On Oct. 27, 2009, a Boeing jumbo jet from New York should have landed at Havana’s JosÃ© MartÃ Airport after a scheduled three-hour flight.
According to plan, that flight and others after it would have brought to the island tons of musical instruments, lighting and sound equipment, giant television screens, about 200 musicians of the New York Philharmonic and 150 benefactors who, with their donations, had collected the $1.5 million needed for the project. But nothing unusual occurred in the air terminal that day or any following day. The postponement of the Philharmonic’s trip to Cuba grounded not only New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, and dozens of senators, governors, artists like Alec Baldwin, and social communicators from various states, but also the hopes that Barack Obama’s new administration would take the steps – long awaited on both sides of the Straits of Florida – to begin to lift the blockade, now in its 47th year, a worn-out relic of the Cold War.
It’s worth noting that, precisely at a time when geopolitical strategists like Winston Churchill and George Kennan set down the bases for the multilateral confrontation of what they called “the challenge of communist expansion” Washington encouraged the tours of American artists throughout the world as an expression of good will and an ill-disguised effort to promote Western culture and civilization, and the capitalist system in general.
During those cultural wars, there were no neutral or indifferent parties. The JosÃ© LimÃ³n dance company, or the jazz greats Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie were hounded by the State Department with tempting financial offers to deliver U.S. culture to the Middle or Far East, as well as the Soviet Union, Poland, Hungary and East Germany.
“Every once in a while, it would be nice to organize a good-will tour down the Mississippi” commented Gillespie sarcastically, after reading news of racist actions in his country.
So, how was a cultural and ideological project of this type – beneficial for the United States from every point of view – momentarily paralyzed, preventing the takeoff of the Boeing jumbo toward the island?
The two frustrated Cuban concerts by the United States’ most prestigious symphony orchestra, founded in 1842, should have been the triumphal closing of the “Asian Horizons” tour, which in October included appearances in cities like Tokyo, Seoul and Hanoi.
“So the Philharmonic is free to bring its singular program of cultural exchange to the former North Vietnamese capital, a nation with whom we were at war as late as 1975, that war having cost over 55,000 U.S. lives commented Alec Baldwin in The Huffington Post. “But it is prohibited from doing so in Cuba because […] who, then, benefits from continuing this policy?”
Inescapable questions, no doubt, the same that might be posed by any journalist or researcher, not to mention Sherlock Holmes, Perry Mason or Lt. Colombo. In effect, who benefits from a political decision of this kind, which has hurt a cultural project in the name of a nation, if, as it is evident, the decision is radically opposed to the nation’s interests, even its traditions?
Two clues can be found. The first, the implacable opposition to the trip by the Cuban American National Foundation, and by politicians like New Jersey senator Bob MenÃ©ndez and Florida representatives Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, expert lobbyists and professional political extortionists opposed to any spark of light that might break through the thick wall of shadows represented by the blockade.
Those people are visceral enemies of anything that threatens the multimillion-dollar profits of a Miami industry of hatred and resentment that has reached grotesque and Freudian levels.
The second clue is the recent visit to the island, Sept. 17-22, of Bisa Williams, Deputy Under Secretary of State for Latin America, who was chief of the State Department’s Cuba Bureau in the George W. Bush administration, and a close aide to John Negroponte.
Mrs. Williams’ visit allowed her to witness an unprecedented cultural event: the concert by Juanes and other foreign and Cuban artists on Revolution Square, which attracted more than one million young people. It was an open cultural challenge accepted and won by Cuba with dignity and respect, without fear of opposing points of view. Mrs. Williams must have felt that such exchanges do not favor the neoconservative political interests that remain at the core of the new Democratic administration.
Bisa Williams’ trip to Cuba and the subsequent cancellation of the New York Philharmonic’s tour, in the view of Cuban diplomats in the United States, constitute “the first neoconservative blows against [President Obama’s] policy of aperture toward Cuba.”
This, and the twisted procedure of the Departments of State and Treasury when they allowed the musicians to travel but banned the donors who made the trip possible, clearly reveals the origin of the “medieval” measure, as described by Enrique PÃ©rez Mesa, assistant director of the Havana Symphony Orchestra.
That measure expresses the truculent wiles of that Jurassic part of the Cuban Ã©migrÃ© community that clings to a war of extermination and to the complete asphyxiation of the Cuban people to pressure the Revolution. It reveals the Machiavellian political tactics of the neoconservatives who besiege President Obama from outside and inside his administration, people who revere the philosophy of Leo Strauss.
Cubans, by now accustomed to such hostile actions, look calmly and optimistically at the announcements board at the Amadeo RoldÃ¡n Theater. They know that, sooner or later, they will be able to enjoy the temporarily postponed concerts, and that the common sense and culture of two neighboring countries will overcome all the artificial obstacles that are raised.
It has been revealed that the concerts prepared with care by musicians from both countries included Gustav Mahler’s Fifth Symphony and “Tres Lindas Cubanas” by Gonzalo Romeu. Also the Piano Concerto No. 4 in G, Op. 58, by Ludwig van Beethoven, which was first performed in a Viennese theater on Dec. 22, 1808. To Beethoven biographer Emil Ludwig, it was “the most perfect concerto for a solo instrument ever composed.”
Oddly enough, when describing the second movement of that composition, the great Franz Liszt described it as “a dialogue between the piano (Orpheus) and the Furies, represented by the strings in unison.”
To impede its performance in Havana, even though temporarily, does not honor today’s Furies or promote a dialogue. Instead, it makes evident the cunning and selfish manner in which the Furies have kidnapped U.S. policy toward Cuba, regardless of the cost.
In the end, no noise, no matter how horrendous, will drown the music played by virtuosos from both countries on a warm Havana night, the joyful notes of a concert written by a man who clamored for the brotherhood of all human beings.