastern, central, and western regions. The distinct types of relief include regions of high mountains, low hills, dissected plateaus, intermontane valleys, and coastal swamps. With the exception of a strip of the south-central coast, the island, as a whole, stands well above the sea, is thoroughly drained, and presents a rugged aspect when viewed from the sea. About one-fourth of the total area is mountainous, three-fifths are rolling plain, valleys, and gentle arable slopes, and the remainder is swampy.
“The island border on the north presents a low cliff topography, with a horizontal sky-line from Matanzas westward, gradually decreasing from five hundred feet at Matanzas to one hundred feet on the west. The coast of the east end is abrupt and rugged, presenting on both the north and south sides a series of remarkable terraces, rising in stair-like arrangement to six hundred feet or more, representing successive pauses or stages in the elevation of the island above the sea, and constituting most striking scenic features. About one-half the Cuban coast is bordered by keys, which are largely old reef rock, the creations of the same coral-builders that may now be seen through the transparent waters still at work on the modern shallows, decking the rocks and sands with their graceful and many colored tufts of animal foliage.”
Mr. Hill summarizes the general appearance of the island, thus: “Santiago de Cuba (now called Oriente) is predominantly a mountainous region of high relief, especially along the coasts, with many interior valleys. Puerto Principe (now Camaguey) and Santa Clara are broken regions of low mountain relief, diversified by extensive valleys. Matanzas and Havana are vast stretches of level cultivated plain, with only a few hills of relief. Pinar del Rio is centrally mountainous, with fertile coastward slopes.” The notable elevations of the island are the Cordilleras de los Organos, or Organ Mountains, in Pinar del Rio, of which an eastward extension appears in the Tetas de Managua, the Arcas de Canasi, the Escalera de Jaruco, the Pan de Matanzas, and other minor elevations in Havana and Matanzas Provinces. In Santa Clara and Camaguey, the range is represented by crest lines and plateaus along the north shore, and finally runs into the hill and mountain maze of Oriente. In the south-central section of the island, a somewhat isolated group of elevations appears, culminating in El Potrerillo at a height of nearly 3,000 feet. In Oriente, immediately along the south coast line, is the precipitous Sierra Maestra, reaching its greatest altitude in the Pico del Turquino, with an elevation of approximately 8,500 feet. Another elevation, near Santiago, known as La Gran Piedra, is estimated at 5,200 feet. All these heights are densely wooded. From the tops of some of them, east, west, and central, the views are marvellously beautiful, but the summits of most are reached only with considerable difficulty. One of the most notable of these view points, and one of the most easily reached, is the height immediately behind the city of Matanzas, overlooking the famous Yumuri valley. The valley is a broad, shallow bowl, some five or six miles in diameter, enclosed by steeply sloping walls of five to six hundred feet in height. Through it winds the Yumuri River. It is best seen in the early forenoon, or the late afternoon, when there come the shadows and the lights that are largely killed by the more vertical rays of a midday sun. At those hours, it is a scene of entrancing loveliness. There are views, elsewhere, covering wider expanses, but none, I think, of equal beauty.
The vicinity of Matanzas affords a spectacle of almost enchantment for the sight-seer, and of deep interest for the geologist. Somewhat more than fifty years ago, an accident revealed the beautiful caves of Bellamar, two or three miles from the city, and easily reached by carriage. Caves ought to be cool. These are not, but they are well worth all the perspiration it costs to see them. They are a show place, and guides are always available. In size, the caverns are not comparable with the caves of Kentucky and Virginia, but they far excel in beauty. They are about three miles in extent, and their lower levels are said to be about five hundred feet from the surface. The rock is white limestone, in which are chambers and passage-ways, stalactites and stalagmites innumerable. These have their somewhat fantastic but not unfitting names, such as the Gothic Temple, the Altar, the Guardian Spirit, the Fountain of Snow, and Columbus’ Mantle. The place has been called “a dream of fairyland,” a fairly appropriate description. The colors are snow-white, pink, and shades of yellow, and many of the forms are wonderfully beautiful. There are many other caves in the island, like Cotilla, in the Guines region not far from Havana, others in the Cubitas Mountains in Camaguey Province, and still others in Oriente, but in comparison with Bellamar they are little else than holes in the ground. The trip through these remarkable aisles and chambers occupies some three or four hours.
Cuba is not big enough for rivers of size. There are innumerable streams, for the island generally is well-watered. The only river of real importance is the Cauto, in Oriente Province. This is the longest and the largest river in the island. It rises in the hills north of Santiago, and winds a devious way westward for about a hundred and fifty miles, emptying at last into the Gulf of Buena Esperanza, north of the city of Manzanillo. It is navigable for small boats, according to the stage of the water, from seventy-five to a hundred miles from its mouth. Numerous smaller streams flow to the coast on both north and south. Some, that are really estuaries, are called rivers. Very few of them serve any commercial purposes. There are a few water areas called lakes, but they are really little other than ponds. On the south coast, directly opposite Matanzas, lies a vast swamp known as the Cienega de Zapata. It occupies an area of about seventy-five miles in length and about thirty miles in width, almost a dead flat, and practically at sea-level. Here and there are open spaces of water or clusters of trees, but most of it is bog and quagmire and dense mangrove thickets. Along the coast are numerous harbors, large and small, that are or, by dredging, could be made available for commercial purposes. Among these, on the north coast, from west to east, are Bahia Honda, Mariel, Havana, Matanzas, Nuevitas, Nipe Bay, and Baracoa. On the south, from east to west, are Guantanamo, Santiago, Manzanillo, Cienfuegos, and Batabano. At all of these, there are now cities or towns with trade either by steamers or small sailing vessels. Among the interesting physical curiosities of the island are the numerous “disappearing rivers.” Doubtless the action of water on limestone has left, in many places, underground chambers and tunnels into which the streams have found an opening and in which they disappear, perhaps to emerge again and perhaps to find their way to the sea without reappearance. This seems to explain numerous fresh-water springs among the keys and off-shore. The Rio San Antonio quite disappears near San Antonio de los Banos. Near Guantanamo, a cascade drops three hundred feet into a cavern and reappears a short distance away. Such disappearing rivers are not unknown elsewhere but Cuba has several of them.
