Columbus Sailed the Ocean Blue and Discovered Cuba Too (but not North America)

Cristobal Colon (Christopher Columbus) never set foot or planted the flag for the Crown of Castille on North America. However, he found Cuba in 1492, thought this was perhaps China, and did not realize it was an island (the country is about 800 miles long). Spain’s Diego Velasquez founded Havana in 1511. The country was declared a Republic in its own right in 1902 with the help of Americans, including some who were advocating the country’s acquisition by the US (with an eye on lucrative sugar and tobacco production). Corrupt and apparently brutal governments that followed sowed seeds of revolution and distress among the rural and disenfranchised populace that included former slaves (slavery was abolished in 1886).

Today, the Spanish mystique lingers, although it is dusty and cracked and a little tilted. Gradually, along the harbor on the Malecon and inland into the heart of old Havana (Viega Habana) fresh paint and renovations lure visitors. Travelers from around the world mingle more freely today with the relatively idealistic older-senior citizens but poorly served youthful population.

Images of Carlos III (King Charles of Spain, 18th Century) seem to be scattered about the city of Havana. That King was active in the regeneration of Spain’s investments in its colonies but he has also been derided as a crass colonial tyrant. A statue like the one in Havana was removed and placed in a less prominent location in Los Angeles in the 1980s, for instance. King Carlos III of Spain ordered the founding of El Pueblo de la Reina de Los Angeles in 1781. The LA statue was presented by Spain in 1976, in honor of the 200th anniversary of American independence. Anti-colonial activists didn't like it though.

As darkness falls on rooftop bars around Havana’s central plaza in the warm 2018 Spring evening, the air temperature drops slowly even as the hormones are warmed in equal measure by the rhythmic sounds of rhumba and salsa bands and the savor of mojitos. A visitor might make comparisons to Madrid, as night traffic and walkers casually mingle among the palms.