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Scenic former Cuban capital celebrates 500th birthday

August 15, 2011 - CUBA

In 1492, Christopher Columbus claimed the island now Cuba for Spain. Spaniard Diego Velazquez named Baracoa the island's capital on 15 Aug 1511. Baracoa lies some 680 miles (993 km) east of Havana, the present capital, and close enough to the United States War on Terror camp at Guantanamo Bay to use Washington's quandary over the prison as a sidebar to features about Baracoa anniversary events, Cuba's new directions and US Cuba policies. The celebrations began in June.

In 1492, Christopher Columbus claimed the island now Cuba for Spain. Spaniard Diego Velazquez named Baracoa the island's capital on 15 Aug 1511. Baracoa lies some 680 miles (993 km) east of Havana, the present capital, and close enough to the United States "War on Terror" camp at Guantanamo Bay to use Washington's quandary over the prison as a sidebar to features about Baracoa anniversary events, Cuba's new directions and US Cuba policies. The celebrations began in June. The first seven townships founded by the Spanish colonizers are collaborating on the celebrations, which are aimed partly at turning Cuba into a Caribbean tourist paradise. On a Baracoa tourism website, the municipality is described as having "dazzling landscapes, crystalline rivers, waterfalls, beaches, natural pools, marvelous flora and fauna, ancestral traditions and an eclectic culture." Baracoa's tourist attractions include Columbus' Cross at the parochial church, described by the website as the only cross still conserved of the 29 that Christopher Columbus planted in his four trips to the Americas. In a drastic turnaround from a 50-year-old policy since shutting down all private businesses in the late 1960s, the communist Cuban government is opening the island to a private sector. It has given all small businesses the authority to hire labor and will loosen other regulations governing private enterprise. The changes could allow a tourism sector flourish in scenic Baracoa, bringing more than the present 40,000 or so mainly European and Canadian tourists to the town each year. Unless there is a change of heart in Washington, the tourists won't be US citizens any time soon. The proposed 2009 Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act, which would allow US citizens to engage in unrestricted travel to Cuba for the first time since 1963, is in limbo. At the Guantanamo Bay camp, the Washington is in a quandary about the future of the remaining hundred-plus prisoners. They were caught in various US operations in Afghanistan and elsewhere as terror suspects. They have yet to be accused of crimes, even though they have been held for years. Moves to relocate the prisoners and try them according to US law have met politically-charged hurdles, which keep the camp open, year after year.

Cuba further loosens regulation of private sector (Reuters/Fox 17 May 2011)

Porto Santo Wants to Twin with Baracoa (Prensa Latina 6 May 2011)(

500th anniversary of Baracoa to be celebrated (Cuba Si 17 May 2011)

Baracoa: 500 Years of Solitude (Part 1) (Havana Times 11 Apr 2011)

Baracoa to Hold 500th Anniversary with other Cities(IPS/Havana Times 27 Oct 2011)

Date written/update: 2011-08-15