The good news is that Cuban musicians are receiving visas to perform in the United States for the first time since 2003. The great singer Omara Portuondo is the latest to be issued a visa to visit.
Unfortunately, the New York Philharmonic will not be making its own planned historic visit to Cuba at the end of October. While the musicians themselves were good to go, the trip's donors – who had paid $10,000 each to support and join the trip – were denied visas by the State Department.
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 circumstances.”
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.”