Havana is the capital city, largest city, province, major port, and leading commercial center of Cuba. The city has a population of 2.1 million inhabitants, and it spans a total of 781.58 km2 – making it the largest city by area, the most populous city, and the fourth largest metropolitan area in the Caribbean region.The city of Havana was founded by the Spanish in the 16th century and due to its strategic location it served as a springboard for the Spanish conquest of the Americas, becoming a stopping point for treasure-laden Spanish galleons returning to Spain. The King Philip II of Spain granted Havana the title of City in 1592. Walls as well as forts were built to protect the old city. The sinking of the U.S. battleship Maine in Havana's harbor in 1898 was the immediate cause of the Spanish–American War.The city is the center of the Cuban government, and home to various ministries, headquarters of businesses and over 90 diplomatic offices. In 2009, the city/province had the third highest income in the country.Contemporary Havana can essentially be described as three cities in one: Old Havana, Vedado and the newer suburban districts. The city extends mostly westward and southward from the bay, which is entered through a narrow inlet and which divides into three main harbors: Mari melena, Guanabacoa and Antares. The sluggish Almendares River traverses the city from south to north, entering the Straits of Florida a few miles west of the bay.The city attracts over a million tourists annually;the Official Census for Havana reports that in 2010 the city was visited by 1,176,627 international tourists, a 20% increase from 2005. The city is located on La Habana Bay on the island’s north coast. It is the largest city in the Caribbean region and has one of the great treasuries of historic colonial preserves in the Western Hemisphere. Prior to 1959, when Fidel Castro came to power, it was a mecca for tourists from the United States, who were drawn by the city’s many attractions, which included climate and nightlife in addition to history. During the following years, however, despite its continued importance as the island’s major economic hub, Havana lost much of its lustre, because Castro’s socialist government redirected the country’s resources primarily toward the improvement of conditions in rural Cuba.
Data and Facts
- Standing 39 floors, the Edificio Focsa is the tallest high rise in the capital—and at the time it was built in 1956, it was also the second-tallest building made of concrete in the world
- Singer Gloria Estefan was born in the Cuban capital on September 1, 1957. Her dad was a bodyguard for President Fulgencio Batista
- Andy Garciawas born in 1956, his family lost ownership of their land during the revolution and migrated to Miami. He went on to star in classics like 1987’s The Untouchables, 1988’s Stand and Deliver, and 1990’s The Godfather: Part III
- Average daily highs range from 72ºF (22ºC) in January / February to 82ºF (28ºC) in August
- Ernest Hemingway lived near Havana for over 20 years, during which he wrote The Old Man and the Sea. The novel's fishing village was based on the little port town of Cojímar, where Hemingway kept his own fishing boat, and the main character was based on a local fisherman he knew
Havana is administered by a city council, with a mayor as chief administrative officer. The city is dependent upon the national government, however, for much of its budgetary and overall political direction. The national government is headquartered in Havana and plays an extremely visible role in the city’s life. Moreover, the all-embracing authority of many national institutions, including the Communist Party of Cuba , the Cuban army, the militia, and neighbourhood groups called the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution , has led to a declining role for the city government, which, nevertheless, still provides such essential services as garbage collection and fire protection. The CDRs, which exist in virtually every street and apartment block, have two main functions: first, to actually defend the revolution against both external and internal opposition and, second, to handle routine tasks in maintaining neighbourhoods. Havana’s borders are contiguous with the province Ciudad de la Habana. Thus Havana functions as both a city and a province. There are two joint councils upon which city and provincial authorities meet—one embraces municipal and provincial leaders on a national basis, the other a Havana city and provincial council. Utility services are under the control of several nationalized state enterprises that have developed since the Castro revolution. Water, electricity, and sewage service are administered in this fashion. Electricity is supplied by generators that are fueled with oil. Much of the original power plant installation, which operated before the Castro government assumed control, has become somewhat outdated. Electrical blackouts occurred, prompting the national government in 1986 to allocate the equivalent of $25 million to modernize the electrical system. It is said that any part of Havana is within five minutes of a firefighting unit; the equipment is largely new.
The current governor is Reinaldo García Zapata, he was elected on January, 2020.The city is administered by a city-provincial council, with a governor as chief administrative officer, thus Havana functions as both a city and a province. The city has little autonomy and is dependent upon the national government, particularly, for much of its budgetary and overall political direction. The national government is headquartered in Havana and plays an extremely visible role in the city's life. Voters elect delegates to Municipal Assemblies in competitive elections. There is only one political party, the Communist Party, but since there must be a minimum of two candidates, members of the Communist Party often run against each other. Candidates are not required to be members of the party. They are nominated directly by citizens in open meetings within each election district. Municipal Assembly delegates in turn elect members of the Provincial Assembly, which in Havana serves roughly as the City Council; its president functions as the Mayor. There are direct elections for deputies to the National Assembly based on slates, and a portion of the candidates is nominated at the local level. The People's Councils consist of local municipal delegates who elect a full-time representative to preside over the body. In addition, there is participation from «mass organisations» and representatives of local government agencies, industries and services.