* * * * *
The Census Report of 1907, prepared under American auspices, states that “the climate of Cuba is tropical and insular. There are no extremes of heat, and there is no cold weather.” This is quite true if the records of a thermometer are the standard; quite untrue if measured by the sensations of the human body. It is true that, in Havana, for instance, the thermometer seldom exceeds 90 deg. in the hottest months, and rarely if ever goes below 50 deg. in the coldest. But a day with the thermometer anywhere in the 80s may seem to a northern body very hot, and a day with the thermometer in the 50s is cold for anyone, whether a native or a visitor. There is doubtless a physical reason for the fact that a hot day in the north seems hotter than the same temperature in the south, while a day that seems, in the north, only pleasantly cool, seems bitterly cold in the tropics. When the thermometer drops below 60 deg. in Havana, the coachmen blanket their horses, the people put on all the clothes they have, and all visitors who are at all sensitive to low temperature go about shivering. Steam heat and furnaces are unknown, and fireplaces are a rarity. Yet, in general, the variations are not wide, either from day to day or when measured by seasons. The extremes are the infrequent exceptions. Nor is there wide difference between day and night. Taking the island as a whole, the average mean temperature for July, the hottest month, is about 82 deg., and for January, the coolest month, about 71 deg.. The mean for the year is about 77 deg., as compared with 52 deg. for New York, 48 deg. for Chicago, 62 deg. for Los Angeles, and 68 deg. for New Orleans. There are places that, by reason of exposure to prevailing winds, or distance from the coast, are hotter or cooler than other places. Havana is one of the cool spots, that is, relatively cool. But no one goes there in search of cold. The yearly range in Havana, from maximum to minimum, rarely if ever exceeds fifty degrees, and is usually somewhat below that, while the range in New York, Chicago, and St. Louis is usually from one hundred to one hundred and twenty-five degrees. The particular cause of discomfort for those unused to it, is the humidity that prevails throughout the greater part of the year. The worst season for this, however, is the mid-year months when few people visit the island. The winter months, locally known as the “_invierno_,” a term to be associated with our word “vernal” and not with “infernal,” are almost invariably delightful, bringing to northern systems a pleasurable physical laziness that is attended by a mental indifference to, or satisfaction with, the sensation.
[Illustration: WATERING HERD OF CATTLE _Luyano River near Havana_]
The rainfall varies so widely in different parts of the island, and from year to year, that exact information is difficult. Taken as a whole, it is little if at all greater than it is in most places in the United States. We have our arid spots, like El Paso, Fresno, Boise, Phoenix, and Winnemucca, where only a few inches fall in a year, just as Cuba has a few places where the fall may reach sixty-five or seventy inches in a year. But the average fall in Havana, Matanzas, Cienfuegos, and Santiago, is little if any greater than in Boston, New York, or Washington. A difference appears in the fact that about three-quarters of Cuba’s precipitation comes between the first of May and the first of October. But the term “wet season” does not mean that it rains all the time, or every day, any more than the term “dry season” means that during those months it does not rain at all. At times during the winter, or dry season, there come storms that are due to unusual cold in the United States. These are known in Cuba, as they are in Texas, as “northers.” High winds sweep furiously across the Gulf of Mexico, piling up huge seas on the Cuban coast, and bringing what, in the island, is the substitute for cold weather, usually attended by rain and sometimes by a torrent of it. The prevailing wind in Cuba is the northeast trade-wind. In summer when the sun is directly overhead this wind is nearly east, while in winter it is northeast. The proper way to avoid such discomfort as attends humidity accompanying a thermometer in the 80s, is to avoid haste in movement, to saunter instead of hurrying, to ride instead of walking, to eat and drink in moderation, and where-ever possible, to keep in the shade. Many of those who eat heartily and hurry always, will, after a few days, be quite sure that they have yellow fever or some other tropical disorder, but will be entirely mistaken about it. Modern sanitation in Cuba has made yellow fever a remote possibility, and the drinking water in Havana is as pure as any in the world.
Most of the official descriptions of the flora of Cuba appear to be copied from Robert T. Hill’s book, published in 1898. As nothing better is available, it may be used here. He says: “The surface of the island is clad in a voluptuous floral mantle, which, from its abundance and beauty, first caused Cuba to be designated the Pearl of the Antilles. In addition to those introduced from abroad, over 3,350 native plants have been catalogued. The flora includes nearly all characteristic forms of the other West Indies, the southern part of Florida, and the Central American seaboard. Nearly all the large trees of the Mexican _Tierra Caliente_, so remarkable for their size, foliage, and fragrance, reappear in western Cuba. Numerous species of palm, including the famous royal palm, occur, while the pine trees, elsewhere characteristic of the temperate zone and the high altitudes of the tropics, are found associated with palms and mahoganies in the province of Pinar del Rio and the Isle of Pines, both of which take their name from this tree. Among other woods are the lignum-vitae, granadilla, the coco-wood, and the _Cedrela Odorata_ (fragrant cedar) which is used for cigar boxes and the lining of cabinet work.”
In quoting the number of native plants, Mr. Hill uses a report somewhat antiquated. Later estimates place the number as between five and six thousand. Flowers are abundant, flowers on vines, plants, shrubs, and trees, tall stalks with massive heads, and dainty little blossoms by the wayside. Brilliant flowering trees are planted to line the roadsides. Among all the tree-growths, the royal palm is notable. Scoffers have likened it to “a feather duster stood on end,” but it is the prominent feature in most of Cuba’s landscape, and it serves many purposes other than that of mere decoration. From its stem the Cuban peasant builds his little cottage which he roofs with its leaves. Medicinal qualities are claimed for its roots. From different parts of the tree, a wide variety of useful articles is made, plates, buckets, basins, and even a kettle in which water may be boiled. The huge clusters of seeds are excellent food for animals, and I have heard it said, though without proper confirmation, that “a royal palm will keep a hog.” Almost invariably, its presence indicates a rich soil, as it rarely grows in areas of poor land. The forest area of the island is not known with exactness, and is variously estimated at from about six thousand square miles to about sixteen thousand. The difference probably represents the opinion of individual investigators as to what is forest. About one-third of the total is reported as in Oriente, another third in Camaguey, and the remainder scattered through the four remaining provinces. A part of it is “public land,” that is, owned by the central government, but a greater part is of private ownership under old Spanish grants. Much of it is dense jungle through which a way can be made only by hacking, almost foot by foot. A good deal of it has already been cut over for its most valuable timber. Most of the woods bear names entirely unfamiliar to us. Some are used as cabinet woods, and some for tanning, for oils, dyes, gums, or fibres.
Cuba has few four-footed native wild animals. There are rabbits, but their nativity is not quite certain. There are deer, but it is known that their ancestors were brought from some other country. There are wild dogs, wild cats, and wild pigs, but all are only domestic animals run wild.
Perhaps the only animal of the kind known to be native is the _jutia_, sometimes spelled, as pronounced, _hutia_. Some observers have referred to it as a rat, but it climbs trees and grows to the size of a woodchuck, or groundhog. It is sometimes eaten and is said to be quite palatable. Reptiles are fairly common, but none of them is dangerous. The best known is the _maja_, a snake that grows to a length, sometimes, of twelve or fifteen feet. The country people not infrequently make of it a kind of house pet. When that is done, the reptile often makes its home in the cottage thatch, living on birds and mice. They are dull and sluggish in motion. While visiting a sugar plantation a few years ago one of the hands asked if I should be interested by their _maja_. He dipped his hand into a nearby water-barrel in the bottom of which two of them were closely coiled. He dragged out one of perhaps ten or twelve feet in length and four or five inches in diameter, handling it as he would the same length of hawser. He hung it over the limb of a tree so that I could have a good chance for a picture of it. The thing squirmed slowly to the ground and crawled sluggishly away to the place from which it had been taken. Of bird-life there is a large representation, both native and migratory. Among them are some fifty species of “waders.” In some parts of the island, the very unpleasant land-crab, about the size of a soup-plate, seems to exist in millions, although thousands is probably nearer the actual. The American soldiers made their acquaintance in large numbers at the time of the Santiago campaign. They are not a proper article of food. They have a salt-water relative that is most excellent eating, as is also the lobster _(langosta)_ of Cuban waters. In the swamp known as the Cienega de Zapata are both alligators and crocodiles, some of them of quite imposing dimensions.
