The period between the end of the Ten Years’ War (1878) and 1902 was a critical one for Cuba. For different reasons, the elements involved in the economic life of the Island did not want radical solutions, so they decided to unite in defense of their interests in order to achieve some reforms.
The first association of Havana merchants emerged on May 10, 1876. Their first meeting, celebrated on June 24 of that same year at the Spanish Casino of Havana established the General Trade Center of Havana and elected Quintin Torres Barzozabal as first president. In 1877 the name of the institution was changed to General Board of Trade and received official status. This name again was changed in 1887 to Official Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Navigation. However, the official status was withdrawn from all the chambers when the Chamber of Commerce of Santiago de Cuba demanded recognition.
U.S. Intervention and Neocolonial Republic
On May 20, 1899 and January 3, 1906, the Chamber successively took the names of Centro de Comerciantes e Industriales de la Isla de Cuba and Cámara de Comercio e Industria de la Isla de Cuba. Finally, on June 20, 1927, it took the name that it kept until its dissolution in 1963, to give way to the current Chamber of Commerce of the Republic of Cuba. By adopting the new name, the Chamber was not limited to defending the interests of merchants, but could also act in favor of the Cuban industry, agriculture and navigation.
The Chamber was not the only economic corporation existing in Cuba until the creation of the current Chamber in 1963. The Association of Landowners and Farmers was created already in 1878, and in 1884 the Union of Tobacco Manufacturers, successor to the tobacco manufacturers’ guild, was established. Other associations and chambers were also created, including the Santiago de Cuba association in 1887, and continued to emerge to such an extent that in 1932, the special centennial edition of the Diario de la Marina newspaper pointed out that there were 116 economic corporations, including eight chambers of commerce, industry and navigation, a national chamber of commerce and industry and 31 chambers of commerce.
The Revolutionary Period
The Chamber of the Nation
It was during the first years of the Cuban Revolution, when the directors of the chambers of commerce and other private entities began to leave the country, that the employees of the Chamber of Commerce requested the intervention of the revolutionary authorities.
Amadeo Blanco Valdés-Fauly, then head of the Fairs and Exhibitions Office at the Bank for Foreign Trade of Cuba (BANCEC), was appointed by the government in charge of the Chamber of Commerce. That office was subordinated to the then vice-president of BANCEX, Jacinto Torras de la Luz.
At that time, the U.S. blockade against Cuba was already becoming evident and attempts were being made to isolate the country in the international arena. The revolutionary leadership saw the Chamber of Commerce as an effective instrument to contribute to the search for new markets, support the great reorganization of Cuban foreign trade, and face the effects of the blockade, enabling business relations with other countries.
Thus, in 1962, the Revolutionary Government created the Management Commission of the Chamber of Commerce presided over by Amadeo Blanco that drew up the project for a new Chamber of Commerce with a different structure and purpose. The existing chamber was dissolved in 1963 and the current one was created by Law No. 1091 of February 1, 1963 with the name of Chamber of Commerce of the Republic of Cuba, taking the place of the one with the same name from 1927. The first annual assembly of its associate members was held that same year 1963.
The Chamber of Commerce of the Republic of Cuba works in line with the economic development of the country, evolving and adjusting its actions according to the growth and requirements of the Cuban business community, adapting its activities and resources to contribute, in an active and effective way, to the solution of the obstacles that arise in Cuban exports and the promotion and development of foreign investment in Cuba.
For more than half a century, the Chamber of Commerce of the Republic of Cuba has been increasing its tasks and its role in the sphere of commercial relations of Cuba. Likewise, the Government has assigned to its functions those of register of Branches and Agents of Foreign Mercantile Societies, Travel Agencies, Importers and Exporters. More recently, as a very important step in the process of updating the Cuban economic model, the approval in March 2014 of Law no. 118 on Foreign Investment and its complementary norms.
In this regard, it should be noted that in Decree no. 325, Regulation of the Law, the Chamber of Commerce was assigned a new function the responsibility of carrying out activities to promote foreign investment.
The Chamber of Commerce of the Republic of Cuba works in line with the economic development of the country, evolving and adapting its actions according to the growth and requirements of the Cuban entrepreneurs, adapting its activities and resources to contribute, in an active and effective way, to the solution of the obstacles that arise in Cuban exports and the promotion and development of foreign investment in Cuba.
