OFAC Says Nyet to Irish-American Musicians in Cuba

Posted by at 4:56 pm on April 13, 2011
Category: Cuba Sanctions

Banda de Gaitas de La HabanaIf you’ve been staying awake at night worried about Cuban terrorist attacks in your neighborhood, you can sleep better now. The Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) has denied a request by Irish-American musicians to travel to Cuba to learn terrorist-influenced dance steps at the Second Annual Celtic Festival in Cuba. In addition to fighting international terrorism, the OFAC decision will also prevent the lavishly wealthy American Celtic musicians from spreading their vast sums of money around in Cuba, which would, if permitted, have further propped up the current regime there.

The artists applied for a license, which OFAC denied on April 7, barely a week before the festival in Havana was to begin. The festival, sponsored by Cuba and Culture Ireland, features Celtic musicians from Ireland and Cuba. (Somewhat remarkably Cuban descendants of immigrants from Gaelic provinces in Northern Spain maintain a lively tradition of Celtic music in Cuba).

According to the above-linked report in IrishCentral.com, the license was denied because it went “beyond the scope of what was authorized” in the 2004 Guidelines on Cuba travel issued by the Bush administration as part of an initiative to cut back on U.S. travel and personal remittances to Cuba. Although the IrishCentral report doesn’t indicate how the request exceeded those guidelines, it is not hard to figure out.

Licenses are not granted to individuals to participate in Cuban-organized international festivals inasmuch as the proposed participation goes beyond the direct, bilateral interaction between U.S. and Cuban nationals contemplated by this licensing provision.

In other words, the Irish-American musicians can’t go to the Cuban festival because there will be Irish people there.

Back in January 2011, President Obama announced that the travel guidelines would be amended “[t]o enhance contact with the Cuban people and support civil society through purposeful travel, including religious, cultural, and educational travel.” The Cuba page on the OFAC website footnotes the link to the 2004 Guidelines with the statement that they are “presently being updated to reflect January 2011 policy changes.” The denial of this license suggests that the revised guidelines will retain the silly requirement that cultural exchanges in Cuba may only be bilateral. No Irish (or other foreigners) need apply — as they used to say.


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Copyright © 2011 Clif Burns. All Rights Reserved.
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Your tone of bemused outrage is correct. However a few facts are slightly wrong.

The Celtic Festival in Cuba has been organized by Kilian Kennedy from Ireland. His sponsors include Culture Ireland and the Office of the Historian of Havana. His co-organizers are from the Gaelic provincial associations in Havana. This is not any more a Cuban organized festival than was the Juanes concert which received all necessary licenses.

If OFAC was relying on the provision you site, they never said so.

My organization requested the license on behalf of potential participants. We are still pushing for higher level reconsideration so that the President’s goal of purposeful travel can be realized and the US can avoid looking foolish.

John McAuliff
Fund for Reconciliation and Development

Comment by John McAuliff on April 13th, 2011 @ 10:01 pm

But that still doesn’t make any sense. Any ethnic Irish in Cuba would nonetheless still be Cuban citizens, would they not? Indeed, Cuba is populated by ethnics from all over the world. Which other groups must we avoid?

Comment by DGHarrison on April 14th, 2011 @ 8:58 am

Even if OFAC didn’t cite that provision, that is clearly the relevant provision in the 2004 Guidelines. “Cuban-organized” doesn’t mean that the event is only organized by the Cubans, merely that they assist in the organization, which is the case with the CeltFest Cuba.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not defending OFAC’s use of this silly provision, but it is consistent with it. Granted the Juanes concert probably was outside the strict confines of the guidelines, but OFAC has never felt compelled to be rigorously consistent. The difference was, no doubt, and with apologies to the participant in CeltFest, that the Juanes concert was much bigger news event with huge anticipated Cuban crowds than a Celtic Festival in Cuba with demonstrably smaller audiences.

Comment by Clif Burns on April 14th, 2011 @ 9:05 am

@DGHarrison: The persons of concern to OFAC aren’t ethnic Irish who might be Cuban citizens or residents, but Irish musicians who traveled to Cuba from Ireland for the festival.

Comment by Clif Burns on April 14th, 2011 @ 9:49 am

This denial appears to run counter to the Free Trade in Ideas Act, the legislative history for which makes clear that transactions incidental to the dissemination of information are excluded. While, unlike sanctions under IEEPA which does not permit travel restrictions, the Cuban travel sanctions are grandfathered under TWEA, the FTIIA was intended to counter earlier OFAC constricted interpretations of the Berman Amendment which is common top both IEEPA and TWEA.

Comment by Mike Deal on April 14th, 2011 @ 11:59 am