Scholars who lead the Cuba Section of the Latin America Studies Association (LASA) met Thursday evening and debated moving future conferences of the organization outside the U.S. after their ranks were depleted by Obama administration denials of visas for nearly a dozen Cuban academics.
Approximately 5,000 regional experts from nations across the globe arrived in San Francisco this week for the annual meeting of LASA.
The Obama administration has refused to discuss in public its reasons for denying entry for some of Cuba’s most vibrant and candid intellectuals, as they were described in Politico by Sarah Stephens and Phil Brenner, or what threat they constituted to the interests of the United States.
As an editorial in the Washington Post said this week:
The reasons for the rejections are mysterious and mystifying. Of the 11, many are well known and internationally respected academics with long-standing ties to top American scholars. One is a former ambassador to the European Union.
Does the United States feel threatened by Milagros Martinez, vice rector of the University of Havana, who has relentlessly pushed scholarly exchanges with American universities? By Soraya Castro Marino, a serious commentator on U.S.- Cuban relations? By Rafael Hernandez, a scholar and editor who has taught at Harvard and Columbia universities?
LASA scholars, however, said the injury extended further, to their academic freedoms and their rights to hear the Cuban intellectuals speak about developments on the island, U.S. policy, and a variety of subjects ranging migration to race relations in Cuba.
The organization could have been celebrating decades of academic relations with Cuba, whose purpose one academic described as allowing “Cubans to come to academic conferences and speak for themselves and about their own reality.”
That celebration was cancelled. Instead, the Cuba section paid a silent tribute to the scholars by setting up adorned only with the names of those who received letters from the United States calling their entry into the country detrimental to U.S. interests.
The visa denials were a throwback to Bush administration policies which regularly prevented Cuban scholars from attending LASA meetings in the U.S. After it denied visas to all 75 Cubans whom LASA had invited in 2003, the organization vowed not to return to the U.S. until visa policies changed. With the recent actions by the Obama administration, the Cuba section will ask LASA to hold its annual meetings outside U.S. borders beginning in 2014 until our nation supports the right of Cuban scholars to travel and express themselves freely.
A decision by LASA to stop coming to the U.S. will hurt our nation’s economy and the vibrancy of our discussions about the entire region. But silence against the infringement of these basic freedoms would constitute acquiescence to a painfully stupid and counterproductive policy.
This week in Cuba news…