Access denied -- censorship at its best

While not many University of Houston students may care one way or the other, the recent decision of the U.S. government to deny visas to two Cuban students from the University of Havana is more than an overreaction. It is blatant censorship of opinion and free speech. It was also an insult to the intelligence of American university students.

For the past four years, students from the University of Havana have been admitted to the United States with few problems or restrictions. At the same time, American college students have been granted visas to visit Cuba. Last year, several UH students visited Cuba for a week.

Before the latest incident over Cuba in which Cuban Air Force fighter jets shot down a small plane being flown by Cuban exiles bent on toppling the long-standing regime of Fidel Castro, Cuban students would have readily been granted visas.

But now, in the wake of this incident and the U.S. government's impotent response, suddenly the visas were denied.

Did the Clinton administration just remember that Castro is a "communist," and that those students might "pollute" the minds of American college students with "communist propaganda?" More likely, the administration is playing election-year politics.

Perhaps government officials forgot that American college students are fairly knowledgeable about world affairs. We know Cuba was a puppet of the Soviet Union. But we also know the Iron Curtain has fallen and the Soviet Union is a mere shadow of its former self, no longer able to pull the strings of any of its former "puppets" on a regular basis. We also know Cuba may still be "communist" under Castro, but the country is reeling under extreme economic and social hardships.

As a result, it's highly unlikely that American college students would fall prey to any "subversive" dialogue the Cuban students might present while they are in the United States.

The Clinton administration seems determined to find an election-year "whipping boy" in order to demonstrate the president's new-found "toughness in the face of the enemy." He's taking a page right out of Ronald Reagan's and George Bush's books. Reagan preached against the dangers of the Soviet "evil empire." Bush demonized Saddam Hussein. Clinton now touts the dangers of allowing students from his new "evil empire," Cuba, to visit the United States. Clinton's "foe" may seem a bit innocent in comparison with his predecessor's nemeses, but it's the best he can find right now.

Actions like this are not a new phenomenon for the U.S. government. It has a long history of applying a one-size-fits-all description to large groups of people. For example, at one time, Americans believed that all Russians were communists, and, therefore, they might be spies, so they couldn't be trusted.

Just because Castro is a communist, does that make every Cuban citizen a communist, a communist organizer, a spy or a subversive? Not likely. But our government is making sure we don't get to make that decision for ourselves.

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