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.