Protests over US visa politics

The Bush Administration is under fire for a marked increase in the number of academics who have been denied visas to travel to the US, purportedly on national security grounds.

A visa for a Bolivian hired to teach at the University of Nebraska is in limbo, and a group of 55 Cubans was recently denied permission to attend an international Latin American studies conference in Puerto Rico.

The bans follow the 2004 denial of a visa to Tariq Ramadan, a Swiss Muslim professor appointed to the faculty of the University of Notre Dame, and a bar on Cubans entering the country for an academic symposium in Las Vegas the same year.

While the decisions have received comparatively little public attention, they are now eliciting heated criticism from academic institutions including the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Association of University Professors. In addition, the American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit on Dr Ramadan's behalf.

"We see a troubling pattern in which foreign scholars offered appointments at American universities or invited to attend academic conferences are prevented from entering the US because of their perceived political beliefs," Roger Bowen, AAUP general secretary, wrote to Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State, and Michael Chertoff, Secretary of Homeland Security.

In the latest visa controversy, Waskar Ari, a Bolivian historian, has been waiting eight months for permission to take up his post teaching Latin American history on the faculty at the University of Nebraska. The Government has given no explanation for the delay. He was supposed to start his job last year.

Dr Ari is an indigenous Aymara, as is Evo Morales, the newly elected Bolivian President who has opposed US-backed efforts to decrease coca cultivation in Bolivia.

"As yet, I have seen no evidence that Professor Ari represents a security risk," stated Harvey Perlman, the university's chancellor.

"This country has benefited enormously from the free exchange of scholars with countries from around the world. Unnecessary disruption of this process also jeopardises our national security," Professor Perlman stated.

The American Historical Association asserted that Dr Ari was "widely recognised as a voice of moderation" within Bolivia. The State Department has declined to comment on the case.

Cuban academics have typically not been denied visas to enter the US, but the State Department has confirmed that it is tightening its policy.

In recent years, Cuban academics have been allowed to attend conferences in Miami, Washington and Dallas.

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