History and Sites in Havana, Cuba

We started our second full day in Cuba with breakfast on the hotel balcony and enjoyed the beautiful view again.

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We left to see the Revolution Museum, which was interesting, but majority of the exhibits were in Spanish so it was harder to follow and understand. There were tons of photos, newspaper articles, clothing, and personal belongings from the revolution.

Let me give you a very brief summary of some of Cuba’s interesting history.

Cuba was inhabited by Mesoamerican cultures before Christopher Columbus’ discovery of the land in 1942.

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Cuba then became a Spanish colony. In 1762, the colony was occupied by Great Britain before being traded back to Spain for Florida. The Spanish-American War caused Spain to withdraw from Cuba in 1898 and the United States gave Cuba its independence in 1902 with the requirements of the Platt Agreement. This agreement gave the US the right to intervene militarily in Cuba and have access to Guantanamo Bay. In order to prevent fighting within Cuba and protect American economic interests, the US occupied Cuba for several years in the early 20th century after President Palma’s regime collapsed. During this period, the Cuban Communist Party was developed. American troops withdrew in 1909. Several presidents took over in Cuba over the next three decades. In World War I, Cuba declared war on Imperial Germany on April 7, 1917, just one day after the United States entered the war. Cuba could not send troops to fight in Europe, but played a major role in protecting the West Indies from German U-boat attacks. Cuba suffered an economic collapse due to a significant drop in sugar prices. In 1925, President Machado took over and did not step down after his term ended. The revolution of 1933 undermined the oligarchic state. In 1940, Fulgencio Batista, who was endorsed by Communists, won the election. Ramon Grau was elected in 1944, and with the end of World War II came economic boom. The increased prosperity brought corruption and nepotism within the country and as Cuba gained a reputation as a base for organized crime, Mafia mobsters came to Havana. Batista was re-elecred in 1953. The country did well economically and continued to grow for while, but the middle class became dissatisfied with the administration. In the 1950s, the economy started to collapse as unemployment rates soared and domestic product growth diminished.

In 1953, Fidel Castro and his supporters led an attack near Santiago de Cuba, which failed. Castro was sentenced to prison and after being released he went into exile in Mexico. This is where he met Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara and began organizing how to overthrow Batista. After many failed attempts to overthrow Batista and after the United States imposed trade restrictions on the Batista administration, the military situation became untenable and Batista fled.

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Castro took over in 1959. The revolution became increasingly radical and many opponents were executed or imprisoned.

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Hundreds of thousands of Cubans fled the island and many went to the United States. Castro opposed the United States’ influence in Cuba and even threatened a war on the US. The relations between Cuba and the US continued to deteriorate rapidly and the dispute escalated. The two countries severed all diplomatic relations on January 3, 1961. The Kennedy administration forbid American citizens from traveling to Cuba or conducting any financial or commercial transactions with the country. The Bay of Pigs Invasion occurred in hope of overthrowing the Communist regime, but the invasion failed. In 1962, the Cuban Missile Crisis occurred.

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Throughout the 1970s, tens of thousands of dissidents were held and tortured under inhumane prison conditions and many were executed. Between 1959 and 1993, around 1.2 million Cubans fled for the United States by small boats or rafts, it’s estimated that between 30,000 and 80,000 died trying. Fidel Castro fell ill in 2006 and withdrew from public life and officially resigned in 2008. As of 2015, Cuba was one of the few official socialist states in the world. The United States and Cuba have worked on their relationship and now it is legal again for Americans to visit Cuba.

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After our visit to the museum, we took a trip to a Jewish synagogue. If you’ve read my blog before, you know I’m Jewish and often visit Jewish museums or synagogues during my travels around the world. There are only 3 synagogues left in Havana and only 5 total in Cuba. We looked around the sanctuary and talked to people who work there about it. They told us how the Jewish population went from about 20,000 to 1,300 because of the revolution and events I described above. The Jews fled and emigrated to America, Europe, and Israel.

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After our visit to the synagogue, we walked to a main street and waited for a taxi to drive by to flag down and headed back to the hotel to shop a little and clean up. We packed and got ready because the next day we would leave Havana. We had seen and experienced so much during our short visit in the beautiful city, so it was hard to think about leaving already.

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For dinner, we drove to a nearby restaurant where we had to walk up a long staircase to a beautiful dining room. The service and food were exceptional and we enjoyed a wonderfully delicious meal. I had lobster and chocolate cake. We stayed for a long time relaxing and talking.

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We walked through a big square and looked around.

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We walked to another main road to find a taxi and had to argue about the price because they wanted to charge us $20 for a less than 5 minute drive, just because it was a touristy area. I would never accept that kind of price and if they say they won’t lower the price, just walk away. We walked away and kept walking until they chased after us and brought the offer down to a quarter of the original offer. Once we arrived back at the hotel, we went back upstairs to the balcony to listen to Cuban music before going to sleep.