Disgracefully, For All of Its Talk about Democratization, the State Department’s Ideologues Clamp Down on Open Dialogue

  • State Department officials toy with the U.S.’ major Latin American affairs professional organization since last May, before vetoing visas to Cuban academics.
  • As part of Washington’s “tightening…policy towards Cuba” and adhering to “the recommendations laid out by the White House-stacked Commission of Assistance to a Free Cuba” (A solidly unrepresentative right-wing body dominated by Miami ultras and like-minded individuals), the State Department denies visas to 67 Cuban scholars who were to attend the Las Vegas gathering of the Latin American Studies Association (LASA) International Congress to be held October 7 through 9.
  • The visa denials constitute an outrageous political move meant to appease ultra-right wing elements of Florida’s Cuban-American and Venezuelan expatriate communities, in advance of the November presidential elections.
  • Secretary of State Colin Powell repeatedly has failed to be a firewall against such past and present Bush administration regional hardliners as Roger Noriega, John Bolton, and Otto Reich.

In the latest unwarranted extremist attack on even a semblance of rational bilateral relations between Cuba and the U.S., the Bush administration has denied visa requests for 67 Cuban scholars who were to participate in the Latin American Studies Association (LASA) International Congress being held in Las Vegas, Nevada from October 7 through 9. Darla Jordan, of the State Department’s Office on Press Relations, gave COHA the official bureaucratic line, stating that the scholars were denied entry under articles of the Immigration and Naturalization Act that “suspend entry…to officials and employees of the Cuban government and members of the Communist Party.” In actuality, not all of the would-be Cuban visitors fall into the categories covered by the regulation, and even if they did, analogous regulations affecting scholars coming from other leftist and rightist so-called “rogue nations” have routinely received waivers at the administration’s discretion.

This decision by the State Department is nothing less than an outrageous electoral ploy aimed at placating ethnic blocs in Miami-Dade County, in a shameless pursuit of Florida’s electoral votes. It is a move consonant with the policies of such hard-right ideologues as Roger Noriega, Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs; John Bolton, Under-Secretary of State for Non-Proliferation; and Otto Reich, who preceded Noriega in his post. Bolton was, in fact, a driving force of the administration’s attempts to discredit Cuba’s lauded pharmaceutical and biotechnological industries. Citing a 1999 National Intelligence Estimate and through numerous public statements, Bolton claimed that Cuba was developing offensive biological weapons and providing this technology to “other rogue states,” and that the island nation posed a “terrorist threat to the U.S.” After a wave of denunciations of Bolton, who is genuinely considered the State Department’s most hardened rightwing ideologue, and with his refusal to present any evidence backing up his charges, the Under-Secretary was forced to retract his harshest allegations. Furthermore, as a result of more thorough investigation, prompted by intelligence failures regarding the existence of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction program, the results of which were presented to Congress this month, Bolton’s politically-motivated assertions have been discredited and invalidated.

LASA Speaks Out

According to LASA Executive Director Prof. Milagros Pereyra-Rojas, this is the first time the U.S. government has blocked an entire contingent of Cuban scholars from attending LASA’s Congress, which is held every 18 months and is dedicated to the free multi-cultural exchange of ideas affecting Latin America and North-South relations. Despite the fact that LASA has been attempting to broker an agreement with the State Department regarding the Cubans’ entry since last May, the latter issued their 12th hour decision only on Sept. 29. “This is a very grave situation,” stated Prof. Pereyra, “my feeling is that they should have let their decision [be] known earlier so that we could have been better prepared.”

This capricious act of political opportunism reinforces Secretary of State Colin Powell’s growing reputation for his almost automatic deference to the neo-conservative wing of the Bush administration. In the past, this wing has been identified with Noriega, Bolton, and Reich and a number of other key Miami operators who hold or have held high positions in the Latin American policy-making apparatus. Powell previously had been respected across the ideological spectrum as a voice of reason, but this is no longer the case. Since taking office, he has permitted political vulgarizations and anachronistic views to dictate the State Department’s policy towards Cuba and the Bush administration’s radicalizing of its anti-Castro strategy has exposed his tolerance for extremism. Powell’s dossier for such tolerance is now so long that it compels one to conclude that the Secretary of State is either unwilling or unable to influence regional policy or, is in fact, the State Department’s chief ideologue. Powell’s stand on Cuba has resulted in the indefensible continuation and intensification of the U.S. government’s nearly 45-year obsession with its ineffective policy to isolate the Castro regime by starving out the Cuban population. The virulent resurgence of these policies since Bush came to office also raises questions about the administration’s doomsday intentions for Cuba in the event that he wins another term. In spite of the inherent dangers, Bush’s policies increasingly reflect a willingness to go all the way to force regime change.

Regardless of one’s attitude towards Havana, restrictions on intellectual and cultural exchange of ideas reflect the administration’s Caliban-like inability to separate ethnic electoral issues regarding Florida from responsible foreign policy making. The implementation of some of the recommendations of the Commission of Assistance to a Free Cuba, (which was in itself a preposterous caricature of a broad based entity since it was almost exclusively composed of rightwing Miami exiles with the addition of like-minded non-Cubans), exposes the administration’s abjectly self-serving politicized strategy amid its disintegrating relations with Cuba. If the U.S. government decides to cut off all channels of communication between the two countries, even innocuous contacts such as those among university professors, then the only logical consequence of such a dire strategy will be increased polarization, a deepening divide between the U.S. and Cuba, and the further distancing of a possibility of pragmatic relations with Havana.