[Illustration: ROYAL PALMS]
The insect life of the island is extensive. From personal experience, particularly behind the search-light of an automobile that drew them in swarms, I, should say that the island would be a rich field for the entomologist. There are mosquitos, gnats, beetles, moths, butterflies, spiders, and scorpions. The bites of some of the spiders and the stings of the scorpions are, of course, uncomfortable, but they are neither fatal nor dangerous. With the exception of an occasional mosquito, and a perhaps more than occasional flea, the visitor to cities only is likely to encounter few of the members of these branches of Cuban zoology. There is one of the beetle family, however, that is extremely interesting. That is the _cucullo_, which Mr. Hazard, in his book on Cuba, calls a “bright peripatetic candle-bearer, by whose brilliant light one can not only walk, but even read.” They are really a kind of glorified firefly, much larger than ours, and with a much more brilliant light. I do not know their candle-power, but Mr. Hazard exaggerates little if at all in the matter of their brilliancy.
While those referred to in the foregoing are the most notable features in this particular part of the Cuban field, there are others, though of perhaps less importance, to which reference might be made. Among them would be the sponge fisheries of the coast in the neighborhood of Batabano, and the numerous mineral springs, some of them really having, and others supposed to have, remarkable curative qualities. A half century or so ago, a number of places not far from Havana were resorts to which rich and poor went to drink or to bathe in springs hot or cold or sulphurous or otherwise, for their healing. Among these were the baths at San Diego, near the Organ Mountains in Pinar del Rio; Santa Rita, near Guanabacoa in Havana Province; others near Marianao, on the outskirts of the city; and San Antonio, also in Havana Province. Most of these places now appear to have lost their popularity if not their medicinal virtues. Some, like those at Madruga, not far from Havana, still have a considerable patronage. Something may also be said of earthquakes and hurricanes. The former occur, on a small scale, more or less frequently in Oriente, and much less frequently and of less severity in Havana. The latter come from time to time to work disaster to Cuban industries and, sometimes but not frequently, to cause loss of life and the destruction of buildings. They rarely occur except in the late summer and the autumn.
Nearly a hundred years ago, Alexander Humboldt, a traveller and a scientist, wrote thus of the island of Cuba: “Notwithstanding the absence of deep rivers and the unequal fertility of the soil, the island of Cuba presents on every hand a most varied and agreeable country from its undulating character, its ever-springing verdure, and the variety of its vegetable formations.”
_THE OLD HAVANA_
Among the many pictures, stored away in the album of my memory, there are two that stand out more vividly than any others. The subjects are separated by half the world’s circumference. One is the sunsets at Jolo, in the southern Philippines. There the sun sank into the western sea in a blaze of cloud-glory, between the low-lying islands on either hand with the rich green of their foliage turned to purple shadows. The other is the sunrise at Havana, seen from the deck of a steamer in the harbor. The long, soft shadows and the mellow light fell on the blue and gray and green of the buildings of the city, and on the red-tiled roofs, with the hills for a background in one-half of the picture, and the gleaming water of the gulf in the background of the other half. I had seen the long stretch of the southern coast of the island, from Cape Antonio to Cape Maisi, while on an excursion with a part of the army of occupation sent to Porto Rico in the summer of 1898, and had set foot on Cuban soil at Daiquiri, but Havana in the morning light, on January 2, 1899, was my first real Cuban experience. It remains an ineffaceable memory. Of my surroundings and experiences aside from that, I have no distinct recollection. All was submerged by that one picture, and quickly buried by the activities into which I was immediately plunged. I do not recall the length of time we were held on board for medical inspection, nor whether the customs inspection was on board or ashore. I recall the trip from the ship to the wharf, in one of the little sailboats then used for the purpose, rather because of later experiences than because of the first one. I have no purpose here to write a history of those busy days, filled as they were with absorbing interest, with much that was pathetic and not a little that was amusing. I have seen that morning picture many times since, but never less beautiful, never less impressive. Nowadays, it is lost to most travellers because the crossing from Key West is made in the daytime, the boat reaching Havana in the late-afternoon. Sometimes there is a partial compensation in the sunset picture, but I have never seen that when it really rivalled the picture at the beginning of the day.
The visitor to Cuba, unfamiliar with the island, should take it leisurely. It is not a place through which the tourist may rush, guide book in hand, making snapshots with a camera, and checking off places of interest as they are visited. Picturesqueness and quaintness are not at all lacking, but there are no noble cathedrals, no vast museums of art and antiquity, no snow-clad mountains. There is a charm of light and shade and color that is to be absorbed slowly rather than swallowed at a single gulp. It is emphatically a place in which to dawdle. Let those who are obliged to do so, work and hurry; the visitor and the traveller should take it without haste. It is far better to see Havana and its vicinity slowly and enjoyably, and look at pictures of the rest of the country, than it is to rush through the island merely for the sake of doing so. In his essay on _The Moral of Landscape_, Mr. Ruskin said that “all travelling becomes dull in exact proportion to its rapidity.” Nowhere is that more true than it is in Cuba. There is very little in all the island that cannot be seen in Havana and its immediate vicinity. It is well to see the other places if one has ample time, but they should not be seen at the expense of a proper enjoyment of Havana and its neighborhood. In Havana are buildings as old and buildings as beautiful as any in the island. In its vicinity are sugar plantations, tobacco fields, pineapples, cocoanuts, mangoes, royal palms, ceibas, peasants’ homes, typical towns and villages, all the life of the people in the city and country. The common American desire to “see it all” in a few days, is fatal to the greatest enjoyment, and productive mainly of physical fatigue and mental confusion. It is the misfortune of most travellers that they carry with them only the vaguest of ideas of what they want to see. They have heard of Cuba, of Havana, the Morro, the Prado, of a sunny island in the midst of a sapphire sea. While it is true that almost everything in Cuba is worth seeing, it is best to acquire, before going, some idea of the exhibition. That saves time and many steps. The old city wall, La Fuerza, and La Punta, are mere piles of masonry, more or less dull and uninteresting unless one knows something of their history. The manners and customs of any country become increasingly interesting if one knows something about them, the reason for them.
