Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton
U.S. Department of State
Mr. Peter Brennan
Office of Cuban Affairs, DOS
Dear Secretary Clinton and Mr. Brennan:
In view of the recent denial of visas to eleven Cuban scholars who were scheduled to participate in academic exchanges next week in the United States, the members of CAFE (Cuban Americans for Engagement) feel it’s imperative to state the following:
- We continue regretting the lack of a coherent policy regarding academic exchange as part of the policy of people-to-people contacts between Cuba and the United States. While we acknowledge the right of our government to set visa requirements and eligibility, the apparently arbitrary manner in which the visas to Cubans are granted or denied–even in the case of people who have traveled to the United States before–only creates frustration and confusion within the academic community and could even lead to a chilling effect on those exchanges, especially given the time and logistical efforts involved in the organization of these exchanges. A more clear and coherent policy is sorely needed.
- Especially concerning is the suspicion that these visas are being denied as a concession to hard-line members of the Cuban-American community, including representatives in Congress, who have been aggressively vocal in the past few days attacking the approval of visas for Mariela Castro and Eusebio Leal. As Cubans and Americans, we categorically oppose the use of restrictions against academic exchanges as a political tool, both in Cuba and in the United States. The objective of a responsible policy should be to take down the structures of hostility that exist on both sides, which are counterproductive if the goal is to take pragmatic and fruitful steps towards a better relationship.
- This development also comes on the heels of a recent announcement from the Treasury Department of the tightening of restrictions on trips to Cuba by non-Cuban Americans. While we welcome all clarification of the process and rules, we are concerned about the adoption by some administration officials of the hard-line rhetoric that labels as “abuses” many of the activities on those trips, with no evidence. Our policy should reflect a wide concept of people-to-people contacts that does not exclude cultural, academic, educational, social and religious activities under any circumstances and does not consider the participants “abusers.”
We live in times of change, both in Cuba and in its relationship with the United States, which we all hope will bring a better future for the Cuban nation, on both sides of the Straits of Florida. It is time to move forward instead of backwards.
Board Committee of CAFE (Cuban Americans for Engagement)
María Isabel Alfonso