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Protecting the Natural Resources of the Florida Straits
John and Patrick Hemingway lay wreath to honor grandfather, Ernest Hemingway in his beloved town of Cojimar, Cuba. Photo by Roberto Leon/NBC News
Click here for full photo album of the trip.
From September 7th-13th, 2014, John and Patrick Hemingway, grandsons of Ernest Hemingway, led a delegation of 13 participants to Cuba to celebrate the strong ties between the renowned author and Cuba. The group commemorated the 60th anniversary of Ernest Hemingway’s Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954 and the 80th anniversary of Hemingway’s first journey on his cabin cruiser Pilar from Key West to Havana in 1934. The trip was very moving for the two grandsons of Hemingway, as they were able to visit many of their grandfather’s favorite spots in Havana. This people-to-people trip not only focused on the legacy left by Hemingway, but also on ways in which the United States and Cuba can work together to protect and preserve the natural resources of the Gulf Stream and Florida Straits that Hemingway so passionately loved.
This groundbreaking trip was organized by Ms. Mavis Anderson (Senior Associate, Latin America Working Group Education Fund--LAWGEF) and Dr. Jeffrey Boutwell (LAWGEF Board Member and Secretary, US Pugwash). In addition to John and Patrick Hemingway, the delegation included specialists on the life and literature of Ernest Hemingway, and marine researchers and experts interested in engaging in a dialogue with their Cuban counterparts. This delegation will encourage further collaboration between U.S. and Cuban scientists on marine research in the Florida Straits. On a larger scale, the trip will serve as an example of how cooperative projects between the United States and Cuba are necessary; normalization of relations between the two nations would greatly facilitate such actions. As John and Patrick Hemingway have written, “It’s time to move beyond 50+ years of antagonism to normalized relations.”
You can read the full project description here and in Spanish here.
Reflections on my grandfather's boat, the Pilar
By: John Hemingway
The first time I heard about the Pilar or actively spoke about it was in 1974 when I was living with my great-uncle Leicester in Miami Beach. If my father mentioned it I was either too young to understand what he was talking about or it was just another boat that he and his dad happened to be fishing on when he was a boy in Bimini in the 1930s. Leicester was much more descriptive and in his biography of his brother there was a passage where he sees Ernest sitting in the fighting chair of the Pilar at sunset in Key West taking swigs from a bottle of rum. My grandfather was a tall man, as tall as my great-uncle, 6 ft., and strongly built, and back then his hair was still black and he had a moustache. The white beard would come later and the potbelly too. He was lean and young and Leicester writes that that was the first time that he noticed all the shrapnel wounds in his legs from the Austrian shell that had nearly killed him during the First World War.
It was a powerful image and one that stuck with me as I moved from one house to another from Florida to Connecticut to Los Angeles and then finally to Europe as a man. I could easily see him sitting there and smell the salt water in the bay and feel the slight rocking of a heavily built wooden boat in the waves.
Eventually my father would also write about the Pilar and the Nazi U-Boat hunting expeditions that Ernest would organize with a few friends and his captain, Gregorio Fuentes. Packing everyone aboard the Pilar with supplies and a homemade bomb that they intended to drop into the conning tower of an unsuspecting German sub, they would set out from Cojimar in search of trouble. A slightly suicidal mission if there ever was one. How they ever thought that they might get close enough to the U-boat to pull it off before they were machine-gunned into the Gulf Stream is beyond me, but that was the plan.
Luckily they never found the Germans except for my grandfather’s fatal encounter with them at the end of his posthumous novel Islands in the Stream. They were never shot at, the boat survived and Ernest fished aboard her until he left Cuba in 1960.
Today the Pilar is in dry dock on the grounds of his house the Finca Vigía outside of Havana. It was painstakingly restored in 2007 and is kept under a steel awning that protects it somewhat from the elements. I say somewhat because when I saw it for the first time last Thursday I noticed that the varnish on the wood in the cabin had already started to chip and peel. What impressed me though was the size of the boat, something that photographs can never really convey. I could finally see it with my own eyes and imagine my grandfather standing on the flying bridge above the cabin because it was obvious now that it was strong enough to support someone as big as Ernest. Likewise I could see my Uncle Patrick as a young boy sitting in the fighting chair as he wrestled with a huge marlin for hours, just like the second son of the protagonist of Islands in the Stream does.
