The Cuban Naval Academy or Academia Naval de Cuba was inaugurated on January 28/1916 on the anniversary of José Marti's birthday - He was the most important leader of the Cuban struggle of independence from Spain.
The first director or superintendent of the Cuban Naval Academy was Lieutenant Mario de la Vega Pozo. Originally the main building - a splendid palace named El Palacio Rubens after its first owner Horacio Rubens, a US lawyer also associated to the Cuban independence - was erected as a gambling casino between 1906 and 1908 on top of "La Vigía" Hill overlooking the town of Mariel and its the scenic harbor, in the north coast of Pinar del Rio , Cuba's westernmost province.
Mariel like most harbors in Cuba has the peculiar shape of a bottle, with a narrow entry channel and a wide protected area inside .The largest is Nipe Bay, almost an inland sea .There is no such kind of harbors in Europe. The gambling project never was a reality . Then in 1915 under President Mario Garcia Menocal and by the advise of Captain Julio Morales Coello, the Chief of Staff of the recently organized Cuban Navy, El Palacio Rubens was transferred to became the site of the Cuban Naval Academy.
With the years more facilities were built behind the palace -- living quarters, an excellent library the best Cuban museum of ichthyology , a planetarium, etc -- and it was solely oriented to administration services and classrooms. The main hall of that building of Moorish style was enhanced with some naval guns and a few oleos depicting maritime scenes. Particularly one was about the sinking of the German submarine U-176 by two Cuban sub chasers during World War II. As a matter of fact four Cuban cargo ships were torpedoed by the Germans in those years.
Then in 1958 a new building for the Merchant Marine Academy -Academia de la Marina Mercante - was inaugurated nearby. A paved winding road linked all those buildings to the town of Mariel, but the main feature was the large staircase from the base of the hill to El Palacio Rubens. Indeed a lofty view, please review the picture in the section Academia Naval.
At first the institution was solely oriented to train midshipmen - La Escuela de Guardiamarinas - as ensigns for the Cuban Navy, but eventually also accepted merchant marine cadets - alumnos mercantes. For several decades each Class -Promoción - was designated with roman numbers. For instance I was a midshipman of Promoción XV. Upon completion of the studies -roughly four years - a few other requisites were required to obtain the license either as a pilot or as a naval engineer, regardless a navy commission or a job as a civilian in the Cuban Merchant Marine. Then after fulfilling some more regulations it was also possible to become a captain. The admission tests, including a physical examination, were difficult, but the curriculum was even more demanding: Algebra, assorted Trigonometry, Calculus, Electricity, Electronics, assorted Geometry, Seamanship, Astronomy, Navigation, Maritime Law, Naval Artillery, Communications, English, etc under a rigid military discipline and scholastic rules - actually the reason why many young men failed. Also some additional training was conducted during the summer months aboard Navy or Merchant Marine vessels . Some textbooks were the same used by the US Naval Academy in Annapolis: Dutton, Bowditch, etc. Others were from Spain or from the Cuban Navy Printing Office.
By the Fifties the Cuban Naval Academy was a most prestigious learning institution, highly regarded in Latin America and even in the United States. I entered La Escuela de Guardiamarinas in 1957. Everything went fine until January 1/1959 when the Dictator/President Fulgencio Batista abandoned Cuba and began what at first appeared to be just a revolutionary government seeking the best for the country under Fidel Castro. In a matter of hours the executions of many and the imprisonment of others, and an array of excesses proved otherwise, yet the Cuban people in great part mesmerized by the new leader and his propaganda didn't realize what was going on or looked to the other side for assorted reasons difficult to explain in a few lines.
The Cuban Naval Academy was not immune to the wave of revolutionary "purification" that followed firing all kind of officials from their jobs. In February more than 200 midshipmen and merchant marine cadets were cashiered. Only a few were spared when not a single incriminating excuse fitted their profiles. I was one of them .However, we were forcibly transferred to the Merchant Marine Academy and our studies were drastically shortened under the "new order" I hardly graduated as a pilot and discharged in 1960. During the next two years I worked in the Cuban Merchant Marine until I abandoned my ship in a Canadian port and entered the United Sates as a political exile. Then for a while I also worked aboard ships of Liberian flag.. Back in Cuba things slowly began to change from bad to worse. The scholastic standards in the Cuban Naval Academy no longer were the same, and among many vile deeds the Castro tyranny did its best to erase the Cuban history and its naval tradition.
In 1977 the Cuban Naval Academy was closed for good and the Naval Academy Granma-named after the yacht that brought Castro and his revolutionary party from Mexico in 1956 - was inaugurated west of Havana. Today El Palacio Rubens and the rest of the buildings of the former naval institution are abandoned and falling apart. Please review Fotos de la Academia Naval del Mariel before - antes - the revolution and after -despues - the revolution to have a better idea of what I mean.
Ironically during those years on account of the understanding between Castro and the Soviet Union, the Cuba Navy acquired several Russian corvettes, torpedoes boast, etc. and even three submarines. At the same time as never before there were many new vessels for the Cuban Merchant Marine and the Cuban Fishing Fleet, mainly built in Poland and Spain. Sadly all that too succumbed to the prevailing mismanagement and revolutionary thievery. That many top revolutionary figures in Cuba are millionaires is not a secret. And for a few years Castro himself was mentioned by the US magazines "Forbes" among the richest men in the world.
In 1998 the Academy Granma became a medical college where the Castro tyranny accepts foreigners free of charge for propaganda reasons. As far as I know since then the naval students are lodged in the military school "Máximo Gómez", elsewhere in Havana Alberto Gutiérrez