La Habana, city, capital of
both Cuba Ciudad de la Habana prov., W Cuba; largest and of
city and chief port of the West Indies and one of the oldest
cities in the Americas. Havana is the political, economic,
and cultural center of Cuba. An important hub of air and maritime
transportation, it is the focal point of Cuban commerce, exporting
sugar, tobacco, and fruits and importing mainly foodstuffs,
cotton, and machinery and technical equipment. Industries
include shipbuilding, assembly plants, rum distilleries, sugar
refineries, and factories making the famous Havana cigars.
Tourism has been greatly revived in the 1990s as Cuba redirects
its economic model from central planning toward a mixed economy.
The city's hot, humid climate is moderated by sea winds.
Havana possesses one of the best natural harbors in the Caribbean
and has long been strategically and commercially important.
The original settlement, called San Cristóbal de la
Habana, was founded in 1515 by the Spanish explorer Diego
de Velázquez on Cuba's southern coast but was relocated
to the site of present-day Havana in 1519. Spanish treasure
galleons assembled in Havana's harbor for their return voyage
to Spain, and the city tempted many English, French, and Dutch
buccaneers. It became the capital of Cuba in the late 16th
cent. In 1762, during the French and Indian Wars, Havana fell
to Anglo-American forces, but the following year it was returned
to Spain in exchange for the Floridas. By the early 19th cent.,
the city ranked as one of the wealthiest and busiest commercial
centers in the Western Hemisphere.
The blowing up of the U.S. battleship Maine in Havana harbor
in Feb., 1898, was the immediate cause of the Spanish-American
War. U.S. troops occupying Havana in the wake of their victory
there improved sanitary conditions and eliminated yellow fever
from the city. Until 1959 the close political and economic
relations between Cuba and the United States were strongly
reflected in the commercial and cultural life of the city.
After the Castro government took control, the U.S. presence
in Havana was replaced by that of the Soviet Union, with which
the Cuban government maintained close ties.
Castro's policy of directing economic resources toward rural
areas resulted in the deterioration of Havana, particularly
the old city, but restoration efforts began in the 1980s.
The old city is dominated by Morro Castle and other fortresses
and is also known for its narrow streets, numerous churches,
and fine examples of colonial architecture. The modern section
of the city has wide boulevards, impressive public buildings
(notably the lavishly decorated capitol), and magnificent
residences. Havana Univ. was founded in 1728. The city has
many cultural facilities.
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...Extraordinary Sportsmen. Why are Cubans such
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