To Elaine, Dmitri and Isbel, for their persistence
HAVANA TIMES — We got screwed over. The decision by the US government not to grant visas to Cuban activists and academics scheduled to speak at the conference of the Latin American Studies Association (LASA) has condemned us to the sidelines – or at least to our own insular debates.
This impedes not only what promised to be an opportunity for the exchange of varying points of views around the problems of Cuban society and culture, it also postponed more than one encounter between old friends, and meeting other colleagues in person. And that hurts.
Bureaucratic logic is, as one writer said, impassable. Every solution creates a problem. One doesn’t even have to suffer from “conspiracy-noia,” since consular authorities act like this in much of the world, especially in wealthy countries.
To assume — with the superficiality of four questions — that someone is a possible immigrant or a candidate for a visa is a mechanal logic that’s applied all to frequently (at least I’ve had to suffer it repeatedly).
If to this we add that certain ad hoc criteria — race, cultural or apparent income level — that are taken into account by the US interviewers when doing their job, the result is an impressive cocktail full of subjectivity, bias and deception.
What’s not understandable is that those of us who share fields of studies, interests — and in some cases struggles for academia, a country and a freer world — to close our eyes to such excesses. This is because the eyes of citizens lie, in essence, on the opposing side of some official.
To demand the correction of poor institutional decisions — whether by the US State Department or immigration functionaries here in Cuba — should be enough to unite many of us around such injustices.
It doesn’t matter if it’s an activist advocating cooperativism, an academic or some well known dissident: everyone has the right to exchange ideas, contact with other realities and to meet with their peers.
At other times, from the ranks of the autonomous left, some of us have demanded — not without internal debates and facing misunderstandings — the right to free speech of those who don’t share our ideological affiliations and political viewpoints.
Today it would be worth it — from the sidewalk out front and from all corners of the Cuban public sphere — for us to express ourselves in one voice, in solidarity with our banned colleagues.
Because yes, as one immortal communist once said, freedom is only freedom for those who think differently. We should push for the various interpretations of this noble creed to come together, discussing, growing in rich civic debate – in Washington and Havana.