Cuba releases bank note celebrating founding of Havana

The Central Bank of Cuba is commemorating the 500th anniversary of the city of Havana with a 2019 500-peso commemorative bank note with allegories related to the founding of the township of San Cristóbal de La Habana by the Spanish in 1519.

The face of the new note is similar to that of the regular 500-peso note, with its green and red coloring and a bust of the 19th century revolutionary Ignacio Agramonte. Added to it is an image consisting of the Giraldilla and the logo of the 500th Anniversary of  Havana City Foundation and the date 11/16/1519.

La Giraldilla, as it is known, is a weather vane in the guise of a small bronze female figure. For more than 350 years she (now a replica, placed somewhat lower — the original is in a museum; a 1926 hurricane tore it down) has kept watch over Havana from atop the Castillo de la Real Fuerza in the city’s Old Quarter.

On the back of the note, the scene of the Guairmo Constitutional Assembly of 1869 shown on the regular issue is replaced by one that represents the Templete, on the site of the first mass and town council of San Cristóbal de la Habana, celebrated Nov. 16, 1519. It was built in 1827. The caption below reads “EL TEMPLETE (1828) – HAVANA FOUNDATION SITE (1519).”

The new bills will circulate together with the previous issues.

It is still illegal for U.S. citizens to import coins and paper money from Cuba.

  • Published in Cuba

Wonderful Havana celebrates 500 years

In the midst of a heightened traveler interest from all over the world in Cuba, its capital of Havana reaches its 500th anniversary this November 16, demonstrating its unquestionable appeal.

Refurbished restaurants, social facilities, schools and other establishments reopen their doors to celebrate the date, while music and dance accompany the significant date celebrated by Cubans and foreigners alike.

Large numbers of tourists from all over the world join the revelry.

Declared among the Seven Wonder Cities of the World, Havana in known not only for its beauty, but for the traditions of its people.

The well-preserved urban landscape, thanks to the Office of the City Historian (Eusebio Leal) and the serious efforts of the Ministry of Tourism (MINTUR) and other bodies, welcomes people from all over the world.

Founded definitively in 1519 in the shade of a leafy Ceiba tree, Havana quickly became a very cosmopolitan city, full of travelers from all other the world.

Havana residents represent this mix of people, with Spanish, African, Chinese, Haitian, German, French, and Jewish roots.

The Villa of San Cristobal de La Habana was founded on November 16, 1519, on the shores of Puerto Carenas, after an initial settlement was founded on the south coast of the country in 1515.

This first city in the western insular area is described by historians as hugely significant, due to its monuments and unique patrimonial values, where five centuries of history come together.

Its bay became the meeting point of the entire Spanish fleet on their voyages to the metropolis carrying riches from all over the Western Hemisphere, guarded by warships, given the constant threat of pirates.

Given its particular appeal, the city was invaded in 1555 by pirates and in 1792 by the English.

Havana's historic richness was recognized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) when it was declared a World Heritage Site in 1982.

The capital of the Republic of Cuba stretches over an area of 732 square kilometers and has 15 municipalities of which nine are totally urban.

Old Havana is formed by 4.5 square kilometers, 2.2 kilometers of which attract more than 90 percent of all travelers who arrive in the country.

Today the city is rejuvenated, despite the difficulties presented by its magnitude, and ready to celebrate its 500 years.

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Cubans in the US to celebrate Havana's 500th anniversary

Members of the Alianza Martiana, which brings together Cuban emigree organizations in Miami, United States, will travel to Havana to participate in celebrations to mark the city's 500th anniversary.

According to a press release from the organization, 35 of its members will leave tomorrow for the Cuban capital to join 'these festivities of national and popular pride.'

They will also show their support for the normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba, and demand the lifting of the economic, commercial and financial blockade against the island, and the end of travel restrictions on US citizens, the text added.

The blockade has been imposed for over 55 years and has been condemned by the vast majority of the international community, as demonstrated by the most recent vote in the United Nations General Assembly on a Cuban resolution demanding an end to this hostile policy.

The visitors' program in Havana includes a meeting with the President of the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples, Fernando Gonzalez, and the Director of Consular Affairs and Cuban Residents Abroad of the Foreign Ministry, Ernesto Soberon.

