No Cuban Scholars Allowed

Oct 11, 2004 by

11 October 2004

On the eve of the Latin American Studies Association’s (LASA) international congress, the U.S. State Department announced that over 60 invited Cuban scholars would be denied visas to attend the Las Vegas event (see New York Times article that follows the State Department briefing below). The timing appeared to be a product of malicious calculation, following long months of assurances that no blanket denial would take place.

LASA organizers, and Cuban professors who paid the U.S. $100 visa application fees (a small fortune in Cuba), were thus led into organizing and preparing for 45 congress sessions on a wide range on Cuban topics — all then destroyed by the last-minute visa denials, which also precluded making either protests or alternate plans.

There were protests nonetheless, not only by U.S. academics but by figures ranging from the New York Daily News to members of the U.S. House of Representatives.

The response to these protests by State Department spokesman Richard Boucher, which appears verbatim below, asserts a stunning new position: that all Cuban professors –whom he refers to as “academics” only in quote marks) “spout the party line” and must be prevented from entering the United States and speaking with people here.

Quoth Boucher, “Engagement and dialogue is not an end in itself. Engagement and dialogue is a means to achieve U.S. interest…”

U.S. borders now stand sealed against Cuban professors.

This move is of a piece with Washington’s ever-rising wall for quarantining Americans from all things Cuban, in direct defiance of the views of a large majority of people in the United States.

Three pieces on this appear below: the State Department briefing, the New York Times article, and finally a background article from the Latin American Working Group.

Steve Eckardt
Philadelphia Cuba Solidarity Coalition



Daily Press Briefing Richard Boucher, Spokesman
Washington, DC October 7, 2004


CUBA Denial of Visas to Group of Cuban Academics / Basis for Decision


QUESTION: Okay. Academics and some members of Congress are distressed by the State Department’s decision to deny visas to some 60 Cuban scholars, to describe that, to go to a conference in Vegas, and they’re going to — or probably have already begun to turn it into a protest meeting.

Considering all the way back to the Helsinki Accords, why would the Bush Administration stop Cuban academics from having a free exchange or an unfree exchange with scholars in America?

MR. BOUCHER: Well, I think that’s exactly why, because of the unfree exchange. The fact is that Cuban academics are government employees and they come as government officials, and we have a policy restricting travel by Cuban government officials. We think it’s not consistent with our national interest. And so, this was a group I think of 67 Cuban officials, who were intending to come to a conference, noted that the number is approximately — I think 68 is the current number of dissidents that Cuba has thrown in jail and is persecuting in its jails, and we just felt it wasn’t appropriate for this many Cuban government officials, “academics,” to come to a conference to spout the party line.

QUESTION: How many? Did you decline all 67?

MR. BOUCHER: I think we declined them all as a group; the decision was made last week.

QUESTION: Yeah, I know. But a couple of members of Congress asked for reconsideration —


QUESTION: — in a letter to the Secretary. Evidently, they were simply turned down. I don’t know if they got a reply letter.

MR. BOUCHER: I don’t know if the Secretary has gotten a letter from members of Congress on the road.

QUESTION: Yeah, he’s been on the road. Yeah.

MR. BOUCHER: We’ll have to check on that. And I’m sure that, you know, we’ll want to cooperate and explain with members of Congress, but that is the decision that was made and that that’s where we stand at the present moment.

QUESTION: Well, if it’s a narrow decision based on the restrictions you apply, for whatever good or bad reason, to travel by Cuban officials and you take the — all 67 people, as Cuban officials, that’s one thing. But if the State Department doesn’t want them to come to Las Vegas and “spout the party line,” I think it says something about the State Department’s views about academic freedom and about a free exchange of ideas.

We hear party line all of the time. We’ve heard party line from Soviet officials, for instance, for decades until the Soviet Union disintegrated. Is it the State Department’s business to evaluate what people are going to say at an academic conference that has nothing to do with the U.S. State Department?

MR. BOUCHER: It’s the State Department’s view that Cuban officials should not travel freely within the United States, and that Cuban officials and the Cuban regime needs to feel the pressure of our disdain for that regime, and the condemnation that we have for the way that regime treats its own people, throws them in jail, and persecutes them.

