US hosted the 31st Congress of the Latin American Studies Association last month

LASA: Cuba-United States academic forum

Dalia González Delgado | Granma International | 5 July 2013

THE U.S. capital last month hosted the 31st Congress of the Latin American Studies Association (LASA), an organization of experts on Latin America regional issues.

The Congress was attended by 4,500-plus delegates, including 76 Cubans, in spite of Washington’s decision to refuse visas to 13 members of the delegation.

“For those of us who are interested in studying relations between Cuba and the United States these congresses are very valuable,” Sheryl Lutgen, from California State University San Marcos, commented to Granma.

“On the one hand, U.S. regulations do not allow us to participate in academic conferences in Cuba. Moreover, despite the denial of visas by the State Department, the commitment of LASA organizers to the participation of Cuban intellectuals has made the congresses the only forum for academic exchange,” noted Lutgen, currently co-president of the Cuba section of LASA.

Since 1977, Cubans have participated almost without interruption in LASA congresses, except for the two which took place during the Reagan administration, when they were refused visas. After a stable period, the George W. Bush administration also rejected dozens of visa applications from Cuban academics, which obliged the sponsors to change three consecutive conferences to Canada and Brazil.

Last year, the encounter returned to the United States, specifically to San Francisco, and 10 visas were denied. “The reasons for the denial are mysterious and disconcerting,” a Washington Post editorial emphasized.

In the view of the influential daily, this attitude on the part of the U.S. government is a message which transmits weakness, not strength. What are they so afraid of? it asked.

One of the persons to have her visa application rejected this year was Milagros Martínez, International Relations advisor at the University of Havana, and a member of the board of LASA’s Cuba Section.

She commented to Granma, “There is no logic which allows you to understand why certain visas are denied, because the cases are all very different among each other, and this attitude also contradicts the Washington policy of people to people exchanges.

OBSERVATIONS ABOUT CUBA

LASA is considered the most relevant and representative Cuba-United States academic forum.

Despite the visa denials, which meant that certain conference panels had to be cancelled, there were a wide variety of issues related to Cuba, Lutgen noted. “The current reforms and the future of the economy were an important focus of discussion, in additional to other subjects such as contemporary feminism and Cuba’s social policy in relation to HIV/AIDS.”

“The panels on bilateral relations between the United States and Cuba always attract attention, and on this occasion, there were a number on the possibilities of exchange in the current context. One of the panels included a paper from José Ramón Cabañas, head of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, and another presented recommendations from the TACE (Cuba/United States Interchange Workshop) project, a working group of experts from the two countries created in 2008 to promote analysis of bilateral conflicts and possible alternatives,” the expert affirmed.

“Although technological advances allow us to share research, ideas and theoretical debates in other ways, I believe that the intensity of face-to-face conversations, animated debates in workshops and on panels remain vital for our collective work,” she emphasized.

Luis Suárez, professor at the Advanced Institute of International Relations, one of the Cuban delegates to this edition, told Granma, “It was confirmed at the event that LASA’s Cuba Section is one of the most fruitful and active ones; what it demonstrates is the enormous interest within the academic community in analyzing the history, present and future of the Revolution.

“In this context, Milagros Martínez perceives LASA as an exceptional opportunity for U.S. academics who wish to seriously study Cuban issues.

“The Cuba Section is the largest, which demonstrates the interest in our country. LASA has given Cuba a forum for presenting its work and has also helped Cuba studies in the United States, an academic discipline,” she emphasized.

“LASA is simply crucial, not only for what is presented there, but for all the projects planned, future books, research, and so that people get to know each other,” she concluded.

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