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In March, the APS Committee on the International Freedom of Scientists (CIFS) embarked on a letter- writing campaign on behalf of several Cuban scientists denied visas to attend scientific conferences in the U.S. Letters were sent to the U.S. Interest Section in Havana and to State Department officials, and APS President D. Allan Bromley (Yale University) issued a personal appeal to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright advocating for the free circulation of scientists.
According to Mr. Andrew Simkin, a consular section officer at the U.S. Interest Section, located in the Swiss Embassy in Havana, the scientists were denied visas in accordance with the 1985 Immigration and Nationality Act specifying that employees of the Cuban government and Cuban Communist Party members should not be granted visas to enter the U.S. without permission of the Department of State.
According to Irving Lerch, APS director of international scientific affairs, the scientists in question are a group of five quantum chemists from the University of Havana, led by Luis Alberto Montero Cabrera, seeking admission to the U.S. to visit Clark Atlanta University in Atlanta, Georgia, and the University of Florida before attending the Sanibel Island Symposium on Quantum Chemistry, during which they are scheduled to give a presentation on their research. Carlo Trallero-Giner of the University of Havana has also been denied an entrance visa. He is an expert on semiconductor nanostructure systems who is seeking to collaborate on joint theoretical research with Joseph Birman, a professor at the City College of New York.
Lerch believes the blanket refusals were based on the fact that all university professors and researchers are essentially employees of the Cuban government. However, these same strict standards are not applied to Chinese scientists applying for similar visas, which would essentially forbid scientific exchanges with that country. The denials "constitute a debilitating intrusion into the free and open exchange on which the U.S. and international scientific communities are absolutely dependent," he said. "If our important research universities and major scientific conferences are to be closed to international collaboration and discourse, we will suffer inestimable damage to our credibility and, ultimately, to our domestic scientific enterprise."
In his letter to Albright, Bromley noted that the U.S. has always adhered to the International Council of Scientific Unions statutes guaranteeing free circulation of scientists, an organization that can, and in the past, has made it impossible for international scientific meetings to be scheduled in countries that violated its statutes. Hence, "The visa denials are not only disappointing to meeting organizers and applicants alike, but also are detrimental to American science," Bromley wrote. "The credibility of the U.S. as host to important international meetings would be seriously damaged. Free exchange of information is essential to the health and vitality of our domestic and international scientific enterprise."
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