And if these people, who are employed by universities but who are effectively Cuban officials want to travel around and, you know, enjoy the hospitality of the United States or enjoy the free and open discussion here, that’s one thing, but we think it’s important for them to — for the Cuban Government and the Cuban regime to know that the United States is not — has not countenanced their activities as Cuban officials inside Cuba.

And therefore, we think one of the appropriate ways of bringing pressure on them is to deny Cuban officials the ability to travel, to deny them the right to travel around the United States and enjoy our hospitality.

QUESTION: Can you just give us the rundown — you seemed to be, at one point, you were about to run down just the exact details on this, the decision to deny the visas —

MR. BOUCHER: No, I wasn’t. I was about to promise to remember to find it for you if I needed to.


MR. BOUCHER: So I take the —

QUESTION: Would you make that promise?

MR. BOUCHER: So I’ll take the request. I’ll get you the details – –

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. BOUCHER: — on when and how we turned it down.

QUESTION: Are you meaning to suggest that all Cuban academics are government officials? That sounds like what you said.

MR. BOUCHER: I think, given the nature of the system, they are.

QUESTION: Well, what would you say to — I mean, some of the people who are in jail right now could be considered academics?

MR. BOUCHER: I mean, it’s clear —

QUESTION: Could they not?

MR. BOUCHER: Well, I —

QUESTION: I mean, there’s this woman, the economist, who is —

MR. BOUCHER: I don’t know the exact employment of some of these people, whether they still have their government jobs or their academic jobs. But I mean, this is a large group of academics and people employed by the Cuban Government who wanted to travel as a group, and we felt it was appropriate to turn down this group.

QUESTION: So — but you’re not — so, wait, I —

MR. BOUCHER: As far as I’m aware —

QUESTION: You’re saying these 67 —

MR. BOUCHER: As far as I’m aware, none of these individuals has distinguished him or herself for free thinking and for questioning anything the regime has said.

QUESTION: Well, yeah, but they’re, you know, there are academics in the United States who are what you might consider apologists for Cuba. But so I’m just trying to figure out whether — is it just these 67 who applied, I mean, and others might apply in the future that you might consider to be government officials, or are you saying that all Cuban academics are government officials, in your view?

MR. BOUCHER: Well, we’re saying what the facts are, which is the university system in Cuba is a government-employed, government-run system; and, therefore, when we look at travel by people who work for this university system, then we need to consider that they fall into the category of Cuban officials where we have some interest in restricting them.

Does that mean we will restrict every and all Cuban official for every and all purpose of travel and conference? No, individual decisions have to be made. Decisions have to be made case-by-case. But here we found a group that we felt at this time it was appropriate to deny the opportunity to travel.

QUESTION: Well, do you then — do you regard employees — professors or academics in any country’s state-run universities or colleges as government officials?

MR. BOUCHER: It’s — they’re government employees. But —

QUESTION: Yeah, but say you work for a New York —

MR. BOUCHER: Different — no, you can’t make that kind of generalization. I mean, in some countries they are federal government employees, some countries they’re state government employees, some universities they’re local government employees.

I’m not quite sure, but I don’t think we have too many countries where we actually have a policy of trying to bring pressure and restrict activities by government officials so that they feel personally the policies that we have.

QUESTION: Well, that sets an interesting precedent.

MR. BOUCHER: No, I don’t think it sets any precedent at all because whether these people are government employees or not in other countries, in other countries we don’t have a policy of denying travel of foreign government officials. We welcome foreign government officials from 98 percent of the countries of the world — maybe even 99 — I haven’t counted recently. But so, it’s not a precedent for anything other than the fact that Cuba has often wanted to travel more to — well, wanted to enjoy the hospitality of the United States and spread the party line and we don’t think that’s always appropriate.


MR. BOUCHER: Okay, sir.

QUESTION: Change subject?

QUESTION: Yeah, but you keep going — I’m sorry — you keep getting back into what they’re saying and whether they’re going to have a hearty breakfast or not. I mean, if the decision is that they’re government employee — you know, our professors —

MR. BOUCHER: The decision is —

QUESTION: — at Michigan State University are employees of Michigan State. Should they be denied — or participation in academic seminars because they work for a state?



MR. BOUCHER: And that’s what I just told your colleague.

