On the Visa Issue

I am not a terrorist.” – sign on the National Mall, April 2006

On that crisp April afternoon on the National Mall in Washington, DC, the multitude of Latinos and their families draped themselves in American flags, flags from their homeland and waved handwritten signs. Some of those placards pleaded for better treatment for undocumented immigrants, and some responding to the wave of anti-immigrant sentiment, reiterated that the vast majority of documented and undocumented immigrants were here in this country to work, and not for some nefarious reason. They resented the fact that many equated them with those other foreign visitors that have entered the country with the sole intention of harming innocent people.

Earlier this week I logged onto my computer and caught a glimpse of a surprise headline in the digital version of Los Tiempos. The announcement that the Bolivian government would now require U.S. citizens to apply for a visa to visit the country instantly affected me. Limiting the rationale to reciprocity would have made it a little easier to swallow. Every country has a right to control their borders and know who is entering their country. Sure, it is a headache, but if you really want to visit, then it shouldn’t be too big of a deal. When I visited the Brazilian consulate in Cochabamba, the visa would cost nearly $100 and was in place because of said reciprocity logic. There was no complaint from me, but the official at the consulate made sure I knew why I was applying. “You (the U.S.) make us apply for visas, so that is why you have to,” said the visibly upset staff member. This unsolicited answer to a question I never asked really defeats the purpose.

However, reciprocity is only half of the answer. Other countries like Canada, Australia, and Bolivian ally, Venezuela all require citizens to apply for visas, but they are exempt from this new rule. When asked about this incongruency, especially of Venezuela, President Morales responded, “The Venezuelans don’t come to kill anyone here.”

The direct reference was to the unfortunate, yet obviously freak occurrence that took place earlier this year, when Tristen Jay Amero aka Claudius Lestat de Orleans detonated bombs in a La Paz hotel leaving two Bolivians dead. Soon after the news spread about this explosion, the official government response was one of suspicion. It had feared that it was an attack masterminded by the United States. As news leaked out about the tragic, strange and nonsensical past of the bomber, it became quite apparent that it was the work of a psychologically ill man. It is sad to think that it hasn’t been apparent enough to the government. Yes, in theory, the attack was by a U.S. citizen (even though he renounced his citizenship and was traveling with a World Service Authority passport), the percentage of the tens of thousands U.S. citizens that have committed murder in Bolivia is miniscule

Is that enough for a drastic change in policy or what is the real issue here?

I guess, at this point, I too resent the fact that I may be lumped into a category of people that are deemed to want to hurt Bolivia. I echo Miguel’s sentiments that this rule especially hurts Bolivian-Americans, a group of people that truly have stronger ties to the country than the regular U.S. citizen. Even though I was born in the United States to two Bolivian parents, I do consider Cochabamba to be my hometown. I have spent enough time there over the past six years to feel much more at home there, and it has always been my goal to return someday to work to make the country a better place. Fortunately, the Bolivian government now allows for dual citizenship. However, due to the new rule, many do not know how to obtain this special privilege. My next trip to Bolivia will be in February, and I am hoping that I will never have to apply for a visa to enter my own country.

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