For 13 years Angel Rama visited the United States, studying and lecturing on Latin American literature to audiences at universities across the country. In l979 he was a fellow at the Smithsonian's Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars. Last year, the University of Maryland gave the 56-year-old writer tenure as professor of Spanish literature.
Now Rama's future in this country is in jeopardy because of a label the U.S. government put on Rama 13 years ago -- a label he rejects.
According to the State Department, Rama, who was born in Uruguay but holds a Venezuelan passport, is a "subversive," tainted by communist affiliations. Because of this designation, he cannot apply for permanent residence in the U.S., and so eventually will have to leave.
"The accusation is fantastic, fantastic," said Rama this week in the study of his Washington apartment.
"Everyone knows I am not a Communist," he said. "I am a socialist; I believe in socialist democratic society. I don't belong to a political party, I never belonged to a political party. I prefer to be independent, I think it is better for a writer to keep this liberty. I am a writer; culture is more important to me than politics."
Rama's struggle to win permanent residence in the United States has been supported by University of Maryland officials well as two former Venezuelan foreign ministers and Luis Ferre, the former governor of Puerto Rico.
"We are doing everything we can to keep professor Rama," said Shirley Kenny, provost at the College Park campus. "He is one of the absolutely top scholars in his field in the world. Our faculty strength would be sadly depleted if he is unable to stay with us."
Rama, who presently is researching a book on 19th century Latin American culture on a Guggenheim Fellowship, believes his predicament stems from a persistent "misunderstanding" of Latin American intellectuals on the part of the U.S. government.
"I'm not a rare case," he said. "I think the majority of intellectuals and writers in Latin America are liberal, socialist, and above all else, nationalistic -- they are against intervention from both sides. It's difficult (for the U.S.) to decide what to do with them because they take positions against the U.S. They say anyone not a conservative is a Communist."
Juan Ferreira, director of the Latin American Human Rights Association, agrees with this description. "Rama has had a progressive nationalistic position; that's it, period," he said.
The U. S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, which earlier this year informed Rama of his ineligibility to apply for permanent residence, refuses to discuss the details of Rama's case, saying only that they are still awaiting "information from overseas" before a final decision is made.
The State Department, which classifies foreigners as "subversive," will not say why Rama was given that designation or how the information on which it was based was obtained. A spokesman said that the "issues" that led it to determine Rama's designation were discussed with him.
Rama says he was never told why he was labeled a communist. "Do you remember Kafka's novel, 'The Trial'? I feel like him, Joseph K. He didn't know the charges against him, so he could not reply. They don't say what the concrete charges are against me , so I imagine what are the possible charges."
The only discussion Rama recalls was in 1969 with a U.S. consular officer in Montevideo when he first applied for a U.S. visa in order to teach at the University of Puerto Rico. Rama says the U.S. diplomat brought up three items for discussion -- a visit Rama made to China in 1962, a series of visits he has made to Cuba, and his writing for a Uruguayan-based magazine, "Semenario Marcha," which Roma compares to the liberal magazine "The Nation" published in the U.S.
Despite explaining his activities and travels to the consular offical in 1969, Rama was listed as a person ineligible for entry into the U.S. under the l952 McCarran-Walter Act that bars aliens from the U.S. who are affiliated with communist or anarchist groups. However, under a routine procedure, he was granted a "waiver" to enter the U.S.
In 1981, 23,300 people listed as "subversives" were given waivers to enter the U.S., a State Department spokesman said. Last month 315 Japanese antinuclear activists, barred under the same law, were refused waivers and prevented from attending the U.N. Disarmament Conference in New York.
There are no waivers for those seeking permanent residence here, although an appellate court judge in Seattle ruled last March that an alien could not be denied permanent residence solely because of his membership in a communist party.
Asked if a person once designated a subversive must remain with this for life, a State Department spokesman replied, "Unless there were information that could refute those grounds of ineligibility for permanent residence , I would say yes, it would stay with him."