views updated May 23 2018


Havana, Cuba's capital and principal seaport, with 2.3 million inhabitants in the city and 3 million in the metropolitan area (2005 estimate). Founded by Diego de Velázquez in 1514 on the island's southern coast, San Cristóbal de la Habana was transplanted in 1519 to its present location because of both the magnificent natural harbor and the proximity to the Gulf Stream. Becoming the colonial capital in 1553, the city lay on the western side of the bay, which bottlenecked into an easily defended passage at its mouth. Eventually, the massive Morro castle was erected at the entrance's eastern shore.

Known as the "Key to the New World," Havana commanded the exit from the Caribbean Sea and the route to and from Veracruz, Mexico. As the imperial commercial system evolved during the sixteenth century, Havana's bay harbored the Mexican treasure fleet returning to Seville and the southern fleet on its return voyage from Cartagena. Service industries enriched the city, and its immediate hinterland enjoyed a periodic market for foodstuffs, although the economy generally remained underdeveloped until the eighteenth century.

When Spanish mercantilist strategy broadened to emphasize tropical agricultural products as well as precious metals, Havana's hinterland responded, and the city assumed the role of exporter. In 1717 the royal tobacco monopoly began its century-long existence, emphasizing the importance of the Cuban leaf. The Havana Company, established in 1740, promoted the marketing of sugar in Spain. The 1765 Regulation of Free Trade for the Caribbean Islands permitted Havana access to nine Spanish ports and enhanced marketing flexibility. The Free Trade Act of 1778, especially when broadened to include Veracruz in 1788, afforded Havana the additional role of entrepôt for important portions of the Mexican and Caribbean trade. Although the Havana Company quickly faded from importance after 1765, local entrepreneurs plunged Havana's hinterland into the sugar revolution of the late eighteenth century. Thus, as deregulation dismantled the historic convoy system that had assigned Havana central importance, it simultaneously provided the port with new, larger opportunities.

During the early nineteenth century, after revolution had destroyed the sugar economy of Saint-Domingue, Cuban production assumed world leadership. Although the collapse of Spain's continental empire diminished Havana's function as entrepôt, the city, now permitted international free trade, emerged as a major commercial center owing to continuing demand for its sugar and tobacco, a role set to endure into modern times. The population of Havana, counted at 41,000 in 1778, had climbed to 94,000 by 1827, and some 240,000 at century's end.

Heavily fortified and stoutly garrisoned, strategic Havana ranked as the most important strongpoint of the Spanish Empire. A major naval base, Havana also developed into a primary shipbuilding center during the eighteenth century. Following Havana's capture in 1762 and the subsequent eleven-month British occupation, Spain invested huge quantities of Mexican silver to enhance its military. Defense waned as a major industry following Spain's loss of its continental colonies, but Havana regained its historic role as a strategic military base after Cuban independence, during the United States' protectorate. Although this role diminished following World War II, it reappeared forcefully when Cuba fell under Soviet influence during the Castro dictatorship, again earning its capital from massive outside subsidies.

The government devoted funds in the 1980s to restore La Habana Vieja, the colonial historic center UNESCO designated as a World Heritage Site in 1982. Further measures to attract international tourists to Havana followed the Soviet Union's collapse in the 1990s and Cuba's ensuing economic crisis known as the "special period." In response, the government eased restrictions on foreign investment, and since the late 1990s tourism in Havana has grown significantly, and the city continues to expand westward.

Nevertheless, Havana, once one of the world's most beautiful, vibrant cities, experienced hard times under the Castro regime and its commercial isolation from its American economic base.

See alsoCuba: The Colonial Era (1492–1898); Cuba: The Republic (1898–1959); Cuba: Cuba Since 1959.


Hugh Thomas, Cuba: The Pursuit of Freedom (1971).

Leví Marrero, Cuba: Economía y sociedad, 15 vols. (1972–1992), especially vols. 1-2, 7-10, and 12.

