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Posted January 18, 2004 by publisher in Cuban Culture

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BY RON MENCHACHA | Charleton Post and Courier Staff

The South Carolina delegation is hamming it up in Old Havana. Although they are here to sign a $10 million trade agreement with Cuba, the delegation takes time out to sightsee.

Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer walks into a crowd of schoolchildren riding bikes and playing baseball. He borrows a boy’s bike and, taking a seat on the handlebars, rides it backward around the public square. The boy is delighted.
A street artist sketches a picture of state Rep. Chip Limehouse, whom Cubans have taken to calling Robusto.

Limehouse doesn’t care.

He’s too busy singing with Cuban musicians and gawking at the architecture, some of it dating to the early 1500s.

“I’m from Charleston. I’m used to history, but this is something,” he said during a stroll through the original city center.

Books are for sale. Everything from leather hardbound encyclopedias and histories of the Revolution to biographies of Lenin. Artists sell giant paintings of Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara.

Unlike the outer parts of the city, there’s renovation going on here. Scaffolding surrounds several historic structures. Inside a former monastery, craftsmen are hunched over doing painstaking restoration work. A pianist is performing.

State Secretary of Agriculture Charles R. Sharpe takes a pew seat, closes his eyes and prays.

Later, as he walks down a cobblestone street dodging manure left behind by a horse pulling a carriage, he says: “If they get this place opened back up and get some money in here, everybody on the East Coast will be here.”

Suddenly, the street is full of uniformed schoolchildren. They carry long loaves of bread, the routine Friday food distribution from the government.

A Cuban official says the children are supposed to take the bread home to their families, but many of them walk down the street breaking off parts of the loaves to eat.

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