Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

U.S.-Cuba Cultural Exchange

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Many of the restrictions on educational and cultural travel to Cuba enacted by former President George W. Bush officially remain in place, even under President Barack Obama. But there is evidence that travel by U.S. and Cuban academics, musicians, artists, writers, and athletes is growing.

Since 2009, a number of Cuban musicians and scholars have received visas to visit the United States. In February 2010, Cuban salsa stars Los Van Van played their first Miami concert since 1999. Last November, Dr. Eduardo Torres Cuevas, director of Cuba’s José Martí National Library, lectured at the City University of New York and Florida International University.

Other travellers who received U.S. permission to visit Cuba recently include Robert Duvall, Bill Murray, Puerto Rican hip-hop duo Calle 13, 1970s dance group Kool & the Gang, and even a Massachusetts seniors-league softball team that went and beat their Cuban counterparts. Even the much-publicized concert by Colombian superstar (and U.S. resident) Juanes required the approval of U.S. officials. But approve it they did.

There have been hiccups, like the cancellation of a 2009 Cuba concert by New York’s Philharmonic Orchestra after U.S. officials refused to allow board members’ spouses to join the trip, but the trend is clear: U.S.-Cuba cultural exchanges are on the rise.

Officially, the Obama administration has remained quiet on plans to reduce travel restrictions. However, Cuban Minister of Culture Abel Prieto called increased interaction “very favorable” and a “fissure” in the historic “blockade” of information between the two countries. All of which raises a question: why won’t the Obama administration—like the Clinton administration—say publicly that human-to-human contact is a worthy policy goal?


Matthew Aho is a consultant in the corporate practice group at Akerman LLP.

Tags: Bill Murray, Cuba Travel, Los Van Van
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