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Spain's Foreign Minister acknowledges restoration work in Old Havana

The Minister of Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation of the Kingdom of Spain, Josep Borrell, thanked the historian of the city of Havana, Eusebio Leal, for the titanic work of recovery of the heritage of the old section of the Cuban capital.

During the tour that both personalities made through emblematic sites of the Historical Center, the visitor said he was glad to meet again with Leal, whom he described as the indisputable author of the important restoration and conservation work.

During the tour, Borrell sent a message to King Philip VI and Queen Letizia, informing them that they are expected in Havana, a city that is being groomed for its 500th anniversary, to be celebfated next November 16.

The Spanish diplomat told the press that he was grateful for the hospitality received from Cuban authorities, and said that the necessary high-level political consultations had taken place before the monarchs' visit, scheduled for next month.

On Thursday, the visitor, guided by Leal, toured the facilities of the Palacio del Segundo Cabo, a center that has benefited from the collaboration of Europe and that after its reconstruction, it is contributing  to spreading cultural relations between Cuba and the so-called Old Continent.

Together, they walked through the Plaza de Armas and reached the Palacio de los Capitanes Generales, where they appreciated an exclusive presentation by the Camerata Romeu string ensemble.

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Cards from Havana 500

On the verge of a new anniversary this November 16th, Havana looks prettier with each passing day.

Translated by Sergio A. Paneque Díaz/CubaSí Translation Staff






  • Published in Specials

Havana’s 500th Anniversary: Energetic, Engaged, Enthusiastic and Defiant

One of the most fascinating places in Havana is the rooftop of the Parque Central Hotel. In the late afternoon, you can sip an excellent mojito next to the outdoor pool, while the addictive rhythms of the Buena Vista Social Club song “Chan Chan” or a pumped-up version of “Quezas, quezas, quezas” is performed by the energetic band. 

When you gaze next door, you find a 1917 building that has been totally renovated as the luxury 5-star Hotel Manzana Kempinski. And at street level, a legion of colorful classic cars from the 1940s and 1950s – now converted to taxis — are waiting for hotel customers. Farther afield lies the ornate Neo-Baroque architecture of the Gran Teatro de la Habana, with the huge dome of the Capitolo as its next-door neighbor. Resembling the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C., the dome of the legislative branch of Cuba’s government is partially covered by a tarpaulin, as renovations surge ahead for Nov. 16, 2019, the 500th anniversary of Havana.

Guided tours of the Capitolo reveal a truly Cuban-styled building, from the two giant bronze statues by Angelo Zanelli, representing the people and the twin ethics of work and progress, and past the bronze doors that illustrate the history of Cuba. Once inside, under the dome, is Zanelli’s statue, La Republica, standing 17 meters (55.7 feet) tall and weighing 49 tons. It is the third biggest bronze statue in the world; and after renovations are complete, the huge drapery hiding the statue will be removed in time for the 500th anniversary celebration. 

In reality, according to Manuel Marrero Cruz, Cuba’s Minister of Tourism, “the 500thanniversary is no longer November 16th. It’s every day of 2019.”

Havana 500th Anniversary
Manuel Marrero Cruz, Cuba’s Minister of Tourism.

First-hand report from FITCuba 2019

At FITCuba 2019 (Feria Internacional de Tourismo de Cuba), held from May 6 to 10, the atmosphere was energetic, engaged, enthusiastic, and even defiant. At the official inauguration of the event, Minister Cruz lauded the tourism accomplishments of Cuba, since Oct. 28, 1492, when Columbus set foot on the island and noted that, “This is the most beautiful land human eyes have ever seen.”

The tourism minister reported that Havana is the number one inbound center for tourism in Cuba, with 59 airlines directly connecting Havana to 36 cities and a cruise port serviced by 17 cruise lines (which helped to account for a 49.5% increase in cruise passengers from 2017 to 2018).  Minister Cruz noted that 4.7 million foreign visitors arrived in Cuba in 2018, with Canada accounting for 1.1 million of those visitors (roughly 23%), followed by Americans, Cuban Ex-pats; and visitors from Mexico, Russia, China, Columbia, and Portugal. 

