Inspirations for Minnesota Orchestra’s South African Tour

This August the Minnesota Orchestra will be in South Africa for concerts in five cities while previews were provided in concerts at its home in Minneapolis.[1]

The Inspirations for the Tour

There are at least three events that inspired this tour.[2]

  1. The Orchestra’s Trip to Cuba[3]

In May 2015 the Minnesota Orchestra went to Cuba for two concerts in Havana. On this short trip the U.S. musicians discovered the joy of meeting and working with young musicians from another country at their music schools and in side-by-side rehearsals, an experience to be duplicated in South Africa. These Cuban interactions inspired a freelance clarinetist on the tour, Rena Kraut, to create a Minnesota non-profit, Cuban American Youth Orchestra (CAYO), whose mission is to provide “a professional-level musical and educational experience in which Cuban and American youth can turn to each other with honest curiosity and a true desire for mutual learning [and thereby] leave a musical imprint on the hearts of our musicians, staff and audience, cultivating a spirit of goodwill and hope for our mutual futures.”

Moreover, said Music Director Osmo Vänskä, Cuba changed the ensemble after a contentious 16-month labor dispute and lock out. “We had already started to do things a new way with more collaboration, more teamwork. . . . Now, when we go somewhere, we don’t want to play and go home. We want to leave something there.”

The Cuba trip also demonstrated that this organization could respond quickly and competently to new opportunities. On December 17, 2014, Presidents Obama and Raúl Castro simultaneously announced that the two countries had started a process of normalizing their relations, and soon thereafter the Minnesota Orchestra announced that it would be going to Cuba in May 2015 for two concerts in Havana. This experience gave them confidence that they could tackle new opportunities and did not have to wait for larger, more prestigious orchestras to blaze paths.

As Kevin Smith, the Orchestra’s outgoing CEO and President recently stated, the South African tour of five concerts in five cities over 11 days and nearly 9,000 miles from home and the integration of two choirs with different native languages in a country whose native languages probably were unknown to the Minnesotans was on “steroids” compared with the two back-to-back concerts in one city (Havana) over less than one week with only orchestral music and “only” 1,630 miles from home in a country whose native language (Spanish) was probably known to at least some of the Minnesotans.

  1. Music Director Vänskä’s Conducting a South African Youth Orchestra

In 2014 in Pretoria, South Africa Music Director Vänskä conducted the South African National Youth Orchestra and said this experience was “a turning point in my life.” One reason for that impact was his learning that some of the musicians lived in tents and tin shacks and still loved music and could play at the highest level. When the Minnesota Orchestra visits that city this August he will lead side-by-side rehearsals with that same youth orchestra. He said, “It is a great experience when young musicians can sit next to the professional musicians and share these things.” In South Africa, he added, classical music is sometimes seen as being “for white people,” but he hopes this tour will reach the country’s black people too.

At a welcoming dinner this August in Cape Town, Marilyn Carlson Nelson, the Chair of the Orchestra’s Board, toasted the person who invited Osmo to conduct this youth orchestra because that person “created the dream in Osmo’s head that we must come [to South Africa] and we must make music and make the world better place through musical understanding. So thank you, Osmo, for letting us be part of your dream.”

  1. Celebration of Nelson Mandela’s Centennial

In 2016-17 the Orchestra realized that 2018 would be the centennial of the birth of Nelson Mandela with many celebrations around the world, and the Orchestra people thought that  such a tour would be another appropriate way of honoring Mandela.

Making the Dream a Reality

Turning the dream of a South African tour into a reality obviously required a lot of planning and financial resources.

The financial support for this expensive project was provided by an anonymous couple and by the following nine major Minnesota-based companies or affiliates: Ecolab Foundation;  Medtronic Foundation, TCF Financial Corporation; Land O’Lakes, Inc.; 3M Corporation; U.S. Bank; THOR Companies; Target Corporation; and Pentair. Some of the funds from the Medtronic Foundation will be used to buy concert tickets for less-fortunate South Africans and their children.

Minnesota Orchestra Board Chair Nelson said, “We are immensely grateful to our individual and corporate donors for making this project possible. We live in an interconnected world, and the ‘Music for Mandela’ project underscores this idea, bringing together business support, community members, cultural interests and international performers to harness the power of music by commemorating an iconic visionary of our time.”

To assist with the tour logistics, the Orchestra retained Classical Movements, a U.S. company that since 1994 has arranged 250 concerts in South Africa, mainly by U.S. choirs. Classical Movements President Neeta Helms said, “After working in South Africa since 1994, Classical Movements is very grateful that one of the top orchestras in the United States will make this historic, first-ever tour to South Africa. It is an enormous undertaking and a statement of the importance of Africa and the growth of orchestral music in this most choral of countries. This dynamic and visionary Orchestra is exactly the right musical ambassador to pave the way for others to follow.”

