Artist and producer Ry Cooder was headed back to the U.S. Saturday after a trip to Havana, Cuba, that he was able to make only with President Clinton's assistance. Clinton stepped in during the last d

Artist and producer Ry Cooder was headed back to the U.S. Saturday after a trip to Havana, Cuba, that he was able to make only with President Clinton's assistance. Clinton stepped in during the last days of his term to ensure authorization for Cooder's visit from a reluctant U.S. State Department and a license from the Treasury Department.

In Havana, Cooder -- who spearheaded the 1997 Grammy-winning "Buena Vista Social Club" album -- recorded a set of '50s Cuban music with guitarist Manuel Galban. Cooder plans to return in March to record with 73-year-old vocalist Ibraham Ferrer, a member of Buena Vista Social Club.

The State Department's Cuban Affairs section at first rejected Cooder's application to return to Cuba, then said he could go but couldn't share in profits from resultant recordings. This angered Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), who wrote the amendment to U.S. law that allows for such cultural interchanges. He wrote to the State Department and Clinton about the situation. Two days before he left office, Clinton wrote back saying Cooder's application had been granted.

Sources say opponents of the visit leaked news that Cooder contributed $10,000 to the fall campaign of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y). A spokesperson for the Senator says, "She was not involved in this matter." Cooder's lawyer, Candice Hanson, is upset by the alleged smear attempt. "This should have been about the music," she says.