If a game of Trivial Pursuit included the question, “Which country excludes foreign visitors solely on the basis of their ideological beliefs?” no doubt 99 out of 100 Americans would guess that country was the Soviet Union. They would probably not be wrong; but they could have supplied another correct answer—the United States.
In what today seems a Kafkaesque departure from all our visions of democratic freedom, each year nearly 25,000 visa applicants are routinely denied entry as undesirables under the McCarthy era “ideological exclusionary clauses” of the Immigration and Nationality Act. More commonly known as the McCarran-Walter law, it was passed in 1952 over the veto of President Truman, who chided, “Seldom has a bill exhibited the distrust evidenced here for citizens and aliens alike.”
This controversial law makes the U.S. the only Western democracy to exclude visitors on the basis of their ideas or beliefs, in direct violation of both the International Declaration of Human Rights and the Helsinki Final Act, under which the U.S., as a signatory, pledged to facilitate free movement and contacts among persons of participating nations. The law also has the effect of denying Americans their First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and association.
Ensnared in the stigma attached to this law, along with convicted felons, anarchists and drug pushers, are artists and writers, some of them world-famous scholars and winners of international prizes, including the noted Colombian novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Nobel Prize for Literature). Others include Mexican author and playwright Carlos Fuentes, South African poet Dennis Brutus, Hortensia Bussi de Allende (widow of the late Salvador Allende, the assassinated Chilean president), Polish scholar Leszek Kolakowski and playwright-actor-director Dario Fo, whose play Accidental Death of an Anarchist opened on Broadway last month.
To bring attention to McCarran-Walter and other laws restricting the free flow of information, the American Civil Liberties Union, along with the Fund for Free Expression, convened a conference entitled “Free Trade in Ideas: A Constitutional Imperative” in Washington, D.C. in September. Designed to kick off a major national campaign “to create awareness of the threat of these restrictive laws and why they should be repealed,” the conference was attended by nearly 300 people and was sponsored by an auspicious list of organizations that included the American Library Association, Association of American Publishers, Authors Guild, Modern Language Asso-ciation, National Lawyers Guild and Newspaper Guild, among many others.
A consular official or the Attorney General can invoke McCarran-Walter, making an alien ineligible to receive a visa to enter the U.S., if he believes that the applicant would engage in activities “prejudicial to the public interest, or endanger the welfare, safety or security of the U.S.”; that he or she is an “anarchist, communist or affiliated with any organization advocating communist doctrine”; or that he or she would engage in activities “subversive to the national security.” These ideological exclusion provisions can invite political manipulation and abuse, according to a 1983 study prepared for U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) by Emily McIntire.
In 1977, Congress passed the McGovern Amendment in an attempt to bring McCarran-Walter more into compliance with the provisions of the Helsinki Accords governing freedom of international travel. The amendment provides that the Secretary of State must recommend a waiver to permit aliens to enter the country. unless the alien’s admission would compromise national security interests. Although the amendment removes some admission barriers and today allows the great majority of applicants to gain entry through a bizarre and humiliating bureaucratic waiver procedure, the names of the applicants granted waivers presumably remain on the McCarran-Walter excludable list. Since the State Department can easily circumvent the amendment through what critics call the “gigantic loophole” in interpretation permitted by the law, there are hundreds each year who fail to be granted waivers and are still denied entry altogether.
One of the most absurd examples is the case of Nobel Laureate Garcia Marquez. He was first denied entry in 1963 because of alleged Communist ties. He contends he was finally granted a visa in 1971 only because then secretary of state Henry Kissinger, unaware that the writer was barred from entering the U.S., quoted from his book One Hundred Years of Solitude in a speech delivered in Mexico City. Presumably embarrassed upon discovering his faux pas, Kissinger reportedly used his influence to obtain a visa for Garcia Marquez. Nonetheless, once the visa expired, the distinguished author was permitted to return to the U.S. only to attend specific events and for limited periods, because his name remained on the list of excludables.
Two years ago, Garcia Marquez decided that by accepting entry under the restriction he was “endorsing this exclusionary system, and not only to my own prejudice but to the prejudice of many writers, artists and scientists.” Recently, after American universities lodged vociferous protests, the State Department finally offered Garcia Marquez a “clean visa.,” valid for an indefinite stay.