Conclusion

The Orchestra’s CEO and President, Kevin Smith, said, This [tour] is our chance to musically honor a great leader and to share music and goodwill across international borders. It is a unique opportunity to bring cultures together through music, and we are honored to play a role in the Nelson Mandela centenary celebration.”

Principal Horn, Michael Gast, put it well when he said, “We are not averse to risk and challenges. We’re the orchestra that goes where others haven’t or won’t.”

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[1] See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Minnesota Orchestra Celebrates the Life of Nelson Mandela (July 24, 2018); Minnesota Orchestra’s “Celebrating Mandela at 100” Concert (July 29, 2018).

[2] Minnesota Orchestra, Program: Sommerfest 2018; Classical Movements, Minnesota Orchestra: Music for Mandela; Ross, Ode to Minnesotan and South African Joy, StarTribune (July 22, 2018); Ross, Packing instruments and loads of goodwill, StarTribune (July 5, 2018); Ross, South African tour represents ‘a new way’ for Minnesota Orchestra, StarTribune (Aug. 10, 2018); Ross, Another first for Minnesota Orchestra: A tour of South Africa, StarTribune (Aug. 10, 2018); Ross, Gallery: Minnesota Orchestra previews South African tour: ‘Music became a weapon against apartheid, StarTribune (Aug. 10, 2018); Ross, In a historic moment for Minnesota Orchestra, music echoes the words of Nelson Mandela, StarTribune (Aug. 13, 2018); Kerr, Minnesota orchestra hopes voices rise, walls fall on South Africa tour, classical MPR (Aug. 7, 2018).

[3] See thee posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Minnesota Orchestra To Go to Cuba (Feb. 13, 2015); Minnesota Orchestra Goes to Cuba This Week! (May 11, 2015); Minnesota Orchestra’s Trip to Cuba Garners National Recognition (Dec. 17, 2015).

 

Appointment of New U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights

On August 8 U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres announced his nomination of  Michelle Bachelet to be the new U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. On August 10 the nomination was approved by the 193-member U.N. General Assembly. [1]

Ms. Bachelet was most recently President of Chile between 2014 and 2018, having served previously from 2006 to 2010, the year in which she was appointed the first Executive Director of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN‑Women).  Ms. Bachelet also held ministerial portfolios in the Government of Chile, serving as Minister for Defence (2002‑2004) and Minister for Health (2000‑2002). She was imprisoned and  tortured under the Chilean dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.

Initial Reactions to the Appointment

The current High Commissioner, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, whose term ends August 31, said, “I am truly delighted by the appointment of Michelle Bachelet as the next UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. She has all the attributes – courage, perseverance, passion, and a deep commitment to human rights – to make her a successful High Commissioner. The UN Human Rights Office looks forward to welcoming her and working under her leadership for the promotion and protection of all human rights, for everyone, everywhere.”[2]

The U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, immediately commented on this selection. She said it was incumbent on Ms. Bachelet “to speak out against” what the U.S. regarded as the U.N. Human Rights Council’s failures “to adequately address major human rights crises in Iran, North Korea, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and elsewhere, or stop its chronic, disproportionate obsession with Israel.” The Ambassador also noted what she called “the Council’s  consistent failure to address extreme human rights abuses in the Western Hemisphere, in Venezuela and Cuba in particular.”[3]

The Cuban Observatory of Human Rights (OCDH), which is based in Madrid, Spain, called this appointment a”grave error.” This was based on its opinion that she had shown a “weak commitment to fundamental rights” during her two terms as President of  Chile.[4]

At the General Assembly, however, Cuba congratulated Bachelet on her appointment and said  Cuba “trusts in her proven experience and knowledge to perform an excellent performance in her position, away from double standards, politicization and selectivity.” Cuba also regretted the U.S. lukewarm acceptance of the appointment coupled with criticism of Cuba and then the Cuba representative launched Cuba’s litany of complaints about the U..S. A similar statement was issued by Venezuela.[5]

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[1] U.N., Secretary-General Nominates Michelle Bachelet of Chile as United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (Aug. 8, 2018); U.N., Former Chilean President Bachelet put forward by UN chief as next High Commissioner for Human Rights (Aug. 8, 2018); Reuters, U.N. General Assembly Approves Chile’s Bachelet as Rights Chief, N.Y. Times (Aug. 10, 2018).

[2] U.N. Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid warmly welcomes appointment of new UN Human Rights Chief (Aug. 10, 2018).

[3] U.S. Mission to U.N., Statement by Ambassador Haley on the Nomination of Michelle Bachelet to be UN Commissioner for Human Rights (Aug. 8, 2018).

