Thursday, February 21, 2008

Carribean Connection

Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Virgin Islands in 1920

Since Cuba has been in the news for several days, I checked my 1920 world geography book to see what insight it might provide. This interesting passage gives some background to U.S. influence in the Carribean. I studied Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders in American history class years ago, of course, but it makes much more sense now than it did then.

"The latest addition to our territory is the little group of Danish West Indies or Virgin Islands, lying just east of Porto Rico. They were bought for $25,000,000 and came into our possession in March, 1917. Our government had made previous attempts to buy the islands but was never able to make satisfactory terms. These little islands with a total area of only 142 square miles cost more than the Louisiana Purchase and Alaska together.

"Their population is small and their only industry is sugar growing. Their value to our government does not consist in their territory or their wealth. They were bought because one of them, St. Thomas, has a good harbor. This will form a good base for our fleet that guards the entrance to the Caribbean Sea. If a nation hostile to us had possession of this base, it would endanger the Panama canal.

"As a result of our war with Spain, in 1898, the United States came into the control of Cuba and Porto Rico, two of the largest islands of the West Indies. Porto Rico was ceded to the United States, and Cuba was given its independence under the general guidance of the United States...

"As in all the West Indies, the principal crop is sugar cane, and the industry is carried on much as it is in Louisiana. A second important crop is tobacco for which Cuba is especially noted. Tobacco is also raised extensively in Porto Rico. At Havana and other places, it is manufactured into cigars, which bring high prices, -- the Havana cigar being considered the best that is made.

"Our soil and climate have enabled us to raise almost all the farm products that we have needed, except such as may be produced within these islands. They can send us tea, coffee, sugar, spices, and tropical fruits. They can also send us fruits and vegetables in midwinter. Thus it is of great value to us that we have such close relations with these islands...

"During its occupation of Cuba, the United States has had one good macadam road built from the eastern to the western end of the island. Steamboat lines now run from American ports to Havana and the other West Indian ports. Thus the United States has done much to improve the conveniences for the transportation of goods; and by that means a much better market is secured for the products of these islands."

Source: World Geographies: Second Book (p. 167-170) by Ralph S. Tarr, B.S. F.G.S.A, and Frank M. McMurry, Ph. D. Copyrighted 1920. Published by the Macmillan Company, New York, 1922.

Related links:
CIA Factbook -- Cuba, Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico


Edwin Vázquez de Jesús said...


It's important to note that in 1917 not only did the U.S. bought the Virgin Islands but imposed American citizenship on Puerto Ricans. This even when our Legislature unanimously rejected it. Of course we cannot overlook the fact that in 1917 the U.S. was involved in WWI.

Thank you,

Edwin Vázquez, Ph.D.
University of Puerto Rico at Cayey

Genevieve said...

Thanks for adding this information.

Bianca Reagan said...

My grandmother was born in St. Thomas, VI, a year after your 1920 geography book. I often forget she's not just other old person that I'm related to; she's a part of history.

Genevieve said...

Thanks for visiting, Bianca. I'm sure that your grandmother has some wonderful stories about her childhood in St. Thomas. I hope you'll ask her about it.

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