The noted Mexican author and playwright Carlos Fuentes, who is currently a visiting scholar at Harvard University, says he will demand the same treatment from now on. He strongly protests the ludicrous and humiliating Catch-22 system that refuses his visa application on the basis of “undesirability” and then waives the denial “because I am presented as a highly desirable professor, worthy of a visa.”
Fuentes likens this system to the Circumlocution Office headed by Titus Barnacle in Charles Dickens’ Little Dorrit, which, as Fuentes reminds us, prides itself on its fundamental function “to see to it that nothing that should get done ever gets done, or if it gets done it gets badly and incompetently done.”
Fuentes was recently interviewed by Mike Wallace on CBS Television’s 60 Minutes; he has lectured at many leading American universities and his books are widely available in the U.S. “Why,” he wonders, “are my books, and those of other excludables, published here; our magazine articles printed here; our voices heard here on TV and radio; whereas only our physical persons, surely the least dangerous part of our intellectual or political or moral totality, are judged dangerous?” In a terrifying reply to his own rhetorical question, Fuentes invokes the spectre of totalitarian behavior in a free democracy: “We are punished for our political opinions.”
In a New York Times article following the Free Trade in Ideas conference, Fuentes warned, “Experience has taught us that it is the application of the exclusionary clause that endangers the Republic, mocks democracy, demoralizes the true friends of the United States, and offers undeserved aces to the Soviet Union.”
The ACLU has charged that the Reagan Administration is engaged in “a systematic campaign to keep out of this country critics of its Central American policies”; Fuentes, Garcia Marquez and many other prominent Latin Americans are among those critics. The State Department denies that it uses McCarran-Walter to keep out the Administration’s detractors.
Richard Weeks, press officer for the Bureau of Consular Affairs, recently stated, “We do not deny visas on the basis of an individual’s personal beliefs.” According to press reports, he insisted that applicants are refused entry only on the basis of their associations or if their activities would be detrimental to the public interest. Yet just last year, the State Department sought to extend further the McCarran-Walter exclusions when it submitted a proposal to Congress to amend the McGovern Amendment by permitting the Secre tary of State to consider “foreign policy factors” in addition to security interests as a basis for denying waivers.
In the theatre, no more glaring examples of McCarran-Walter exclusion exist than the cases of Italian playwright-actor-director Dario Fo and his wife, actress Franca Rame. The couple, famous for their brand of humorous social and political satire that spares no ideological group, has performed throughout Europe to great acclaim. In the past, the Italian Communist Party had sponsored some of Fo’s plays, but when he poked fun at the Communists, along with the Far Right and government bureaucrats, the Communists backed off.
Fo’s plays have been widely performed in the U.S., by the Yale Repertory Theatre, Los Angeles Actors Theatre, Mark Taper Forum and San Francisco Mime Troupe, to name a few. Yet, American audiences have been denied the opportunity to see Fo the performer.
In 1980, Fo was refused a visa to attend New York’s Fifth Festival of Italian Theatre, under the partial sponsorship of the Italian government, in which he was to have performed his popular play Mistero Buffo, a comic monologue in which Fo plays 100 different roles.
Fo’s 1980 U.S. visa denial was blamed on his membership in Soccorso Rosso (Red Aid), an organization which provides legal assistance to political prisoners. The State Department told PEN, the international writers’ organization, that Fo was a “terrorist sympathizer,” a charge which he and Rame have repeatedly denied. A government official explained that “Fo’s record of performance with regard to the United States and our own interests is not good. He has never had a good word to say about us.” The “official” response from the Justice Department sent to novelist Bernard Malamud, who was then president of PEN, simply stated: “Mr. Fo was found ineligible to receive a visa by the American consuls in Rome and Milan, Italy. No further action will be taken on this matter.” A small group of angry American performers subsequently staged “An Evening Without Fo” at New York’s Town Hall.
Last year, Fo was again invited to the U.S., this time to perform at the New York Shakespeare Festival and to lecture at Yale and New York University. Again his visa was denied. Shakespeare Festival producer Joseph Papp charged that it was “a political act imposed on what is decidedly a cultural affair,” which “gives our democracy a black eye.”
When Richard Nelson’s adaptation of Fo’s Accidental Death was staged last season at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., Fo was not present. That adaptation, along with its original director, Douglas C. Wager, was scheduled to open on Broadway. Three weeks before the Nov. 15 opening, the State Department had still not ruled on Fo’s application. Based on past precedents, it was virtually certain that the visa would be denied under McCarran-Walter, but the play’s co-producer Bernard Gersten said on Oct. 19 that he was “cautiously optimistic” that this time a waiver might be obtained. However, with rehearsals already well underway, Gersten worried that State Department delays might preclude the possibility of obtaining a waiver in time for Fo to attend rehearsals or previews.
