HAVANA – More than two hundred Cuban academics who were hoping to attend the annual Latin American Studies Association (LASA) conference were denied visas to the United States, said Cuban education officials on Thursday.
Of those who applied for visas, 212 were denied while only 24 were approved, said Rafael Cervantes Martinez, a university professor who was among those denied and denounced the move as political.
Academics reminded those at the press conference the difficulties and high costs Cubans have to bear when seeking visas in third countries after the U.S. embassy in Havana drastically cut back its consular services citing the alleged health incidents.
There has been hostile treatment, said Cervantes Martinez, who said some of his colleagues were asked if they were members of the Communist Party and were subsequently not granted visas.
“No Americans who come to Cuba are asked if they’re republicans or democrats,” said Pedro de la Hoz, Vice President of the Cuban Union of Writers and Artists.
“This reminded me of the worse times during the McCarthy era...it reminded of the repression against American intellectuals,” de la Hoz added.
Visa denials will greatly affect the Cuban-related panels, Cervantes Martinez said, who added an emergency resolution has been signed at LASA denouncing President Donald Trump.
But Cuban expert and retired University of Miami Professor Andy Gómez wonders why the U.S. should issue visas to Cuban academics when there is no academic freedom in Cuba.
“They expect us to give them visas to come to US for educational conferences while they reject academics who do not defend their system or have different points of view,” Gomez said in a telephone interview from Coral Gables.
The next three conferences will be held in Mexico, Canada and Colombia where Cubans will not have difficulties traveling. WPLG-TV sought comments from LASA officials, but has not received any statements regarding visa issue.
Independent journalist kept from leaving Cuba
Hours earlier, independent journalist Luz Escobar says the Cuban government didn’t allow her to travel to the U.S.
Escobar, who works for the independent outlet 14YMedio, was told she could not travel because she has an exit ban.
She was headed to Washington, D.C. to participate in an independent journalism and arts workshop put on by the Cuban Soul Foundation.
You can not leave the country, a man said in an audio recording Escobar posted on Twitter.
The customs official told Escobar he didn’t know why she couldn’t leave the country, but that it could be a fine, a debt, it could be anything, he added.
Escobar asked if the prohibition to exit the country was temporary and the agent told her he didn’t know.
#DDHH Con todo listo para viajar, pelo lavado, pasaporte nuevo, visa y sin deuda alguna con el Estado cubano en la taquilla de inmigración la oficial me dice que pase a una oficina. El oficial al mando me informa: "no puede viajar porque tiene una prohibición de salida" #Cuba pic.twitter.com/1UKueyORrE— Luz_Cuba 🇨🇺 (@Luz_Cuba) May 22, 2019
There are too many dissidents, activists and independent journalists who have been kept from traveling under the excuse of being “regulated,” she wrote in an article published on the digital site.
Denying you the ability to leave has become an oppressive mechanism by state security against outspoken people, she added.
Escobar believes it’s because of her work as an independent journalist. In early May, Escobar was detained several hours after she tried to interview people living in a shelter after losing their homes in the devastating Havana tornado.