August 16, 2011
By Steve Clemons, The Atlantic
Small scoop, but on October 6th, the Cuban Interests Section (aka, the Cuban Embassy if we ever get back to normalizing relations) will launch a clever bit of public diplomacy by opening "Hemingway's Bar."
Of course, one has to be invited as the bar is on Cuba's side of the line inside its sort-of-embassy, and my hunch is that some will make the list and others won't. Sorry Ileana(and Mario).
And as commerce can't change hands between Americans and Cubans -- the drinks will be free. I plan to go and will want a "Hemingway Daiquiri" -- double the rum, and no sugar.
And what is as interesting is that the Cuban national historical landmark, the Finca Vigia, which was the Havana hills home built by Ernest Hemingway and his third wife, journalist Martha Gellhorn, will be providing educational and cultural exhibits and material about Hemingway's work and life during his two decades living in Cuba.
Compare this kind of diplomacy to how the Americans and Cubans used to harass each other in the past.
According to a good roundup of tit-for-tat propaganda, Cuba first had a small billboard facing the US Interests Section in Havana (yes, our Embassy by any other account) that displayed:
a cartoon revolutionary shouting to Uncle Sam "Señores Imperialistas ¡No les tenemos absolutamente ningún miedo!" - "Mr. Imperialists, We have absolutely no fear of you!"
Then later during the Elian Gonzalez wrestling match, the Cubans built a stage and rally square as a place where Cubans could assemble and protest actions of the US government.
On the US side, the Interests Section would promote a Christmas display, "including a Santa Cluas, a Frosty the snowman and a sleigh." And according to a report in the BBC via Wikipedia, in 2004, the display included a large number "75", in reference to jailed Cuban dissidents.
The Cubans responded by putting up billboards facing the intersection showing photos of Abu Ghraib abuse -- and then the US Interests Section countered by erecting a scrolling electronic billboard on its top floor featuring among other things a George Burns quote:
Eventually, the US Interests Section billboard was dismantled -- and I remember Dagoberto Rodriguez, then Director of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, telling me that he was going to stay away from such counter-productive spectacles and not put up a billboard.
There are many who would like to continue to see US-Cuba relations only through the prism of an anachronistic embargo and standoff over property rights, human rights, and other differences -- but given that the Cold War ended everywhere else in the world, given that Communist China is now America's financier, given the openings and incredible economic progress in Vietnam -- it makes no sense for US and Cuba not to normalize relations.
Part of that process of normalization means not just hammering on differences but beginning to recognize that there are many shared interests and shared culture. Hemingway is loved by Cubans -- as he is by Americans and others around the world.
Later this year, acclaimed filmmakerPhilip Kaufman will be releasing his new HBO film, "Hemingway & Gellhorn" starring Nicole Kidman, Clive Owen, Rodrigo Santoro, and Robert Duvall which gets into the deep corners of their powerful, stormy relationship -- much of which took place at the Finca Vigia in Havana. Gellhorn, a powerful writer and tempestuous personality, may have out-Hemingway'd Hemingway in some senses. I think the Kaufman movie will explore her bold, independent behavior and work as a war correspondent.
Perhaps the US Interests Section in Havana should consider setting up a "Gellhorn's Bar" as the tit for the Cuban Interest Section's tat on "Hemingway's Bar".
That could be a cool rivalry -- and a pathway to more normal relations which are long overdue.