US Senator Rick Scott of Florida on Wednesday asked President Joe Biden to deny visas to the leaders of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua and their respective delegations so they cannot travel to New York to attend the meeting. of the United Nations General Assembly next month.
In Wednesday’s letter obtained by the Miami Herald, the Florida Republican called on the president “to stand up for freedom and democracy in Latin America and to do what is necessary to protect the security interests of the United States by refusing entry to these three hoodlums and their buddies.
Scott said “these oppressive dictators and their regimes engage in activities that continue to threaten the stability of Latin America and the national security of the United States.”
The senator pointed out that Cuba is on the list of countries that sponsor terrorism and continues to harbor fugitives wanted by the United States. He also mentioned that Nicaraguan leader Daniel Ortega remains in power after elections deemed fraudulent and “has spent most of the last year imprisoning his political opponents”.
He also had harsh words for Nicolás Maduro, Venezuela’s strongman, whom the Justice Ministry wants to charge with drug trafficking.
“Unless the administration intends to arrest Maduro, he should not be allowed to enter the United States,” Scott said.
The United Nations General Assembly is the largest gathering of heads of state in the world and takes place each year in September.
Although rare, the United States has occasionally invoked national security to deny visas to foreign leaders and diplomats to travel to UN headquarters in New York.
Under the “Headquarters Agreement” of 1947, the US government is supposed to provide visas for foreign dignitaries to gain access to the UN “quickly” and free of charge. But Congress added a note to the 1947 joint resolution stating that “Nothing in the agreement shall be construed as diminishing, restricting, or in any way impairing the right of the United States to safeguard its own security”, which provided legal cover in the past. visa refusal.
A State Department spokesperson told the Miami Herald that the United States “takes seriously its obligations as a UN host nation under the UN Headquarters Agreement.”
The spokesperson said the agency had provided guidance to all UN member states on recommended deadlines for visa applications ahead of the General Assembly session.
“All visa applications are handled on a case-by-case basis,” the official added.
In the past, State Department officials have said Washington can deny visas for “security, terrorism, and foreign policy” reasons.
For example, in 1988, the United States denied Yasser Arafat, the former president of the Palestine Liberation Organization, a visa to attend a meeting of the General Assembly, citing the involvement of the PLO in terrorism.
More recently, the Trump administration denied a visa to then-Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who wanted to attend a meeting of the UN Security Council following the killing of Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani. in Iraq. And the Obama administration refused to issue a visa to Hamid Aboutalebi – who had been appointed Iran’s ambassador to the UN – because of his involvement in the 1979 Iran hostage crisis.
Historically, autocratic rulers viewed the meeting of the United Nations General Assembly as an opportunity to oppose US policies in a preeminent international forum. So far, the leaders of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua have not said they plan to attend. In recent years, the three countries have been represented by their respective foreign ministers.
Cuba’s hand-picked president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, attended the assembly in 2018, shortly after succeeding Raúl Castro as president. Since then, his government has been mired in economic turmoil, failed policies and increased political repression. And relations with the United States have soured, making it less likely that he will travel to New York this year, where he could also face protests from a more politically mobilized Cuban exile community.
When the Biden administration did not invite the Nicaraguan government to attend the Summit of the Americas in June, Ortega said he was not interested in traveling to the United States anyway.
Despite recent attempts at dialogue between Biden administration officials and Maduro, the Venezuelan leader is also unlikely to be present as the US Department of Justice has a $15 million reward for information that could lead to his arrest.
“The United States must send a clear message of zero tolerance for the oppression and human rights abuses of these dictators,” Scott wrote. “Allowing Díaz-Canel, Ortega or Maduro – or their representatives – to enter the United States would give them a legitimacy they have neither earned nor deserved.”
This story was originally published August 24, 2022 2:18 p.m.