Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, Florida Republican, assailed the Obama administration Tuesday for granting visas to “high-level members of the Castro regime” — taking particular aim at the decision to allow the daughter of Cuban President Raul Castro to enter the country.
Democrats countered that Republicans are playing politics with the issue, ignoring the fact that Mariela Castro Espin also received a visa in 2002 when President George W. Bush was in office.
President Obama began loosening restrictions on Cuba in 2009, making it easier for exiles to send money to relatives and making it possible for more exiles and Americans to travel legally to the island. Since then, he has increased limits on investments and allowed all U.S. international airports to accept flights to and from Cuba.
Republican lawmakers, in particular the Cuban-American contingent from Florida, say the policies are putting money directly into the pockets of the communist government, which charges fees on the remittances. That, they argue, is bolstering the Castro government, which has been run by the 84-year-old Fidel Castro’s brother, Raul, 80, since 2006.
In a conference call arranged by the Republican National Committee on Tuesday, Mr. Diaz-Balart argued that the decision to grant visas to Ms. Castro Epin and others with ties to the Castro government breaks with a 1985 presidential proclamation on Cuba and the “congressional intent” of the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act, which hardened the economic embargo against the island nation.
“When the State Department and this administration says they have to let them in, they are actually not being truthful,” Mr. Diaz-Balart said. “It is reprehensible, unacceptable and greatly irresponsible of this administration to allow these high-level Communist Party regime officials to come into the United States on these public relations tours.”
The Florida Democratic Party contend that Republicans are trying to play politics with the issue, citing Mr. Bush’s 2002 decision.
“Republicans need to stop playing with people’s emotions when it comes to Cuba,” said Freddy Balsera, who served as a senior Hispanic adviser to the 2008 Obama campaign.
It was reported last week that Ms. Castro Espin received a visa from the U.S. government to speak at the Latin American Studies Association in California. An advocate for lesbian, gay and transgender issues, the 50-year-old daughter of Raul Castro apparently plans to talk about sexual diversity and politics.
USA Today reported last week that while Ms. Castro Espin heads the Cuban National Center for Sex Education in Havana, she has no official link to the government.