Cuban singer-songwriter Silvio Rodriguez said he was disheartened that he was unable to perform during a special tribute for U.S. legendary folk artist Pete Seeger, at his 90th birthday concert in New York, May 1. The U.S. State Department failed to issue a visa to Rodriguez to enter the country in time for the concert. Many feel the security clearance of Rodriguez to enter the U.S. would have been a breakthrough following years of wrong-headed U.S. policy towards Cuban artists and professionals.

Rodriguez said in a recent public letter that he sought a visa from the U.S. consulate in Paris while traveling in France. He was told his request was still in progress on the day of the concert. Cuban musicians, actors and athletes who seek visas to enter the U.S. are often denied access, due to Washington’s nearly 50-year-old trade embargo against the socialist country.

Rodriguez is one of Cuba’s premier singer-songwriters and co-founder of the country’s New Song Movement.

In his letter Rodriguez writes:

“You can pass this message to Pete’s grandson Tao, and to Bill the attorney, along with my gratitude for their efforts as well as my sorrow resulting from the lack of respect shown by the State Department to them for having invited me to celebrate the 90th birthday of our dear friend Pete Seeger, living legend of North American song.”

Rodriguez continues, “I believe that the attitude of the State Department is very contradictory, given the desire expressed by President Obama to bring the United States closer to Cuba. As a Cuban cultural worker, I continue to feel blockaded and discriminated against as much as by previous administrations. Hopefully this will truly change someday.”

Bill Martinez, a member of the U.S.-Cuba Cultural Exchange and attorney who assisted Rodriguez in the visa process, expressed his disappointment with the failed request.

“While we appreciate that security clearances are a necessary part of the visa process, and that clearances were made at some levels, the bottom line is that the extraordinary processing of Cuban artists has once again resulted in a delay without any logical basis,” said Martinez.

He added, “Delay is tantamount to denial. The State Department has failed Silvio Rodriguez, and also thousands of North American fans that would have loved to see him perform at the benefit concert with Pete Seeger.”

“We continue to call on the Obama administration to open doors to Cuban artists, intellectuals and other professionals so that full cultural exchange between the United States and Cuba becomes a reality,” Martinez concluded.

Over 1,300 people in the arts and culture within the U.S. have signed a letter to Obama from the U.S.-Cuban Cultural Exchange calling on the administration to:

1. Open a respectful dialogue with the government and people of Cuba in accord with established protocols supported by the community of nations.
2. End the travel ban that prevents U.S. citizens from visiting Cuba, and allow for Cuban artists and scholars to visit the United States, thus eliminating the censorship of art and ideas, and;
3. Initiate, by working with the U.S. Congress, a process that can result in the development of normal, respectful bilateral relations between our countries.

Seeger, born May 3, 1919 in New York, has been to Cuba five times and has been strongly critical of the U.S. blockade against the island. He is celebrated in Cuba for making the song “Guantanamera” famous around the world. Seeger took the traditional melody by Joseito Fernandez and recorded it with phrases from poetry by Cuban Revolutionary hero Jose Martí.