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.


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

  • April 18, 2013 at 5:43 pm
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    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.

  • April 18, 2013 at 9:22 am
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    Thank you for pointing out ONE of the hypocrisies in the comment of Moses Patterson.

  • April 18, 2013 at 8:55 am
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    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?

  • April 18, 2013 at 8:50 am
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    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.

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