[4] The OCDH considers the designation of Bachelet as head of human rights at the UN a “grave error,” Diario de Cuba (Aug. 9, 2018).

[5] Cuba and Venezuela congratulate Bachelet for her appointment to the UN, Cubadebate (Aug. 10, 2018).

 

Criticism of Cuba’s New Regulations for Private Enterprise

Cuba’s 126 pages of new regulations for private enterprise (cuentapropistas), which were published on July 10, have been criticized by U.S. economist Richard Feinberg, a professor at the University of California San Diego’s School of Global Policy and Strategy and a Fellow at the Brookings Institution. He calls them “the revenge of the bureaucrats,” who are jealous of those in the private sector who are making much more money than employees of struggling state enterprises.[1]

The new regulations contain details about potential violations, penalties and fines, oversight and performance requirements. For example, an operator of a private day-care facility must devote at least 21.5 square feet per child plus provide a detailed inventory of personal toiletry items.

These regulations also are designed to virtually guarantee that most private businesses will not grow beyond 20 employees. For example, once a private employer hires more than 20 employees, the 21st employee must be paid six times the average wage for the first 20 employees.

In short, private enterprise is fine so long as they “don’t get too rich, diversify their businesses, open branches, try to evade taxes, resort to the black market, or provide too much competition to the state sector.” Indeed, a major motivation for the regulations is to halt growing inequities between ordinary Cubans and those in the private sector.

Moreover, the new regulations do not allow “for white-collar professionals to work for themselves, . . . private entrepreneurs to directly import for their businesses, and there is no recognition of their businesses as legal entities” and no provision for the creation of wholesale markets for the private sector.

These criticisms of the regulations were echoed in a  recent Cuban public opinion poll carried out by the CubaData Project with a team of academics from Cuba, Mexico and Venezuela. 87.6% believe that Cuban professionals should be able to establish businesses and businesses within their professions. In addition, a high percentage of those surveyed believe other political parties should be permitted and that the election of the island’s president should be direct.[2]

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[1] Whitefield, New Cuba regulations for private enterprise on the island have a long list of don’ts, Miami Herald (Aug. 2, 2018). See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Cuba Announces New Regulations for Private Business (July 10, 2018); More Details on New Cuban Regulations for Private Business (July 11, 2018); Comment: Yet More Details on Cuba’s New Regulations for Private Business (July 13, 2018).

[2]  Survey: Cubans want more autonomy for their business, political pluralism and elect president, Diario de Cuba (July 30, 2018).

Good News: Increasing U.S. Travel to Cuba

A website for travel professionals reports that recently U.S. travel to Cuba is increasing. It cites Tom Popper,  the president of InsightCuba, which specializes in travel to the island, who says it has seen an increase of 30% for such travel in May, June and July 2018 over the prior year.[1]

One of the problems many U.S. nationals encounter in planning a trip to Cuba is not finding flights to Cuba on Expedia, TripAdvisor or Orbitz. This is due to such businesses wanting to avoid hassling with the airlines that fly to the island having an obligation to the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) for confirming that U.S. nationals on such flights are going there for a legal reason under the OFAC regulations.

The airlines, however, have no such difficulty because when you buy a ticket to fly to Cuba, you merely have to hit “accept” on the affidavit pop-up that you are traveling under one of 12 general licenses for U.S. legal travel to Cuba, which are described on OFAC’s website. The traveler, therefore, before buying a ticket must carefully review that website and determine which of the following 12 general licenses fits the planned trip:

  1. family visits;
  2. official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations;
  3. journalistic activity;
  4. professional research and professional meetings;
  5. educational activities;
  6. religious activities;
  7. public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions;
  8. support for the Cuban people;
  9. humanitarian projects;
  10. activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes;
  11. exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials; and
  12. certain authorized export transactions.

U.S. travelers to Cuba also need to review this OFAC statement (para. 32) about spending in Cuba by “persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction:”

  • “There is no specific dollar limit on authorized expenses; however, in accordance with the NSPM [National Security Presidential Memorandum], OFAC is amending the CACR [Cuban Assets Control Regulations] to restrict persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction from engaging in direct financial transactions with entities and subentities identified on the State Department’s Cuba Restricted List, with certain exceptions. See 31 CFR § 515.209 and § 515.421. Consistent with these authorizations and restrictions, authorized travelers may engage in transactions ordinarily incident to travel within Cuba, including payment of living expenses and the acquisition in Cuba of goods for personal consumption there. In addition, travelers are authorized to acquire in Cuba and import as accompanied baggage into the United States merchandise for personal use only. Value imports remain subject to the normal limits on duty and tax exemptions for merchandise imported as accompanied baggage and for personal use.” (Emphasis added.)

