Cuba: US Gov. Prevents My Attendance at LASA Conference

Isbel Diaz Torres

HAVANA TIMES — The US Interests Section in Havana just denied me a visa to travel to that country, where I was invited by the Latin American Studies Association (LASA) to make a presentation at its upcoming congress in late May.

It has thus thwarted the possibility of me — in my capacity as a Cuban blogger and activist— participating in this important conclave intellectual and sharing the experience of seven years of work with the Observatorio Critico (OC), which is part of the emergence and diversification of a new independent forum for debate about the current Cuban landscape.

My idea was to showcase three fundamental stages of our action:

1) The platforms of OC participation in cyberspace through our digital newsletter Compendio OC, and the Observatorio Crítico Network website, which has a collective blog in a format for open discussion;

2) The annual nationwide Observatorio Critico Social Forum, where researchers, critics, professors, artists, cultural promoters, community activists, journalists and members of emerging movements share in diversity, dialogue and supportive roles;

3) systematic community work by collectives and individuals that make up the network, with interests in socio-political fields related to the environment, culture, education and others that opt for self-organized popular participation based in solidarity and cooperation.

Notwithstanding, such experiences are apparently considered unsuitable by the US government. On the other hand, it has recently granted visas to other Cuban bloggers, with the same rights as me, but with different political positions.

This discretion by the USIS is nothing new, of course. Now and in prior years, renowned Cuban intellectuals have been barred from attending academic conferences without legitimate justifications.

According to the document I was given there — along with the “NO” — my rejection was “due to ineligibility under section 214 (b) of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (…) which defines every visa applicant as a potential immigrant.”

I found out after the interview that “applicants must convince the consular officer that they have strong enough ties that bind them to return home after the end of a temporary visit to the United States.”

It would have been very useful to know such a thing beforehand, because the officer who attended me only asked four questions: Why I wanted to go to the US, who I knew there, if I was married, and my age. As you can see, I had hardly any chance to explain why I would return to my country.

By committing the sin of being young (supposedly desperate to leave to test my fate in the land of paradise on earth), and for being homosexual (which in Cuba prevents me from marrying my partner of eleven years), I was automatically disqualified.

It of course didn’t count that I have ties with my family, who live in Cuba, or my friends, or my job, or my different projects (environmentalism, gay rights, literature, research, etc.). I confronted the simplified and colonial gaze of the American bureaucracy.

I would never stay in the US for two simple reasons:

1.) The people I love most live in Cuba

2.) The duty of a person is to be where they are most useful (Jose Marti).

It’s clear that the freedom to travel that we demanded of the Cuban government, whose anachronistic barriers hurt the people of this island for decades, should be also demanded of the US government, which indiscriminately denies temporary visas to my fellow citizens.

I could see at the USIS office how very elderly people, in wheelchairs, left crying after being denied. The same thing happened with young people who wanted to visit relatives. But there were also intellectuals who wanted to participate in LASA and managed to get visas through their institutions, and those who did so independently.

Does the USIS have a selection criterion that it can reveal? Do they really want to keep out potential immigrants? Why do they violate the agreements made with LASA for granting visas to the participants of their conference?

We’ve seen again how any bureaucracy is able to dehumanize the sake of fully complying with directives “from above.”

By the way, based on the staggering 160 dollars I paid for the interview, I estimate that the USIS in Havana pulls in more than $10 million dollars annually only from fees for non-immigrant visas. Perhaps, at least for that reason, they should be more transparent.

Isbel Diaz

Isbel Diaz Torres: Pinar del Rio and Havana are my cities. I was born in one on March 1, 1976, and I’ve always lived in the other. I am a biologist and poet, though at times I’ve also been a musician, translator, teacher, computer geek, designer, photographer and editor. I’m very non-conformist and a defender of differences – perhaps due to always having been an ever-repressed “model child.” Nothing enthralls me more than the unknown, nature and art; these serve as my sources of mystery and development. A surprising activism has been born in me over the recent period. Though I’m not very sure how to channel it, I feel that it’s a worthy and legitimate energy. Let’s hope I have the discernment to manage it.

20 thoughts on “Cuba: US Gov. Prevents My Attendance at LASA Conference

  • As far as I’m concerned, almost everyone living in the US is an illegal immigrant. The colonists had no papers. European immigrants arrived, took over land and their descendants and newer immigrants formed a country and continued to take over more land.

    The history of U.S. immigration reflects the social, economic, and
    political climate of the time. It also illustrates the nation’s ongoing
    ambivalence about immigration, as well as offers insights on the role of
    race, prejudice, fear, and nativism in shaping U.S. immigration policy.

