[Marxism] NY Philharmonic banned from Cuba trip

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Oct 2 11:03:33 MDT 2009

NY Times, October 2, 2009
New York Philharmonic Won't Go to Cuba Without Patrons

Violinists, bassoonists and timpanists in Cuba? Fine. A bevy of rich 
Americans? Sorry.

The New York Philharmonic scratched its trip to Cuba at the end of 
October because the United States government was barring a group of 
patrons from going along, the orchestra said on Thursday. Without them 
and their donations, the Philharmonic said, it could not afford the tour.

About 150 board members and other donors had promised to pay $10,000 
each to spend Oct. 30 to Nov. 2 in Havana, where the orchestra was to 
play two concerts, said Zarin Mehta, its president. The money was to 
have covered the cost of the proposed trip, which came at the invitation 
of the Cuban government.

Supporters, both individuals and executives of donor companies, usually 
tag along with major orchestras when they travel around the world. For 
some, the travel amounts to high-class tourism, along with a chance to 
make business connections in foreign capitals. In effect, orchestras 
would not be able to raise tour money without giving the donors a chance 
to accompany them.

“The patrons were excited about giving us the money with the opportunity 
of going to see Havana and be a witness and support their orchestra,” 
Mr. Mehta said. “This is what’s important to them.” Mr. Mehta said he 
would not consider taking the patrons’ money while leaving them behind.

“I wouldn’t want to insult them,” he said. “I think it’s most likely 
they would say, ‘Go another time.’ ” That’s what the orchestra will try 
to do, he said.

Mr. Mehta said he had hoped that pressure applied by New York elected 
officials — including Senator Charles E. Schumer and Representatives 
Steve Israel and Charles B. Rangel, who have supported the trip — would 
help to have the decision overturned. “They haven’t been successful,” he 
said. “They’re befuddled.”

The spokesman for the State Department, which guides the Treasury 
Department in deciding which Americans can go to Cuba, said the reason 
was simple.

The sanctions on Cuba permit performing artists to enter, said the 
spokesman, P. J. Crowley, but “there’s no permitted category of travel 
that would include the Philharmonic patrons. Basically they’re tourists, 
and we don’t license tourist travel to Cuba under the present 

He said there was also an economic component to the decision: the 
wealthy patrons could spend large amounts of money in Cuba, which would 
effectively violate economic sanctions.

In response to the Philharmonic’s position that it could not go without 
the financial supporters, he said, “Perhaps the New York Philharmonic 
should have checked with the government before announcing the trip.”

The cancellation was an embarrassment and something of a setback in the 
New York Philharmonic’s effort to cast itself as the nation’s flagship 
traveling orchestra. It made headlines with a trip to Pyongyang, North 
Korea, nearly two years ago (no United States government permission for 
patrons was required) and leaves on Sunday for an Asian tour that will 
take in another Communist nation, Vietnam.

The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control issues 
licenses to visit Cuba because of the longstanding economic sanctions 
aimed at the island’s Communist government.

According to the orchestra, the office said informally that the players 
and staff members would be allowed to go, but not the patrons.

A lawyer for the orchestra has delivered a brief to the licensing 
office, making its case that the categories are elastic and an exception 
should be made for the donors. Several board members were allowed to 
accompany the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra when it visited Havana in 1999.

The trip plans came about amid a warming of relations between Cuba and 
the United States. The Obama administration has restarted talks about 
migration and eased limits on remittances and travel by Cuban-Americans 
to the island to visit relatives. But as a sign of the political 
thorniness involved in closer ties, the administration extended for a 
year the law used to impose the trade embargo on Cuba.

Bills pending in both houses of Congress would lift travel restrictions 
on all Americans to Cuba. The bills have a surprising level of 
bipartisan support, helped by lobbying by agricultural and business 
groups eager to expand commercial ties.

“This exposes how arbitrary the rules are governing American citizens’ 
rights to travel to Cuba,” Julia E. Sweig, an expert on Cuba at the 
Council on Foreign Relations, said of the Treasury Department’s 
position. “If you have a family member there, you can go. If you play an 
instrument or sport, you can go. But if you’re a philanthropist who 
wants to support arts in Cuba, you can’t?”

J. Christopher Flowers, a Philharmonic trustee, said he was still hoping 
to go to Cuba with the orchestra someday. “It sounds absolutely 
fascinating,” he said, but he declined to offer an opinion on the 
decision. “It’s up to the government to make the rules and for us to 
follow them,” he added. “It’s not for me to try to figure out our policy 
with respect to Cuba.”

Mr. Flowers said he did not know whether he would have spent much money 
in Cuba. “I’ve never been there,” he said.

Mr. Mehta said the next opening for a Cuba trip would probably come in 
June or July. The orchestra will try to come up with concerts quickly to 
play at its Avery Fisher home for the time it would have been in Havana.

As for programming on those dates, Mr. Mehta said, Latin American music 
is a distinct possibility. “The thought has crossed our minds.”

Ginger Thompson and Mark Landler contributed reporting from Washington.

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