Posted February 26, 2004 by publisher in Cuba Travel.
By Eric Weslander, Journal-World
Lawrence Kansas resident caught in crackdown
It was Friday the 13th when Bob Augelli got a letter from Bush administration officials informing him he had less than two weeks—until today—to agree to pay them $10,100 or face the consequences.
The startling news was just the latest turn in a months-long ordeal that has pitted Augelli, a Lawrence musician and Kansas University lecturer, against the U.S. Treasury Department.
“The message under the message was, ‘We’re not messing around. We mean business in a big way,’” Augelli said of the government’s letter.
He is among 2,000 Americans being pressed by the Bush administration as part of its crackdown on travel to Cuba.
In October, Augelli learned the government planned to pursue $37,000 in fines against him for four illegal trips he made to Cuba in 1998 and 1999. That began a round of negotiations between federal enforcers and the two attorneys who had agreed to represent Augelli for free.
At times, weeks went by with no word from federal officials about whether they had received communication from Augelli and his attorneys.
After a weeks-long communication breakdown that ended Feb. 13 with the demand of $10,100, the Treasury Department on Tuesday informed Augelli’s attorneys by telephone it was willing to negotiate again and cut the fine to $2,500 payable over a year’s time. The offer, which Augelli described to the Journal-World, came hours after the newspaper contacted White House officials to ask questions about his case.
Days earlier, U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said he was very angry the Treasury Department hadn’t responded to his office’s entreaties on Augelli’s behalf.
Bob Augelli, a Lawrence musician and Kansas University lecturer, has been traveling to Cuba for years. Now he finds himself caught between his affection for the island nation and the Bush administration’s crackdown on travel to Cuba.
Augelli has at times worried his entanglement with the government could cost him everything.
The amount claimed against him so far by the U.S. Treasury Department is only a fraction of the maximum penalty allowed under law. Though his attorneys say it’s unlikely to happen, Augelli could be looking at 10 years in prison and as much as $155,000 in fines per visit, according to the Trading With the Enemy Act.
Some friends have urged Augelli to stand up and challenge the law as unconstitutional.
“He could be the Rosa Parks of the bloqueo,” said friend Cory Brinkerhoff, a Lawrence real estate broker. Bloqueo is the Spanish word for the U.S. embargo, or trade blockade, with Cuba.
But Augelli said he feared what could happen if he fought the law and lost.
“A big part of me didn’t want to negotiate,” said Augelli, 49. “A big part of me is telling me that I have a constitutional right to go where I want to go ... but I also have to look at reality.”
Two wings, same bird
Augelli is a Puerto Rico native who has lived in Lawrence since he was 7 years old. He has a doctorate in clinical psychology, lectures in KU’s business school and spent nearly two decades playing percussion with the musical group Caribe.
Starting in April 1998, he made four illicit trips to Cuba. It wasn’t until the fourth that U.S. Customs agents asked him if he’d been to Cuba. He admitted he had.
He told them he made the trips to visit a girlfriend, but now says the trips were much more than that. Because of their similar colonial history, it’s often said Puerto Rico and Cuba are “two wings of the same bird,” and Augelli said he wanted to fill “a hole” in his heart from never having been there.
‘Rosa Blanca’ in limbo
The trips also inspired “Rosa Blanca,” a project with Lawrence landscape artist Stan Herd to create artwork in Havana as a gesture of goodwill in tribute to Cuban poet and patriot Jose Marti.
“Maybe my naivete in this was thinking that as long as my heart was in the right place and I was doing the right thing, no harm could come to me,” Augelli said.
Lawrence crop artist Stan Herd and associates made two trips to Cuba to complete Herd’s “Rosa Blanca.” The work is in Havana’s Parque Metropolitano. One of the men who accompanied Herd, Bob Augelli, is facing thousands of dollars in fines for four illegal trips he made to Cuba in 1998 and 1999.
Herd and Augelli later received a U.S. license to go to Cuba to work on Rosa Blanca, but after it expired last year the Bush administration refused to renew it. The project is now in limbo.
“The sooner there is a better understanding between our two nations, the sooner we will find peace, and that’s what the Rosa Blanca project has always been,” said Pedro Irigonegaray, a Cuban-born Topeka attorney representing Augelli in his fight with the government.
Asked what message he’d send to Bush officials had he the chance, Augelli recited Marti’s poem “I Cultivate a White Rose,” the namesake of his art project with Herd.
The poem speaks of cultivating a white rose both for one’s friends and enemies. In a White House speech in May 2001, Bush quoted from it.
This story includes information from city editor Mike Shields.
On March 13, 2004, dorinda moreno wrote:
‘i cultivat a white rose’... an inspired group of culture bearers are looking for kindred spirits, to bring to contemporary audienes the more than 50 year repetoire of senor orlando fierro, a singer of ‘the epoca de oro’, returning from retirement after 20 years. at 83 years of age, orlando fierro is making a comeback! orlando fierro lives in san jose de la lajas, cuba, and visited the u.s. in the 40-50’, and is as charasmatic today as in his youth, passionately delivering his own compositions and that of agustine lara, atahualpa yupanqui… wrote ‘la ultima noche’... we are inviting those in the music and art world to join with us in celebrating this classic troubador, in the many creative ways possible to one day break through the cuban embargo and allow cuba’ artists to share their cultural riches with the world. my number is: 925 676-6241. thank you for your interest and hoped for alliance. sincerely, dorinda moreno, hitec aztec communications