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
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