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Music Driving Change in U.S.-Cuban Relations

December 29, 2009 By Roque Planas

Music continues to act as the primary driving force to open relations between U.S. and Cuba. Cuban folksinger Carlos Varela visited Washington D.C. earlier this month to discuss U.S.-Cuban relations at a forum organized by American University and privately with U.S. legislators, before continuing to California to work on a record with Jackson Browne, according to reports by the New York Times and Cuba Debate.

Despite increasingly tense relations between D.C. and Havana, music exchanges have begun to flourish. Varela´s visit follows performances in the U.S. and Puerto Rico by Cuban musicians Omara Portuondo, Pablo Milanés and the Septeto Nacional. Kool and the Gang became the first U.S. group to receive permission from the Obama administration to perform in Cuba (see the newscast at the BBC). The U.S. Treasury Department approved the New York Philharmonic´s travel visas to perform in Cuba back in October, but denied those of the Philharmonic´s financiers, leading to the trip´s cancellation, according to the Global Post.

Obama´s inauguration raised expectations that  U.S.-Cuban relations — frozen since the early 1960s — might begin to thaw. But after some minor steps toward a diplomatic opening, U.S.-Cuban relations have settled back into the familiar stalemate of Washington demanding change in Cuba in exchange for an opening of relations and Cuba demanding a unilateral lifting of sanctions.

President Obama rescinded Bush-era executive orders restricting Cuban Americans´ freedom to travel to Cuba and send remittances, but has said that he intends to maintain the decades-old trade embargo until “a post-Fidel government begins opening Cuba to democratic change, frees political prisoners, and holds elections.” The Cuban government arrested a U.S. contractor early this month for distributing laptops to political dissidents, charging him with attempting to destabilize the Communist regime.

See the articles in the Latin America News Dispatch and the New York Times for more details about how music exchanges are changing the face of U.S.-Cuban relations.

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