Map of Havana, a Witness to Cuban-American Relations

Panoramic and Monumental Map of Havana
Rogelio L. Mirabal
La Habana, Cuba
23° 08′ 12″ N, 82° 21′ 32″ W

Cuba is a Caribbean country that has maintained discontinuous relations with its American neighbor. An economic pump on the one hand and a fiscal refuge on the other, this map from the 1950s is a witness, frozen in time, of the American presence in the city of Havana.

An economically attractive island

Tourism has long been one of Cuba’s main sources of income. From the beginning of the 20th century, the archipelago was a privileged destination, housing more tourists than any other location in the Caribbean. Its proximity to the United States (less than 150 km from Florida) has allowed the Cuban economy to receive numerous investments and to be part of various commercial exchanges. During Prohibition in the United States, many Americans went to the island to take advantage of the permissive policies regarding the consumption of alcohol and other pastimes. Certain drinking habits, and Latin American culture were imported into the United States. Nevertheless, the Great Depression and the Second World War marked a first decline in the island’s tourist influx.

In the 1950s, following the Havana Conference, American mob organizations were established and organized on the island. They wanted to take advantage of the paradisiacal setting and permissive laws to make their business flourish. Luxury hotels, gambling halls, nightclubs and casinos began to emerge in the landscape of Havana and the island became a point of passage for all illegal trafficking, such as drug smuggling to the US. American policies also penetrated the economic interests of the island, following the doors left open by the mafia groups. The island’s economic activity was revived, and at the same time, tourist activity returned until the end of the Cuban revolution in 1959.

A very special American tourist activity

After the constitution of the new government following the Cuban revolution, the decision was made to regain control of the island’s economic activities and to rid it of its reputation as a Latin Las Vegas. The tourist activity was drastically reduced and will be circumscribed in a well defined perimeter and economy, until the gradual reopening in the 90s.
This map of Havana dates from 1953 and was published by the Cuban Tourist Commission (which was replaced after the Cuban revolution by the much stricter INIT). Designed by Rogelio L. Mirabal it depicts the city from Havana Bay to the Gulf of Mexico and from Rancho Boyeros International Airport to the entry Channel. Some remarkable buildings of the city are drawn and named on the plan, which gives a good idea of the type of tourist activity the city was hosting at the time. It has a large size of 50.8 x 78.74 cm and is in English language. It is very clearly intended for an American clientele, testifying to the good Cuban-American relations, the same year Fidel Castro began his revolution. It should be pointed out that these good relations were due to purely economic interests, generally leaving Cubans out of the benefits.


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