On Monday, October 17th, Chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, expressing grave concerns over the U.S. performances by the National Cuban Youth Theater, “La Colmenita.” In her letter, she questions the decision of the State Department to issue visas to the children’s group and demands an explanation for granting the visas, in addition to a “detailed accounting of all funding for educational programs with Cuba.” Her reasoning? To ensure that the State Department is not misusing taxpayer funds to promote exchange with Cuba. Rep. Ros-Lehtinen also claims that the group, which is comprised of 5-16 year olds, poses a national security threat, as one of the plays they perform is inspired by the story of the Cuban Five, un-registered agents of the Cuban government who were convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage and are currently serving long sentences in U.S. prisons. The Economist, a United Kingdom-based newspaper (with offices in the Americas, Europe, Africa and the Middle East, and Asia), conducted an interesting poll last week about the fairness of the trial (which was held in Miami) of the Cuban Five; see the results here.
Rep. Ros-Lehtinen then goes further to ask that the administration suspend all educational and cultural exchanges with Cuba.
Yesterday the director of “La Colmenita” responded to the congresswoman’s attacks, expressing dismay of their labeling as threats to U.S. national security. The press release is posted below and speaks for itself.
CUBAN CHILDREN'S THEATER DIRECTOR RESPONDS TO HARSH ATTACK BY PROMINENT U.S. CONGRESSWOMAN Media Advisory: October 18, 2011 La Colmenita contacts: Alicia Jrapko (510) 219 0092 Karen Lowe (818) 521 0310 Gretchen Cook (202)265-2637
The director of a Cuban children's theater group touring the U.S. expressed dismay Tuesday that the chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs would use her political power to try and stop them from delivering a message of peace, love and cultural understanding. In a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida) demanded to know why the troupe, La Colmenita, was given visas and whether any taxpayer money was used for the trip. She also called on the White House to end all cultural exchanges between the U.S. and Cuba.
The Washington, D.C.-based Brownstone Foundation funded La Colmenita's U.S. tour which will include a private show next week at the United Nations and performances at several venues in New York and San Francisco. For more information on the tour, which began in Washington, please see www.lacolmenita.com
One of the plays performed by the children, ages 5-16, is inspired by the Cuban Five, a group of men imprisoned for conspiracy after trying to infiltrate right-wing Cuban exile groups engaged in terrorist acts against Cuba. For the cast of La Colmenita, these issues are very personal. Cremata's father was killed in the 1976 bombing of a Cuban jetliner that was tied to extremist Cuban exile groups. "I am shocked that a U.S. politician would try and prevent a group of children from performing their art," said Carlos "Tim" Alberto Cremata, founder and director of La Colmenita, which means "The Little Beehive" in English.
"She is treating us as if we were terrorists when the facts are quite the opposite. It is a small segment of the Cuban exile community who has used threats and violence to keep Americans and Cubans apart. We are simply Cuban artists who are coming to the U.S. with a message of social justice, peace and understanding. All we want to do is to share our stories with those Americans who want to know more about the things that are important to the Cuban people. Stopping us from doing that is, frankly, un-American.”
La Colmenita, named the UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, has been welcomed in 25 countries and last toured the United States in 2003. This is the first time they have been able to obtain visas since then and were able to do so, in part, because the Obama Administration has loosened guidelines to encourage educational and cultural exchanges.
"La Colmenita is here because the Obama Administration and most Americans recognize that expanded communications, between our two countries is critical to reducing tension and increasing understanding," Cremata added. Abracadabra, one of La Colmenita's newest plays, is based on the case of the Cuban Five, who were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 15 years to two life sentences. Rene Gonzalez was released last week after serving 13 years in prison. Supporters of the Cuban Five have asked the Obama Administration to reconsider their lengthy sentences on humanitarian grounds; wives of two of the men have never received U.S. visas to visit their imprisoned husbands.