Cuban diplomat denied visa

Posted: Tuesday, August 29, 2000

WASHINGTON - The Clinton administration has denied a visa to the president of Cuba's National Assembly, preventing him from attending an international conference of parliamentarians in New York, two U.S. officials said Tuesday.

But two assembly deputies will be permitted to attend the conference.

The Cuban denied a visa, Ricardo Alarcon, said last week in Havana that he had submitted an application a month ago and was to have taken a flight Friday to attend the four-day meeting of the International Parliamentary Union, which opens on Wednesday.

Suspecting he would be denied the visa, Alarcon accused the U.S. government of "rudeness" and interfering with the conference.

More than 140 countries are expected to send delegations, including many legislative leaders.

The visa was denied under a 1985 presidential proclamation that authorizes denying entry to the United States if a visit is considered contrary to U.S. interests, the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told The Associated Press.

Alarcon's personal assistant, Alberto Gonzalez Rodriguez, also was denied a visa.

However, visas were approved for assembly deputies Ramon Pez Ferro and Ada Martinez. They are not senior Cuban officials and therefore were considered qualified for entry under the proclamation, one of the U.S. officials said.

A spokesman for Cuba's diplomatic office here, Roberto Garcia, said the United States was violating its international obligations in barring Alarcon.

A State Department spokesman, Philip Reeker, declined to identify which Cubans were denied visas and which were receiving them. He said he was bound by the "confidentiality" of the visa process.

However, Reeker confirmed that "we have authorized issuance of visas to some Cuban officials who applied to travel to this Interparliamentary Union event" and "determined not to issue visas to some people that had applied."

In New York, Najma Heptulla, president of the Inter-Parliamentary Council, which is the overseeing body of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, called the U.S. decision to bar Alarcon unfortunate.

"This is a conference of presiding officers," she said.

Heptulla said the United States, meanwhile, had not paid its dues "and we are working on it."

Cuba and the United States have limited diplomatic relations, but Cuban officials have been permitted to travel here to attend U.N. meetings in New York and to staff the small Cuban diplomatic mission in Washington.

The parliamentary group is not a U.N. organization and therefore the United States is not required by agreements with the United Nations to issue visas to individuals attending the group's events in News York, the official said.

Coincidentally, Alarcon is scheduled to be the host of a formal session of the parliamentary union in Havana in April.

Only Monday, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright accused Cuba of arbitrarily denying exit permits to Cubans with U.S. visas, thereby separating families and forcing would-be immigrants to attempt high-risk escapes by boat.

In a statement, Albright said Cuba's actions violated agreements with the United States, international standards and "fundamental human decency."

She said she ordered a formal protest lodged with Cuba's diplomatic office in Washington. "The government of Cuba is increasingly obstructing the safe, legal and orderly migration of individuals from Cuba," Albright said.

Already-bumpy relations with Cuba declined amid a protracted and touchy U.S. dispute with Cuban-Americans last spring over 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez.

The boy was spirited from Cuba by his mother, who died at sea, and taken home by his father after a lengthy legal battle with emigre relatives in Florida. The Cuban government cited the incident in June when it indefinitely suspended immigration negotiations with the United States.

Unlike Elian and his mother, the 117 Cubans cited in the U.S. complaint had visas to go to the United States but were prevented from leaving Cuba.

In 16 cases, the denials separated families, while in 17 cases, physicians and other professionals were blocked from leaving, Reeker said.

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