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Many artists denied visas

Molly Shore

The World Championships of Performing Arts ends tonight at the Hilton

Burbank Airport and Convention Center following an eight-day stay.

But about 150 performers from Jamaica, Malaysia, the Philippines

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and other countries who qualified to compete this week were absent

because they were denied visas to enter the U.S., officials said.

Griff O’Neil, the event’s organizer and president, said the

competition has been adversely affected because of missing talent

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from Eastern Bloc countries such as Russia, Ukraine and Latvia.

“There are wonderful ethnic folk dancers who you don’t see here,”

O’Neil said. “And reggae musicians who perform incredible music are

now sitting back home in Jamaica.”

About 325 contestants were originally scheduled to appear, but

because visas were denied, only 177 artists are competing.

O’Neil said he believes performing artists are discriminated

against by the U.S. State Department in consulate offices around the

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world. Employees in these offices, he alleged, think of performing

artists as third-class citizens.

Although he said artists have had trouble entering the country in

the past, O’Neil said it’s been even harder to visit the U.S. since

the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

“The thing that really knifed me in the back, a month ago in

Anaheim at the World Gymnastics Championships, they let everybody in,

and then the Cubans defected,” O’Neil said.

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Steve Pike, spokesman for the U.S. State Department, said people

are denied visas for a variety of reasons, and said such records and

applications are confidential and protected under immigration law.

“We are not at liberty to discuss the particular decisions that

were made in a particular case,” Pike said.

Lama Smith, a Jamaican official who is responsible for

administration, selection and the invitations for the official

delegates, said that Jamaican contestants applied for their visas in

July.

“There was more than enough time to apply, but 50 were denied in

one day,” Smith said. “The following day, more contestants were

denied visas.”

Irene Hryszko, representing Ukraine, said that when Olympic figure

skating gold medalist Oksana Baiul applied for a visa, she was

recognized for her athleticism and allowed entry into the U.S.

“There is opportunity for athletes, but no opportunity for

artists,” Hryszko said.


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