    1790: Congress passed a law allowing naturalization for “free white persons.” This racial requirement remained in effect until 1952, although naturalization was opened to immigrants from certain Asian countries in the 1940s.

    1798: The passage of the Aliens andSedition Acts authorized the President to deport any foreigner deemed to be dangerous.

    1882: Passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act codified racism into federal law, denying citizenship for Chinese immigrants and suspending their entry into the United States. It was not repealed until 1943.

    1906: The ability to speak and understand English became a requirement for naturalization.

    1917: Congress designated Asia as “a barred zone,” prohibiting immigration from all Asian countries except Japan and the Philippines.

    1919: The Palmer Raids resulted in the deportation of 10,000 labor
    and immigrant activists.

    1921-1930: Thousands of Mexican workers, including many U.S. citizens, were deported.

    1924: The Johnson-Reed Act created a new national-origins quota system favoring immigrants from northern Europe and banning immigration by persons “ineligible to citizenship,” a provision that primarily affected the Japanese.

    1942-1945: The United States interned 120,000 Japanese Americans.

    1942-1964: The “Bracero” guestworker program, begun to meet wartime labor shortages, brought close to five million farmworkers, predominantly Mexicans, to the United States.

    1954: Operation Wetback deported more than 1.1 million Mexican immigrants.

    1965: Thanks to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, the 1965
    Immigration Act eliminated race-based admission criteria and instituted ones based on the would-be immigrant’s skills, profession, or relationship to family in the United States.

    1966: The Cuban Adjustment Act is enacted. The law applied to any native or citizen of Cuba who had been inspected and admitted or paroled into the US after January 1, 1959 and had been physically present for at least two years; and is admissible to the United States as a permanent resident. Unlike other immigrants, Cubans are not required to enter the United States at a port-of-entry.

    1975: Congress passes legislation to permit the resettlement of Southeast Asian refugees in the aftermath of the Vietnam War.

    1986: The Immigration Reform and Control Act granted amnesty to about three million undocumented immigrants and instituted sanctions for employers who hire undocumented workers.

    1995: California voters approved Proposition 187 to prohibit undocumented immigrants from accessing publicly funded education, welfare, and health services. The proposition was later found to be unconstitutional.

    1995: The Cuban Adjustment Act is revised and the wet foot, dry foot policy is established. Anyone fleeing Cuba and getting into the US would be allowed to pursue residency one year later. After talks with the Cuban government, the Clinton administration came to an agreement with Cuba that it would stop admitting people found at sea. Since then, a Cuban caught on the waters between the two nations (i.e., with “wet feet”) would summarily be sent home or to a third country. One who made it to shore (“dry feet”) would get a chance to remain in the United States, and later would qualify for expedited “legal permanent resident” status and, eventually, US citizenship.

    1996: Three acts of Congress—welfare reform, immigration reform, and anti-terrorism legislation—significantly reduced immigrants’ access to social safety-net programs, toughened border enforcement, closed opportunities for undocumented immigrants to legalize their status, made it difficult to gain asylum, stripped many due-process rights, reduced access to the courts, and greatly expanded grounds for deportation.

    2001: Shortly after the attacks of September 11, 2001, Congress passed the USA PATRIOT Act, giving the federal government, among other things, broad powers to indefinitely detain suspected terrorists. At least 1,200 South Asian and Middle Eastern men were swept up in government dragnets, detained without charge, and denied due-process rights. Few, if any, of these detainees were charged with involvement in terrorist activities.

  • Thank you for pointing out ONE of the hypocrisies in the comment of Moses Patterson.

  • Moses, although I disagree with your viewpoints, I would like to ask for you to deliver a package to Isbel from me the next time you travel to Cuba. Would you be willing to do that for me?

  • You “became a whipping post for all” of your “Cuban friends who were denied a visa to visit the US.” This statement alone reveals who you are and I don’t like it. I wish Cubans would start holding accountable American visitors who are in complete denial of US imperialism.

  • Moses Patterson: Oh please. We KNOW that US government offices are corrupt. That is why OSHA (the main federal agency charged with the enforcement of safety and health legislation) didn’t protect my sister and others from the toxic brew at the World Trade Center during the clean up – she subsequently died of Leukemia and lots of others have died too. That is why the Reagan administration completed dismantled the Civil Rights Commission by replacing investigators and researchers with corrupt officials and all prior research and findings were discarded. That is why I am unable to receive disability benefits despite the fact that I have a genetic lung disease – I walk around with holes in my lungs – paired with Hepatitis C – and my lungs collapse easily – leading to tremendous chronic pain. The Reagan administration made the first cuts to Social Security and subsequent administrations continued to weaken Social Security. I can go on and on about corruption in US government offices. What I have stated is just a small sampling.