John Robert McNeill, Atlantic Empires of France and Spain: Louisbourg and Havana, 1700–1763 (1985).

Jaime Suchlicki, Cuba: From Columbus to Castro, 3d ed. (1990).

Allan J. Kuethe, "Havana in the Eighteenth Century," in Atlantic Port Cities: Economy, Culture, and Society in the Atlantic World, 1650–1850, edited by Franklin W. Knight and Peggy K. Liss (1991).

Additional Bibliography

Colantonio, Andrea, and Robert B. Potter. Urban Tourism and Development in the Socialist State: Havana during the "Special Period." Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2006.

Estrada, Alfredo José. Havana: Autobiography of a City. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.

Kapcia, Antoni. Havana: The Making of Cuban Culture. New York: Berg, 2005.

Segre, Roberto, Mario Coyula, and Joseph L. Scarpaci. Havana: Two Faces of the Antillean Metropolis. Chichester, U.K.: Wiley, 1997.

Tapia-Ruano, Osvaldo de. La Habana en el siglo XXI: Urbanismo actual. Miami, FL: Ediciones Universal, 2006.

                                         Allan J. Kuethe


views updated May 08 2018


HAVANA , capital of Cuba; general population: 2,180,000 (2001); estimated Jewish population 1,000 (82% of the Jews in the country).

During colonial times Havana was considered by Spain as "the key to the Americas" for its important strategic location. It was the meeting point of the treasure fleet on its return to Spain. Historians assume that *Crypto-Jews were present among the inhabitants of Havana as well as among the merchants from non-Catholic countries who were involved in illegal commerce with the Spaniards.

The first Jewish group to settle in Havana after Cuban independence (1902) came from the United States. They founded the United Hebrew Congregation in 1906. They were followed by Sephardim, mainly from Turkey, whose communal congregation, Shevet Ahim, was founded in 1914. In the 1920s thousands of Jews from Eastern Europe arrived in Cuba, hoping to use it as a stepping stone to the U.S. Many of them settled in Havana, where they founded the Centro Israelita (Jewish Center) in 1925, together with a large number of social, religious, cultural, and political organizations. In the late 1930s and during World War ii Havana became a temporary haven for thousands of Jews fleeing Nazi Germany, using loopholes in Cuba's immigration laws. In May 1939, however, Havana was the scene of the tragic episode of the s.s.*St. Louis, whose passengers were refused landing and were compelled to return to Europe, where many of them perished in extermination camps.

Following World War ii the Havana community prospered both economically and socially. In 1951 the Ashkenazi community laid the cornerstone for the Patronato, a magnificent building that symbolized the social mobility and prosperity of Havana Jews. When the Sephardim inaugurated their Sephardi Center, Fidel Castro was already in power.

The Cuban revolution of 1959 marked the decline of Havana Jews. Following the nationalization of private business, around 90% of them emigrated from Cuba, most of them to the United States. The government respected the right of the Jewish community to continue its religious life, but the demographic decline, the emigration of lay and religious leaders, and the influence of the atheistic policy of the state had a growing impact on Jewish life. In 1973 Cuba severed its diplomatic relations with Israel, and the isolation of Havana Jews increased. The deterioration of communal life continued until the late 1980s, when 752 Jews (82% of the total in Cuba) were registered in the community's records for the distribution of products for Passover, sent annually by the Canadian Jewish Congress.

Since 1990 the community in Havana experienced a great revival. The collapse of Communism in the Soviet Union forced the Castro government to look for new sources of hard currency, and Cuba was opened to tourists and foreign investors. The community in Havana receives moral and material support from Jewish organizations, especially from the *Joint Distribution Committe. Today there are three religious congregations functioning in Havana – the Patronato (with a Conservative synagogue), Adath Israel (Orthodox), and the Sephardi Center. In addition there are several other groups, including the B'nai B'rith, the Women's Organization, and ORT. For a detailed history of Havana Jews (including bibliography) see *Cuba.

