Thursday, February 28, 2013


Yesterday, I was saddened to hear that Harvey Lavan "Van" Cliburn Jr. died of bone cancer. As a child, I remember him being hailed as a hero, when he won the first Tchaikovsky International Competition in 1958, the final year of the Cuban Revolution.

The competition was created to demonstrate the superiority of Soviet musicians and became a black eye to the USSR, when Van Cliburn, an American, won. Such was his fame that New York welcomed him home with a tickertape parade. Three years later, I had the good fortune to attend his rehearsal and concert at the National Music Camp in Interlochen, Michigan, where I was a camper. Van Cliburn was our hero, and in many ways a weapon in a cold war, where even musicians became warriors of a sort. He was a vestige of this frightening time, and he has now passed from the scene. The recordings that he has left behind are testament to his talent and skill.

U.S. foreign policy concerning Cuba, like Van Cliburn, is a relic of the cold war. The Soviet Union no longer exists, yet the foreign policy with which the United States confronted it in Cuba remains largely unchanged. This week, a bent-over Fidel Castro stood witness to his brother, Raúl, taking his last oath as president of Cuba. We know, that if Raúl lives through his final five-year term, the last remnant of leadership of the revolution that came to power in 1958 will also pass from the scene. America no longer needs its Van Cliburns to fight its political battles with the USSR. I wonder how much longer the U.S. will maintain its foreign policy to clash with a ghost of an enemy that is no longer a threat to its national security.

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