    I know Isbel personally and can tell you he has NO interest in defecting, but I was wary when he told me his intentions of coming to the US, knowing he COULD be unfairly denied entrance. He would never leave the love of his life and he is content with his life in Cuba. If he lived in the US, his quality of life would be greatly decreased. That concept is difficult for materialistic, immature, shallow people to grasp.

    Want to get a glimpse into a government office. Try watching “Well-Founded Fear”, a documentary that gives a look at how the Immigration and Naturalization Service decides who will be granted asylum in the United States. The applicant must have a “well-founded fear” of persecution in his or her home country. Despite true and terrifying stories of torture and mistreatment, it’s often up to how well the translator presents the case and how sensitive are the ears of the asylum officer to decide a person’s fate.

  • Re-entering the country
    waiting to be let in
    my permission
    has already been granted

    I watch
    as bodies
    propped up by hairline strings
    are scrutinized
    knowing those who need entrance the most
    may be forced back

    Desiring to erase
    the insensitive line they stand behind
    I feel deep remorse
    as the patrolers
    greet me with a smile
    “Welcome Home!”

    But this is not my home
    I do not feel comfortable here
    in a place that says “NO!”
    to those beautiful and ugly hands
    broken by your rituals
    and tied by your rules

    Myself not belonging to your forgetful family

    ( I wrote this after departing Cuba and arriving in the US)

  • The US is under no obligation to extend visas to whomever applies. It very much a part of any country’s sovereign right to decide whom shall be permitted to visit that country. Provided the decision is not made based upon race, gender, religious or sexual preference, all countries reserve the right to deny entrance based upon political choices. Among developed nations, temporary visas to the US are relatively easy to receive. For chuckles, take a look at what Cubans need to visit Denmark, or Norway, or Italy or Greece. Thousands of dollars in the bank, criminal and medical background checks, medical insurance and much more. Do your homework Freidrich.

  • I am saying that the primary reason that as few as 13% of the Cubans who are ultimately approved for a temporary visa to the US is because the USINT office does an effective job of screening prospective applicants. This process includes pre-interview screening as well as the face-to-face interview. BTW, sometimes the interviewer will ask as few as four questions and sometimes many more. The seemingly arbitrary judgement is likely based on the experience gained through hundreds of interviews held each week. Finally, as I mentioned in my initial comment, errors are no doubt made. Interviewers are human too.

  • To me its orchestered politics between the US and the EU. If one is a fierce opponent to the government : here ´s your visa. When not. Forget about it.We`ll see what the report of Cubavison about visa denials in Spain, on which they are working right now, will show. I´ll try again for my friend.

  • So what are you trying to say? That this “very effective screening process” of four questions were enough to ascertain that Isbel was going to defect or that he was a potential spy? Or are you saying they had already made a “very effective screening process” and so the interview was a sham and a waste of money?

  • Thank you all for your comments

    There is good news right now. USINT just gave a VISA to Elaine today. It means our efforts are not worthless. Keep writing and calling your representatives in US. It could
    make the difference. Maybe at the end we all could meet in Washington

  • Friedrich, until January 14 of this year Cubans were required to seek permission to travel. We ‘yanks’ were screaming the truth. As with any sovereign nation, the US has the right to regulate immigration. Cuba, like many third world countries, is subject to limited visa approval by many of the developed countries. Another example of why is sucks to be poor.

  • Thanks Ted, in order to help your friends, do not hesitate to continue to contact your WH contacts as well as your representative in Congress. A letter from a Congressperson moves a request for review to the top of the pile. I have also helped Cuban friends who were initially denied visas and my batting average in getting a decision reversed is .500. It’s the creaky wheel that get’s the grease! By the way, you and I met once in Havana about five years ago in the lobby of the Hotel Vedado. Your friend at the table, an african-american female attorney lectured us (mostly me) on how the US coordinated the coup d’etat in Honduras. She happened to have lived there at the time. Do you remember?

  • Moses, Yours is a very thoughtful and through comment. Thanx for sharing it! As someone who has had his own issues in receiving permission from the Cuban government to travel to the island for academic reasons, I share in Isbel’s frustration. In fact, after hearing about similar visa denials for Elaine Diaz and Dmitri Prieto, last week I wrote a letter to contacts in the White House and the State Department requesting that they review these denials and reconsider this unfortunate decision. We in the US need to hear a full range of Cuban voices and I am committed to aiding Cuban scholars and intellectuals, especially young, independent, and critical-minded ones like Isbel, Dmitri, and Elaine (not to mention others like Yoani Sanchez and Orlando Pardo) in gaining entry to the US so that they can share their work and ideas with a broad array of their fellow scholars and intellectuals here. Adelante!