Protests have been lodged on Fo’s behalf by the ACLU, the Dramatists Guild, Theatre Communications Group and the Alexander H. Cohen office, producers of the Broadway production.
Beyond the obvious violation of international accords and invasions of First Amendment rights under the Constitution, the act makes the U.S. appear hypocritical and ridiculous in the eyes of the world, according to critics. By leaving entry decisions to the discretion of consular officials and passing them from one branch of government to another, the law is inconsistently applied. Nor does it provide for the right of review on the part of the applicant. If it did, it is virtually certain that in few cases involving distinguished scholars, writers and artists could the “national security” exclusions really be upheld.
Under the law, prominent world figures are subjected to demeaning interviews with government officials and extensive red tape designed to discourage the applicant. Frequently decisions are delayed—purposely or not—until the last minute, when there is no recourse and the visitor is simply unable to get here. The State Department, as a general practice, does not issue statements on visa denials, unfairly placing the burden of explaining the government’s actions on those who have invited the foreign visitor.
Why do noted artists who are considered “excludables” continue to apply for visas to enter this country? Fuentes explains: “We refuse to play the game of those who would silence the voices of the other cultures of the world in the United States. I, for one, insist on maintaining alive this role of bridge between cultures, of speaking to the Americans on their home ground, and refusing to be beaten by the ghost of McCarthyism.”
Decrying the humiliations he must suffer, as well as the anachronistic nature of the law, Fuentes concludes: “Nothing else so damages the image of the U.S.A. in intellectual circles abroad; no single issue constitutes a greater obstacle to cultural relations.”
Even if a last-minute waiver enables Fo to take part in the production of his play on Broadway, even if Fuentes succeeds in obtaining a “clean visa” like that offered to Garcia Marquez—artists and scholars, along with the ACLU and other organizations involved with the Free Trade in Ideas conference, believe that McCarran-Walter’s ideological exclusions must be repealed entirely for the sake of free flow of information, for the sake of cultural relations, and for the sake of democratic principles.
No Friend to Fo
On Oct. 30, just 15 days before his play Accidental Death of an Anarchist was to open on Broadway, the U.S. State Department agreed to grant a visa to politically outspoken Italian dramatist Dario Fo. The visa was for a one-time-only entry into the country, and there is no guarantee that if Fo applies for another visa it will be approved. Fo was expected to be in the U.S. for approximately one week in early November to attend final rehearsals and previews of the production. Fo’s admission was apparently granted as an exception to the McCarran-Walter law, and his name remains on the list of excludables.
The following remarks are excerpted from the text of a statement delivered by Bernard Gersten, Broadway co-producer of Accidental Death of an Anarchist, in Washington, D.C., Sept. 18, 1984, to the Conference on Free Trade in Ideas.
Free trade is defined as trade based on unrestricted international exchange of goods and services. As producers of the commercial theatre we are strong believers in free trade. We believe we have the same inherent constitutional rights enjoyed by entrepreneurs engaged in more mundane pursuits. We claim to ourselves—tiny enterprise as we are—the same rights to pursue our business interests unrestrictedly, uncensored, unrestrained—within the limits of law and Constitution—as the great International Bankers, Oil Cartels, Arms Brokers and other likeminded buccaneers. And if we seem to be a mouse roaring at an elephant, well, we are.
The last thing we need is an impediment imposed by the arbitrary, ill-conceived, repressive fiat of a benighted State Department bureaucrat with his ideological fix mired in the primordial ooze of the McCarthy era.
A living playwright has a vital and essential contribution to make to the production of her or his play. To deny the production the services of the playwright is to deny an elemental and critical aspect of the artistic life of a production.
The rehearsal period is an investigation of the play itself by the collective of the actors, the director and the affiliated artists, and a testing of the playwright’s work against the sensibilities and experience of the working company.
In the interplay between author and everyone else, the truth of a work may be discovered. Absent the playwright, plays are considered fair game and the ravages committed in the name of improvements are legion.
It is ironic that we in America, producing an Italian author’s first Broadway play, are unable to have the benefit of the insights he would bring to the rehearsal process
If the Italian government prohibited Dario Fo from attending our rehearsals and contributing to the planned success of our production, we would raise all the bloody hell we could, as was the case when the Czechs would not allow Vaclav Havel out of his country last year. That the government to which we pay taxes should impose such undemocratic restraints on the practice of our business is ignominious beyond toleration.
