Better U.S.-Cuba ties may help Hemingway legacy

Tue May 26, 2009 10:46pm BST

* Easing embargo may help preserve Hemingway's Cuba legacy

* Hemingway museum organizing Havana conference

By Esteban Israel

SAN FRANCISCO DE PAULA, Cuba, May 26 (Reuters) - Keepers of the home and heritage of Ernest Hemingway in Cuba hope U.S. President Barack Obama's desire for better U.S.-Cuba relations will help them preserve the writer's legacy on the Caribbean island.

If Obama eases restrictions enacted by the Bush administration that toughened the U.S. trade embargo, it will help Cuba get the money, equipment and preservation materials needed to maintain the home outside Havana where Hemingway lived for 21 years, Ada Rosa Alfonso, director of the Ernest Hemingway Museum, said on Tuesday.

"If Obama really sticks to his platform, if he can make his intentions real, it will undoubtedly be different," she said.

"But we have to wait and see what happens because it takes more than a president's goodwill to achieve results," she said at the veranda of Hemingway's Finca Vigia, or Lookout Farm, surrounded by palm trees.

U.S. universities and institutions have contributed to a still-incomplete renovation of the Spanish-style, hilltop residence that Hemingway called home from 1939 to 1960 and where he wrote some of his greatest works, including "The Old Man and the Sea" and "Islands in the Stream."

But Alfonso said the Americans were hindered by Bush-era regulations that made it difficult to ship equipment and lend technical expertise for work on the house, which had fallen into such disrepair the U.S.-based National Trust for Historic Preservation put it on its list of most endangered places.

The same bureaucratic obstacles slowed restoration of Hemingway's boat "Pilar," riddled with termites after sitting on the grounds of Finca Vigia for years.

MONEY FOR COMMUNISTS

The Bush administration argued that improvements on the Hemingway properties would increase the flow of tourists and money to the communist-led government it opposed.

There remains work to be done not only on the home, but in the preservation and digitization of thousands of books and documents that sat for years in the basement, Alfonso said.

Cuba, feeling the effects of the global financial crisis, is committed to protecting Hemingway's legacy but has limited access to expensive equipment due in part to the U.S. embargo, she said.

Obama has said he wants to "recast" relations with the communist-run island and has softened restrictions on travel and remittances for Cuban Americans. Last week, he offered to resume immigration talks interrupted by Bush.

Obama has said he would keep the embargo, imposed since 1962, as leverage until Cuba shows progress on human rights.

The museum is organizing a biannual conference on Hemingway's heritage, with several experts from the United States scheduled to attend the June 18-21 event.

The conference will be held at the Hotel Ambos Mundos in Old Havana where the Nobel-winning author lived and worked upon his arrival to Cuba in the 1930s.

The academic event will include a pilgrimage to some of the writer's favorite bars like La Bodeguita del Medio and El Floridita. There will be plenty of mojitos and daiquiris, Hemingway's favorite drinks, the organizers said.

Hemingway left Cuba in 1960, a year after the Cuban revolution. Wracked by depression, he committed suicide a year later in the United States. (Reporting by Esteban Israel; editing by Jeff Franks and John O'Callaghan)