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Cultural Diplomacy in the Caribbean: Why the New York Philharmonic Must Go to Cuba

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The announcement that the New York Philharmonic canceled its trip to Havana, Cuba at the end of October came as a major disappointment to me, since I am an advocate of cultural diplomacy. Given the warming trends in U.S.-Cuba relations, the recent decision by the United States Treasury Department should be set aside and, for purposes of the trip, the act of donating money should be construed as 'performing.'

At the invitation of the Cuban government, the New York Philharmonic had planned a visit to Havana, where the orchestra was to play two concerts scheduled between Oct. 30 and Nov. 2. In anticipation of accompanying the musicians, about 150 board members and donors had each pledged $10,000, which was to cover the cost of the trip. But the U.S. Treasury Department said it would deny permission to the patrons, reportedly because they were not performers.

But the decision seems rather arbitrary. After all, today the orchestra leaves on an eight-day Asian tour with a scheduled stop in Vietnam. Two years ago, I wrote an opinion piece endorsing the orchestra's visit to North Korea. So what sets Cuba apart?

Earlier this year, the Obama administration eased sanctions to Cuba -- limits on visits by Cuban-Americans to relatives and remittances of gifts and money -- signaling a change in direction of U.S.-Cuban policy. A visit by the New York Philharmonic, patrons included, would be a continuation of this trend. The patrons' funding is such an integral element to the musicians playing in Cuba that the U.S. Treasury Department should consider the act of donating money as 'performing.'