It is only a short trip to the Castillo del Principe, the fortress that crowns the hill to the west of the city. From that height, the city and the harbor are seen below, to the eastward. Across the bay, on the heights at the entrance, are the frowning walls of Morro Castle surmounted by the towering light-house, and the no less grim walls of La Cabana. The bay itself is a sprawling, shapeless body of water with a narrow neck connecting it with the Florida Straits. Into the western side of the bay the city thrusts itself in a shape that, on a large map, suggests more than anything else the head and neck of an over-fed bulldog. Into this bay, in 1508, came Sebastian Ocampo, said to be the first white man to visit the spot. He entered for the purpose of careening his little vessels in order to remove the barnacles and accumulated weed-growth. It is possible that the spot was discovered earlier, but there is no record of the discovery if such was made. Ocampo gave it the name of Puerto de Carenas. The next record is of its occupation, in 1519. Four years earlier, Diego Velasquez had left a little colony near what is now called Batabano, on the south coast. He gave the place the name of San Cristobal de la Habana, in memory of the illustrious navigator and discoverer. Habana, or Havana, is a term of aboriginal origin. It proved to be an uncomfortable place of residence, and in 1519 the people moved across the island to the Puerto de Carenas, taking with them the name given to the earlier settlement, and substituting it for the name given by Ocampo. After a time, all was dropped except the present title, Habana, or more commonly by English-speaking people, Havana. It was not much of a place for a number of years, but in 1538 it was sacked and burned by a French pirate, one of the many, of different nations, who carried on a very lively buccaneering business in those and in later years in West Indian waters. Hernando de Soto was then governor of the island, with headquarters at the then capital city, Santiago de Cuba. He proceeded at once to the scene of destruction. On his arrival, he ordered the erection of a fortress. Some of the work then done still remains in the old structure near the Palace, at the foot of Calle O’Reilly, known as La Fuerza. A few years before this time, Hernan Cortes had conquered Mexico, then called New Spain, and a business between Old Spain and New Spain soon developed. The harbor of Havana made a convenient halting-place on the voyages between the two, and the settlement assumed a steadily increasing importance. A new governor, Gonzales Perez de Angulo, who arrived in 1549, decided to make it his place of residence. The year 1552 is generally given as the time of the creation of Havana as the capital city. It was at that time made the residence city of the Governors, by their own choice, but it was not officially established as the capital until 1589. The fortress erected by order of de Soto proved somewhat ineffective. In 1554, another French marauder attacked and destroyed the town. The principal industry of those early days was cattle-raising, a considerable market being developed for export to Mexico, and for the supply of vessels that entered the harbor for food and water.
The continuance of incursions by pirates made necessary some further provision for the defence of the city. In 1589, La Fuerza was enlarged and strengthened, and the construction of Morro Castle was begun. To this work was added La Punta, the little fortress on the western shore of the entrance, at the point of the angle now formed by the Prado and the Malecon. These ancient structures, of practically no value whatever in modern warfare, are now among the most picturesque points of interest in the neighborhood. Another, in the same class, of which only a little now remains, is of a later time. This is the old city wall, the construction of which was begun in 1671. Following the simile of the bull-dog’s head, a tract of land, formerly known as the Arsenal yard, and now the central railway station, lies tucked away immediately under the animal’s jaw. From there to a point on the north shore, near La Punta, in a slightly curving line, a high wall was erected for the purpose of defence on the western or landward side. The old city lay entirely in the area defined by this western wall and the shore of the harbor. At intervals, gates afforded exit to the country beyond, heavy gates that could be closed to exclude any possible attacking party. The fortifications erected from time to time were supposed to afford a system of effective defence for the city. They are now little else than picturesque features in the landscape, points of interest for visitors. Taking the chain in its order, El Morro stands on the point on the eastern side of the entrance to the harbor. Just beyond it is La Cabana. About a half a mile to the east of this was the stone fort on the hill of San Diego. Three miles east of the Morro, on the shore at Cojimar, is a small and somewhat ancient fortification. This group constituted the defence system on the east. At the head of the bay, on an elevation a little to the south of the city, stands El Castillo de Atares, begun in 1763, immediately after the capture and occupation of the city by the British. This is supposed to protect the city on the south, as Castillo del Principe is supposed to defend it on the west. This stands on a hill on the western outskirts, a somewhat extensive structure, begun in 1774 and completed about twenty years later. A little further to the west, at the mouth of the Almendares river, stands a little fort, or tower, called Chorrera, serving as a western outpost as Cojimar serves as an eastern outpost. Both were erected about the year 1650. On the shore generally north of Principe was the Santa Clara battery, and between that and La Punta, at the foot of the Calzada de Belascoain, stood the Queen’s battery. From any modern point of view, the system is little more than military junk, better fitted for its present use as barracks, asylums, and prisons than for military defence. But it is all highly picturesque.
In the beginning, most of the buildings of the city were doubtless of wood, with palm-thatched roofs. In time, these gave place to rows of abutting stone buildings with tiled roofs. Most of them were of one story, some were of two stories, and a few “palaces” had three. The city within the wall is today very much as it was a century and more ago. Its streets run, generally but not accurately, at right angles, one set almost due east and west, from the harbor front to the line of the old wall, and the other set runs southward from the shore of the entrance channel to the shore of the inner harbor. Several of these streets are practically continuous from north to south or from east to west. But most of them are rather passage-ways than streets. The houses come to their very edges, except for a narrow strip hardly to be classed as a sidewalk, originally left, presumably, only for the purpose of preventing the scraping of the front of the building by the wheels of passing carts and carriages. It is a somewhat inconvenient system nowadays, but one gets quite used to it after a little, threads the narrow walk a part of his way, takes to the street the rest of the way, and steps aside to avoid passing vehicles quite as did the carriageless in the old days. One excellent way to avoid the trouble is to take a carriage and let the other fellow step aside. Riding in the _coche_ is still one of the cheapest forms of convenience and entertainment in the city, excepting the afternoon drive around the Prado and the Malecon. That is not cheap. We used to pay a dollar an hour. My last experience cost me three times that.
[Illustration: CUSTOM HOUSE, HAVANA _Formerly Franciscan Convent Begun_ 1574, _finished_ 1591]
Much of the old city is now devoted to business purposes, wholesale, retail, and professional. But there are also residences, old churches, and old public buildings. On the immediate water-front, and for many years used as the custom house, stands the old Franciscan convent, erected during the last quarter of the 16th Century. It is a somewhat imposing pile, dominated by a high tower. I have not visited it for a number of years and do not know if its interior is available for visitors without some special introduction, but there is much worth seeing inside its walls, the flying buttresses of the super-structure, some old and interesting frescoes, and a system of dome construction that is quite remarkable. To the latter, my attention was first called by General Ludlow, a distinguished engineer officer of the United States Army, then acting as governor of the city. To him belongs, although it is very rarely given, the credit for the cleansing of Havana during the First Intervention. He frequently visited the old convent just to see and study that interior dome construction. Immediately behind the Palace is the old convent of the Dominicans, less imposing but of about the same period as the Franciscan structure. It is now used as a high-school building. The Cathedral, a block to the northward of the Dominican convent building, is of a much later date, having been begun as recently as 1742. It was originally the convent of the Jesuits, but became the Cathedral in 1789. Many have believed, on what seems to be acceptable evidence, that here for more than a hundred years rested the bones of Christopher Columbus. He died in Valladolid in 1506, and was buried there. His remains were removed to the Carthusian Monastery, in Seville, in 1513. From there they are said to have been taken, in 1536, to the city of Santo Domingo, where they remained until 1796, when they were brought to Havana and placed in a niche in the walls of the old Cathedral, there to remain until they were taken back to Spain in 1898. There is still an active dispute as to whether the bones removed from Santo Domingo to Havana were or were not those of Columbus. At all events, the urn supposed to contain them was in this building for a hundred years, below a marble slab showing a carving of the voyager holding a globe, with a finger pointing to the Caribbean. Beneath this was a legend that has been thus translated:
OH! REST THOU, IMAGE OF THE GREAT COLON, THOUSAND CENTURIES REMAIN, GUARDED IN THE URN, AND IN THE REMEMBRANCE OF OUR NATION.
