By Diana Jean Schemo.
The New York Times, September
WASHINGTON, Sept. 5 As the Latin American Studies Association opens
its annual conference here on Thursday, gathering thousands of scholars to
panels featuring top speakers from across the Americas, the influential group is
under fire for sponsoring a Communist Party official from Havana instrumental in
a recent purge of Cuban intellectuals.
The official, Darío Machado, is director of the Center of Studies on
the Americas, a Cuban research institute he took over during the purge, which
began in 1996. Mr. Machado, then a member of the central committee responsible
for party ideology, led an intellectual offensive in the 1990's against scholars
who strayed from a strictly orthodox party line and forged ties with foreigners,
according to two books.
His chief target was the Center for American Studies, where, upon his
arrival, he urged researchers to confess their betrayal of Communist beliefs.
Thereafter all but a half dozen of the 39 scholars left the center.
While scholars did not go to jail, but scattered to other jobs, Juan Antonio
Blanco, a Cuban exile and former academic who is now director of the
Ottawa-based Human Rights Internet, called the purge "a typical Stalinist
thing, only they were not shot physically. They were shot politically."
Because of Mr. Machado's role at the center, some scholars and human rights
advocates have called him an enemy of academic freedom and criticized the
organization's decision to pay for his attendance at the conference. The human
rights advocates accuse the Latin American Studies Association of giving Mr.
Machado the travel grant to win favor with the Castro government and access to
Cuba for the group's scholars.
"He was in charge of firing and persecuting academics who were accused
of being traitors," said Jose Miguel Vivanco, head of Human Rights
Watch/Americas and a former chairman of the association's own Human Rights Task
In a letter to the association's president, Thomas Holloway, Mr. Vivanco
detailed Mr. Machado's role in the clampdown, and wrote that giving him the
stipend amounted to rewarding Mr. Machado "for violating the international
obligation of scholars to respect the academic freedom of others."
Dr. Blanco wrote to the association on behalf of fellow scholars in Cuba
who, he said, feared repercussions if they publicly questioned its decision at
home. Cuban scholars, he said, did not feel that Mr. Machado should be barred
from speaking at the meeting, but questioned its sponsorship of his trip.
A person with close ties to the organization said that officials reviewing
Mr. Machado's proposal to deliver a paper titled "Identification of Cuban
Society With its Political System" did not know of his role in the purge at
the center he now represents. Mr. Machado could not be reached directly for
Mr. Holloway said a committee of 22 professors and Latin American
specialists had reviewed Mr. Machado's application and a number of others. "Unless
someone is publicly notorious or, either within academia or through the larger
press, has been revealed as a person we would not want at a LASA conference,
it's difficult to ask our committee members to make sure that each of the people
they submit has been checked and cleared," Mr. Holloway said.
In a letter to Mr. Vivanco, Mr. Holloway wrote that "LASA does not and
cannot apply an ideological test for Congress participation."
Mr. Vivanco said his objections were not based on Mr. Machado's beliefs, but
on his actions.
"Shouldn't LASA, as an organization of academics, be even more
concerned about subsidizing the participation of someone who has done egregious
harm to the core principles it represents?" Mr. Vivanco asked.
Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company