- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Indian-Americans upset

Indian-American activists yesterday criticized the State Department for blocking an Indian politician from visiting the United States this week.

The decision to refuse a diplomatic visa to Narendra Modi, governor of the Indian state of Gujarat, is “a setback to the U.S.-Indian relationship,” said Sanjay Puri, chairman of the U.S.-Indian Political Action Committee. The State Department also revoked a business-tourist visa that Mr. Modi held.

The United States blamed Mr. Modi for failing to stop Hindu rioters, who killed more than 1,200 Muslims in Gujarat in 2002. The State Department also cited an Indian human rights report that also criticized him.

On Monday, U.S. Ambassador to India David C. Mulford told reporters in New Delhi that the State Department reaffirmed its decision after a review requested by the Indian government. He emphasized that the action applies only to Mr. Modi and expressed “great respect” for the citizens of Gujarat who have immigrated to the United States or visit here regularly.

Mr. Puri complained about the “unsound application of what is certainly a well-intentioned” section of U.S. immigration laws used to block Mr. Modi’s planned visit to an Asian-American hotel convention in Florida tomorrow.

The law allows the United States to deny a visa to any foreign government official responsible for “particularly severe violations of religious freedom.”

Mr. Puri said applying the law to an elected official “sets a bad precedent that will not serve the U.S. well” because Mr. Modi has not been convicted of a crime.

“The [immigration] act was clearly not designed to prohibit entry of duly elected political leaders of pluralistic democratic allies, regardless of how controversial or unpopular these leaders may be — not before a formal judicial finding of personal culpability,” Mr. Puri said.

“The tragic events that are part of the history of Gujarat cannot be denied. At the same time, it is inappropriate and misguided policy for the State Department to prematurely and unilaterally apply such a censure to [Mr.] Modi.”

Cuban maneuver

A senior Latin American ambassador is warning that Cuba is complicating the already difficult negotiations over a free-trade pact for the Western Hemisphere by seeking to join a South American economic bloc and slip into the talks through a diplomatic back door.

Cuba wants to become an associate member of the Mercosur trade group of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, Ambassador Odeen Ishmael said in a review of the status of negotiations for a Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA). Cuba, still under a U.S. economic boycott, is the only nation in the hemisphere excluded from the FTAA talks.

“If Cuba is accepted as an associated member of Mercosur, it can present complications for the U.S. in the FTAA talks,” said Mr. Ishmael, Guyana’s former ambassador to the United States.

Many other Latin American nations are associate members of Mercosur, including Venezuela, a close political ally of Cuba. Venezuela, also a major partner in the FTAA talks, is considering upgrading its status to full membership in Mercosur.

“By becoming an associate member of Mercosur, Cuba, at least indirectly, may have some influence in how the FTAA is finally formulated,” Mr. Ishmael said. “And with Venezuela’s interest in upgrading its own associate membership in Mercosur to full membership, Cuba, as its close political ally, can be drawn even closer into the process.”

The FTAA talks are stalled over issues including agricultural subsidies and intellectual property rights such as patents, trademarks and copyrights.

Mr. Ishmael was the dean of the Latin American diplomatic corps in Washington until he was reassigned in 2003 as ambassador to Venezuela. He represented Guyana in Washington for 10 years and remains a keen observer of U.S.-Latin American relations.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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