Luis Rondon Paz
HAVANA TIMES — Last Tuesday, I went to the US Embassy in Havana for the third time. The two previous times, I had gone with my mother, for her interview. Her visa was denied the two times because, according to the official who interviewed her, her arguments weren’t convincing enough to grant her a visa.
This whole business had always struck me as a rather mechanical process that didn’t explore any situation in depth – until I had the experience of being interviewed on this bit of US soil.
As a university student and aspiring academic, I was invited to the International Congress of the Latin American Studies Association (LASA) in New York. I was to present a platform that would contain more than 40 years of fantasy, horror and science fiction literature by Cuban authors. The novelty was that this platform would operate online as a digital library and would be available to all Cubans with access to the web in the country.
“You’re likely to get a visa with that invitation,” some of my friends, who knew about my plans in Cuba, said to me, though I was convinced a young, single, low-income academic like me would not qualify. That said, I decided to stay positive and, in secret, I would dream of visiting that beautiful city and of being surrounded by more than 4,000 professionals, sharing knowledge and, why not, perhaps finding business opportunities as well.
At 8 in the morning, on Tuesday, April 12, I and nearly 500 other people waited outside the embassy, to be called inside for our interview. It didn’t take long for them to call me. Once inside, however, I had to wait four hours before it was my turn. Everything had been smooth sailing till this point, until the interview with the consular officer began. The officer never looked in my direction once. It was as if they were dealing with an object. Below is the interview I had:
Consular officer: Are you married?
Luis Rondon Paz: No
CO: Do you have any children?
CO: Have you ever traveled to the United States before?
CO: What is your line of work, what do you do?
LRP: I am a computer engineer, an actor, a journalist, a photographer and a university student.
CO: Why do you wish to travel to the United States.
LRP: I was invited to present the results of a Cuban research project, which compiles some 50 years of fantasy, horror and science fiction literature from the island, at the LASA congress, on the occasion of its 50th anniversary.
CO: Who will pay for your trip?
LRP: My sister and a business partner.
CO: How did she arrive in the United States?
LRP: She married and moved there, legally and definitively.
CO: How long has she lived in the United States for?
LRP: Approximately 14 years.
CO: What does your sister do?
LRP: She is the director and producer of a television show in Nashville, Tennessee. She works at Paz Communications.
CO: I understand your reasons for wishing to travel, but you do not qualify. Have a good day.
I left the place literally in shock. Had I paid 160 dollars just to be put in front of a robot? That is how I felt he treated me and how he reacted to my replies. You have to laugh about it so as not to break down crying, I thought, a few meters away from the embassy.
How naive I’d been. I thought that after the thaw between our countries had begun, after Obama’s visit to Cuba and his address, citizens and particularly young people in Cuba would be treated differently at the US Embassy. Judging from my experience, everything continues to encourage the use of the Cuban Adjustment Act: leaving the country illegally, risking one’s life and never coming back.
And, you know what? I would like to travel abroad, get to know places, share knowledge and do business, but I won’t be immigrating illegally anywhere, no sir, I’m not interested in staying in the United States or any other country. I want to see the changes in Cuba from the inside and my work, as a member of the frustrated generation, is to transform society into something more efficient, less corrupt and more just.
None of this reached the consular officer, because, as I said previously, they make decisions on the basis of your replies and they don’t give you an opportunity to say anything else. As of now, I will refer to them as robots in human disguise. They never look you in the eye and their questions are very short.
That said, an important part of my reasons were shared with the LASA organizing committee. They may approach the embassy to process my case.
As a friend of mine says, “there are still a thousand walls left over from the Cold War and obstacles to overcome or remove so that relations between the two countries begin to be something more or less normal.”