Hemingway's Havana home to get $900,000 in improvements
BY MICHAEL WEISSENSTEIN
A U.S. foundation will ship nearly $900,000 in supplies to build a
state-of-the-art facility to preserve Ernest Hemingway's books, letters
and photos – the first major export of construction materials to Cuba
since President Barack Obama loosened the trade embargo on the island.
The Boston-based Finca Vigia Foundation has been trying for years to
help Cuba stop thousands of pages of documents from slowly
disintegrating in the baking heat and dripping humidity of the sprawling
home where the American writer lived and worked outside Havana from 1939
to 1960. Officials with Cuba's National Cultural Heritage Council, which
runs the Finca Vigia, have been enthusiastic about building a
conservation laboratory but said they didn't have the funds or supplies
to do it.
High-quality building materials are virtually impossible to find
throughout much of Cuba, with homeowners forced to buy paint and water
pumps stolen from government agencies and pay overseas travelers to
bring items as large as sinks and kitchen cabinets in their checked
luggage. In state-run hardware stores, a request for an item as mundane
as a box of screws can provoke peals of laughter from sales clerks.
The foundation's proposal to send four shipping containers with as much
as $862,000 of materials ranging from nuts and bolts to tools and
roofing was approved by the U.S. government in May, after Obama created
a series of exemptions to the embargo. The exceptions include permission
for Americans to export supplies donated for the purpose of supporting
the Cuban people in fields such as science, archaeology and historical
Cuban architects, engineers and workmen will use the American supplies
and Cuban cement blocks and mortar to construct a 2,400-square-foot,
two-story laboratory where thousands of photos, roughly 9,000 books and
a huge number of letters to and from Hemingway can be treated and preserved.
"It will make a tremendous difference," Mary-Jo Adams, executive
director of the privately funded Finca Vigia Foundation, which was
founded in 2003. "They'll be able to be kept for decades, if not longer."
TV home improvement expert Bob Vila, a Finca Vigia Foundation board
member who is Cuban-American and speaks fluent Spanish, will help
oversee the project, Adams said. The head of Cuba's National Cultural
Heritage Council told The Associated Press that she couldn't make any
immediate comment on the project.
The series of exemptions that Obama carved in the embargo a month after
his Dec. 17 announcement of detente with Cuba is designed explicitly to
help ordinary Cuban citizens and the island's growing private sector
rather than its socialist, single-party government.
But the Cuban government retains control of most aspects of life on the
island. Obama administration officials acknowledged from the start that
it would be impossible to prevent warming ties from helping a state
apparatus that the U.S. criticizes for a lack of political and economic
freedom. American tourism to the island is still prohibited by U.S. law
and critics of Obama's engagement with Cuba say that it will simply
funnel cash to Raul Castro's government.
The Finca Vigia is one of Havana's most popular tourist attractions and
its entrance fees go to the government, but Adams said the preservation
lab wouldn't be a part of that.
"It is not going to attract visitors but it will keep the collection
safe," she said.
She said that questions about the ethics of a project that works with
the Cuban government had long since dissipated.
"It was sensitive probably 10 years ago. It no longer is," she said.
Source: Hemingway's Havana home to get $900,000 in improvements | Miami
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