Published: July 31, 2009
HAVANA (Reuters) - Hollywood came to Havana on Thursday as Cuban writers
and artists gave an award to Benicio del Toro, star of the 2008 movie
"Che," in a ceremony attended by fellow actors Bill Murray, Robert
Duvall and James Caan.
Murray stole the show when he improvised a version of the song "As Time
Goes By," then jokingly passed around a hat, asking for money.
Their presence lent a bit of Hollywood glitz to warming U.S.-Cuba
relations, and may have been the precursor for the making of a film in Cuba.
A spokesman for the group said del Toro was in town for the award, but
that Murray, Duvall and Caan were working on a "research project.
When asked if he and his pals might make a movie on the communist-led
island, del Toro told reporters: "That depends on the governments, on
the American government."
Because of the long-standing U.S. trade embargo against Cuba, Americans
have been forbidden, with some exceptions, from visiting the island or
doing most business there.
Hollywood stars such as Robert Redford, Arnold Schwarzenegger and
director Steven Spielberg have come to Cuba in the past but cultural
exchanges slowed due to restrictions imposed by former U.S. President
George W. Bush.
The group's spokesman said they were traveling under a license granted
by the U.S. Treasury Department.
U.S. President Barack Obama offered earlier this year to "recast"
relations with Cuba, which have been sour since the 1959 revolution that
put Fidel Castro in power.
Obama has lifted travel restrictions for Cuban Americans and restarted
immigration talks with Cuba that were suspended under Bush.
Last week, the United States said a Bush-era news ticker on the U.S.
Interests Section building in Havana, which the Cuban government viewed
as an affront, had been turned off.
Puerto Rican-born del Toro won acclaim here last year for his portrayal
of Ernesto "Che" Guevara, an Argentine who fought alongside Castro in
the Cuban revolution, in the title role of the two-part biopic "Che,"
directed by American Steven Soderbergh.
The International Tomas Gutierrez Alea Prize, named for the late Cuban
director who made the 1994 film "Strawberry and Chocolate," "makes me
feel small and proud at the same time," del Toro said. "It's an honor to
win this prize."
The other stars did not speak to reporters.
(Additional reporting by Esteban Israel; editing by Jeff Franks and Todd
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