In this neighborhood, to the east of the Plaza de Armas, on which the Palace fronts, is a structure known as _El Templete_. It has the appearance of the portico of an unfinished building, but it is a finished memorial, erected in 1828. The tradition is that on this spot there stood, in 1519, an old ceiba tree under which the newly arrived settlers celebrated their first mass. The yellow Palace, for many years the official headquarters and the residence of successive Governors-General, stands opposite, and speaks for itself. In this building, somewhat devoid of architectural merit, much of Cuba’s history, for the last three-quarters of a century, has been written. The best time to see all this and much more that is to be seen, is the early morning, before the wheels begin to go around. The lights and shadows are then the best, and the streets are quieter and less crowded. The different points of interest are easily located by the various guide books obtainable, and the distances are not great. A cup of _cafe con leche_ should precede the excursion. If one feels lazy, as one is quite apt to feel in the tropics and the sub-tropics, fairly comfortable open carriages are at all times available. With them, of course, a greater area can be covered and more places seen, though perhaps seen less satisfactorily. There is much to be seen in the early morning that is best seen in those hours, and much that is not seen later in the day. In all cities there is an early morning life and Havana is no exception. I confess to only a limited personal knowledge of it, but I have seen enough of it, and heard enough about it, to know that the waking-up of cities, including Havana, is an interesting process. I have, at least, had enough personal experience to be sure that the early morning air is delicious, the best of the day. I am not speaking of the unholy hours preceding daybreak, but of six to eight o’clock, which for those of us who are inclined to long evenings is also the best time to be in bed. The early morning church bells are a disturbance to which visitors do not readily adjust their morning naps. Mr. Samuel Hazard, who visited Cuba about the year 1870, and wrote quite entertainingly about it, left the following description of his experience in Havana:
“Hardly has the day begun to break when the newly arrived traveller is startled from his delightful morning doze by the alarming sound of bells ringing from every part of the town. Without any particular concert of action, and with very different sounds, they ring out on the still morning air, as though for a general conflagration, and the unfortunate traveller rushes frantically from his bed to inquire if there is any hope of safety from the flames which he imagines, from the noise made, must threaten the whole town. Imagine, O reader! in thy native town, every square with its church, every church with its tower, or maybe two or three of them, and in each particular tower a half-dozen large bells, no two of which sound alike; place the bell-ropes in the hands of some frantic man who pulls away, first with one hand and then the other, and you will get a very faint idea of your first awakening in Havana. Without apparent rhyme or reason, ding, dong, ding they go, every bell-ringer at each different church striving to see how much noise he can make, under the plea of bringing the faithful to their prayers at the early morning mass.”
[Illustration: BALCONIES IN OLD HAVANA STREET IN HAVANA]
The only conceivable advantage of these early bells is the fact that they turn out many a traveller at the hour when Havana is really at its best. Yet, as I read the descriptive tales left by those who wrote forty, fifty, and sixty years ago, I am struck by the fact, that, after all, the old Havana has changed but little. There are trolley lines, electric lights, and a few other so-called modern improvements, but there is still much of the old custom, the old atmosphere. The old wall, with its soldier-guarded gates, is gone, and there are a few modern buildings, but only a few, for which fact I always feel thankful, but the old city is much what it was when Mr. Ballou, and Mr. Dana, and Mr. Kimball, and numerous others wrote about it soon after 1850, and when Mr. Hazard wrote about it in 1870. The automobile is there now in large numbers, in place of the old volante, and there are asphalted streets in place of cobble-stones. The band plays in the evening in the Parque Central or at the Glorieta, instead of in the Plaza de Armas, but the band plays. The restaurants are still a prominent feature in Havana life, as they were then. The ladies wear hats instead of _mantillas_, but they buy hats on Calle Obispo just as and where their mothers and grandmothers bought _mantillas_. Bull-fighting is gone, presumably forever, but crowds flock to the baseball grounds. The midday suspension of business continues, generally, and the afternoon parade, on foot and in carriages, remains one of the important functions of the day. There are many who know Havana, and love it, who pray diligently that it may be many years before the city is Americanized as, for instance, New Orleans has been.
Most of the life of the city, as it is seen by most visitors, is outside the old city, and probably few know that any distinction is made, yet the line is drawn with fair clearness. There is a different appearance in both streets and buildings. While there are shops on San Rafael and Galiano and elsewhere, the principal shopping district is in the old city, with Calle Obispo as its centre. They have tried officially, to change the name of the street, but the old familiar name sticks and seems likely to stick for a long time yet. Far be it from a mere man to attempt analysis or description of such a place. He might tell another mere man where to buy a hat, a pair of shoes, or eyeglasses, or a necktie, or where to find a lawyer, but the finer points of shopping, there or elsewhere, are not properly for any masculine description. The ladies may be trusted to learn for themselves, and very quickly, all that they need or want to know about that phase of Havana’s commerce. I am leaving much to the guide books that can afford space for all necessary information about churches, statues, and other objects of interest for visitors. Havana’s retail merchants have their own way of trading, much as they do in many foreign countries, and in not a few stores in our own country. Prices are usually a question of the customer’s ability to match the commercial shrewdness of the dealer. Much of the trade of visitors is now confined to the purchase of such articles as may be immediately needed and to a few souvenirs. One of the charms of the place is the cheap transportation. If you are tired, or in a hurry, there is always a coach near at hand that will take you where you wish to go, for a peseta, or a quarter, if within certain officially prescribed bounds. If you desire to go beyond those bounds, make a bargain with your driver or be prepared for trouble. Down in the old city are to be found several restaurants that are well worth visiting, for those who want good food. I shall not advertise the particular places, but they are well known. As the early morning is the best time to see the old city, the forenoon is the best time for shopping. Such an expedition may well be followed by the _almuerzo_, the midday breakfast or lunch, whichever one sees fit to call it, at one of these restaurants. After that, it is well to enjoy a midday _siesta_, in preparation for the afternoon function on the Prado and the Malecon.
