One Casa Grande man feels a special connection to a historic event that took place Thursday in the warm tropical waters of Havana harbor, Cuba.
Jay Fraser, a book publisher and adjunct professor of English at Central Arizona College, has written and published books relating to the Caribbean island nation, so he was pleased to learn that a replica of the Amistad, a 19th century slave ship that has come to symbolize the struggle between slavery and freedom in the United States and the Caribbean, would dock in Havana as part of a two-city tour of Cuba.
The story of the Amistad, and the docking of the replica ship, is a poignant reminder of a historical link between United States and Cuba, Fraser said.
"This ship represents a shared history between the United States and Cuba," Fraser said. "Even though slavery is a dark chapter in our history, it still happened. It happened here as well as in Cuba (and other islands in the Caribbean). That history is something we have in common and this event brings our histories back together."
In 1839, the original Amistad, a Spanish ship, sparked an international showdown soon after it sailed from Havana with African captives destined for slavery throughout the Caribbean. The captives later revolted, taking over the ship and sailing up the U.S. coast. When the ship was seized off the coast of New York, the captives, who were later taken to Connecticut, quickly became a symbol of the abolitionist movement in the United States and a federal court case ensued to decide their fate. John Quincy Adams, a former president of the United States, argued on behalf of the captives, saying that they should be freed as they had been transported illegally from Africa. In 1841 the Supreme Court agreed and the captives were freed.
The Freedom Schooner, a replica of the Amistad, is part of the United Nations commemoration of March 25 as the global day of remembrance for the victims of the Atlantic slave trade.
"The Amistad returning to Cuba is a great event because it brings those histories back together," Fraser said.
In his latest book, "The American Publisher: Paying the cost of corporatism and censorship for writing the truth about Cuba, Russia, and the war on terror," Fraser recalls his own 1998 visit to Cuba as part of an American book exhibit. Fraser said the book he published, "Leave Me My Spirit: An American's story of fourteen years in Castro's prisons," written by Lawrence Lunt, was banned from the exhibit by the Cuban government.
"I packed over 100 books to be sent to Miami, where they would be put into a container and sent then to Cuba. The books I sent were promised to be exhibited and then donated to libraries in Havana," Fraser writes in "The American Publisher."
But "Leave me my spirit" never made it to the display shelves even though other books included in the same shipment had.
Fraser said that after his company's book was banned, and upon learning that the exhibit was not open to the general public, he lost interest in the event, feeling it was fraudulent. But he used his time in Cuba to do some sightseeing and interact with the Cuban people.
While in Cuba, Fraser visited the former Havana home of Ernest Hemingway now a museum where the author wrote several of his masterpieces, including "For Whom the Bell Tolls" and "The Old Man and The Sea."
One museum guard allowed Fraser access to a closed-off part of the home that was not open to the public.
Twelve years later, as he sat down to pen "The American Publisher," Fraser dedicated his book to that Hemingway House guard, writing "To the guard who took me into the room where Hemingway wrote in Havana, whose spirit and courage I will never forget, and to all of the people in the world who have had the courage to write the truth."
The trip to Cuba left Fraser with a greater appreciation for freedom and free speech as well as for the shared history that links Cuban and American cultures.
Although Fraser will not be in Cuba to see the Amistad dock in the harbor, he said, reading of the ship's voyage to Havana brings back memories of his own trip there. He said he is there in spirit.
"In my mind I see myself standing there in 1839 looking at the tall ship docked in the harbor."