Thirty miles off the southern coast of Cuba lies La Isla de la Juventud, the “Isle of Youth.” It is covered in lush vegetation and pine forests, and about half of the island falls under a “special municipality” designation, which prevents access except for those who have the proper permit from the Cuban government. The island is also home to the great ruin of an unusual and historic prison.
Most of the island’s residents are concentrated in Nueva Gerona, a port town on the north coast, which is only reachable by small, infrequent flights and a sometimes-unreliable ferry service. It is a sleepy existence today, but the island has a long and notorious history. It was popular with pirates, and was once known as Treasure Island—made famous by Robert Louis Stevenson. J.M. Barrie is also said to have drawn on accounts of the island when writing Peter Pan.
The island was given its name in 1978 by Fidel Castro (before that it was known as the Isle of the Pines), who had more than a passing acquaintance with it. In 1952, he spent two years there, along with his brother Raul, imprisoned…
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