But the Pilar itself was an archive of dreams and past lives, which I could not avoid now in her presence. I could feel my father and my Uncle Leicester. I could sense their energy and their pathos and I knew that while they were gone and I missed them dearly that they would always be here in this place, with this boat.
Media Coverage of the Delegation
Carey Winfrey, Key West, FL, retired editor, Smithsonian Magazine
In my time at SMITHSONIAN magazine, we published two articles that have direct bearing on our terrific trip: the first, in 2003, was about Cuba as an unspoiled nature preserve. It was written by Eugene Linden and can be found here. The second, which is about Ernest Hemingway's legacy in Cuba, is by Valerie Hemingway, who was the author's secretary in the early '60s, and later married Gregory Hemingway. It can be found here.
Also, here's a link to some of my photographs from the Cuba trip.
Jeffrey Boutwell, Columbia, MD, US Pugwash and LAWGEF Board Member
Several days after returning from our Cuba trip, I had a long drive to Norfolk, VA and took along an audio version of EH’s True at First Light. Wonderfully read by Brian Dennehy, he brings alive Hemingway’s lyric descriptions of the landscapes, wildlife, people, and rhythms of life and death in the Kenya Highlands of 1953.
What struck me most about the narrative was the purposeful nature of Hemingway’s hunting. This was no macho celebration of bagging big-game trophies. Rather, this hunting is primarily to stop a renegade lion or leopard from terrorizing local villages and attacking domestic livestock, or to supply meat. More generally, True at First Light (much like Islands in the Stream) demonstrates Hemingway’s love and respect for the natural world, much as our trip to Cuba commemorated Hemingway’s work with the ‘scientificos’ in observing and cataloging marlin, tuna and other game fish in the Florida Straits.
On a more whimsical note, there’s a passage in True at First Light that will forever resonate and recall the deeply moving Nobel Prize ceremony we held at Finca Vigia, with John and Patrick holding their grandfather’s Nobel Prize medal (awarded in September 1954), which he dedicated to the people of Cuba. Hemingway was back home at the Finca in the spring of 1954, working on True at First Light, when he wrote the following:
“[Winston] Churchill drank twice what I did if you could believe the accounts and he had just been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature . I was simply trying to step up my drinking to a reasonable amount when I might win the Prize myself; who knows?”
Perhaps Hemingway is being a bit disingenuous here, who knows? But the fact is that True at First Light brings forth a portrait of the artist as an older, wiser, and yes, damaged man, but one with a deep respect for nature and for his own short-comings and those of humanity around him.
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The Latin America Working Group Education Fund (LAWGEF) has been continuing the legacy of the “Old Man in the Sea,” Ernest Hemingway, and his research conducted in Cuba on shared maritime resources with the United States. This week a delegation including the grandsons of Ernest Hemingway, Patrick and John, will be traveling to Cuba to not only commemorate their grandfather but to promote U.S-Cuba scientific cooperation and ocean resource management that their grandfather started about eighty years ago. In 1934, Ernest Hemingway invited representatives from the Philadelphia’s National Academy of Sciences to travel on his beloved boat, the Pilar, to conduct marlin research in the Florida Straits. At that time there was no embargo on Cuba, and this type of scientific exchange could happen frequently. After 50 years of broken diplomatic relations and in a world with natural resources becoming more scarce now is the time to promote scientific exchange with our geographical neighbors rather than isolate them. Below is a piece that was published by the Philadelphia Inquirer written by two of LAWGEF’s delegation participants John Hemingway and Robert McCracken Peck, senior fellow at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, about the importance of being part of this delegation to Cuba and what it may mean for the future of U.S-Cuba relations.
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The Associated Press published a report earlier this week uncovering a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) program, now known as the “Travelers Project,” that recruited youths from Peru, Venezuela, and Costa Rica from 2009 through 2012 to run and participate in civic programs in Cuba while secretly stirring up anti-government activism. The most notable of the projects organized by the USAID contractors was an HIV/AIDS prevention clinic that was dually used to scout possible anti-Castro youth organizers. According to USAID documents, the HIV program was described as a “perfect excuse” to recruit political activists. Under the “Travelers Project,” the USAID directed agents to act as tourists, socialize on college campuses, and hold various gatherings in order to profile and organize potential dissident youth leaders.
