14-time Grammy Award-winning jazz musician Paquito D’Rivera has been re-invited to the White House’s International Jazz Day celebration after penning a letter objecting to being rejected for the celebration, a move he considered political retribution for his stance against the Cuban communist regime.
D’Rivera wrote an open letter to President Barack Obama last week explaining his situation: The prestigious Thelonius Monk Institute had invited him to perform at the White House – a venue he had played in before – and shortly after receiving the call, he was told by the White House that he was not allowed to attend after “not passing the vetting process.” He was given no reason for his rejection.
The Cuban-American musician then penned the letter: The only logical reason he could think of for not being allowed to perform at the event was his history of anti-communist, pro-freedom political statements, staunchly opposed to the continued reign of the violent Raúl Castro regime. “I fear that this ‘not passing the vetting process’ may have to do with my decades-long vocal position against the dictatorship that oppresses Cuba, my country of birth, and my support of human rights and democratic values that you defended so well a few weeks ago in Havana,” D’Rivera writes. “This wouldn’t be the first time that I have suffered discrimination instigated by the Cuban dictatorship, due to my democratic convictions, even in the United States.”
“I write to you because it concerns me that your genuine goodwill gestures towards the Cuban people could be understood as a call to be complacent towards the demands of the dictatorship that oppresses it,” D’Rivera writes in his letter, referring to President Obama’s visit to Cuba in March in which he “welcomed” communist criticism of the United States and enjoyed a baseball game wth Raúl Castro.
A week after writing the letter, D’Rivera was informed that he is once again invited to attend the event, and he will do so. “I received a call in my office informing me that there was no veto to my participation and that it had all been an error, so I will be there,” D’Rivera told Telemundo on Wednesday. He said he believed that Cuban government officials had intervened and attempted to have him kicked off the list.
The event will take place on April 29, and include legends like Aretha Franklin, Buddy Guy, Sting, and the Cuba-based artist Chucho Valdés. The Obama White House became the first in decades to host a Castro-friendly Cuban act in October, when Buena Vista Social Club performed there.
D’Rivera has been publicly critical of President Obama’s approach to the Castro government. In an interview in February, he described the normalization process as “cosmetic” and lamented that only minor improvements for Cuba’s wealthy may come out of the President’s diplomacy. “Maybe now, some people, some elites, have the chance to go play with American musicians, like Wynton Marsalis going and playing there… [Cubans] have an opportunity to see a couple of American musicians down there, but that doesn’t change much,” he told the Miami New Times.
The D’Rivera incident follows a number of bizarre cases of discrimination or persecution of Cuban-Americans. In the most prominent case, Carnival Cruises barred Cuban-Americans from buying tickets for their voyages to Cuba, in order to comply with Cuban law that prohibits U.S. citizens born in Cuba from entering the country by sea. Carnival was sued for the policy, a violation of the Civil Rights Act, and has since rescinded it.
One of the most prominent voices calling for Carnival not to abide by discriminatory Cuban law in violation of American law is the Cuban exile activists Ramón Saúl Sánchez. Sánchez, the leader of a group known as the Democracy Movement, recently received a letter from the U.S. government advising him to leave the country of face deportation, despite living as an exile here for 49 years. Sánchez is not being accused of any crime, and the timing of the notification, many of his supporters say, is suspect.
“This is a new low for this administration. The whole thing screams of political placating,” Mark Krikorian, Executive Director for Immigration Studies, told Fox News Latino. “The Obama White House is the source of the immigration decision, and it seems like manipulation by the Castro government.”
Despite President Obama’s attempts to cozy up to the Castro regime, the Cuban government made clear during the Seventh Congress of the Cuban Communist Party this week that it has no intention of befriending the United States. Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez described President Obama’s visit as an “attack… on our history, our culture, and our symbols,” while the younger Castro described the United States plainly as “the enemy.”
“We had no expectations regarding the Communist Congress of Cuba and it is up to the Cuban government to come to conclusions about that Congress,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said following the event. “We are reading to discuss a wide range of issues [with Cuba],” he added, confirming the Obama White House would not change its policy towards Cuba.