  • Moses, yours is a very thoughtful and thorough comment. I have already written a letter to the Whit

  • Moses: than the yanks should shut up and not scream throughout the world, that the Cubans are not allowed to get out. They should rather scream, that they don`t let them in. Your doing just hypocritical apologetics and nothing more.

  • Hola Isbel: I read your article with much interest, because the same thing happened to my friend, whom I invited for a stay in my country (Austria) for 3 months.W´ve been friends for about 8 years now.

    What happened: as of course he had no money, I had to make a declaration of obligation in Vienna. I bought the ticket back and forth, plus the obligatory health insurance, sent some money to Cuba so he could apply for the visa. Although I had asked via E-mail the embassy to be helpfull to him in filling in the forms, the treated him with incredible arrogance and sent him back and forth for about 8 times. Another e-mail from my side to the ambassador himself was not even answered by the embassy.One day before he was supposed to fly to Vienna he got the negative answer, and that only just after I had urged one day earlier to let us know , when he finally would get any decision. What was the argument of the embassy: that he could not proof, that he was willing to go back o Cuba. Although he argumented that he had his flat there, his familiy etc. Like you. You know what they asked him: whether he owned land or houses, or had a car or a bank account with several thousand Euros. Now tell me, which Cuban has gotten that? Its just a mockery. I called the ministery of foreign affairs here, to be honest, they were very friendly, but couldn`t help me either, because it`s the ministry of Interiour who`s responsible.And talking to them is pretty useless.The new law, that was passed here recently, would have allowed him to appeal to the court of administration of the republic. Now tell me, how somebody from Isla de la Juventud could do this? It`s just a farce.I was shocked into the deepest of my heart, also because I see endangered my own freedom as citizen, not being allowed to invite people to my own country, unless they have a fat vallet.This hole thing is the more hypocritical considering that Austria also was one in the chorus singing all the time that Cuba was just a dictatorship who would let their own people out, even though kless and less loudly.. And now look what happened. Just makes me vomit. And I can assure you, unless you`re not a Sanchez or Soler, there`s no chance for a Cuban, unless he can be used for political propaganda like them. Can imagine how you felt.

  • When I lived in Cuba, I quickly became a whipping post for all my Cuban friends who were denied a visa to visit the US, especially when the reason given was “posible imigrante”. I finally went to the USINT office myself and sat down with the #2 person in the office and asked why approvals seemed so uneven at best and mostly unfair at worst. More or less, here was the answer I was given: Of the more than 90,000 applications requested per year, some 80,000 are formally submitted. Of these, only 40,000 contain all the requested information and appropriate fees. Keep in mind, all 80,000 must be reviewed, at least in a cursory fashion to determine completeness. Of the 40,000 applications accepted, some 30,000 are then selected for a face-to-face interview. Those not selected for an interview are rejected for reasons such as the applicant served as a member of the Castro regime in a mid-to-high level position or other “undesirable” characteristics. No do the math, since there are sometimes nearly 60 interviews given per day that means it should take no less than 500 working days to get through the never-ending list of selected applicants. Given weekends and holidays, that can mean a two-year wait for some to get an interview. In reality, the wait is often only a year. Special circumstances like illnesses, conferences such as the LASA conference, sporting events, and other shorter time-frame requests shorten the interview wait for some while extending it for others. Of the 30,000 interviewed in what can best be described as a “cattle call”, an average of 6,000 per year are approved for a visitor’s visa. That is 1 approval out of 6 who interview. It is safe to say, that given the sheer numbers that office contends with daily, some will be denied who should have been approved and some will be approved who should have been denied. I found the staff in the USiNT office to be very consciencious and overworked. The American staff live under constant surveillance and scrutiny by Cuban State Security. The Cold War is alive and well for these brave souls. Worse yet, each one of them lives under the spector that the interviewee that they approved is really a Cuban spy bent on arriving in the US to do more than attend a conference or visit a family member. No one wants that approval to come from them so there is a tendency to err on the side of caution. Finally, keep in mind the millions of visa requests that US immigration must process each year. Cuba is but one of 60 plus countries whose citizens are scrutinized in this way as “possible immigrants” because of the severe economic condtions that prevail in their home countries. Cuba claims only 13% of their citizens fail to return from legal visits to the US. They use this statistic to refute the widely-held assumption that Cubans will use the visa process to ‘defect’. Credit should be given instead to the highly effective visa approval process which weeds out the applicants most likely to defect. Unfortunately, visa applicants such as Isbel may be unfairly denied because of this very effective screening process.

  • just another american bureaucrat making an ill informed decision.

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