Cuba, US Launch Project to Restore Hemingway Property; Attract Tourists

By Jim Burns | July 7, 2008 | 8:12 PM EDT

( - A Massachusetts Democrat is spending this Veteran's Day in Cuba in an effort to preserve a piece of American literary history - the property of author Ernest Hemingway.

U.S. Rep. James McGovern, who advocates closer ties with Cuba and the lifting of the U.S. economic embargo, is the only American public official to attend a ceremony kicking off the "Hemingway Project," which is expected to expand Cuba's tourist industry, attracting Hemingway scholars and afficianados.

The project - billed as an unusual joint effort between Cuba and the U.S. - will someday give the public access to "Finca Vigia," the nine-acre estate Hemingway once owned at San Francisco De Paula, about 12 miles east of Havana.

Monday's ceremony will include Castro government officials, Cuban and American scholars, as well as Hemingway's family and fans.

McGovern became involved in the Hemingway effort early last year when he was approached by Jenny Phillips, a Massachusetts resident and granddaughter of Maxwell Perkins, Hemingway's longtime and influential editor.

"This is a joint effort to try and preserve American history that will disappear forever if we don't do something really quickly," McGovern's spokesman Michael Mershon told Congressional Quarterly.

"It's a small project, but it's also important in a broader sense, because it furthers the Cuban-American relationship and the dialogue. I can't imagine anyone saying no to it," he said.

But the Cuban Liberty Council, an anti-Castro Cuban exile group is adamantly opposed to the project, calling it more Castro propaganda, according to spokesperson Ninoska Perez.

"To think that this is any kind of step toward betterment of (Cuban-American) relationships is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard," said Perez in an interview with .

"Fidel Castro knows what he has to do to better relations with not only the United States but with the rest of the civilized world, and that is respecting human rights and holding free and democratic elections and let the Cuban people express themselves," she said.

Mershon said preservation work could begin as early as January.

McGovern's office is leading the fundraising effort for the project, which is expected to last around five years and cost up to $500,000. Mershon said $25,000-$30,000 already has been raised, and the Rockefeller Foundation has given the project a $75,000 grant.

The project will involve electronically copying and microfilming thousands of Hemingway's papers, including story transcripts and personal letters, which have been sealed in the basement of his estate since the U.S. imposed an economic embargo on Cuba in 1962 - one year after Hemingway died.

The interior of the estate will also be renovated.

The U.S. Treasury Department, which oversees travel and exchanges with Cuba, had no comment on the project

"Our approach recognizes that Ernest Hemingway is an important historical, cultural and literary figure, not just in the United States, but in Cuba. It's got nothing to do with whatever you think about (Cuban dictator) Fidel Castro's policies," McGovern said.

McGovern is expected to return to the United States on Tuesday, a spokesperson said.

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