HAVANA/NEW YORK (Reuters) - The New York Philharmonic has put off plans to perform in Cuba for the first time this month because the U.S. government has not allowed its sponsors to travel to the communist-led island.
“The postponement is due to existing U.S. Government restrictions on travel to Cuba which would affect project funders and supporters, without whose financial support the trip is not possible,” it said in a statement on Thursday.
Known for groundbreaking musical diplomacy with visits to countries such as reclusive North Korea last year, the orchestra had planned to travel to Havana from October 30 to Nov 2 to perform two concerts.
But while the United States appears to be easing its long isolation of Cuba and the orchestra said its trip had the support of President Barack Obama’s administration, the State Department and the Treasury Department, there were problems associated with long-imposed travel restrictions.
About 150 patrons and supporters had pledged to pay about $10,000 each to accompany the orchestra on the trip to Cuba.
The orchestra had applied for a license for the group to accompany it and, while they had not officially been denied, U.S. officials said there was no category that would allow them to go to Cuba under current travel regulations, said New York Philharmonic spokesman Eric Latzky.
The orchestra will try to travel to Cuba at a later date.
“The New York Philharmonic intends to reschedule these concerts when travel restrictions for project funders are resolved,” it said without naming the funders and supporters who would be affected by the restrictions.
The Treasury Department had not issued a final ruling on the donor travel request, a spokeswoman said, noting that the department did not comment on specific details of cases.
Travel to Cuba with a license is allowed in 12 different categories, such as humanitarian projects to support the Cuban people, freelance journalism, public performance, athletic competitions, religious activities and research. There is no category for donors.
Washington and Havana have been at odds since Fidel Castro took control of Cuba 50 years ago in a revolution against a U.S.-backed dictator and steered the island toward communism.
Under a trade embargo enforced against Castro’s government since 1962, Americans cannot spend dollars in Cuba without permission from the U.S. Treasury.
Obama eased sanctions this year by lifting restrictions on travel and cash remittances by Cuban Americans in a move to improve ties with Havana, though he has said the trade embargo will stay in place until Cuba undertakes democratic reforms.
When the New York Philharmonic’s president, Zarin Mehta, met with Cuban officials and toured facilities in Havana in July, he said he expected the orchestra to be criticized if it went ahead with a visit to the island 90 miles south of Florida.
When the orchestra performed in Pyongyang in February 2008, critics questioned the appropriateness of the visit to North Korea, whose government Washington considers one of the world’s most repressive.
The orchestra opened its 2009/10 season in New York City on September 16 and its program includes tours of Asia and Europe with debut performances in Hanoi and Abu Dhabi. It has performed in at least 418 cities worldwide since 1930.
The New York Philharmonic was founded in 1842 by a group of local musicians and plays about 180 concerts a year. In late 2004, the philharmonic gave its concert number 14,000 -- a milestone unmatched by any other orchestra in the world.
Reporting by Michelle Nichols and additional reporting by Doug Palmer in Washington, editing by Anthony Boadle