September 6, 2001

Scholars' Group Is Attacked for Sponsoring Cuban Official

By Diana Jean Schemo. The New York Times, September 6, 2001

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 Force.

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 comment.

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


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