U.S. allowing more people to travel to Cuba
By David Adams, Times Latin America Correspondent
In Print: Friday, August 14, 2009
Three times during the last eight years, John Tredway applied for a
license to take American students to debate their counterparts in Cuba.
Three times, he was denied.
Then the other day he got word that a new request to take students from
New College in Sarasota had been approved by the Treasury Department.
"It really came out of the blue," said Tredway, 60, director of USA
Youth Debates, which sends groups of students all over the world. "We
had been reading in the press about Obama's new Cuba policy for
Cuban-Americans visiting Cuba, but nothing indicated that the policy had
changed with regard to other Americans."
After eight years of cultural freeze, it seems the ice is thawing
between the United States and Cuba. In the coming months, a major
Hispanic musician from Miami and a New York orchestra are planning to
perform in Cuba, an apparent reversal of the Bush administration policy
of isolating the island regime. A sudden surge of Cuban performers are
coming here as well.
"The president (Obama) has himself stated that people-to-people contact
is good for both countries," said Timothy Ashby, a Cuba specialist with
the Miami law firm Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal. "It's pretty clear
that's the policy."
The Obama administration has approved a Sept. 20 peace concert in
Havana's Revolution Square by Colombian rocker Juanes, who lives in Key
Biscayne and is one of Latin music's hottest artists. Cuban officials
also say they are also looking forward to hosting the New York
Philharmonic in late October. An orchestra spokesman confirmed that a
trip to Cuba is being planned and that final arrangements are being
Juanes visited Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to discuss
plans for the concert.
"We have no official role in the concert, but the Department of State is
in favor of these types of cultural exchanges since they increase
understanding among nations," a State Department spokesman said. "We
have respect for Juanes and we wish him lots of luck with the project."
Juanes, whose real name is Juan Esteban Aristizãbal, may need it. The
concert is under attack from hard-line Cuban exiles in Miami who accuse
Juanes of naively providing legitimacy to Cuba's communist regime.
"The concert promises to be nothing more than a shameless, thoughtless
and heartless appearance by the 36-year-old singer and his fellow
performers," according to Joe Cardona, a Cuban-American filmmaker in
Miami. "It will be one more tacit legitimization of the hemisphere's
most oppressive 50-year-old dictatorship," he wrote in an op-ed in the
Exiles object to Juanes receiving a license to perform in Revolution
Square, usually the scene of Communist Party rallies. But Juanes has
defended the concert, pointing out that Pope John Paul II held an
open-air Mass in the square in 1998.
"It's a neutral place," Juanes told Univision, the Spanish-language
He noted that the square is built around a monument to Cuban
independence leader Jose Marti, who is revered in both Havana and Miami.
"No one is using me," he insisted.
The 1962 economic embargo against Cuba prevents Americans or U.S.
residents from traveling to Cuba unless they obtain a license from the
Treasury Department. Over the years a number of specific categories for
licensed travel have been created, including journalists, professional
researchers and Americans on approved commercial business for food,
agricultural and medical sales.
Last year the Treasury Department approved 21 licenses for "public
performances" in Cuba — mostly for athletic events — up from only seven
in 2007. Already this year 20 licenses have been approved, according to
Treasury Department spokeswoman Marti Adams.
Last month actors Robert Duvall, James Caan and Bill Murray visited Cuba
for four days under an unspecified professional research license, which
is generally easier to obtain than one for events that can generate
revenue or publicity for the Cuban government.
More Cubans, from actors to academics, are being allowed into the United
States as well. A group of 12 Cuban actors presented a Spanish-language
version of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream at the University of
Alabama this month.
"This is beyond uncommon. No musician or performing group has been
allowed in this country like this from Cuba since 2003," said Ned
Sublette, a performer and composer from New York who has studied and
written about Cuban music.
Other licenses are pending. The Sarasota Yacht Club last month applied
for a license to organize a regatta to Cuba in May 2010, one of a number
of boating events in Cuba next year that Florida sailors are hoping to
attend if restrictions are eased.
The increased number of licenses does not represent a change in law, but
rather a more permissive interpretation of existing regulations, said
Philip Peters, a Cuba analyst at the Lexington Institute in Arlington,
Va., who favors lifting all travel restrictions.
"Now they are granting licenses the way they are supposed to, as the
regulations were written," he said.
David Adams can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Information from the
Associated Press was used in this report.
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