Port of Havana
Review and History

The Port of Havana is the capital city and major port for Cuba (Spanish). Located on the north coast of the island, the Port of Havana is about 221 nautical miles (369 kilometers or 229 miles direct) southwest of the Port of Miami. The Port of Havana is about 769 nautical miles (796 kilometers or 495 miles direct) southeast of the Port of Kingston, Jamaica. Home to over two million people, the Port of Havana is the Caribbean region's biggest city. It is also home to one of the most prized colonial historic centers in the Western Hemisphere.

The government of Fidel Castro tried to distribute much of the industry based on the Port of Havana to other locations in Cuba, yet it is still the industrial center for the nation. Cuba's traditional sugar industry, amounting to about 75% of Cuba's exports, is the major industry outside of the Port of Havana. The Port of Havana, however, is the base for light manufacturing, meat packing, ship-building, vehicle manufacturing, tobacco products, textiles, and alcoholic beverages. The Port of Havana is also Cuba's main seaport, handling the majority of the country's foreign trade and supporting a significant fishing industry.

Port History

The Port of Havana came into being in the early 16th Century as a mooring site for vessels on their way to Spain. In 1519, it was called Puerto Carenas. The natural deep-water port and protected harbor made the future Port of Havana an attractive site for settlement. In 1634, a royal decree recognized the Port of Havana's importance by giving it the title as "Key to the New World and Rampart of the West Indies," an accolade that graces Havana's modern coat of arms.

When the Spanish moved the Governor's residents from Santiago de Cuba to the Port of Havana in 1553, the city became Cuba's de facto capital. Attacks from British, Dutch, and French buccaneers stimulated the construction of a system of defensive fortresses around the city. Docks and berths were constructed, leading to a variety of civic buildings as well. As Spanish conquest of the New World progressed, the Port of Havana became a popular stopping point for Spanish fleets. Trade in the Port of Havana created a wealthy ruling class.

During the 1600s, as the Port of Havana was increasingly used as a stopping point for Spanish ships transporting New World treasures to Spain, it drew the attention of competing foreign powers that blockaded the Port of Havana several times during the Century. By the 1700s, the Port of Havana completed building the city walls and fortifications. These protections were effective until 1762 when the British took the city after a three-month siege, holding the Port of Havana for six months until Havana was returned to Spain under the terms of the treaty that ended the Seven Years' War.

Ironically, the Port of Havana's occupation by the British brought greater importance to the city, increasing trade between Europe and the New World, particularly for the slave and sugar trades. Through the 1700s, barriers to foreign trade were slowly removed. The Port of Havana began attracting non-Spanish immigrants from France, Britain, and Germany, giving the city a cosmopolitan international character.

A small but valuable community built around trade with the United States had grown in the Port of Havana by the middle 1800s. As time passed, the Port of Havana lost its commercial dominance to other ports in the Americas like New Orleans and New York. However, the Port of Havana continued to hold its position as a major Caribbean seaport. In the early 1900s, old facilities were replaced with modern docks and warehouses. The Port of Havana also became the railway header with rail branches serving the moorings.

Even though Cuba remained a Spanish colony while many other countries were winning independence, the Port of Havana continued to grow as an important global port on the same level as Buenos Aires and New York City. The United States supported Cuba's move for independence that culminated in 1898, beginning a 60-year alliance between the two countries.

Numerous tourists and businesses from the United States began to give the city the look and feel of a US city. Over that period, the government of Cuba was usually a dictatorship with widespread corruption. Unhappy with the dictatorships and the influence of the United States, there were several coup attempts. Fidel Castro's revolution of the 1959 brought permanent change to Cuba and the Port of Havana.

The successful revolution brought a swift end to relations with the United States, and Cuba turned to the USSR for military and economic support. Soviet ships moored in the Port of Havana frequently, bringing Soviet automobiles and trucks and a variety of goods.

Master plans for the Port of Havana were created in 1965 and 1972 that included consolidating port activities to the south at Guasabacoa Cove, stimulating a construction boom that lasted into the 1990s. In the 1990s, it was decided to convert some old Port of Havana facilities into tourist and recreational areas.

In spite of the influences of foreign powers, the Port of Havana honors its old traditions, and past and present merge in Old Havana. After UNESCO designated Old Havana as a World Heritage Site in 1982, the city restored several historic buildings.

When the Soviet Union fell in 1991, the Port of Havana's economy was almost paralyzed. For decades, trade with the USSR had been the mainstay of Cuba's economy. Loss of that trade brought shortages in almost every aspect of life. As a result, the government began to allow more private enterprise, promoted foreign investment, and promoted its tourist sector.

Over the past two decades, the Port of Havana has operated at and beyond full capacity. Frequently, cargo vessels had to wait offshore before they could enter the harbor. In 2008, the Cuban government announced its decision to shift some cargo to and make the Port of Mariel an auxiliary port to the Port of Havana.

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