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Habana Night vs. Latin American Scholars in Vegas

When it comes to Cuba matters US policy defies reason.

A month ago, Siegfried and Roy presented Havana Night Club at The Stardust Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. The dance/entertainment company Havana Night managed to get visas to work in Las Vegas. Fifty three performers plus the support personnel from Cuba stayed in that city and had room and board as well as pay for their excellent show. Apparently the Bush administration thought that was ok.

Now 61 Cuban scholars and writers have been denied the right to participate in the Latin American Studies Association convention in Las Vegas. It should be noted that the Cuban scholars were to give papers and lectures and engage in intellectual exchanges with their colleagues. At LASA no one was getting paid. The Cuban scholars represented numerous disciplines and perspectives.

It is clear that the George W Bush administration considers the exchange of ideas a threat while skimpily dressed men and women from Cuba can go and entertain Americans in Las Vegas casinos. Perhaps the anti-Castro fanatics in Miami and DC believe that, in some unstated fashion, Havana Night was contributing to “regime change” and the “democratization” of Cuban society, while those Cuban scholars were not.

Just a few weeks ago, former members of the Cuban American National Foundation lobbied to have the visas issued for the Havana Night performers. But they certainly did not do the same for the LASA conventioneers.

We have heard from the US Treasury Department and the White House that the Havana Night crowd were “independents”, while the scholars were government employees. Yet, Havana Night is a joint enterprise between a German corporation and the Cuban Ministry of Culture, and so in that sense are just as much (or as little) “employed by the Cuban government” as the many talented performers the State Department has recently accepted. Or as the professors and researchers who were just denied. It should be pointed out that the LASA scholars were invited for the academic work they have done in the past.

Granted, singing and dancing is more in line with what Cubans, traditionally, are supposed to do rather than think. That, after all, is the dreamed “Cuba de ayer.”

Perhaps next time Cuban scholars wishing to enter the United States should dress up for the ocassion and show the officials in DC that they can dance and show some flesh. Chanting “Babalú” might even help. In the so-called “Battle of Ideas” the United States government prefers not to engage.

Nelson Valdes is a professor of sociology specializing in Latin America at the University of New Mexico. He can be reached at: nvaldes@unm.edu

 

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Nelson P. Valdes is Professor Emeritus at the University of New Mexico.

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