Published: May 26th 2010May 21st 2010
Above panorama: view from the top of the Capitol stairs
(if you haven't read part 1 yet, click here
So where did all this controversy on Cuba come from?
What I have understood is this (I'll try to keep it short):
Americans were investing in the country in the early 1900s and at a certain point in time they owned 2/3rd of farmland in Cuba. Sugar industry was booming and mob gangsters like Al Capone started to set up a tourist sector based on drinking, gambling and prostitution. Governments in the 1st half of the 20th century were weak and in 1952, Fulgencio Batista staged his second military coup successfully. His style of government was dictatorial, inciting a revolutionary group around the charismatic lawyer, Fidel Castro. Castro chose to free the country of dictatorship by using force. After a failed assault in 1953, he was captured, jailed but later freed after Batista won fraudulent elections in 1955 and agreed to grant amnesty to political prisoners. Castro then fled to Mexico where he continued his plans for a revolution. Amongst him were now the charismatic figures of Ernesto "Che" Guevara (a doctor from Argentina) and Camilo Cienfuegos.
Castro and 81
others left Mexico by boat and landed on Cuban by sea in late 1956. They almost failed again but managed to escape and started to slowly build the revolution from inside the country. By 1958 they had "conquered" the entire country and Batista fled. Once in power, Castro had many Batista supporters killed and reclaimed farmland without compensation, infuriating the Americans. It only got worse from there: more and more private companies (with US business interests) were nationalized, Castro ordered US embassy reductions in Havana and the Soviet Union became good friends with Cuba. The US responded by retreating their ambassadors, prohibiting their citizens to travel to Cuba and declaring a full trade embargo.
Much more has happened since, but you can read that in the history books :-)
In stark contrast to this, stands the Capitolio Nacional, in Centro Habana, which was built in 1929 and modeled after the US Capitol in Washington, DC. It used to be the seat of the Cuban Congress but it now houses other institutions. Next to the Capitolio is the Gran Teatro de la Habana, a beautiful early 20th century building. In front of it is the parque central, where a large
statue of Jose Marti looks over the surroundings. Jose Marti is Cuba's national revolutionary figure and martyr, as he got killed in the independence war with Spain in 1895.
Another well-known building in Havana is the Art Deco style Bacardi building. It is topped with Bacardi's famous bat, present on every Bacardi bottle. The Bacardi family, and the brand, left Cuba just in time before it was to be nationalized by the Castro government (it is now headquartered in Bermuda).
The Museo de la Revolucion is housed in another impressive building and propagates the story and success of the Cuban Revolution. It is interesting and has a tribute room to revolutionary figures Camilo Cienfuegos (his plane was lost in 1959) and Che Guevara (executed in Bolivia, in 1967, after being caught organizing another revolution).
Plaza de la Revolucion (called Plaza de la Republica before the revolution), is a huge square surrounded with several government buildings, adorned with images of Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos and a 142m high Jose Marti memorial. It's possible to ride an elevator all the way to the top for stunning views over Havana, its wide avenues and the square.
last evening in Havana, I went to the Tropicana Nightclub, surrounded by lush tropical gardens. It started as a cabaret club in 1939 and thrived in the 1950s when it was run by an American mobster until he got kicked out of Cuba by Castro, in 1959. Today, the venue is still home to a spectacular dance show, starring about 200 performers; dancers, singers, acrobats and musicians. It's a 2 hour show and I had a front row seat: an amazing closer to my Havana experience!
More pictures below and on the next page.
There are more photos below