Havana has a diversified economy, with traditional sectors, such as manufacturing, construction, transportation and communications, and new or revived ones such as biotechnology and tourism. The city's economy first developed on the basis of its location, which made it one of the early great trade centres in the New World. Sugar and a flourishing slave trade first brought riches to the city, and later, after independence, it became a renowned resort. Despite efforts by Fidel Castro's government to spread Cuba's industrial activity to all parts of the island, Havana remains the centre of much of the nation's industry.
The traditional sugar industry, upon which the island's economy has been based for three centuries, is centred elsewhere on the island and controls some three-fourths of the export economy. But light manufacturing facilities, meat-packing plants, and chemical and pharmaceutical operations are concentrated in Havana. Other food-processing industries are also important, along with shipbuilding, vehicle manufacturing, production of alcoholic beverages , textiles, and tobacco products, particularly the world-famous Habanos cigars. The port also supports a considerable fishing industry.
In 2000, nearly 89% of the city's officially recorded labour force worked for government-run agencies, institutions or enterprises. Havana, on average, has the country's highest incomes and human development indicators. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba re-emphasized tourism as a major industry leading to its recovery. Tourism is now Havana and Cuba's primary economic source. Havana's economy is still in flux, despite Raul Castro's embrace of free enterprise in 2011. Though there was an uptick in small businesses in 2011, many have since gone out of business, due to lack of business and income on the part of the local residents, whose salaries average $20 per month.
In Havana, Cuban-owned businesses and U.S.-owned businesses were nationalized and today most businesses operate solely under state control. In Old Havana and throughout Vedado there are several small private businesses, such as shoe-repair shops or dressmaking facilities. Banking as well is also under state control, and the National Bank of Cuba, headquartered in Havana, is the control center of the Cuban economy. Its branches in some cases occupy buildings that were in pre-revolutionary times the offices of Cuban or foreign banks. In the late 1990s Vedado, located along the Atlantic waterfront, started to represent the principal commercial area. It was developed extensively between 1930 and 1960, when Havana developed as a major destination for U.S. tourists; high-rise hotels, casinos, restaurants, and upscale commercial establishments, many reflecting the art deco style.
One of the most interesting questions in Silicon Valley today is what will happen with ‘Silicon Island’ and its entrepreneurs: will American startups expand to the country? Will Cuban startups expand their creativity and hustle beyond their borders? As many designers know, constraint breeds creativity. Cubans know this all too well. Having spent decades under embargoes and restrictions, both foreign and domestic, Cuban entrepreneurs have had to jerry-rig their way to success. Rest assured that as a result, the country is home to some of the most ingenious creators and entrepreneurs on the planet. In Cuba, lateral thinking is a way of life.
As American relations with Cuba continue to improve, Startup Angels sought to answer some of the questions that tech entrepreneurs and startup investors have about the country. In advance of our AngelSummit Americas, we sat down with Cuba Emprende Chairman John McIntire and Ramphis Castro, a VC at ScienceVest and co-organizer of Startup Weekend Cuba, plus several Cuban founders to uncover what we need to know.
The average Cuban earns $20-30 per month. Cuban developers earn much more but are under $500 per month. As a result, many have focused their time on creative efforts. That spills over into other parts of the Cuban economy and offers promise to its future role in technology innovation.Cubans work around this regulatory restriction by working together as «contractors» on a startup idea. They can be located in the same workspace, work under a single brand and collaborate as if they were a company, but they do not have legal standing as a corporate entity.Cooperatives are worker-owned business structures that have legal standing in Cuba. They also offer significant tax incentives over being self-employed. They can range from farmers to beauty providers and auto repairs shops to business consultants. Traditionally an agriculture-only structure, cooperative regulations have been easing since 2011 to include more industries and gradually decentralize Cuba’s economy.
Despite being one of the most powerful skill sets for economic development across the world, a computer programming cooperative has not yet been approved in Cuba. There is ample hope that the cooperative regulatory framework will be broadened to encompass the tech sector and a number of other professional service industries, like lawyers and engineers.The combination of very low wages, a highly educated population and societal safety nets mean that even tiny «investments» can have massive impact. Because of government policies around free education, free healthcare and more...any size of investment can power a startup to operate in an exceptionally capital efficient way. Most companies with foreign capital are 49/51 percent joint ventures with the government having control.U.S. software companies are starting to contract Cuban programmers, both for the low cost but also their skills. Some Cuban startups are considering registering their companies in the U.S. via the newly announced Stripe Atlas program.IT outsourcing is one of Cuba’s most promising short term industries. Despite poor Internet access, some are likening Cuba to the next India due to its strong, affordable developer talent. The country graduates over 4,000 IT engineers a year but there are too few state jobs to absorb this supply. As a result, many graduates enter IT consulting or start businesses. Cuba’s much more reasonable time zone and its physical proximity to the U.S. are added bonuses for American outsourcers.
