Monday 30 December 2013


 If you don’t much like admiting in public that you failed geography in high school, you can quietly mumble to yourself:  ‘So, where the bloody hell is the Republic of Cuba, and what do they do over there?’ 

The US and Mexico about to gulp down Cuba - the "little red shrimp"
Cuba is located at the mouth of the Gulf of Mexico, or to put this in another way, at the confluence of the Gulf of Mexico and the big Atlantic Ocean. That is, it is in the Western Hemisphere (or the ‘American Hemisphere’). For the nautically minded it lies between latitudes 19 degrees and 24 degrees north and longitudes 74 degrees and 85 degrees west. Some time ago, its location made it, and especially its capital city, La Habana, very vulnerable to attack from pirates and armies seeking treasure and conquests in the then so-called New World. To protect itself it then became very heavily fortified.

In a nut shell : Cuba, which is officially known as the Republic of Cuba, is an island[1] about 1,200 kilometres long (or about 750 miles if you live in the US) and on average about 90 kms wide (say, about 55 miles). In 2009 the UN estimated that 11.2 million people lived over there, and Havana is their capital. It is located near the coast on the north-west part of the island. 

The Republic of Cuba is the largest island in the Caribbean Sea, or in the West Indies - which are also known as the Caribbean Islands. The United States are to the north-west, the Bahamas are to the north, Haiti is to the east, Jamaica and the Cayman Islands are to the south, and Mexico (where the men wear large hats called sombreros) lies just opposite Cuba to its west.

The West Indies, or the Caribbean Islands if you insist on it, is actually a great long bridge of islands, just like the tail of a long snake stretching in an arc of about 3,000 kilometres long between Florida in North America on one side and Venezuela in South America on the other. On a map it looks like an arc of mountain tops poking out of the sea, which most of the islands probably are. This bridge of big and small islands consists of three separate groups or archipelagos. ’Archipelago’ is an old word meaning a ‘group of islands’.  

Now that you have finally opened an atlas, the Republic of Cuba is that big island running from west to east (or east to west - if you insist on standing on your head). It has 1,600 quite small islands surrounding it; the biggest of these is the Isla de Juventude, or ‘Island of Youth’, just underneath Cuba to the south. All the Cuban islands apparently lie in the Greater Antilles archipelago; which is fairly near to the USA. 

To someone who has smoked far too many Havana cigars, Cuba looks a bit like a giant hammer head shark swimming up from the depths of the turquoise Caribbean Sea (and man-eating sharks do exist around there) and about to bite the western side of the neighbouring island of Hispaniola, of which Haiti along with the other two-thirds of the island (called the Dominican Republic) also looks somewhat like a big fish with its mouth wide open (no doubt about to scream). 

Another way of looking at things is to say that Cuba is located just under the Tropic of Cancer; hence it is within the balmy tropics and less than 200 kilometres from the barmy Florida peninsula. It is opposite Mexico and closer to it than to the USA - but, unlike the United States of America, few people in Mexico seem to worry very much about it! (to be continued)
[1] Cuba is the 16th largest island in the world. Australia being the largest- so big, in fact, that it’s been made a continent!

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