Continuing their effort to woo Hispanic voters especially in the battleground state of Florida, the Republican National Committee today went after the Obama administration for granting a visa to Mariela Castro, daughter of Cuban leader Raul Castro for a conference in San Francisco this week.
U.S. Rep Mario Diaz-Balart said he had "deep outrage" for the visa, granted Tuesday. The congressman called Castro's permission to enter the U.S. "the one that broke the camel's back."
Castro is the director of the Cuban National Center for Sex Education in Havana and also a gay rights activist. She is expected to attend the Latin American Studies Association conference, which starts Wednesday in San Francisco.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is the one who made the exception and issued the visa to Castro and Diaz-Balart called the State Department's decision "reprehensible, unacceptable" and "it is greatly irresponsible of the administration to allow these high level Communist Party regime officials to come into the United States on these PR tours, pro-regime public relations tours."
"It is pro-regime and bashing the United States public relation tours that they are doing. It is irresponsible, unacceptable and for this administration to pass the buck and say that the law forces them to do it is also not true," Diaz-Balart, a Romney backer, said, calling Raul Castro the head of a "terrorist regime."
"This is a time when repression has been increased by the regime, just in the last couple of years," Diaz-Balart said. "So while repression is increasing, this administration is giving visas to the highest levels of the Castro dictatorship, because I don't know who gets higher than the daughter of the so-called president of the terrorist regime."
The Miami Herald quotes New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez as describing Mariela Castro as a fierce defender of the communist country's regime. Her father Raul is brother to Fidel Castro.
Menendez criticized the visa calling Castro "a vociferous advocate of the regime and opponent of democracy, who has defended the regime's brutal repression of democracy activists."
The Florida Democratic Party responded by calling on Republicans "to stop playing politics with people's emotions on Cuba" and pointing out Castro also visited the United States in 2002.
"Republicans need to stop playing with people's emotions when it comes to Cuba," Florida Hispanic community leader Freddy Balsera said in a statement. "While they grab headlines criticizing the President and distorting his record on Cuba, they avoid saying that Mariela Castro actually received a visa to visit the US in 2002 under the Bush Administration. In fact, the top State Department Official in charge of Latin America at the time was a Cuban American. Where was their criticism then? Nowhere, because ultimately this is all about politics for them."
Balsera also said the Cuban American community supports President Obama because "it is making Cubans on the island less dependent on the government; it allows for families to support each other and stay connected; and it facilitates more flow of information to and from the island."
Republicans have also criticized the president in the past for easing some travel restrictions for Americans to Cuba.