Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Cuba visa issue is a matter of principle

Cuba visa issue is a matter of principle
Posted By José R. Cárdenas Tuesday, May 22, 2012 - 4:26 PM Share

The usually sober editorial board of the Washington Post misfired badly
in a recent editorial, "The refuseniks of Cuba," in which it lambasted
the Obama administration for denying visas to a few Cuban academic
apparatchiks who wanted to attend an upcoming conference of the Latin
American Studies Association (LASA) in San Francisco.

Now, there are good reasons to criticize the administration's decision
on the matter -- but on the grounds of its apparent incoherence, rather
than as a statement directed against the Castros' totalitarian regime.
It turns out that only 11 visas were denied, some 60 were approved, and
a few more are under review. Given the non-transparent visa issuance
process, there is little to explain why any of the decisions were made,
including granting a visa to Raul Castro's daughter, Mariela, a noted

Predictably, the result of the administration's apparent
split-the-difference approach wound up pleasing no one. Pro-freedom
Cuban American members of Congress were irate that the State Department
granted travel permission to Mariela Castro, who Senator Robert Menendez
called a "vociferous advocate of the regime and opponent of democracy,
who has defended the regime's brutal repression of democracy activists."

Yet, in attempting to make the case for the 11 Cubans who were denied
visas, the Post went over-the-top, completely distorting the issue at
hand. For example, calling the denied Cubans "refuseniks" eviscerates
all known meanings of the term, which originated behind the Iron Curtain
and referred to those who requested exit visas to leave the Soviet
Union, an act of betrayal in the eyes of authorities from which they
suffered greatly.

The fact is that not a single member of the Cuban LASA delegation has
ever said or written anything that deviated so far from the party line
that they had to pay any professional or personal price. They all live
lives of relative comfort and ease under the benign care (and watchful
eye) of the regime.

Contrast this to the thousands of Cuban men and women who have dared to
think freely and independently and continue to do so. Not only are they
harassed daily, jailed, or forced into exile, but many have paid the
ultimate price for refusing to relinquish their fundamental human
rights. To equate in any way their sacrifices to the experiences of
pampered regime elites is simply obscene.

Unable to comprehend this point, the Post can only attribute opposition
to the granting of visas to "fear," as if people are afraid the Cubans'
sanctioned talking points couldn't be rebutted or would change anyone's
opinion about their murderous regime. The assertion is risible on its face.

Rather, the point is that a regime that has denied a truly free and
independent thinker such as the blogger Yoani Sanchez permission to
leave Cuba some twenty times simply does not deserve to enjoy the same
rights as a reward to its academic collaborators, whose
all-expenses-paid visit to the United States is designed only to whip up
public sentiment against the U.S. embargo anyway.

Then there is the matter of the jailed American Alan Gross, who has been
incarcerated in Cuba for more than two years for trying to help Cubans
link to the internet without going through regime censors, as is their
human right. Once again, in granting any visas to the Cubans, the
administration has sent the signal that the abduction of Mr. Gross
continues to be cost-free.

The principled decision would have been to deny all the visas in
solidarity with the thousands of Cubans who cannot speak their minds in
Cuba or travel freely or had to flee Cuba to enjoy those rights;
moreover, to reaffirm that there will not be business-as-usual as long
as Alan Gross remains unjustly imprisoned. But all this has been muddled
by half-measures: Deny some, allow others. It may be that the
administration doesn't mind drawing both the ire of the right and the
left, but political expedience is never a good choice over principle.

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