Preserving Hemingway's legacy in Cuba

Ernest Hemingway and Fidel Castro after a fishing contest in Cuba in 1960.
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It was a "perpetual weekend" at Ernest Hemingway's Cuban estate.

There were "pals from Hollywood ... Spanish grandees, soldiers, sailors, Cuban politicians, prizefighters, barkeeps, painters and even fellow authors," says a 1954 profile in Time. It was an open house for U.S. Air Force and Navy men.

The author stayed for 20 years. He "spent his mornings wrestling with his typewriter and his afternoons wrestling with marlins in the Gulf Stream," says a PBS documentary. "He downed daiquiris at The Floridita bar, shot pigeons at the Club de Cazadores, and trolled the Caribbean for German submarines."

But in January 1959, Fidel Castro jubilantly entered Havana, having overthrown the U.S.-backed dictator. Shortly after, the Nobel Prize winner left the island. He committed suicide in Idaho in 1961.

The Cuban missile crisis, the invasion of the Bay of Pigs and the trade embargo followed, and for decades, Cuban scholars struggled to preserve the writer's legacy.

But the recent easing of the embargo has helped further preservation efforts, Cuban officials said on Wednesday. In January, the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama lifted some of the restrictions on religious, educational and cultural travel to Cuba.

Experts from the United States are now traveling to Cuba without a problem, said Ana Cristina Pereira, vice president of the National Council on Cultural Heritage.

Ada Rosa Alfonso, director of the Ernest Hemingway Museum, told Reuters that easing the embargo would help Cuba get the money, equipment and preservation materials needed to maintain Hemingway's Finca Vigia, where he wrote some of his greatest works, including "The Old Man and the Sea."

U.S. universities and institutions have contributed to the renovation of Finca Vigia, but Alfonso said that Bush-era regulations made it difficult to ship equipment and lend technical expertise for work on the house. The National Trust for Historic Preservation put the residence on its list of most endangered places.

Cuban shipyards have also been working to repair Hemingway's yacht, Pilar, which was riddled with termites.

But material support for the restorations is still neglible because of the blockade, said Pereira.

In 2002, the two countries agreed to allow American scholars access to a trove of Hemingway's papers and memorabilia that had been deteriorating in the basement of the author's Cuban home. The documents included about 3,000 photographs, 9,000 books and 3,000 documents and letters.

Hemingway even met Fidel Castro at a fishing tournament, and Cubans are proud of their Hemingway heritage. An international symposium is scheduled for June in Havana to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Hemingway's death. Experts from both Cuba and the United States are expected to attend.

Follow Stephanie on Twitter: @stephaniegarlow

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