[Marxism] NY Philharmonic banned from Cuba trip
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
By DANIEL J. WAKIN
Violinists, bassoonists and timpanists in Cuba? Fine. A bevy of rich
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
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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