As part of the personalized support provided by the Chamber of Commerce to its associates in the conduction to strengthen foreign trade and foreign investment in Cuba, during 2020 business clusters were established within the Sections, specifically: Agricultural, Sideromechanical, Education, Cultural Industries, ICT, Construction and Health. Labiofam, Livestock and Coralsa working groups also were created.
President: Antonio Luis Carricarte Corona
Fairs and Exhibitions
Nowadays, fairs and exhibitions have become an essential component of Cuba’s commercial and business scene. The Cuban participation in international fairs is also well known, mainly since the triumph of the Revolution. However, the early origins of the Cuban presence in these events, nationally and internationally, are scarcely known.
Cuba in 19th Century Exhibitions
The Cuban experience in exhibitions dates back to the 1840s, in the city of Camagüey. The events of this type organized in the Island and even those in which it participated as a guest abroad, until the end of the above-mentioned century, were nuanced by the colonial condition.
Towards 1851, Cuba was called to participate as a Spanish entity in the first world exposition, held in London’s Crystal Palace. The reference to the Cuban participation alluded to the allegedly community of interests between the Metropolis and its provinces.
The Royal Order communicated by the Spanish Ministry of the Interior sent to the Captain General of Cuba stated: “Reasons of public convenience, the good name of the nation (…) advise (this) participation (…); the purpose is that ‘the overseas provinces’ participate in a ‘dignified’ way and ‘give credit to the nation they are part of’ “.
Decades later, during the Ten Years’ War, the colonial authorities requested the Cuban presence at the Philadelphia Exposition, sponsored by the United States on the occasion of the centennial of its independence. The reasons that compelled “Cuban” attendance are eloquent:
“It is necessary that all the peoples who take part in this universal event realize that Spain is still one of the first colonial powers in the world, and even if that does not lack effort – largely due to external and internal conflicts that have afflicted it since the beginning of the century –, a colonial regime that offers such results should not be so bad.”
The colonial precepts were also expressed in the methods of ordering the objects in the exhibitions. Thus, the “Cuban” exhibits were grouped around the Spanish premises, and the colonial government ordered that they should also be presented in that way at the Chicago Competition in 1893.
The Cubans developed proposals for their inclusion in the exhibitions. Through their exhibits they underlined their rejection or acceptance of their ties to the metropolis. Their products were not restricted to the natural wealth of the soil as the colonial power wanted to highlight, but included works of art and literature as well as handcrafted goods or those made by the local industry, many of them awarded and shown with pride.
The “Expos” also encouraged an ideology of affiliation, as was the case with the plan promoted in 1862 by José López Alegría to found a universal exhibition palace, dedicated to the Prince of Asturias. In other cases, however, discourses became strong in order to protect local interests. In this regard, the Chamber of Commerce of Havana rejected the offer of the planned “Permanent Exhibition of Products” of this “Antillean country” in Madrid.
Until the supreme government – the Chamber said – takes the first step by suppressing the export duties on Cuban exports and at the same time suppressing the import duties for their entry into the Peninsula (…), all other means are ineffective.
The organizers of the Havana Exhibition of 1888 wanted to ensure the progress of their project using flattery as a strategy. In the message sent to the Governor of the Island, the capital’s elite assured “…that the exhibitor will not cease to refer to the benefits that this Exposition will bring, which should not be hidden from H.E., who has given such great proof of his love for the progress of this country…”
The peninsular side also made conciliatory allegations. The commission in charge of assuring the attendance of Spain and its colonies to the Philadelphia meeting, after underlining the interest of its “most precious jewel”, raised the need to participate, given the “vicinity” and the “extensive trade of this precious Antillean country with the North American Republic.”
When the Island’s representatives decided to prepare for the first 20th century exhibition in the city of Buffalo (1901), they already had half a century of experience in this type of meeting, only that now the terms “nation” and “modernity” hinted in such meetings would assume a different meaning.