THE NEW HAVANA
The new Havana, the city outside the old wall, is about as old as Chicago but not nearly as tall. There is no reason why it should be. Here are wide streets and broad avenues, and real sidewalks, some of them about as wide as the entire street in the old city. About 1830, the region beyond the wall was held largely by Spaniards to whom grants of land had been made for one reason or another. These tracts were plantations, pastures, or unimproved lands, according to the fancy of the proprietor who usually lived in the city and enjoyed himself after the manner of his kind. Here and there, a straggling village of palm-leaf huts sprang up. The roads were rough tracks. To Governor-General Tacon seems due much of the credit for the improvement beyond the walls. During his somewhat iron-handed rule several notable buildings were erected, some of them by his authority. The most notable feature of the district is the renowned Prado, a broad boulevard with a park between two drive-ways, running from the water-front, at the entrance to the harbor, southward for about a mile. A few years ago, rows of trees shaded the central parkway, but they were almost entirely wrecked by the hurricanes in 1906 and 1910.
A half mile or so from its northern end, the Prado runs along the west side of the Parque Central, the most notable of the numerous little squares of walks and trees and flowers. A block or two further on is a little park with an excellent statue, known as La India. Opposite that is another really beautiful park, from the western side of which runs a broad street that leads to the Paseo de Carlos Tercero, formerly the Paseo de Tacon, one of the monuments left to his own memory by one of Cuba’s most noted Spanish rulers. The Paseo runs westward to El Castillo del Principe, originally a fortress but now a penitentiary. The Prado stops just beyond the companion parks, La India and Colon. These originally formed the Campo de Marte, laid out by General Tacon and, in his time, used as a military parade ground. In a way, the Parque Central is the centre of the city. It is almost that, geographically, and perhaps quite that, socially. In its immediate vicinity are some of the leading hotels and the principal theatres. One of the latter, facing the park on its western side, across the Prado, is now known as the Nacional. Formerly it was the Tacon, a monument to that notable man. There is quite a story about that structure. It is somewhat too long for inclusion here, but it seems worth telling. The following is an abridgment of the tale as it is told in Mr. Ballou’s _History of Cuba_, published in 1854. Tacon was the Governor of the island from 1834 to 1838. At that time, a certain man named Marti was eminent in the smuggling and piracy business, an industry in which many others were engaged. But Marti seems to have stood at the top of his profession, a man of skill and daring and evidently well supplied with brains. Tacon’s efforts to capture him, or to break up his business, were entirely unsuccessful, and a large reward was offered for his body, alive or dead. Mr. Ballou tells the story in somewhat dramatic manner:
“It was a dark, cloudy night in Havana, a few months after the announcement of the reward, when two sentinels were pacing backward and forward before the main entrance to the Governor’s palace. A little before midnight, a man was watching them from behind a statue in the park, and after observing that the sentinels paced their brief walk so as to meet each other, and then turned their backs as they separated, leaving a brief moment in the interval when the eyes of both were turned away from the entrance, seemed to calculate upon passing them unobserved. It was an exceedingly delicate manoeuvre, and required great care and dexterity to effect it; but, at last, it was adroitly done, and the stranger sprang lightly through the entrance, secreting himself behind one of the pillars of the inner court. The sentinels paced on undisturbed. The figure which had thus stealthily effected an entrance, now sought the broad stairs that led to the Governor’s suite, with a confidence that evinced a perfect knowledge of the place. A second guard-post was to be passed at the head of the stairs; but, assuming an air of authority, the stranger offered a cold military salute and passed forward, as though there was not the most distant question of his right to do so; and thus avoiding all suspicion in the guard’s mind, he boldly entered the Governor’s reception room unchallenged, and closed the door behind him.”
In his office, alone, the stranger found Tacon, who was naturally surprised at the appearance of an unannounced caller. He demanded to know who the visitor was, but a direct answer was evaded. After referring to the matter of the reward offered for the discovery of Marti, and the pledge of immunity to the discoverer, the caller demanded and obtained a verbal endorsement of the promise of immunity, under the Governor’s word of honor, whatever might be the circumstances of his revelation. He then announced himself as the much-sought pirate and smuggler, Marti. Tacon was somewhat astounded, but he kept his word. Marti was held overnight, but “on the following day,” the Ballou account proceeds, “one of the men-of-war that lay idly beneath the guns of Morro Castle suddenly became the scene of the utmost activity, and, before noon, had weighed her anchor, and was standing out into the gulf stream. Marti the smuggler was on board as her pilot; and faithfully did he guide the ship on the discharge of his treacherous business, revealing every haunt of the rovers, exposing their most valuable depots; and many a smuggling craft was taken and destroyed. The amount of money and property thus secured was very great.” The contemptible job of betraying his former companions and followers being successfully accomplished, Marti returned with the ships, and claimed his reward from Tacon. The General, according to his word of honor, gave Marti a full and unconditional pardon for all his past offences, and an order on the treasury for the amount of the reward offered. The latter was declined but, in lieu of the sum, Marti asked for and obtained a monopoly of the right to sell fish in Havana. He offered to build, at his own expense, a public market of stone, that should, after a specified term of years, revert to the government, “with all right and the title to the fishery.” This struck Tacon as a good business proposition; he saved to his treasury the important sum of the reward and, after a time, the city would own a valuable fish-market. He agreed to the plan. Marti thereupon went into the fish business, made huge profits, and became, so the story goes, the richest man in the island. After a time, being burdened with wealth, he looked about for means of increasing his income. So he asked for and obtained a monopoly of the theatre business in Havana, promising to build one of the largest and finest theatres in the world. The result of the enterprise was the present Nacional theatre, for many years regarded as second only to the Grand theatre in Milan. But it was named the Tacon. Its special attraction was internal; its exterior was far from imposing. It has recently been considerably glorified. Having thus halted for the story of the theatre, we may return to the Prado on which it fronts. Here, Havana society used to gather every afternoon to drive, walk, and talk. The afternoon _paseo_ was and still is the great event of the day, the great social function of the city. At the time of my first visit, in 1899, there was no Malecon drive along the shore to the westward. That enterprise was begun during the First Intervention, and continued by succeeding administrations. In the earlier days, the route for driving was down the east side of the Prado, between the Parque Central and the _Carcel_, and up the west side, around and around, up and down, with bows and smiles to acquaintances met or passed, and, probably, gossip about the strangers. Many horsemen appeared in the procession, and the central promenade was thronged with those who walked, either because they preferred to or because they could not afford to ride around and around. In the Parque Central were other walkers, chatting groups, and lookers-on. Some days the band played. Then the Prado was extended to the water-front; the _glorieta_ was erected; and that became another centre for chatterers and watchers. The building of the Malecon extended the range of the driveway. This afternoon function is an old established institution and a good one. It may not compare favorably with the drive in some of our parks in this country, but it is the best substitute possible in Havana. Indulgence in ices, cooling drinks, chocolate, or other refections, during this daily ceremony, is fairly common but by no means a general practice. The afternoon tea habit has not yet seized upon Havana. The ices are almost invariably excellent. Some of them are prepared from native fruit flavors that are quite unknown here. The _guanabana_ ice is particularly to be recommended. All such matters are quite individual, but a decoction called _chocolate Espanol_ is also to be recommended. It is served hot, too thick to drink, and is to be taken with a spoon, to the accompaniment of cake. It is highly nourishing as well as palatable. There is a wide variety of “soft drinks,” made with oranges, limes, or other fruits, and the _orchata_, made from almonds, and the products of American soda fountains, but there is little use of the high-ball or the cocktail except by Americans.