Cuba has a very well-educated population in general, with a 99 percent literacy rate and excellent engineers stemming from universities across the country. The best talent graduates from Cuba’s University of Information Sciences , which in Cuba is like Harvard, Stanford, and MIT combined. Despite recent improvements, there are still many unknowns for scaling startups and technology businesses in Cuba.
The city's public buses are carried out by the Empresa Provincial de Transporte de La Habana . The Red Principal, previously known as MetroBus, serves the inner-city urban area, with a maximum distance of 20 km . The Red Principal consists of 17 main lines, identified with the letter «P» with long-distance routes. The stops are usually 800–1,000 metres , with frequent buses in peak hours, about every 10 minutes. It uses large modern articulated buses, such as the Chinese-made Yutong brand, Russian-made Liaz, or MAZ of Belarus. The Red Alimentadora, known as the feeder line, connects the adjacent towns and cities in the metropolitan area with the city center, with a maximum distance of 40 km . This division has one of the most used and largest urban bus fleets in the country, its fleet is made up of mostly new Chinese Yutong buses. The Airport lies about 11 kilometres south of the city center, in the municipality of Boyeros, and is the main hub for the country's flag carrier Cubana de Aviación. The airport is Cuba's main international and domestic gateway, it connects Havana with the rest of the Caribbean, North, Central and South America, Europe and one destination in Africa. The city is also served by Playa Baracoa Airport which is small airport to the west of city used for some domestic flights, primarily Aerogaviota. Havana has a network of suburban, interurban and long-distance rail lines. The railways are nationalised and run by the FFCC . The FFCC connects Havana with all the provinces of Cuba. The main railway stations are: Central Rail Station, La Coubre Rail Station, Casablanca Station, and Estación de Tulipán. In the 1980s there were plans for a Metro system in Havana similar to Moscow's, as a result of the Soviet Union influence in Cuba at the time. The studies of geology and finance made by Cuban, Czech and Soviet specialists were already well advanced in the 1980s. The Cuban press showed the construction project and the course route, linking municipalities and neighborhoods in the capital. In the late 1980s the project had already begun, each mile of track was worth a million dollars at the time, but with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 the project was later dropped.
An interurban line, known as the Hershey Electric Railway, built in 1917 runs from Casablanca to Hershey and on to Matanzas.Havana operated a tram system until 1952, which began as a horsecar system, Ferro Carril Urbano de la Habana in 1858[, merged with rival coach operator in 1863 as Empresa del Ferro-Carril Urbano y Omnibus de La Habana and later electrified in 1900 under new foreign owners as Havana Electric Railway Company. Ridership decline resulted in bankruptcy in 1950 with new owner Autobus Modernos SA abandoning systems in favor of buses and sold the remaining cars were sold to Matanzas in 1952. Ferries connect Old Havana with Regla and Casablanca, leaving every 10–15 minutes from Muelle Luz .
Cuba is certainly not synonymous with the word technology, as Internet access has always been tightly controlled. In fact, the country has some of the lowest penetration rates worldwide. Government-owned ETECSA is the telecommunications company that has a monopoly on service. And while President Obama allowed US telecommunications companies to provide Internet service to Cuba in 2009, the country rejected the offer, deciding to work with Venezuela instead.
Internet access is still lacking in Cuba, though the government continually announces new plans and offerings. Here’s a look at some of the current technology initiatives on the Caribbean island. Internet access in Cuba is notoriously slow and unreliable. In early 2019, Google and ETECSA signed a memorandum of understanding to begin negotiating a cost-free, direct connection between their two networks. The partnership would enable faster access to content hosted on Google’s servers, which are not present on the island. The next steps will involve figuring out how to implement a physical connection between Cuba’s network and a Google «point of presence» and will likely involve installing a new undersea cable. In addition to the agreement with Google, ETECSA has also confirmed efforts are underway to expand broadband Internet access with more affordable prices and services. The state-owned telephone company plans to expand 3G mobile network coverage throughout the island. Meanwhile, installation of the 4G/LTE network, in its first stage, will have priority in Havana. Previously, most Cubans could only use their mobile phones to access state-run email accounts, unless they were connected to the Internet at a limited number of government-sponsored wifi spots. But as of October 2019, there are now 5.67 million mobile phone lines in Cuba, and more than 2.8 million ETECSA clients have access to mobile Internet.
