Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Where Should LASA Be Held?

Once again, the U.S. government blocked Cubans from attending the Latin American Studies Association conference in Boston. As a result, LASA president Lynn Stephen announced that the organization would not hold any more conferences in the U.S. until that changed. LASA imposed this self-restriction before. As I wrote seven years ago, it's an untenable decision.

Let me say first that I agree completely that blocking Cuban academics is petty and absurd. They pose no threat to anyone, and if anything we should want more Cubans traveling to the U.S.

The biggest problem with the decision is that it really hurts U.S. graduate students as well as many U.S. faculty with small travel budgets. It's just too hard to attend when it's in, say, Brazil. The flip side is that it is good for Latin American academics who might not be able to afford getting to the U.S. But this should be something that rotates.

There are other problems. Should we judge the optimal location for LASA based solely on access for Cubans? What about discrimination in the country against other groups? You certainly should not have it in Brazil these days, for example.

Finally, it is an important symbolic measure but is only symbolic. Ideally, it should get the attention of whoever makes the policy you dislike, which in this case won't happen. Last time LASA did this, the U.S. government ignored it (as you would expect) and eventually it was given up even though Cuban scholars were still denied entrance. It's quite likely the same will happen this time around.


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