National Geographic Creates First Map of Cuba in Over 100 Years
by Owen James Burke
For the first time in 100 years, the National Geographic Society has constructed and released a comprehensive map of Cuba, which includes two new provinces since National Geographic completed their last survey, in 1906.
National Geographic geographer Juan Jose Valdes suggested to his colleagues last year that the rendering of a new map of Cuba was in noticing that National Geographic’s current file on Cuba was so terribly outdated.
Equally as impressive as the map is Juan Jose Valdes himself, who fled Cuba for the United States over fifty years ago as a young boy, several months after the Bay of Pigs invasion. His parents did not want their son to have any part in the revolution, so when he was just seven years old, they took him to the airport and put him on a plane alone. He would not see them for seven months, and was unsure whether or not he would ever get to see his home again.
Following their son to the United States, the Valdeses arrived in Miami in 1962. Juan’s father took a job offloading fruit from Central America, and got lost coming home one day. The Young Valdes quickly ran to a fire station where the firefighters provided him a map. Through the landmarks that his father described, Juan was able to direct his father home.
“That a map could do that,” said Valdes, amazed and intrigued him.
Now the geographer for National Geographic, he is majorly responsible for the undertaking of the massive project, which was only completed this past July.
With a staff of four cartographers working alongside him, Juan Jose Valdes began the map using a Geographic Information System (GIS) database. Beginning with capitals and sites of significance, they worked there way down, filling in layers and detail along the way.
Each layer of the map provides a different set of information: roads and railroads, cities and towns, oil fields and pipelines, canals and reservoirs, mountains and plains, wetlands and soundings; they all just stack on top of one another.
The updated map even includes two new provinces (Artemisa and Mayabeque), which were added by Cuba just last year.
With loosened travel restrictions and tentative plans for private investments, Cuba is becoming noticeably more present on a global scale, so perhaps, after 105 years, it was time for a new map of the Caribbean nation.
10 years ago, Valdes returned to Cuba for the first time since he first left. It had been 40 years, and becoming reacquainted with the sights and sounds he experienced with his parents so long ago, he was stricken with a deluge of emotions. Valdes led an eleven-day tour for tourists, and “There were several times I just sat down and cried,” he says. “It just brought back too many memories.”
On August 10, Valdes gave each of his family members one of the new maps, commemorating the fifty-year anniversary of his leaving of Cuba.