The Honorable Colin Powell
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20520
Fax: (202) 261-8577

Dear Secretary Powell,

We are writing on behalf of the 2,700 professional writers, editors, and translators who are members of PEN American Center to register our profound concern over the recent denial of entry visas to 61 Cuban scholars who were scheduled to participate in this week’s congress of the Latin American Studies Association in Las Vegas.

According to our information, the denial of the Cubans’ entry was announced just one week before the congress was scheduled to begin, causing the congress organizers to cancel 45 of the 600 sessions planned for leading academics in the field. It is our understanding that Cuban scholars have attended previous congresses and that their presence has greatly enhanced the overall experience of all participants. At the 2000 LASA Congress in Miami, Havana sent a 124-member delegation. These scholars joined their international colleagues on panels analyzing Cuban history, economics and sociology. One Havana academic even discreetly criticized the Cuban government’s rejection of most private farm ownership, at the root of its communist system, saying that agricultural efficiency could improve if more land were in private hands. Exchanges of this nature are vital to expanding the field of Latin American Studies within this country and to help us better understand our neighbors in this hemisphere.

We understand that in explaining the reason for the denial, Darla Jordan, a spokeswoman for the State Department, said, “We will not have business as usual with the regime that so outrageously violates the human rights of the peaceful opposition.” We share the concerns of the United States government about human rights abuses in Cuba, and in fact, conducted a month-long campaign this summer to draw attention to the plight of peaceful dissidents arrested in the March 2003 crackdown and to highlight our continuing concerns about the assaults on free expression in the country. At the same time, we feel strongly that the most effective way to promote human rights is through the unhampered transmission of thought within each nation and between all nations, a principle which is elaborated in the Charter of International PEN.

We believe that the decision to deny the Cuban scholars’ participation in the LASA Congress violates the right of American academics to engage in face to face discussion and debate with foreign colleagues. We also believe that erecting barriers to open, direct debate undercuts the very values the United States seeks to advance in countries such as Cuba. Finally, we are deeply troubled by the inconsistency of U.S. policy and practice with respect to international visitors. We note that the United States has not imposed blanket restrictions on scholars attending the LASA Congress from other countries where violations of human rights and freedom of expression are also well documented, such as China.

PEN American Center is committed to ensuring that U.S. policies reflect our core commitment to individual rights and are carried out in ways that preserve and expand the freedom to write and speak freely around the world. We therefore respectfully request that your offices conduct a thorough review of the decision to deny this group of Cuban scholars entry to the United States and take action to promote future exchanges, not limit them.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Hannah Pakula
Chair, Freedom to Write Committee

Larry Siems
Director, Freedom to Write and International Programs

Marysa Navarro, President
Milagros Pereyra-Rojas, Executive Director
Latin American Studies Association
946 William Pitt Union
University of Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh, PA 15260
Fax: (412) 624-7145