Producers dealing with a new play without the benefit of the playwright’s presence suffer a competitive disadvantage and it is as a business that we vehemently protest this discriminatory situation. But in fact our concerns are larger than our economic interest, for we have great pride in the theatre within which we practice and are embarrassed when it is besmirched by an action of our government.
We consider doctoring or tailoring of the play to an American sensibility to be the key to the success of our production. The tuning of it to an American audience’s response is crucial, but must be done in collaboration with the playwright if we are to remain faithful to him.
We hope that Dario Fo’s words, written about the situation in Italy, do not prove prophetic about our country: “It is obvious that the theatrical theme and, above all, the enormous success which Accidental Death of an Anarchist enjoyed, produced a violent reaction in the centers of power. So we are subjected to provocation and persecution of all kinds, sometimes more grotesque and comical in their repressive stupidity than the very farce which we were performing.”
Congress Decides NEA Funds
Final spending figures for National Endowment for the Arts’ fiscal year 1985 were established by Congress prior to its pre-election recess. As a part of the FY ’85 Continuing Resolution bill, the NEA will receive $163.66 million. This is a slight increase over the $162 million FY ’84 appropriation, but far below the $169.75 million approved earlier in the year by the House of Representatives. The Senate Appropriations Committee had made a recommendation of level funding at $162 million for the arts agency earlier in the year. The final figure was established by a compromise committee of members from each legislative chamber. The compromise also includes $139.4 million for the National Endowment for the Humanities and $21.5 million for the Institute of Museum Services.
Following Passage of the Continuing Resolution, NEA Chairman Frank Hodsoll noted that “in the foreseeable future” the agency would consider among its highest priorities the support of arts education programs, local support groups for the arts, and assessing whether economic pressures are forcing arts institutions to compromise on the quality of productions. In an Oct. 17 interview in The New York Times, Hodsoll noted the Endowment had yet to decide whether the problem of “artistic deficit” is a real one, and if so, to determine the severity of the problem. “The ‘artistic deficit’ is worrisome,” he said, “The question is whether it is economics that is driving this, or whether it is a question of aesthetics already moving in that direction.” Hodsoll also noted that the Endowment has “put aside a substantial amount of money” to study the problem during the coming year.
In other arts-related legislation, the Continuing Resolution also contains provisions for $4.9 million to be made available to arts institutions in Washington, D.C. during fiscal ’86. The one-time trial “National Capital Region Arts and Cultural Affairs” program will be administered by the National Park Service. Grants of up to $500,000 will be made available to organizations of “demonstrated national significance” which meet at least two of the following criteria: 1) an annual operating budget of at least $1 million; 2) an annual audience or visitation of at least 200,000; 3) a paid staff of at least 100, or 4) eligibility under the Historic Sites Act of
1935. Funds currently provided by the federal government to Ford’s Theatre and Wolf Trap Farm Park for the Performing Arts will be included as a part of this program in fiscal ’86. Originally proposed by the Senate to be administered by the Institute of Museum Services, the program was forward-funded to allow organizations to prepare and submit applications during FY ’85. Theatre organizations likely to be eligible under the announced criteria include Arena Stage, the Folger Theatre and the Kennedy Center.
Also contained in the FY ’85 Continuing Resolution is $3.15 million for arts in education.
The measure included $200 million in fiscal 1987 funds for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which is funded two years in advance. However, the $200 million CPB appropriation was vetoed by President Reagan for a second time on Oct. 19. Earlier in the year, Congress had passed by a wide bipartisan margin a spending authorization of $238 million for the CPB in fiscal ’87. After President Reagan’s first veto of the bill in August, Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-AZ) led a compromise effort which arrived at the $200 million figure. In announcing the veto Reagan stated that under the bill “federal funding for public broadcasting would be increased by too much too fast” during a time of “clear and urgent need to reduce federal spending.” Rep. Timothy Wirth (-CO), a principle sponsor of the compromise appropriation bill, re. sponded, “This action by President Reagan has nothing whatsoever to do with budget balancing, but is rather a clear attempt to decimate this nation’s excellent public broadcasting system.
Sonia Landau, recently elected chairman of the corporation, said, “We will continue to work with both the Congress and the Administration to reach a mutually acceptable authorization.”
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