A little over three months ago, before Juanes the Colombian musician singer-song writer came down to Cuba with the intent of proposing the idea of the second Peace Concert in Havana to the Cuban government, the first thing he did was to pay a visit to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. It was understood as a courtesy visit -- he is after all a guest of the United States government and not a US native or citizen, so if he had the idea of coming down to perform, it was more than appropriate that he first make his intentions known to the US government to see if all was OK -- but there was also an ulterior motive. The other motivation for meeting with Madame Clinton was also to inquire if there would be any animosity or difficulties in regards to the possible involvement of North American artists interested in taking part in this endeavor. It is my understanding that Mrs. Clinton basically said that the US government wasn't going to become directly involved one way or the other and that it would for the most part not give any specific orders to OFAC (Office of Foreign Assets Control, which deals with the embargo and the rules and regulations regarding travel to Cuba or any other enemy land or is-land as the case may be.)
So it was that Juanes came down with two fellow Puerto Rican artists, which under the current (dating back to before the 1900s) situation for that island nation pretty much means part of the commonwealth of the United States and technically US citizens. Perfect. A huge multinational group of Latino artists in a Latino city singing Latino songs (ok, Giovanotti rapped to a Bob Marley tune, but in Italian so it counts as Latin), and no one save for the sad few in the South of Florida had anything to say about the event.
Here's the thing: a little before Juanes came down, maybe even close to the date when he went to DC to meet with Mrs. Clinton, the New York Times published a piece where it stated that Cuba had invited the New York Philharmonic to play in Havana. In that article, the orchestra's president, Zarin Mehta, was quoted as saying "High-profile touring defines the New York Philharmonic, but I think it defines our country." In that same article, it was stated that orchestra officials had also taken pains to say the trip had strong United States government approval. The idea was run past the office of Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr, Mr. Mehta said. "They said, 'Absolutely, it's a wonderful project, and you should pursue it,' " Mr. Mehta said.
Alan Gilbert, the Philharmonic's incoming music director was expected to conduct and called the Cuban visit "entirely appropriate" and said, "It's probably not a coincidence that it's happening at this time." He also referred to the prospective trip as a non political "cultural exchange."
"It's actually as straightforward as what it seems," Mr. Gilbert said. "We're playing music for appreciative audiences."
Or so they thought.
Today (October 1, 2009) The New York Times had another article by Daniel J Wakin, but this time the heading was completely different. "October New York Philharmonic Trip to Cuba Is Off."
Well it seems that the United States Treasury Department (OFAC issues the licences to travel on behalf of Treasury) said it would deny permission for a group of patrons to go along. Without them and their donations, the orchestra said on Thursday, it cannot afford to go. So stated Wakin's article of this afternoon.
Regarding trying to get the decision overturned, elected officials from New York had not been successful said Mr Mehta, "They're befuddled." I would dare say rightly so.
The Juanes Peace Concert was very big, it was huge, and it brought an incredible awareness to many in regards to the obscene and backward policies of the Cuban-American community in the south of Florida and other parts of the United States. It also served to show that for the most part, close to 52% of Cuban-Americans actually were in favor of the concert and had evolved towards following the path of greater understanding through engagement.
On this day, it seems Cubans living on the island awaiting more of that positive commitment towards the path of engagement will have to welcome the New York Philharmonic on another date.