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U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, Florida Republican, assailed the Obama Administration’s decision to grant Cuba President Raul Castro’s daughter a visa to travel to the United States this week.
Mariela Castro Espín is scheduled to attend an academic conference in San Francisco, as well as other events.
“It is 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,” Diaz-Balart said in a media conference call Tuesday coordinated by the Republican National Committee.
“While repression [in Cuba] 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."
Since word spread last week that Castro Espín had received permission to come to the United States, Cuban-American leaders and activists who have pushed for a democratic change in Cuba have criticized the decision to allow her to come. Mitt Romney’s campaign also joined in the criticism, depicting Obama as soft on Castro.
The Obama campaign shot back at critics.
Melanie Roussell, the national press secretary for the Democratic National Committee, dismissed the criticism as an attempt by Republicans to score political points, presumably with Cuban-Americans, an important voting bloc in Florida, which is a key electoral state.
It is 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.
“It is clear that Gov. Romney and his advisors would rather bluster and score political points than say what kind of leader he would be in the world,” said a statement Roussell sent to Fox News Latino.
“The President believes that the promotion of democracy and human rights in Cuba is in the national interest of the United States,” the statement continued, "and that, while maintaining the embargo, decreasing the dependency of the Cuban people on the Castro regime is a means to obtaining the widely-shared goal of a Cuba that respects the basic rights of all its citizens."
Castro Espín, a very vocal proponent of gay rights in Cuba, is chairing a panel on the politics of sexual diversity at the Latin American Studies Association’s conference in San Francisco.
While the U.S. State Department’s approved Castro Espín’s travel request, it denied visas to seven Cuban scholars to attend the same event, according to Ted Henken, a professor at the City Univeristy of New York who studies Cuba and is an active member of LASA’s Cuba section.
Among the scholars denied visas were some who had been permitted to travel to the United States in the past.
Diaz-Balart said the U.S. decision to grant Castro Espín appeared to violate Presidential Proclamation 5377, which prohibits granting non-immigrant visas to Cuban Communist Party members.
The State Department would not comment directly on her case but a spokesman told Fox News Latino that there is no blanket restriction on visas for Cuban officials.
The website of the New York Public Library says Castro Espín is also scheduled to talk there on May 29.
For Cubans, requesting travel to the United States for cultural exchanges is a complicated and often arbitrary process that can drag on for months. Because Cuba is one of four countries on the State Department’s “State Sponsors of Terror” list, Cuban visas must pass through an additional security clearance.
Of the roughly 80 Cubans who applied to attend the San Francisco conference, 11 were denied and 25 are being reviewed, the Washington Post reported.
Castro Espín has been to the United States at least once before, in 2002 -- when George W. Bush was president -- to attend another conference.
Elizabeth Llorente can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org