U.S. customs officials last week destroyed 11 rare flutes by a respected Canadian musician who was returning home via New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport. But the agency isn’t apologizing for the incident — it says the flutes were an ecological threat.
Officials at U.S. Customs and Border Protection identified the instruments owned by flute virtuoso Boujemaa Razgui as agricultural products that risked introducing "exotic plant pathogens" in to the United States, a customs official tells Foreign Policy. As a result, officials destroyed every single flute without contacting Razgui in an incident that makes your holiday airport delays trivial by comparison.
Razgui said there are around 15 people in the U.S. with such flutes, which means acquiring one ahead of his upcoming performances in February may be impossible. "I’m not sure what to do," Razgui told The Boston Globe.
"They said this is an agriculture item," Razgui continued. "I fly with them in and out all the time and this is the first time there has been a problem. This is my life … This is horrible."
Razgui’s mishap was first reported by the music blog Slipped Disc on Tuesday before jumping to the front page of the massive link-sharing site Reddit, which nearly melted the small blog‘s servers according to a follow-up post. Though neither the blog nor The Globe received a response from U.S. Customs on the issue, a New York-based CBP official tells us the agency followed standard protocol.
"CBP is responsible for detecting and preventing the entry into the country of plant pests and exotic foreign animal diseases that could harm America’s agricultural resources," said an official, after being asked if the agency would issue an apology. "The fresh bamboo canes were seized and destroyed in accordance with established protocols to prevent the introduction of plant pathogens into the United States."
Razgui, who has worked with numerous U.S. ensembles and performs regularly with the Boston Camerata, said he hand-crafted each instrument with difficult-to-find reeds. "Nobody talked to me. They said I have to write a letter to the Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C.," he told The Globe.
The CBP official said Razgui’s luggage was unclaimed and added that "fresh bamboo is prohibited from entering the United States to prevent the introduction of exotic plant pathogens."
Update: In an e-mail exchange with NPR Music, a Customs official says no musical instruments were involved in the CPB’s actions — a claim not offered to FP. The story indicates that fresh bamboo was found in the luggage separate from Razgui’s 11 flutes. However, when American Airlines eventually delivered Razgui’s luggage, it did not contain the flutes. If both claims are true, it remains a mystery as to what actually happened to the flutes and why they didn’t show up in his luggage.
Blake Hounshell is managing editor at Foreign Policy, having formerly been Web editor. Hounshell oversees ForeignPolicy.com and has commissioned and edited numerous cover stories for the print magazine, including National Magazine Award finalist "Why Do They Hate Us?" by Mona Eltahawy. He also edits The Cable, FP's first foray into daily original reporting, and was editor of Colum Lynch's Turtle Bay, which in 2011 won a National Magazine award for best reporting in a digital format.
Blake joined Foreign Policy in 2006 after living in Cairo, where he studied Arabic, missed his Steelers finally win one for the thumb, and worked for the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies. Blake was a 2011 finalist for the Livingston Awards prize for young journalists for his reporting on the Arab uprisings, and his Twitter feed was named one of Time magazine's "140 Best Twitter Feeds of 2011." Under his leadership, in 2008, Passport, FP's flagship blog, won Media Industry Newsletter's "Best of the Web" award in the blog category. Along with Elizabeth Dickinson, he edited Southern Tiger: Chile's Fight for a Democratic and Prosperous Future, the memoirs of former Chilean president Ricardo Lagos, published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2012.
A graduate of Yale University, Blake speaks mangled Arabic and French, is an avid runner, and lives in Washington with his wife, musician Sandy Choi, and their toddler, David. Follow him on Twitter @blakehounshell.| Passport |
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and a senior editor at The National Interest. Prior to Fletcher, he taught at the University of Chicago and the University of Colorado at Boulder. Drezner has received fellowships from the German Marshall Fund of the United States, the Council on Foreign Relations, and Harvard University. He has previously held positions with Civic Education Project, the RAND Corporation, and the Treasury Department.| Daniel W. Drezner |