[Margalit Bejarano (2nd ed.)]


views updated May 17 2018


In 1514 Diego de Velazquez (1465–1524), the conqueror of Cuba, incorporated San Cristobal de la Habana as one of the initial seven villas of the island. Originally sited on the southern coast near the anchorage of Batabano, in 1519 officials moved Havana to its present location on the north coast where the enormous deep water bay and proximity to the Bahamas channel confirmed its strategic importance. French, Dutch, and English incursions prompted construction of elaborate fortifications, the most emblematic being the Morro castle at the harbor mouth. The city became the political and military capital of the colony in 1553, while the Bishop of Santiago de Cuba habitually resided in Havana until 1789 when an independent see was created.

Until the early nineteenth century Havana possessed a diverse economy. Foodstuffs, with an early emphasis on cattle ranching and leather exports, occupied the hinterlands and confirmed the city as the agricultural service center for the western half of the island. The royal tobacco monopoly was established in 1717. The Havana Company, founded in 1740, promoted the island's produce, especially sugar. The bay constantly hosted the transatlantic treasure fleets, whereas the city furnished maintenance and provisioning. Complementing the expanding shipyard, which constructed the world's largest wooden vessels in the eighteenth century, were a canon and anchor foundry.

Following the British capture and occupation of Havana in 1762, Spain introduced numerous reforms—taxation with consent of the habaneros, a monthly transatlantic mail service, and massive new fortification construction with free and prisoner labor. The Free Trade Act of 1765 opened Havana to nine Spanish ports, while an act passed in 1778 opened additional American ports. The creation of white, mulatto, and black militia companies provided new, wider reaching opportunities. Havana ranked as the "key to the New World."

The quickening rise of the sugar oligarchy at the end of the eighteenth century coincided with the destruction of the neighboring island of Saint Domingue (later Haiti), stimulating monoculture. The loss of Spanish colonies in the early nineteenth century diminished Havana's turntable function, but increased free trade, especially in sugar and tobacco, and confirmed a new, prosperous economy.

see also Caribbean.


Johnson, Sherry. The Social Transformation of Eighteenth-Century Cuba. Gainesville, FL: University of Florida Press, 2001.

Kuethe, Allan. Cuba, 1753–1815: Crown, Military, and Society. Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press, 1986.

Marrero, Levi. Cuba: Economía y sociedad. Río Piedras, Pueto Rico, and Madrid: Editorial San Juan and Editorial Playor, 1972–1992.

Martín Zequeira, María Elena, and Rodríguez Fernádez, Eduardo Luis. La Habana, guía de arquitectura. Madrid: Agencia Española de Cooperación Internacional, 1998.

Segre, Roberto, Mario Coyula, and Joseph L. Scarpaci. Havana: Two Faces of the Antillean Metropolis. Chichester, U.K.: John Wiley & Sons Ltd., 1997.

Wright, Irene A. The Early History of Cuba, 1492–1586. New York: Macmillan, 1916.


views updated May 23 2018

Havana ★★½ 1990 (R)

During the waning days of the Batista regime, a gambler travels to Havana in search of big winnings. Instead, he meets the beautiful wife of a communist revolutionary. Unable to resist their mutual physical attraction, the lovers become drawn into a destiny which is far greater than themselves. Reminiscent of “Casablanca.” 145m/C VHS, DVD . Robert Redford, Lena Olin, Alan Arkin, Raul Julia, Tomas Milian, Tony Plana, Betsy Brantley, Lise Cutter, Richard Farnsworth, Mark Rydell, Daniel Davis; D: Sydney Pollack; W: Judith Rascoe, David Rayfiel; C: Owen Roizman; M: Dave Grusin.


views updated May 29 2018

Havana (La Habana) Capital of Cuba, on the nw coast; largest city and port in the West Indies. It was founded by the Spanish explorer Diego Velázquez in 1515, and moved to its present site in 1519. Havana became Cuba's capital at the end of the 16th century. Industries: oil refining, textiles, sugar and cigars. Pop. (2002 est.) 2,328,000.

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