U.S. govt threatens artist for Cuba travel

Brock Satter, aka Bojah, bandleader of “spoken-soul-hop” fusion group Bojah and the Insurrection, received a letter from the U.S. Department of Treasury requesting information on his recent trip to Cuba and threatening penalties against him for failure to comply. Satter was a featured artist at the ninth annual Hip Hop Festival in Havana.

The Havana Hip Hop Festival is a well established event, which has featured U.S. artists such as Common, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, and Dead Prez, as well as Cuban groups and others from around the world. Erykah Badu was also slated to perform at the ninth festival, which took place in August 2003, but was prevented from travelling to the island by the blackout that occurred in New York and other parts of the U.S. and Canada at that time.

Satter, a professional artist and producer, travelled to Cuba legally under current U.S. regulations.

“This is an attempt by the U.S. government to stifle freedom of expression and the right of U.S. citizens to freely exchange ideas and culture with their Cuban counterparts,” Satter said. “I intend to fight this harrassment and I encourage others who have received such threatening letters to fight them as well. Not only is this harrassment of myself, but the law itself is an attack on our basic right to travel.”

Satter’s legal team is demanding the Department of Treasury drop all inquiries and further attempts to prosecute him for violation of travel restrictions. Cuba is designated as an “enemy” country under the Trading With the Enemy Act. Unless authorized by a license, U.S. citizens are restricted from spending money while in Cuba, effectively restricting travel to the island. Maximum civil penalties for violation is $55,000. The maximum criminal penalties are $250,000 and 10 years in prison.

There are general provisions under the regulations which permit travel under certain guidelines. One guideline allows for travel by 'full-time professionals whose travel transactions are directly related to professional research in their professional areas, provided that their research: (1) is of a non-commercial nature, (2) comprises a full work schedule in Cuba, and (3) has a substantial likelihood of public dissemination.”

Satter travelled under these general provisions. Satter was not paid for his performance at the festival and has been speaking about what he learned about the Cuban hip hop scene at colleges, high schools, and community meetings around the country. Several hundred thousand U.S. citizens travel to Cuba every year with or without a license. Thousands of people await prosecution by U.S. courts. The law is being challenged by many as unconstitutional.