March 1, 2004

Exploring Havana

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HAVANA — Havana intrigues Americans. With President George W. Bush’s threat to veto the relaxed travel restrictions to Cuba favored by both the House of Representatives and Senate, the mystery surrounding the forbidden fruit of American tourism increases.

Most Americans cling to any overly romanticized mythic vision of the ’50s Cuba — the aquamarine 1958 Chevrolet Impala, Havana Club Rum, Los Van Van and Cohiba cigars. The old cars are still there — as is the Havana Club Rum. The context, however, is different.


With a population of over two million, Havana extends over 17 principal neighborhoods. In Miramar, or suburban Havana, modern architectural variety in the form of embassies dots Quinta Avenida, the four-lane principal throughway. The huge monstrosity of a building that is the Russian Embassy looks more like a spaceship than a foreign consulate as it reigns over block Ochenta. A gleaming new Centro de Comercios Miramar (Business Center) offers Internet service and the delicacy of tuna sandwiches to foreign diplomats. Around the corner, young guards in fresh olive-green fatigues and combat boots sit encased in round glass booths, proving every inch of La Habana is still El L