[Illustration: STREET AND CHURCH OF THE ANGELS _Havana_]
The Cubans are an exceedingly temperate people. Wine is used by all classes, and _aguadiente_, the native rum, is consumed in considerable quantity, but the Cuban rarely drinks to excess. I recall an experience during the earlier years. I was asked to write a series of articles on the use of intoxicants in the island, for a temperance publication in this country. My first article so offended the publishers that they declined to print it, and cancelled the order for the rest of the series. It was perhaps somewhat improper, but in that article I summed up the situation by stating that “the temperance question in Cuba is only a question of how soon we succeed in converting them into a nation of drunkards.” Beer is used, both imported and of local manufacture. Gin, brandy, and anisette, cordials and liqueurs are all used to some but moderate extent, but intoxication is quite rare. One fluid extract I particularly recommend, that is the milk of the cocoanut, the green nut. Much, however, depends upon the cocoanut. Properly ripened, the “milk” is delicious, cooling and wholesome, more so perhaps on a country journey than in the city. The nut not fully ripened gives the milk, or what is locally called the “water,” an unpleasant, woody taste. I have experimented with it in different parts of the world, in the Philippines, Ceylon, and elsewhere, and have found it wholesome and refreshing in all places.
The houses in the new Havana are, on the whole, vastly more cheerful than are the dwellings in the old city. They are of the same general architectural type, but because of the wider streets, more air and sunshine gets into them. Some of the best and most costly are along the Prado. A Cuban house interior generally impresses an American as lacking in home-like quality. Some of the best are richly adorned, but there is a certain bareness and an absence of color. As is usual with customs unlike our own, and which we are therefore prone to regard as inferior to ours, there are excellent reasons for Cuban interior decoration, or rather the lack of it. A little experience, or even a little reflection, shows clearly the impossibility of anything resembling American house decoration in such a climate as that of Cuba. Our warm colors, hangings, upholstered furniture, rugs, and much else that we regard as essential in northern latitudes, would be utterly unendurable in Cuba. There, the marble or tiled floors, the cool tones of wall and ceiling, and the furniture of wood and cane, are not only altogether fitting but as well altogether necessary. Our glass windows would only serve to increase heat and shut out air. As some barrier is necessary to keep passers, even Americans, from intrusive entrance by the windows whose bottoms are at floor level, the system of iron bars or elaborate grille work is adopted. Few Americans see much, if anything, of Cuban home life except as they see it through these barriers as they pass. It is not the custom of the country to invite promiscuous or casual acquaintances to call. It is even less the custom there than it is with us. A book about Cuba, published a few years ago, gives a somewhat extended account of what is called “home life,” but it is the home life of workmen and people who do laundry work to eke out a meagre living. It is not even the life of fairly paid artisans, or of people of modest but comfortable income. It is no more a proper description of the domestic life of the island than would be a presentation of the life in the palaces of the wealthy. Such attempts at description are almost invariably a mistake, conveying, whether from purpose or from indifference to truth, a false impression. Domestic economy and household management vary in Cuba as they vary in the United States, in France, England, Japan, or Mexico. The selection of an individual home, or of several, as a basis for description, in Cuba or anywhere else, can only result in a picture badly out of drawing and quite misleading.
There are Cuban homes, as there are American homes, that are slatternly and badly managed, and there are Cuban homes that are as spick and span and as orderly in their administration as any home in this country. Their customs, as are ours, are the result of environment and tradition. To some of us, a rectangle of six or eight rocking-chairs, placed in the centre of a room, in which family and visitors sit and rock while they talk, may seem curious, but it is a custom that we may not criticize either with fairness or common decency. The same may be said of the not uncommon custom of using a part of the street floor of the house as a stable. It is an old custom, brought from Spain. But I have wandered from description to incident. I have no intention to attempt a description of Cuban home life, beyond saying that I have been a guest in costly homes in the city and in the little palm-leaf “shacks” of peasants, and have invariably found in both, and in the homes of intermediate classes, only cordial hospitality and gracious courtesy. Those who have found anything different have carried it with them in their own attitude toward their hosts. Many of us, probably most of us, in the United States, make a sort of fetich of the privacy of what we call our home life. We are encased in walls of wood or masonry, with blinds, curtains, or shades at our windows. It might be supposed that we wanted to hide, that there was something of which to be ashamed. It might at least be so interpreted by one unfamiliar with our ways. It is only, like the open domestic life in Cuba, a custom, a habit of long standing. Certainly, much of the domestic life of Cuba is open. The mistress of the house chides a servant, rebukes or comforts a child, sits with her embroidery, chaffers with an itinerant merchant or with the clerk from a store, all in plain sight and hearing of the passer-by. What everyone does, no one notices. The customs of any country are curious only to those from other countries where customs are different. Our ways of life are quite as curious to others as are their ways to us. We are quite blind to that fact chiefly because of an absurd conviction of the immense superiority of our ways. We do not stop to consider reasons for differences. A cup of coffee on an American breakfast table usually consists of about four parts coffee and one part milk or cream. Most Cubans usually reverse these percentages. There is a good reason for it. In our climate, we do not need the large open doors and windows, the high ceilings, and the full and free ventilation that make life endurable in tropical and sub-tropical countries. Their system here would be as impossible as would be our system there. Houses in Cuba like those of an American city or town would make life a miserable burden. The publicity, or semi-publicity, of Cuban home life is a necessary result of conditions. It is, naturally, more in evidence in the city proper, where the houses, abutting immediately on the street, as do most of our city houses, are built, as ours are, in solid rows. We avoid a good deal of publicity by piling our homes on top of each other, and by elevators and stair-climbing.
The location of a residence in Havana gives no special idea of the wealth or the social standing of those who occupy it. Not a few well-to-do people still live in the old city, where the streets are narrow and where business is trying to crowd out everything except itself. The home in that quarter may be in a block in which a number of buildings are residences, or it may stand with a warehouse on one side and a workshop on the other. A few people, of unquestionable social position still live in buildings in which the street floor is a store or an office. There is nothing curious about this. In many American cities, old families have clung to old homes, and not a few new families have, from one reason or another, occupied similar quarters. Such a residence may not conform to modern social ideas and standards, but there are Americans in this country, as well as Cubans and Spaniards in Havana, who can afford to ignore those standards. The same is true of many who live in the newer city, outside the old walls. There as here, business encroaches on many streets formerly strictly residential. This holds in the newer part of the city as well as in the old part. A number of streets there are, for a part of their length, quite given over to business. Even the Prado itself is the victim of commercial invasion. What was once one of the finest residences in the city, the old Aldama place fronting on the Campo de Marte, is now a cigar factory. A little beyond it is the Tacon market, occupying an entire block. Stores and shops surround it. The old avenue leading to the once fashionable Cerro, and to the only less fashionable Jesus del Monte, is now a business street. Another business street leads out of the Parque Central, alongside the former Tacon theatre. The broad Calzada de Galiano, once a fashionable residence street, is now largely commercial. While less picturesque than some parts of the old city within the walls, the most attractive part of Havana is undoubtedly the section of El Vedado, the westward extension along the shore. Here are broad streets, trees, gardens, and many beautiful and costly dwellings. This is really the modern Havana. A part of it is only a little above sea-level, and behind that strip is a hill. A few years ago, only a small number of houses were on the hillside or the hilltop. Now, it is well built over with modern houses. The architectural type is generally retained, and it is rather a pity that there should be even what variation there is. El Vedado is the region of the wealthy and the well-to-do, with a large percentage of foreigners. It has its social ways, very much as other places have, in this country, in France, Hong Kong, or Honolulu. They are not quite our ways, but they are a result of conditions, just as ours are.
