OBAMA’S ELECTION YEAR VISA POLICY: As more than 2,000 of the world’s leading academics gathered in San Francisco on May 23 for the four-day Latin American Studies Association (LASA) meeting, eleven Cuban scholars were notably absent—banned by Hillary Clinton’s State Department. The denial of their visas cast a dark shadow over the conference while illuminating the capricious, petty and shameful Cuba policy of the Obama administration in an election year.
Among those missing from the LASA panels on Cuban politics, culture and international affairs were Dr. Soraya Castro Marino, Cuba’s foremost expert on US-Cuban relations; Dr. Rafael Hernandez, editor of Cuba’s internationally recognized sociopolitical journal Temas; Dr. Carlos Alzugaray, Cuba’s former ambassador to the European Union; and Milagros Martinez, vice rector of the University of Havana. In a denial letter to each of them, the State Department wrote that their presence would be “detrimental to interests of the United States”—even though all four have previously been granted visas to come to the United States for academic exchanges during the last two years.
The arbitrary nature of the visa denials appears to be a capitulation to extremist but powerful Cuban-American legislators such as Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and vice presidential contender Senator Marco Rubio, who want to ban all travel to and from Cuba and are angry that the administration has given a visa to Mariela Castro, President Raúl Castro’s daughter, to attend the San Francisco conference and visit New York. But other Cuban-Americans are also vocal on this issue. “As Cubans and Americans, we categorically oppose the use of restrictions against academic exchanges as a political tool,” the members of Cuban Americans for Engagement (CAFE) wrote to Secretary Clinton. In a stinging editorial, the Washington Post said the visa ban “demeans American values” and “conveys weakness, not strength.”
Although Obama promised to “turn the page” on Cuba policy during the 2008 campaign, as president he has returned to the script of George W. Bush, who flagrantly abused the principle of free speech and academic exchange by blocking Cuban delegations from attending. LASA’s response to Bush’s punitive policy was to take its business elsewhere, holding its last three conferences in Canada and Brazil. The Obama administration has now violated the understanding with LASA officials that it would not inject politics into a purely academic event. Not surprisingly, as the conference began there was significant discussion as to where, outside the United States, the next meeting should be held. Havana might be nice. PETER KORNBLUH
BOYCOTT MARRIAGE? The issue of marriage equality roared back into the headlines when President Obama stated that he believes gay and lesbian Americans have a right to marry. His comments were a watershed moment that captured a growing ideological shift. But how do those of us who benefit from heterosexual privilege, yet believe in full citizenship for all Americans, push this shift even further toward real social change?
Boycotts have been used on both sides of the same-sex marriage debate. There was the National Organization for Marriage’s boycott of Starbucks because the company endorsed the freedom to marry. (The “Dump Starbucks” petition received a fraction of SumOfUs’s retaliatory “Thank You, Starbucks” card.) On the other side, following the passage of California’s Proposition 8, pro–gay marriage advocates called for the boycotting of those who supported it. But if marriage equality is one of the major civil rights issues of our times, should one of the most successful civil rights strategies—the boycott—be deployed against the institution of marriage itself?
The wedding industry is worth more than $160 billion to the US economy. On average, American wedding ceremonies cost $25,631, the average dress $1,166. Groups like the youth-led National Marriage Boycott ask people to pledge to “deliberately forgo this privilege until it is truly a right for all.” For many, boycotting marriage may be too radical a proposition. But according to Yale Law professor Ian Ayres, co-author of Straightforward: How to Mobilize Heterosexual Support for Gay Rights, there is today, unlike a decade ago, “often a slight sense of unease, and [even] embarrassment,” among heterosexual couples who decide to marry “when their loved friends who are gay cannot take that right. There are loving heterosexual couples who are choosing not to marry until marriage equality comes to their state.” SALAMISHAH TILLET
JAIL THE WALL STREET CROOKS! Eric Griego, a New Mexico state senator, is competing in a Democratic Congressional primary against former Albuquerque Mayor Marty Chavez and County Commissioner Michelle Lujan Grisham. In a notable new campaign ad, he vows: “I won’t stop until Wall Street bankers who broke the law go to jail.” It appears to be the first ad to call for criminal penalties against rogue bankers in this election cycle. Griego was also the first candidate endorsed by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee this year, and Democracy for America has named him one of its top ten progressive House candidates.
Realistically, there’s little a first-term Congressman can do to force criminal accountability for Wall Street bankers. Many in the Congressional Progressive Caucus already want to see jail sentences, as they urged during an April meeting with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. Still, there’s strength in numbers, and the more candidates who get elected to Congress on a demand for Wall Street accountability, the stronger those prospects ultimately get. In Massachusetts, Elizabeth Warren is making this central to her campaign pitch, and it will be interesting to see if other progressive candidates take up this mantle as well. GEORGE ZORNICK
A NEW CONVERSATION ON POVERTY: Congratulations to Barbara Ehrenreich and the Institute for Policy Studies on the launch of the Economic Hardship Reporting Project, a new journalistic initiative that will focus on covering poverty to bring economic inequality into the conversation. Partly inspired by the Depression-era Federal Writers Project, the initiative will include collaborations with unemployed or underemployed journalists. You can visit the project at economichardship.org.