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U.S. policy towards Cuba has its place in the hot seat again. If you recall last April, USAID, (United States Agency for International Development) was confronted about an allegedly covert program to develop a Cuban version of Twitter, named “ZunZuneo,” in hopes of inciting protests and demonstrations in Cuba. While we thought this program was bad enough, it gets worse. On Monday, Associated Press
reported that a USAID program in Cuba secretly used an HIV-prevention workshop for political activism on the island. “Beginning in late 2009, the U.S. Agency for International Development deployed nearly a dozen young people from Latin America to Cuba to recruit political activists, an Associated Press investigation found. The operation put the foreigners in danger not long after a U.S. contractor [Alan Gross] was hauled away to a Cuban jail.”
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Cuban Americans for Engagement (CAFE) came to Washington, D.C. this week to advocate for a re-establishment of relations between the United States and Cuba. CAFE was represented in Washington, D.C. by members from all over the country, including North Carolina, Texas, Washington, Colorado, Illinois, and Florida. The group attended meetings with various congressional offices, governmental agencies, and the Cuban Interests Section. Members of CAFE expressed new perspectives on U.S-Cuba relations and addressed the need to see improvement in the dialogue between the two nations.
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The recently-released 2014 Florida International University (FIU) Cuba Poll shows major changes in the attitudes of the Cuban-American population in Miami-Dade County, Florida on issues surrounding U.S. policy toward Cuba. Researchers at FIU have been polling this community for over 20 years, beginning in 1991. This year, the findings prove that the loudest voices in the Cuban-American community do not necessarily reflect the views of the entire community and that a majority of the community would be open to a change in U.S. policy.
Florida International University released a new poll
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on Tuesday that surveyed how Cuban Americans in Miami view U.S. policies towards Cuba. Over the past few years we have seen poll after poll show the changing opinion of the majority of Cuban Americans—who now favor engagement with the Cuban government and a change in U.S. policy. FIU's latest poll blows all the other polls out of the water. The most impressive finding from the poll is the clear shift of younger Cuban Americans, ages 18-29, who present an even larger majority in favor of engagement and U.S. policy change towards Cuba.
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If any of you have had the opportunity to travel to Cuba with LAWG or our partner organization, Witness for Peace, or had any interactions with the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Center in Marianao/Havana, then you have probably had the distinct pleasure of meeting Alberto Gonzalez, an interpreter for the MLK Jr. Center. Besides being the best Cuban interpreter we have ever run across, Alberto has become the friend of many who have learned from him. He's written a memoir, and we'd love to share with you how you can get it. Alberto is the same age as the Cuban revolution; his book is written from that perspective, and it is as lively and filled with humorous stories as is Alberto himself. The memoir, Born to Translate Cuba, is newly printed and available on Amazon.com. You can order it here.
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The exchange of five Taliban leaders being held at Guantanamo Bay Detention Center for the freedom of U.S. Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl has added a new dimension to the discussion surrounding the imprisonment of former U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) sub-contractor Alan Gross, who has been imprisoned in Cuba since 2009. The U.S. State Department has rejected the prospect of a similar exchange involving Alan Gross and the remaining three imprisoned members of the Cuban 5, who were arrested in 1998 and convicted in 2001 of multiple charges including conspiracy to commit espionage. The Cuban 5 were working in Miami to monitor anti-Castro groups in an attempt to prevent them from carrying out aggressive acts against the island. Despite objections from their legal representatives, members of the Five were tried in Miami, an area directly associated with the Cuban exile community, and the group was convicted on all 26 charges filed against them. Some were even sentenced to life and double life sentences.
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It is difficult to think of an individual whose life’s work represents more on the modern Cuban cultural landscape than composer, bassist, arranger and Los Van Van Director Juan Formell, who passed away May 1, age 71. He will be missed in Cuba, throughout the world, and by me.
I’ve traveled to Cuba since the late 70s. My memories are inseparable from the music I’ve heard while I have been there. During my second visit in 1982, I was awakened each day by Sarah González’s “Girón – La Victoria,” celebrating the Cuban victory at the Bay of Pigs. Another number that was constantly in the air was “Tiburón” by Rubén Blades and Willie Colón, a New York salsa tune popular in Cuba – and banned in Miami because of its characterization of the U.S. as a “shark” set to devour “our brother El Salvador.”