As this OFAC statement indicates, the U.S. State Department has published its “List of Restricted Entities and Subentities Associated with Cuba as of November 9, 2017.” Direct transactions with these entities and subentities by “persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction” are prohibited. The State Department also has published “Frequently Asked Questions on the Cuba Restricted List (Nov. 8, 2017).”

Finally Americans thinking about going to Cuba should know that the two major carriers to the island—Delta and American—have taken over many routes abandoned by other airlines and with the experience of the last several years have figured out the best size of aircrafts and frequency of flights to Cuba from the gateways of New York City, Houston, Atlanta and Miami. The result? Round-trip tickets to Cuba from these gateways are inexpensive, such as $300 from JFK in New York.

The traveler will be aided in all of this by working with a company, like InsightCuba, that specializes in travel to the island.

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[1] Cogswell, Under the Radar, Cuba Market Comes Back, travelmarket report (Aug. 1, 2018).

State Department Officials Visit Cuba To Discuss Diplomats’ Health Incidents          

On July 24 three senior U.S. State Department officials visited Cuba and met with the staff at the U.S. Embassy in Havana. They were the Interim Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Francisco Palmieri; the Assistant Deputy Secretary of Administration, William Todd,; and the Undersecretary of Diplomatic Security, Michael Evanoff.[1]

They also met with the Director General of the United States of the Cuban Foreign Ministry, Carlos Fernández de Cossío.

Afterwards, Sr. Cossio said the U.S. is “manipulating this issue politically and irresponsibly. The State Department has behaved with a lack of transparency and cooperation, despite the insistent claims of Cuba to seek a response in a cooperative and comprehensive manner, given the reports that the State Department says it has received from its diplomats, but for which it has not shown the slightest evidence.”

Julia Mason, spokeswoman for the State Department, said, “The trip provided an opportunity for our senior officials to gain a deeper insight into the challenges posed by these attacks and their impact on US operations in the field.”

CBS News reports that a spokesperson for Senator Bob Corker (Rep., TN), the Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has said that the State Department Accountability Review Board has “recently completed” a report on the case, as the committee awaits a briefing on it.

“There should be additional hearings in Congress about this,” says Daniel Runde, senior vice president at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. Worried about future attacks on U.S. diplomats, Rude says, “This needs to stop. This is outrageous. I think it is a significant danger.”

Cuba repeatedly has denied any responsibility and has said the U.S. has manipulated the “alleged health incidents” for political purposes. [2]

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[1] Goméz, Officials of the State Department in Cuba to discuss alleged incidents with the health of their diplomats, Cubadebate (July 24, 2018); Surprise visit of senior US officials to Havana for the ‘health incidents, Diario de Cuba (July 25, 2018); Dorsey, Top State officials visit Cuba, probe new health “attacks,” CBS News (July 24, 2018).

[2] Previous posts about the health incidents of U.S. diplomats in Cuba and more recently in China are listed in the “U.S. Diplomats Medical Problems in Cuba, 2017-18″section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries–Topical: CUBA.

Cuba’s National Assembly Approves Draft Constitution

On July 22, Cuba’s National Assembly of Popular Power approved the draft of the new Cuba Constitution. It will now go to a period of “popular consultation, August 13-November 15, and afterwards to a national referendum. [1]

In a concluding address to this session, President Miguel Diaz-Canel said, “The behavior of the economy in the first . . .[half of the year] closes with 1.1 percent growth. A tense situation remains in finance, due to several factors. This situation forces us to ensure control measures in the 2018 Plan. To achieve this we must appeal to the maximum use and efficient use of available resources. In these circumstances, the effort must be multiplied.”

Previously the Cuban government had said the country “needs up to 7 percent annual growth to fully recover and develop from the collapse of former benefactor the Soviet Union, and more recently, Venezuela. The drop in revenues has led Cuba to postpone payments to many suppliers and joint venture partners over the last two years, the government has admitted. Diaz-Canel on Sunday called on the country to work harder to improve the economy and “gradually re-establish the financial credibility of the nation.”

Therefore, we “must draw up an objective and sustainable Plan for the Economy for 2019, but one that does not renounce economic growth.”

As noted in a prior post, the draft Constitution recognizes the right to private property.

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[1]  No surprises, the National Assembly approves the Constitution Project of the Republic of Cuba, Diario de Cuba (July 22, 2018); Diaz-Canel: A Constitution that reflects today and the future of the Fatherland, Cubadebate (July 22, 2018); Semple, New Cuba Constitution, Recognizing Private Property, Approved by Lawmakers, N.Y. Times (July 22, 2018); Reuters, Cuba Economic Growth Weak, President Says, as Lawmakers Approve New Constitution, N.Y. Times (July 22, 2018).