Echoing the words of Renaldo Garcia Zapata, the President of the Government of Havana, who declared that “Havana provides an absolutely safe environment for tourism,” Minister Cruz cited a survey where 600,000 visitors said they chose Cuba for its reputation as a safe tourism destination. “There are no drug cartels or kidnappings here,” he said.

Minister Cruz stated that the Cubans are “educated, hospitable people” who care about the country and the environment. There are nine UNESCO World Heritage sites on the island; 14 national parks; and 960 kilometers (596 miles) of white sand beaches, with Veradero rated as the No. 2 beach destination in the world.

He acknowledged complaints from visitors about Cuba’s poor internet connectivity and noted that, in 2019, all 4- and 5-star hotels will have WiFi; and that the number of “hot spots” will increase throughout the country to include some of the streets and parks in major cities. 

And on the theme of “connectivity,” Minister Cruz said that “nature camping” was one of the current projects of the Ministry, as a response to travelers seeking closer ties to the land and the people. He stated that while 4,000 new hotel rooms would open in Cuba in 2019, there were already 26,000 home rental rooms available for those who preferred to experience the current travel trend of living like a local.

Minister Cruz remarked that, at this year’s 39th FITCuba Conference, there were 198 reporters representing 34 countries. Later in his closing remarks, he returned to the theme of international cooperation and respect as a beacon of strength for the future, but in the context of recent pronouncements by the U.S. of strengthening the blockade of Cuba and putting teeth into Title III of the Helms-Burton Act (allowing U.S. nationals to sue for damage for private property seized during the Cuban Revolution). The Minister defiantly proclaimed in an emotional tone, “We have proven ourselves in the past, we are proving ourselves now, and we will keep doing it in the future.” And he stated, as he did in his opening remarks, that in the spirit of “unity, fraternity, solidarity, and peace, we are convinced that a better world is possible.”

Maria Reyes Maroto Illera, the Minister of Industry, Commerce and Tourism from Spain, the guest country for FITCuba 2019, noted outright that “Spain and the European Union are opposed to the re-enactment of Helms-Burton.”  She then paid an emotional tribute to the host city when she declared that “Havana is a mood.” She cited the architecture, the “castles of the 18th century,” and the rich cultural heritage that keeps drawing tourists back to the city.

Maria Reyes Maroto Illera, the Minister of Industry, Commerce and Tourism from Spain, the guest country for FITCuba 2019.

A view from the street

And for this writer, my return to Havana after a five-year absence, was a meaningful, eye-opening experience. In between conference sessions, I had the opportunity to walk the Malecon (the oceanside boardwalk), to see new architecture that had replaced some of the crumbling buildings, a number of trendy-looking bars and restaurants, as well as colorful and lively art installations that were part of the Biennial Art Festival. I also walked the historic downtown core of the city several times, from the Kempinski Hotel, through the five historic plazas (Catedral, Vieja, San Francisco, Santo Cristo, and Armas), through side streets with bodegas, murals and hidden art galleries; and on to the Mercado Central de San José, that huge, warehouse, souvenir emporium near the cruise dock. 

Throughout the city, I saw buildings under renovation as part of the 500th anniversary celebrations (in fact, there are supposedly 4,500 such projects in the works); and learned that the person mostly responsible for this transformation is Eusebio Leal Spengler, the official historian of Havana. He spoke at FITCuba, driving home the point that his passion for Havana incorporates the preservation of the city’s history, heritage and traditions, without turning the city into a sterile, living museum. His goal is to create a dynamic, interactive atmosphere for locals and visitors alike. 

It has been 500 years since King Philip II of Spain granted Havana the title of “city” (cuidad) — and we know that not only does every city have a personality of its own, but that every visitor has special interests that inevitably intersect with what the city has to offer. In Havana, it’s a combination of fortresses, personalities (Hemingway, Marti, Guevera, Castro), the influence of Santeria, the dazzle of La Tropicana, plus architecture, food, art, history, mojitos, or a ride in a 1948 Chevy. And with myriad changes on the horizon, the 500th anniversary is certainly just the starting point for Havana.   

  • Published in Cuba
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