Barbara Weinstein is a professor of History at New York University (previously, she taught at the University of Maryland) specializing in 20th Century Latin America, and the current President of the American Historical Association (AHA). In a January 23, 2006 interview with the University of Maryland Newsdesk, Weinstein stated that she wants to “pursue an agenda that includes ensuring that scholars in ‘underrepresented’ fields (such as Africa, Asia… Latin America ) both feel welcome, and that they have a stake in the continuing vitality of the AHA as an organization.” In her first month in office, Weinstein demonstrated her idea of supporting scholars in “underrepresented fields” by defending scholars barred from entering the U.S. by the department of Homeland Security.
Her inaugural column for Perspectives, the journal of the AHA (January 2007), was titled “The AHA and Academic Freedom in the Age of Homeland Security.” In this piece, Weinstein condemned the DHS’s decision to refuse a visa to professor Waskar Ari (Chachaki), a Bolivian activist and academic who had been offered a position at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. This is one of several cases since 9/11 in which professionals in academia have been barred from entering the U.S. because of security concerns. A State Department official has confirmed that security concerns about Ari rendered him ineligible for the visa. Without explaining the facts behind the Department of Homeland Security decision, Weinstein defended the professor, gratuitously using the occasion to express sympathy for suspected terrorists she sees as victims of injustice and prejudice on the part of the Homeland Security Division: “Who among us has not written or lectured with some sympathy about historical actors whose actions might be classified as ‘terrorist activity’ by the current personnel in charge of homeland security?”
Although the government has not released to the public specific reasons for denying Ari a visa, some have speculated that the ban on Ari may have to do with his connections to Bolivia ’s president, Evo Morales. Morales is the leader of the Movement for Socialism political party, and he has political ties to the leftist governments in Cuba and Venezuela . He has referred to himself as “a nightmare for the United States,” and has particularly opposed the U.S. war on drugs ( Bolivia is the world’s chief supplier of cocaine). He is currently head of the “cocalero movement” – an alliance of coca leaf farmers that oppose U.S. efforts to eradicate coca cultivation in Southern Bolivia , a global center of cocaine production. Professor Ari is himself a founder of the Kechuaymara Foundation, which also supports production of coca.
In her presidential column, Weinstein draws comparisons between Ari and Tariq Ramadan, who was denied a visa by the State Department because of his links to terrorism. “The barring of Waskar Ari and Tariq Ramadan,…” writes Professor Weinstein, “is occurring at a moment when the historical profession is becoming more international in its structure and more transnational in its thinking.” But in fact, Ramadan’s connections to Islamic extremism are numerous. For example, according to Spanish judge Balatasar Garzón, Ramadan had regular contacts with Ahmed Brahim, an Algerian man believed to be both the financial chief of al-Qaeda and the financier of the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya . And according to the French daily newspaper Le Monde, Ramadan is believed to have organized a 1991 meeting between al-Qaeda second-in-charge Ayman al Zawahiri and Omar Abdel Rahman, who was convicted in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. While most reasonable people would consider this reason enough to bar Ramadan from the United states, Weinstein considers him an innocent victim of U.S. government oppression.
Weinstein has also lionized other leftwing terrorists, such as Castro’s executioner Che Guevara. “Some call him a murderer because he was involved in violent struggle, but do we call George Washington a murderer? They are ‘murderers’ in same exact way,” Weinstein said in a 2004 article on the Cuban Marxist. In other words, the American founding fathers were the terrorists of their time; and today’s terrorists may well be statesmen. It is startling but symptomatic of university life that Weinstein, who makes these equations, was elected President of the AHA. Weinstein meanwhile expressed no sympathy for Cuban academics, imprisoned in Castro’s gulag, without academic freedom to teach without having their ideas censored by government agents, prohibited from traveling abroad without permission from the Communist dictatorship.
A member of Historians Against the War, Weinstein received her B.A. from Princeton University and her Ph.D. from Yale University in 1980. She is author of the book For Social Peace in Brazil: Industrialists and the Remaking of the Working Class in Sao Paulo, 1920-1964; co-editor of the Radical Perspectives series for Duke University Press; and an editor of Duke University’s Radical History Review.