The Real Need for Scholarly Exchanges

By: Daniel Nardini

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - Commentary Organizers of the Latin American Studies Association (LASA) will hold their scholarly conference in San Francisco this year. LASA has professors, Latin American scholars, and scholars from other parts of the world who study Latin America. Normally there would be no major problem for such a conference—hundreds of conferences where experts in their fields from inside and outside of the United States come to this country every year. This is no exception in LASA’s case. However, one thing that is an exception is that 80 attendees will come from Cuba. They are Latin American and yes Cuba scholars as well (since they are Cuban and live in Cuba, this is no big shock). There is no question that the Cuban government is testing the U.S. government’s new open policy on how many Americans can go to the Cuba, and also how many Cuban government officials, scholars and diplomatic personnel can travel from Cuba to here.

U.S. President Barack Obama, almost at the beginning of his presidency, instituted a more open travel policy where Cuban Americans can go to Cuba without restrictions, allow Americans to travel to Cuba on certain specified purposes (historical research, looking up for certain species of fauna, etc), and allow Cuban Americans to remit money to their families and loved ones in Cuba. At the same time, these new rules will allow those Cubans fully trusted by the Cuban government to go to the United States. This time the Obama administration seems less than enthusiastic about allowing in Cuban scholars and professors. With 80 Cubans wanting to attend LASA’s San Francisco conference, they need a visa from the U.S. government to go to San Francisco. So far the U.S. government has rejected 11 of these Cuban scholars and professors, and 25 are “iffy.” The only high profile Cuban who has been approved to attend this conference is Mariela Castro—Raul Castro’s daughter. One may ask why the U.S. government has rejected so many Cuban scholars and professors? This is an election year, and Obama is beginning to look “bad” for allowing all these Cuban government personnel to come into the U.S.

For the record I must say that I am no fan of the Cuban government, and I do feel for those Cubans who have escaped and who wish to escape from Cuba. However, I do believe that it is necessary for scholars and lecturing professors to be able to go anywhere around the world to share their ideas, their interpretation of key events, and factual historic or scientific information regardless of politics. This, in my view, should also extend to those Cuban scholars and professors. Despite the rocky relationship between the United States and Cuba, there should always be free and truly open communications and exchanges between the United States and whatever other nation because of the U.S. Constitution. The U.S. Constitution, in the first amendment, establishes freedom of speech. Freedom of ideas is as much freedom of speech as anything can be. Regardless of what many of us may think of the Cuban government and its policies to suppress freedom of speech and ideas, the U. S. government should allow all Cuban scholars and professors into the United States for the LASA conference. This is probably the best way to give a true demonstration of one of America’s greatest values—freedom of speech.

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