Colombian President Belisaro Betancur personally intervened with President Reagan last week on behalf of University of Maryland Professor Angel Rama, whose request for permanent U.S. residency has been denied on grounds he has alleged but unspecified communist or anarchist affiliations.
Betancur questioned the U.S. actions against Rama, which have received widespread publicity in Latin America, at a private lunch in Bogota during the president's swing through Central and South America last week, official sources close to Betancur confirmed yesterday.
Rama and his wife, Argentine-born art critic Marta Traba, are listed by the U.S. government as ineligible for permanent residence here because of alleged communist or anarchist affiliations. They are in the country now under a special visa waiver.
The U.S. has declined to tell Rama what specific actions caused him to be placed in this category. The denial of permanent residence has jeopardized his tenured position as professor of Spanish literature at the university.
Rama said Betancur telephoned him and his wife, both close friends of the Colombian president, last Saturday to say that he had raised their cases with Reagan. According to the version Betancur gave Rama, Reagan said he knew nothing about the case, expressed surprise such a thing could happen in the United States "because it's a democracy," and promised to look into it.
Confirming this version of the conversation, an official source close to the Colombian leader said yesterday that Betancur first congratulated Reagan on U.S. Secretary of State George P. Shultz' public condemnation of the Israeli expulsion of university professors from the West Bank. "Then he said, 'By the way, we are a little concerned about some intellectuals of Latin America who have problems in the U.S.,' " the source said.
Besides Rama, the source said, Betancur raised the cases of Traba and the Colombian Nobel Prize-winning novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who is also listed as ineligible for permanent residence in the United States.
A White House spokesman declined to comment on the conversation, saying that "as far as private discussions go we are not in a position to go into them."
Rama's case has drawn much interest in Latin American literary circles due to his reputation as a literature scholar.
Rama, 56, a native of Uruguay who now holds a Venezuelan passport, first applied for a visa to the United States in 1969. At that point, he was listed ineligible for entry under the 1952 McCarran-Walter Act that bars aliens who are affilated with communist or anarchist groups.
Rama denies he ever was a member of such a group.
He has been granted tourist and temporary work visas several times to enter the United States under a routine waiver granted by the State Department. After he was granted tenure at the university last year, he applied for permanent residence, and the request was denied.
The Immigration and Naturalization Service has declined to give Rama the information on the basis of which he was labeled a danger to the United States, saying that because it came from other government agencies, it is confidential.
However, INS recently sent Rama's case back to "other U.S. government agencies" asking that additional information be released concerning their subversive designation of Rama, said Richard Spurlock, INS district director. This was done as a "procedural matter" about 10 days ago, before Reagan met Betancur last Friday, Spurling said. Rama can appeal the denial of his permanent residence application to the regional level of INS, Spurlock said.
University of Maryland President John S. Toll and Maryland Deputy Attorney General Paul Strain met with Spurlock yesterday to discuss Rama's case. University officials have supported Rama's contention that he has a right to know what specific actions caused him to be labeled subversive by the U.S. government.