Isla de la Juventud: between names and treasures

Isla de la Juventud: between names and treasures
Fecha de publicación: 
13 March 2023
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Small at the south of Cuba, Isla de la Juventud can boast of the several names from pre-Columbian times to the 20th century. It has so many denominations that one of them is even sentenced as "the island of a thousand names".

And even though the Genoese admiral Don Cristóbal decided to baptize it San Juan Evangelista when he first landed there on June 13, 1494 on his second trip to the New World, the truth is that for the native inhabitants it had already been Camarcó, Ahao, Guanaja and Sigüanea.

History says that from that 16th century on, it began the parade of names: Santiago, Santa María, San Pauli, Colonia de la Reina Amalia, Isla del Tesoro, Isla de los Piratas, Isla de las Cotorras, Isla Olvidada, Isla de los 500 asesinatos, Siberia of Cuba, Isla de las toronjas, Isla de Pinos...

The latter was the one that predominated, officially, for a long time. Even today, the name of those who live there is “pinero”, although since 1978, that small portion of land was renamed Isla de la Juventud.

The new name was adopted to pay homage to the majority presence of young people who came from all over the country to contribute to their social development. But, also, because it was the destination for the training of thousands of African students.

Many and picturesque names, then, accompany the history of that Special Municipality to which a good part of Cubans tend to call it, simply, "La Isla".

In it, however, other singularities can be glimpsed through the fabulous stories of corsairs and pirates, buccaneers and smugglers who turned it into a refuge and headquarters for their misdeeds in the Caribbean Sea.

Over the course of several centuries, renowned French, British, Spanish and Dutch outlaws used it as a base to plunder the fleets of galleons and merchant ships that transported the wealth extracted by the Spanish from their colonies.

Some scholars even consider that it served as inspiration for the work of English writer Robert L. Stevenson, Treasure Island.

Steeped in legend, the ghosts of Francis Drake, Jean Latrobe, Francis Leclerc, Henry Morgan, Jean Laffite, Pieter Pieterzon Heyn (Pata de Palo), Thomas Basquerville, John Hawkins, Van Caerden, William Dampier and Pepe el Mallorquín, among other celebrities, still dot the myths of hidden treasures.

According to popular belief, the caves, the mountains near the coasts, the beaches and the seabed hide burials of huge fortunes torn from the peoples of the American continent and that today remains as historical heritage of Isla de la Juventud.

Translated by Sergio A. Paneque Díaz / CubaSí Translation Staff

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