Famed Cuban-American Jazz Artist Shunned by Obama

Wednesday, April 20, 2016
UPDATE: Hours after this letter was reported in the media, The White House was shamed into "re-inviting" D'Rivera to the event.

Grammy-award winning artist Paquito D'Rivera was recently shunned by The White House from an International Jazz Day presentation.

He has been a vocal critic of President Obama's Cuba policy. And we all know the Obama Administration only likes to listen to its echo chamber.

Upon being notified, D'Rivera wrote a letter to President Obama with his thoughts.

See the full text of the letter is below:

Dear Mr. President:

A few months ago, the prestigious Thelonious Monk Institute informed me that they had proposed that I participate in International Jazz Day, an event organized by UNESCO that will take place at the White House on April 30th, and will have you, Mr. President, and First Lady Michelle Obama, as hosts. This concert will feature many loved and admired colleagues of mine such as Chick Corea, Aretha Franklin, Jimmy Heath, Dave Holland, Al Jarreau, Diana Krall, Christian McBride, John McLaughlin, Pat Metheny, Wayne Shorter, Esperanza Spalding, Sting, and even my former Cuba-based colleague Chucho Vald├ęs. I was delighted and put the rehearsal schedule and dates on my calendar.

I regarded this invitation as recognition of my contribution to American culture that, throughout the years, has earned me the appointment as NEA Jazz Master, honorary doctorates from Berklee School of Music and University of Pennsylvania, , Kennedy Center Living Jazz Legend, and the Presidential Medal of the Arts, among other awards. So imagine my surprise when, a couple of days ago, I received a phone call from the Monk Institute informing me, without any further details, that my participation did not pass the vetting process by the White House. That is all the information that was given.

If the matter at heart here were my cultural contribution to Jazz and American culture, I wouldn’t take the time to write you this letter, Mr. President. I have played the White House before. However, 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. 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. And still, this occasion strikes me as particularly troublesome, given that it is an event in which you, Mr. President, will be the host. You, who just a few days ago defended in my native-land the principle that “citizens should be free to speak their mind without fear, to organize and to criticize their government and to protest peacefully,” and praised the accomplishments of the Cuban exile, of which I am a proud member.

Mr. President, 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; that these gestures may be taken as a pretext to marginalize, even on American soil, Cuban exiles who defend the right of the Cuban people to express freely and to decide their destiny democratically. It is telling (and I pray that I’m wrong) that if the Cuban regime is willing to exert this level of spite and pressure against a public figure in another country — and not just any other country, but the United States — one can only imagine the level of impunity with which the Castro regime acts against Cuban private citizens at home.

It concerns me, that if this is an act of political discrimination against me, it will take place in your house — which is the house of all Americans, given its symbolic weight. It concerns me because it is easier to bear individual discrimination against my person — no matter how painful and humiliating it may be — than the idea that in the name of coexistence with other governments, regardless of their repressive nature, there will be a violation of the basic principles of free speech that so many generations of Americans have fought for over centuries — principles that are a model and a beacon of hope for a considerable part of humankind.

I suppose that this decision to “veto” my presence was made without your knowledge, but my exclusion from the show will be made public. It is my civic duty as a citizen to warn you that even an event celebrating a musical genre that embodies the aspiration of freedom could be used precisely to do the opposite. Because of my respect towards you — which has only increased recently due to your performance in my native country — I believe it is my duty to inform you that your status as host is possibly being manipulated by the very people who deny the very principles that allowed you to become the President of this country, and which allow me to address the most powerful man on Earth with absolute freedom and without fearing repercussions.

Most respectfully,

Paquito D’Rivera