Still, connecting to the mobile Internet is out of reach for many Cubans. The cheapest mobile data package, which provides 600 MB a month, costs roughly $8 USD and the 4GB package $30 USD, or the equivalent of the average monthly wage for state workers. In July 2019, Cuba authorized the creation of private Internet networks, wired or wireless, in homes and businesses as well as the ability to import routers and other network equipment. The number of homes with Internet access quickly rose to 80,000, and many citizens no longer had to rely on the over 1,400 wifi spots across the island. Around seven million Cubans can now access Internet content.
And while there could be many benefits for Cubans who invest in cryptocurrencies, tight government regulations will likely sprout up to monitor these actions. Though it is hard to imagine a thriving tech community in a place where people don’t have steady access to the Internet, the Merchise Startup Circle is bringing together technology entrepreneurs. The group hosts meetups and events to help anyone interested in the technology or startup scene in Cuba.There are many entrepreneurs in the country, but the majority have to operate illegally. The government does seem to make moves to legalize many small businesses to encourage the private sector; however, many tech startups simply operate illegally. The government has not set up provisions for technology startups, which means they are illegal until this happens.
Somehow entrepreneurs in Cuba have managed to succeed despite the many roadblocks. YoTeLlevo and Sube and ALaMesa are a few companies that, despite low Internet penetration, have found success in the country. For more information on the startup scene in Cuba, watch the 9-episode documentary by Startup Cuba. Cuba is slowly leaving behind its status as one of the world’s least connected countries. However, its telecommunications infrastructure is already facing a number of challenges with so many new users.
Social Wellness and Human Resources
By the end of the 2012 official Census, 19.1% of the population of Cuba lived in Havana. According to the census of 2012, the population was 2,106,146 The city has an average life expectancy of 76.81 years at birth. In 2009, there were 1,924 people living with HIV/AIDS in the city, 78.9% of these are men, and 21.1% being women.According to the 2012 official census . White: 58.4%, , Mestizo or Mulatto : 26.4%, Black: 15.2%, Asian: 0.2%.
There are few mestizos in contrast to many other Latin American countries, because the Native Indian population was virtually wiped out by Eurasian diseases in colonial times.Havana agglomeration grew rapidly during the first half of the 20th century reaching 1 million inhabitants in the 1943 census. The con-urbanization expanded over the Havana municipality borders into neighbor municipalities of Marianao, Regla and Guanabacoa. Starting from the 1980s, the city's population is growing slowly as a result of balanced development policies, low birth rate, its relatively high rate of emigration abroad, and controlled domestic migration. Because of the city and country's low birth rate and high life expectancy, its age structure is similar to a developed country, with Havana having an even higher proportion of elderly than the country as a whole.The Cuban government controls the movement of people into Havana on the grounds that the Havana metropolitan area is overstretched in terms of land use, water, electricity, transportation, and other elements of the urban infrastructure. There are some 3,000 Russians living in the city; as reported by the Russian Embassy in Havana, most are women married to Cubans who had studied in the Soviet Union. Havana also shelters other non-Cuban population of an unknown size. There is a population of several thousand North African teen and pre-teen refugees.
Roman Catholics form the largest religious group in Havana. Havana is one of the three Metropolitan sees on the island , with two suffragan bishoprics: Matanzas and Pinar del Río. Its patron saint is San Cristobal , to whom the cathedral is devoted. it also has a minor basilica, Basílica Santuario Nacional de Nuestra Señora de la Caridad del Cobre and two other national shrines, Jesús Nazareno del Rescate and San Lázaro . It received papal visits from three successive supreme pontiffs: Pope John Paul II , Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis . The Jewish community in Havana has reduced after the Revolution from once having embraced more than 15,000 Jews, many of whom had fled Nazi persecution and subsequently left Cuba to Miami or moved to Israel after Castro took to power in 1959. The government researchers argue that «poverty» in most commonly accepted meanings does not really exist in Cuba, but rather that there is a sector of the population that can be described as «at risk» or «vulnerable» using internationally accepted measures.The generic term «slum» is seldom used in Cuba, substandard housing is described: housing type, housing conditions, building materials, and settlement type. The National Housing Institute considers units in solares and shanty towns to be the «precarious housing stock» and tracks their number. Most slum units are concentrated in the inner-city municipalities of Old Havana and Centro Habana, as well as such neighbourhoods as Atarés in Regla. People living in slums have access to the same education, health care, job opportunities and social security as those who live in formerly privileged neighbourhoods. Shanty towns are scattered throughout the city except for in a few central areas.Over 9% of Havana's population live in cuartería , 3.3% in shanty towns, and 0.3% in refugee shelters. This does not include an estimate of the number of people living in housing in «fair» or «poor» condition because in many cases these units do not necessarily constitute slum housing but rather are basically sound dwellings needing repairs.