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Havana History

image : (c) istock/thinkstock

The history of Havana and Cuba are closely related. Modern history begins with Christopher Columbus landing on the island of Cuba in 1492. However, before that time period lived an indigenous people called the  Guanajatabey. Migrants drove them farther out west. There were as many as 350,000 ofTaino and Ciboney groups by the end of the 1400s. Then, not one, but many Mesoamerican tribes came over, even before Columbus’ arrival. When that happened, Columbus set up a governor in Havana.

An odd point of interest, Cuba was once owned by Great Britain. However, the government traded it back to Spain for Florida. All of this ownership and trading only helped to incite rebellion in the 1800s, though the Spanish kept power. The next major happening on the timeline was when the United States and Spain clashed.

This ultimately led to Spain withdrawing in the year 1898. Four years later, Cuba gained its independence. The next period would be marked by greater economic and tourist development, but also political chicanery. This created unhappiness for the people and eventually dictator Fulgencio Batista. Fidel Castro led the movement, which ran from 1953 to 1959. This Cuban Revolution has been a socialist state run by the Communist Party ever since. Fidel officially stepped down years ago, but it remains in the family with Raúl Castro.

Ever since the revolution, Cuba and its neighbour the United States have been at odds.   The US is one of the few governments that does not have a friendly trade agreement with Cuba though some diplomacy has taken place here and there, most recently in late 2014 when Cuba released a number of political prisoners, helping to heal strained relations.


Havana itself was founded as a trading port by modern Spaniards and was often the target of pirates in the 1500s. Pirates overthrew the city soon enough, which led to Spain starting its construction of fortresses for defence and attack. By the year 1592 Havana was officially declared a city and would be called the “Key to the New World and Rampart of the West Indies.

The 17th century was one of the most important times for expansion. Greater construction techniques took place in this time, as did the erecting of many religious establishments. By halfway through the 1600s, disease struck Havana hard. Its peak came in the 18th century when it was the third largest city in the Americas, even surpassing the US’ cities of New York and Boston. Havana was conquered by the British government in 1762, the start of the Seven Years War. The British opened trade agreements with surrounding colonies, which gave rise to much of modern Cuban culture.

What ultimately led to compromise between the UK and Spain was sugar, believe it or not. Sugar merchants needed Spain’s cooperation to avoid declining prices and so put pressure on the government to negotiate with Spain. The Peace of Paris followed ending the Seven Years War. Britain took Florida and Havana went back to Spain, with involvement from the French government.

When the Spanish took control of Havana, they fortified it again and this led to an increase in development, including churches like the Havana Cathedral. This period of economic recovery touched everything, even starting a theatre trend, as well as giving life to a new middle class.

The United States continued to play an important role in influencing Cuban culture. The Confederate States of America’s defeat led to many slaveholders leaving their homes and continuing the run plantations to Havana. The US took occupation of Cuba by the early 20th century, leading to further development including much in the way of commercial and tourist real estate. The US left Cuba after Tomas Estrada Palma took office in 1902. For over 50 years Havana toiled, as there was much in the way of development, but tycoons and were taking over, including organised crime bosses. The middle glass grew and actually outperformed Las Vegas in the United States.

However, decay was taking place for the poor and even middle class, as social services and public housing began to fall. This led to a revolution in 1959 as well as Castro’s confiscating of all private property. Tourism helped resurrect the economy even though the socialist government managed all finances. Foreign investors did have income to offer. However, even to this day, you won’t see any Cubans operating tourist real estate independent of the government; they are allowed to work around the tourism field, working in hospitality or driving taxis.

By 1968, all private businesses were owned by the government and the laws persist today. Further economy problems occurred with the fall of the U.S.S.R. in the early 1990s, since they were a major backer financially. Finances were so tough in this time, residents were literally stealing animals from the zoos of the city for food! However, Castro’s socialism and their Soviet Union backing led to the US embargo act, a ban on all trading. This took its toll on the economy of the city, and to this day, a lot of historical buildings are not fully restored to where they should be. Cuba relies on foreign aid to improve much of its tourism accommodations and restorations today.

The year 2008, while damaging to the US, was actually great for Cuba and they hit a record $2.7 billion dollar USD high. The progress made with the US is good news for US travelling citizens eager to head back and sample some real Cuban cigars (in fact they can now take home $100 worth of cigars after easing of the embargo act); but much of the rest of the world has already made peace with Castro and knows firsthand the beauty and excitement that is Havana, created by a family that truly appreciated its long history and had great ambitions to elevate the entire populace.

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Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.

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Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.