On the hill, a little back of El Vedado, are two “points of interest” for visitors; the old fortress, el Castillo del Principe, and the cemetery. In the latter are some notable monuments. One is known as the Firemen’s Monument. For many years, Havana has had, supplementary to its municipal organization, a volunteer firemen’s corps. In various ways the latter resembles a number of military organizations in the United States. It is at once a somewhat exclusive social club and a practical force. Membership is a social distinction. If you are in Havana and see men in admirably tailored, uniforms and fire helmets, rushing in a particular direction in cabs, carriages or automobiles, you may know that they are members of the _Bomberos del Comercio_ on their way to a conflagration. Most excellent real work they have done again and again in time of fire and flood. On parade, they look exceedingly dapper with their helmets, uniforms, boots and equipment, somewhat too dandified even to suggest any smoke other than that of cigars or cigarettes. But they are the “real thing in smoke-eaters” when they get to work. They have a long list of heroic deeds on their records. The monument in Colon Cemetery commemorates one of those deeds. In an extensive and dangerous fire, in May, 1890, thirty of these men lost their lives. A few years later, this beautiful and costly shaft was erected, by private subscription, as a tribute to their valor and devotion. Another shaft, perhaps no less notable, commemorates a deplorable and unpardonable event. A number of medical students, mere boys, in the University of Havana, were charged with defacing the tomb of a Spanish officer who had been killed by a Cuban in a political quarrel. At its worst, it was a boyish prank, demanding rebuke or even some mild punishment. Later evidence indicates that while there was a demonstration there was no defacement of the vault. Forty-two students were arrested as participants, tried by court-martial, and sentenced to be shot. Eight of them were shot at La Punta, at the foot of the Prado near the sea-front, and the remainder sentenced to imprisonment for life. All of these, I believe, were afterward released. The Students’ Monument expresses the feeling of the Cubans in the matter, a noble memorial. There are numerous other shafts and memorials that are notable and interesting. A number of Cuba’s leaders, Maximo Gomez, Calixto Garcia, and others, are buried in this cemetery.
[Illustration: A RESIDENCE IN EL VEDADO]
Further on, to the southeast, are other sections of the new Havana, the districts of Cerro and Jesus del Monte. El Vedado has largely supplanted these neighborhoods as the “court end” of the city. Many of the fine old residences of forty or fifty years ago still remain, but most of them are now closely surrounded by the more modest homes of a less aristocratic group. A few gardens remain to suggest what they were in the earlier days. Still further out, in the west-and-south quarter-circle, are little towns, villages, and hamlets, typically Cuban, with here and there the more imposing estate of planter or proprietor. But, far the greater number of visitors, perhaps with greater reason, find more of charm and interest in the city itself than in the suburbs or the surrounding country. The enjoyment of unfamiliar places is altogether personal. There are many who really see nothing; they come away from a brief visit with only a confusion of vague recollections of sights and sounds, of brief inspection of buildings about which they knew nothing, of the big, yellow Palace, of this church and that, of the Morro and the harbor, of sunny days, and of late afternoons along the Prado and the Malecon. To me, Havana is losing its greatest charm through an excess of Americanization, slowly but steadily taking from the place much of the individuality that made it most attractive. It will be a long time before that is entirely lost, but five-story office buildings, automobiles in the afternoon parade, steaks or ham and eggs at an eight or nine o’clock breakfast, and all kinds of indescribable hats in place of dainty and graceful _mantillas_, seem to me a detraction, like bay-windows and porticos added to an old colonial mansion.
_AROUND THE ISLAND_
A hundred years ago, the Cubans travelled from place to place about the island, just as our ancestors did in this country, by water and over rough trails few of which could, with any approach to correctness, be described as roads. It was not until about a hundred years ago that we, in this country, began to build anything even remotely resembling a modern highway. Our towns and cities were on the seaboard or on the banks of rivers navigable for vessels of size sufficient for their purposes. Commodities carried to or brought from places not so located were dragged in stoutly built wagons over routes the best of which was worse than the worst to be found anywhere today. Because real road-making in Cuba is quite a modern institution, an enterprise to which, in their phrase, the Spanish Government did not “dedicate” itself, the Cuban wagons and carts of today are chiefly those of the older time. They are heavy, cumbrous affairs with large wheels, a diameter necessitated by the deep ruts through which a passage was made. A smaller wheel would soon have been “hub-deep” and hopelessly stuck. So, too, with the carriages of the nabobs. The poorer people, when they travelled at all, went on foot or on horseback, as our ancestors did. The nabobs had their _volantes_, still occasionally, but with increasing rarity, seen in some parts of the island. Forty years ago, such vehicles, only a little changed from the original type, were common enough in Havana itself. About that time, or a few years earlier, the four-wheeler began to supplant them for city use.
There is a technical difference between the original type of _volante_ and its successor which, though still called a _volante_ was properly called a _quitrin_. The only real difference was that the top of the _quitrin_ was collapsible, and could be lowered when desirable, while the top of the _volante_ was not. I have ridden in these affairs, I cannot say comfortably, over roads that would have been quite impossible for any other wheeled vehicle. At the back, and somewhat behind the body were two wheels, six feet in diameter. From, the axle, two shafts projected for a distance, if memory serves me, of some twelve or fifteen feet. A little forward of the axle, the body, not unlike the old-fashioned American chaise, was suspended on stout leather straps serving as springs. Away off in front, at the end of the shafts, was a horse on which the driver rode in a heavy and clumsy saddle. For long-distance travel, or for particularly rough roads, a second horse was added, alongside the shaft horse, and sometimes a third animal. The motion was pleasant enough over the occasional smooth places, but the usual motion was much like that of a cork in a whirlpool, or of a small boat in a choppy sea. Little attention was paid to rocks or ruts; it was almost impossible to capsize the thing. One wheel might be two feet or more higher than the other, whereupon the rider on the upper side would be piled on top of the rider or riders on the lower side, but there was always a fair distribution of this favor. The rocks and ruts were not always on the same side of the road. The safety from overturn was in the long shafts which allowed free play. In the older days, say sixty or seventy years ago, the _volante_ or the _quitrin_ was an outward and visible sign of a well-lined pocket-book. It indicated the possessor as a man of wealth, probably a rich planter who needed such a vehicle to carry him and his family from their mansion in the city to their perhaps quite as costly home on the plantation. The _calisero_, or driver, was dressed in a costume truly gorgeous, the horses were of the best, and the vehicle itself