QUESTION: And what’s the difference with the hospitality, whether they eat a good breakfast, or whether they spread the party line? Don’t you want to hear the party line and maybe engage it and try perhaps to persuade them otherwise? Isn’t engagement, dialogue, the business of the State Department?

MR. BOUCHER: Engagement and dialogue is not an end in itself. Engagement and dialogue is a means to achieve U.S. interest, and engagement and dialogue is a means to achieve benefits and improvements for people who are oppressed around the world. We have plenty of engagement and dialogue with the Cuban Government through our Interests Section in Havana; unfortunately, it’s not very productive.

The Cuban academics and others who have tried to have real engagement and dialogue with their own government on behalf of the Cuban people who signed the Varela Project petition have found themselves thrown in jail and kept there for now going on — what is it? — more than two years, or at least a year and a half. That’s what happens with engagement and dialogue with the Cuban Government.

I would not profess to say that this travel by government- employed Cuban so-called academics is going to enhance engagement and dialogue or in any way benefit academic discussion and expression in Cuba. But the purpose I think, the primary purpose of denying these visas is not so much because of what they say or the hospitality, I mean, it’s just another way of putting it, but the point is to bring the pressure on the Cuban Government and on people who are employed by the Cuban Government so that they understand that their treatment of people in Cuba has implications, has implications for how we see them, and that it’s not just a matter of policy pronouncements, but it’s something that they can’t — they shouldn’t expect to benefit or to enjoy themselves when they’re — when they and their government are oppressing people back in Cuba.

QUESTION: One more on Cuba. On Monday, the Treasury Department published some new rules about Cuban cigars. You may or may not be aware of this. But among other things, what the new rules say is that people who were — who are licensed to go — who have Treasury licenses to go and do business in Cuba or spend money in Cuba, are no longer permitted to buy cigars. And I’m wondering if you can find out if this applies to Interests Section employees, people who may or may not be covered by the laws that apply to the rest of us.

MR. BOUCHER: Is there any question about it? I’ll take the question, but I’m not aware that Interests Section employees are in any way different than other Americans in terms of our laws, except to the extent that they need to be able to spend money to maintain themselves down there. But I’ll check and see if there are any different rules on cigars for Interests Section employees.


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U.S. Denies Cuban Scholars Entry to Attend a Meeting

New York Times October 1, 2004

by Nina Bernstein

The Bush administration has denied entry to all 61 Cuban scholars scheduled to participate in the Latin American Studies Association’s international congress in Las Vegas next week, deeming them “detrimental to the interests of the United States.”

The last-minute move, which comes on the heels of new restrictions on travel by Americans to Cuba, is provoking anger and dismay among leading American academics, who called it an unprecedented effort to sever scholarly exchanges that have been conducted since 1979.

Darla Jordan, a spokeswoman for the State Department, said that the decision reflected the stricter policies toward Cuba announced last year by President Bush as a strategy to hasten the end of Fidel Castro’s government. Citing 68 members of the opposition in Cuba who remain in prison there after being arrested in 2003, she said, “We will not have business as usual with the regime that so outrageously violates the human rights of the peaceful opposition.”

But organizers of the conference, to be held next Thursday through Saturday, said they learned of the denial only on Tuesday, after months of assurances by State Department officials that the visas were on track. Those rejected include poets, sociologists, art historians and economists, among them a professor who was a visiting scholar at Harvard last fall and others who have frequently lectured at leading American universities.

“This is attacking one of the fundamental principles of academic life in the United States, which is freedom of inquiry, ” said Marysa Navarro, a historian at Dartmouth who is president of the association, the world’s largest academic organization for individuals and institutions that study Latin America. “I asked when was the decision made, and I was told that it was very recent and it was very high up, so it was either the secretary of state or the White House.”

“It’s an election year,” she added, “and I think we’re being held hostage to satisfy that sector of the U.S. electorate which is against any kind of relations with Cuba.”

The Bush administration has undertaken tough measures against Cuba in the pre-election season that administration officials say are intended to help establish Cuba as a democratic free-market state. But critics say the measures are chiefly devised to strengthen the incumbent’s backing among Cuban-Americans in Florida, a swing state.

