Native American villages and farms were scattered throughout the island before Europeans arrived in 1492. The first Spanish settlements, founded primarily to export gold and to organize expeditions to the mainland, were the ports of Baracoa, Havana, Puerto Príncipe, Santiago de Cuba, and Sancti Spíritus. The ports grew slowly, however, because the island’s few profitable mines were quickly exhausted. Within a few years the indigenous population was decimated by European diseases and maltreatment. The number of Europeans (notably Spaniards) and African slaves slowly increased as sugar plantations grew in number and size. Although small, independently owned farms dotted the landscape throughout much of the colonial period, many were incorporated in slave-based plantations.
By the mid-18th century, roughly one-fourth of the island’s 150,000 people were African slaves; a century later, slaves made up one-third of a population of about 1,300,000. By the late 19th century, when slavery was abolished, Cuba’s numerous plantations relied on seasonal labourers and large mechanized ingenios (sugar mills). The city of Havana, which had become Cuba’s major port in the 16th century, grew further as Cuba’s agricultural exports increased. The island’s population surpassed 5,800,000 in the 1950s and approached twice that number in the early 21st century, by which time three-fourths of the people lived in towns and cities. One in five Cubans lived in Havana—more than in Cuba’s next 11 cities combined, including Santiago de Cuba (Cuba’s second largest city), Camagüey, Holguín, Guantánamo, Santa Clara, and Bayamo. "Cuba" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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