Marianao, a dilapidated municipio on the heights south of Miramar, evolved in the mid-19th century, when wealthy Cubans built fine summer homes along newly laid streets. During the 1920s, Marianao boasted the Marianao Country Club, the Oriental Park racetrack, and Grand Nacional Casino, and was given a further boost on New Year’s Eve 1939 when the Tropicana opened as the ritziest nightclub Havana had ever seen. After the Revolution, the casinos, racetrack, and even Tropicana (briefly) were shut down.
Following the U.S. occupation of Cuba in 1898, the U.S. military governor, General Fitzhugh Lee, established his headquarters in Marianao and called it Camp Columbia: Campamento Columbia later became headquarters for Batista’s army; it was from here that the sergeant effected his golpes in 1933 and 1952.
Camp Columbia was bombed on April 15, 1960, during the prelude to the CIA-run Bay of Pigs invasion. Five of Castro’s planes were destroyed, but the bombers also struck houses in the neighborhood, killing 7 people and wounding 52, giving Castro a grand political victory in his calls for solidarity against U.S. aggression. The following day he announced for the first time that Cuba was “socialist.”
A tower in the center of the traffic circle—Plaza Finlay—outside the main entrance, at Avenida 31 and Avenida 100, was erected in 1944 as a beacon for the military airfield. In 1948 a needle was added so that today it is shaped like a syringe in honor of Carlos Finlay, the Cuban who in 1881 discovered the cause of yellow fever.
© Christopher P. Baker from Moon Cuba, 5th Edition