“Restricting access of Cuban academics to the United States is consistent with the overall tightening of our policy,” Ms. Jordan said, noting that Cuban academic institutions are state run. “Our policy is not about restricting academic exchanges or freedom of expression. It is the Castro regime that does that through its restrictive issuance of passports and exit permits only to those academics on whom it can rely to promote its agenda of repression and misrepresentation about Cuba and the United States.”

But this characterization of the invited Cuban academics was angrily rejected by John Coatsworth, director of the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies at Harvard. “I can tell you with a certainty that that’s a lie,” Professor Coatsworth said, noting that among the scholars denied visas are five contributing authors to a book on the Cuban economy in the early 20th century, which the center is publishing next month.

He said that one, Omar Everleny Pérez Villanueva, who was a visiting scholar at Harvard last fall, even wrote his dissertation on the benefits of direct foreign investment in Cuba.

“They are honest, they’re courageous, they do superb work,” Professor Coatsworth said. “These are the kind of people who let the Soviet Union become Russia. This policy of restricting people-to-people contacts only benefits those who would benefit from violent change instead of a peaceful transition.”

Professor Navarro said that the United States had not imposed blanket restrictions on scholars from other countries where political dissidents are jailed. Among the presenters at the conference are four scholars from China who apparently had no difficulty with visas, she said.

Though 75 percent of the association’s 5,000 members live in the United States, its international congress, held every 18 months, draws participants from all over the world. Forty-five sessions out of 600 will have to be canceled, organizers said, including panels on contemporary Cuban poetry, gender in Cuban literature, and Cuban agriculture.

The message it confirms to the rest of the world, said Kristin Ruggiero, a historian who directs the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, “is that the borders are closing.”


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by Mavis Anderson and Philip Schmidt

[borrowing from the Washington Office on Latin America, and from an article in CounterPunch by Nelson Valdes, professor of sociology at the University of New Mexico]

The 61 Cuban scholars who have been denied visas represent multiple disciplines and perspectives.  They were to present papers and lectures at the LASA convention, and would have engaged in intellectual exchanges with their colleagues.

“The decision to deny visas to more than sixty Cuban scholars to attend the international congress of the Latin American Studies Association is an outrageous move by the Bush Administration. It’s sad to see the Administration playing politics on an issue of academic freedom. No one believes that giving some Cuban professors short term visas to do presentations at an academic conference threatens the security of the United States,” said Geoff Thale, Senior Associate for Cuba at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA).

“This is not a carefully calibrated foreign policy step, but a blatantly political move:  five weeks before an election in which the Cuban-American community in Florida is a key constituency, the Administration is playing to hardliners by preventing Cuban academics and university professors from meeting with their counterparts from the U.S. and Latin America,” noted Rachel Farley, Program Officer for Cuba at WOLA.

The New York Daily News highlighted the arbitrary nature of the incident, contrasting it with the case of “three Cuban-Americans with long and proven ties to terrorist activities in this country and abroad [who] were given a celebrity welcome to the U.S.”  The Daily News commented, “Terrorists yes, scholars no? It doesn’t make sense.” (The three men, along with former CIA operative Luis Posada Carriles, had been in a Panamanian prison, accused of plotting to assassinate Fidel Castro at a Latin American leaders’ summit in 2000.  They had recently been sentenced to seven-to-eight years in prison for endangering public safety.  The men were pardoned on August 28 by outgoing Panamanian President Mireya Moscoso, “who many believe was pressured to do so by Washington,” and arrived in Florida “to great fanfare . . . . “)

In addition, just a month ago, the dance/entertainment company Havana Night, including 53 performers plus support personnel from Cuba, received visas to perform at the Stardust Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas–at the encouragement of the Cuban American National Foundation.  They received room and board, as well as pay for their excellent show, as was appropriate.

Apparently, the Department of the Treasury and the White House considered the Havana Night performers to be “independents,” though Havana Night is a joint enterprise between the Cuban Ministry of Culture and a German corporation.  They are as much (or as little) a part of the Cuban government as the professors and researchers, employed in Cuba’s educational system, who were just denied visas.  The administration appears to be frightened of the free exchange of ideas, according to the New York Daily News.

As Mr. Valdes says, “When it comes to Cuba matters, US policy defies reason.”


Mavis Anderson

Philip Schmidt

Latin America Working Group


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