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State Department Flip-Flops on Cuban Visas

by BILL MARTINEZ


On August 21, 2004, the Havana Night ensemble, comprised of 53 Cuban artists, performed at the Las Vegas, Stardust Hotel. While we welcome these wonderful artists to our country, the manner in which they entered the country is not something to celebrate. Their visa approvals are the result of shameful hypocrisy and political manipulation of the Karl Rove-International Republican Institute-Bush administration strategy to "hasten a transition to democracy." In the past year, no other Cuban artists have been issued visas since the Bush administration returned to the Reagan Proclamation for its policy, asserting that all Cuban artists are "employees or agents of the government and therefore inadmissible as against our national interest. This rejection of the Clinton administration’s "people-to-people" policies has caused arts presenters to suffer enormous losses throughout the country because of visa delays or denials for their Cuban artists.

To get their visas, the Havana Night artists were provoked by the German promoter and her advisors to disengage themselves from their own government, to show that they were "independent", a visa strategy developed by right-wing advocates as part of a plan to force a "regime change". Clearly, this is the result of unseemly, special treatment afforded to ex-State Department’s Office of Cuban Affairs coordinator, Dennis Hays, the right-wing zealot who helped architect this scheme. Their State Department security clearances which normally take months were somehow whisked through in record time … hmmm.

That this glitzy Siegfreid and Roy, right-wing, Cuban American National Foundation-supported extravaganza has been allowed in is particularly galling in light of the denial of visas for 65 Cuban multidisciplinary scholars and writers who planned to participate in the Latin American Studies Association (LASA) convention in Las Vegas last week. They were invited to present lectures and engage in intellectual exchanges with other noted international scholars. They were also to participate in a panel discussion of a new book by Cuban authors titled, "The Cuban Economy at the Start of the 21st Century."

The approval of the Havana Night visas disregards the rights of presenters and petitioners who have attempted to produce performances by Cuban artists, only to see the talent denied entry visas. Requests for a Congressional inquiry have been made to Congressman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) and Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY). The denial of visas to the LASA scholars prompted Congressmen William Delahunt (D-MA) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ), to petition Secretary of State Colin Powell to no avail.

Our Cuban policy is really a microcosm of foreign policy in general. Among the myriad of issues raised, what does this State Department policy say about government censorship and our First Amendment rights to free expression? Our other constitutional rights of due process rights, equal protection? The Havana Night maneuvering appears to be another in a series of the chess pieces the Bush administration is choosing to use, similar to the new Treasury Department (Office of Foreign Assets Control) restrictions, the contrived charges that "Castro Encourages Prostitution" or "Cuba is a Biotechnological Terror Threat" or "Cuba is an Undue Influence in Venezuela and other Latin American Countries", as we head towards November.

BILL MARTINEZ is an immigration attorney who has also produced and managed cultural events in the San Francisco Bay Area since 1973. A native San Franciscan, he is a graduate of Balboa High School, the University of San Francisco and Hastings College of the Law. He has worked in the Community Law Collective (,74-,79), New College of California School of Law (,79-,83) and the Volunteer Legal Services Program of the Bar Association of San Francisco (,84-,93). In 1981, he co-founded the Encuentro del Canto Popular, a San Francisco-based Latin American music festival. His work with the Encuentro lead him to become one of the nation,s leading experts in U.S.-Cuba cultural exchanges and artists, visas. He co-founded the Latino Entertainment Partners which produced historically significant concerts of Cuban artists. He may be reached at: bill@billmartinez.com.

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