Cuban Participation in the 19th Century Universal Exhibitions
1851: Crystal Palace, London, United Kingdom
Products: cigars (tobacco) and sugar
1876: Philadelphia, United States
Products: tobacco (processed and unprocessed), sugar, alcohol, chocolate, canned sweets, asphalt, woods, rum, wines, perfume extracts, scientific engineering works, meteorology, and others.
1888: Barcelona, Spain
Awards: Gold Medal
Products: alcohol, mining, coffee, cocoa, sugar (raw and centrifuged sugar, molasses) and tobacco.
1889: Paris, France
Awards obtained: 40 (12 gold medals, 11 silver medals, nine bronze medals, seven mentions and the Grand Prix to the Tobacco Growers’ Community of Havana).
1900: The Figaro, The Modern School, Paris, France
Products: Sugar, rum, tobacco, fans, lithographic prints, publications
Fairs and Exhibitions in the 20th Century, after 1959
The first fairs in which Cuba participated abroad after the triumph of the Revolution are described as major events.
It is said that the first exhibition of the Revolutionary Government abroad was presented in New York in 1959. Only one year later, in 1960, the Island was already attending the fairs in Belgrade and Zagreb, both in Yugoslavia. These participations in the old continent were followed in 1961 by Leipzig, in the now extinct German Democratic Republic (GDR); Poznan (Poland) and Brno (Czechoslovakia), as well as Budapest the following year, organized by the BANCEX Fairs and Exhibitions Bureau, in charge of which was Amadeo Blanco Valdés-Fauly.
This is the background of the work with trade fairs that was later transferred to the newly-born Chamber of Commerce of the Republic of Cuba in 1963. Thus, the Cuban image and products traveled to Casablanca (Morocco, 1963); Osaka (Japan, 1964); Damascus, Tripoli, Algiers and Baghdad; Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa and the most important fair cities of the Western European nations.
This activity has also gained momentum in the country, where today dozens of specialized fairs and shows take place annually throughout the territory, a movement that began with the International Fair of Havana in 1983. However, still in memory is the exhibition known as Operation Railway, which consisted of a train with 56 wagons that traveled throughout the country under the motto “Consume Cuban Products” and closed in Havana on May 20, 1960 with the presence and address of Commander Ernesto Che Guevara.
Also to be recalled are the foreign exhibitions that since the first years of the Revolution chose the island as their venue. In 1960, the extinct Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) set up at the Palace of Fine Arts the first major foreign exhibition in the country, still remembered as a top event, where they showed a wide panorama of that Union of Republics.
This was followed by other exhibitions from China and Czechoslovakia at the same venue. Further exhibitions were the one from the GDR, held in the outdoor area next to the Havana Zoo; from Italy at the Cuba Pavilion, and from Bulgaria and Argentina, also at the Cuba Pavilion. In the 1970s, exhibitions from Romania, Argentina, Mexico and Bulgaria were held at the Rancho Boyeros Fairground.
In the 20th century, world expos became major trade fairs where the latest technological and industrial developments were presented. In 1923, the International Bureau of Exhibitions (BIE) was created in Paris to control the frequency and supervise the operation of world expos. The Cuban Chamber of Commerce is affiliated to that organization.
After the triumph of the Revolution, Cuba has participated in the most important world expos and international exhibitions. The Cuban pavilions from Osaka ‘70 onwards have been under the responsibility of the Chamber of Commerce.
– Universal Expo Montreal, Canada, 1967: “Man and His World”
– Universal Expo Osaka, Japan, 1970: “Progress and Harmony for Humanity”
– International Expo Vancouver, Canada, 1986: “Transport and Communication”
– Universal Expo Seville, Spain, 1992: “The Age of Discovery”
– International Expo Lisbon, Portugal, 1998: “The Oceans: a Heritage for the
– Universal Expo Hannover, Germany, 2000: “Man – Nature – Technology”
– Universal Expo Aichi, Japan, 2005: “The Wisdom of Nature”
– International Expo Zaragoza, Spain, 2008: “Water and Sustainable
– Universal Expo Shanghai, P.R. China, 2010: “Better City, Better Life”
– Universal Expo Milan, Italy, 2015: “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life”
– World Expo Dubai 2020 “Connecting Minds, Creating Future” (was postponed to 1st October 2021 to march 31st 2022) due to the Covid-19 Pandemic.