Written by Meg Annacone
Sweethearts strolling arm and arm along the Malecón. Music at every turn that’s felt as well as heard. Weary façades that fiercely cling to their resplendent past. This was my Cuba, experienced during a people-to-people exchange program with the National Trust for Historic Preservation more than a decade ago. The chance to return is now a reality.
The National Trust is among just a handful of organizations to have been granted a People-to-People license from the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) allowing them to return to Cuba. They have created and plan to conduct meaningful programs that allow for an exchange of information and ideas between Americans and Cubans on the subject of historic preservation and related cultural heritage issues while witnessing the customs and Colonial architecture of Havana, Cienfuegos and Trinidad.
Earlier this decade, the National Trust led sanctioned programs in Cuba (such was my experience) that allowed individuals to interact and connect with Cubans from all walks of life—architects, planners, preservation and museum professionals, and everyday citizens—on the subject of heritage conservation, a subject that’s increasingly important as the effects of weather and time make their mark on the nation’s treasures. Through these exchanges, the National Trust made important contacts and gained considerable experience that will ensure that future exchanges are productive and meaningful both for American participants and Cuban citizens.
In addition to the these exchanges, the National Trust has been engaged in site-specific work in Cuba relating to Finca Vigía, the historic landmark home of Ernest Hemingway in San Francisco de Paula, Cuba, since 2005, when it was named to the Trust’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places list. Through special licensing and in cooperation with the Finca Vigía Foundation (formerly the Hemingway Preservation Foundation), the National Trust has sponsored a number of visits by technical teams comprised of American professionals in the fields of historic preservation, architecture, engineering, materials and document conservation, landscape preservation, and history to conduct important research and to provide technical assistance to its Cuban counterparts in order to restore this iconic historic landmark and to facilitate the conservation of invaluable documents, photographs, books, manuscripts, paintings, artifacts, and other records left at the property by Ernest and Mary Hemingway. The result has been a remarkable collaboration between American and Cuban professionals, with outcomes that benefit both the American and Cuban people.
How fortunate it is to have the opportunity to make the acquaintance of the warm, welcoming Cubans through privileged access to their island home. Travel demand for Cuba is quite high. Visit Study Tours’ website for an overview on remaining 2011 departures, which include a 6-day Havana only itinerary and an 8-day itinerary that includes Havana and the outlying cities of Trinidad and Cienfuegos.
Meg Annacone is the Associate Director of National Trust Tours at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.