“The State Department needs to wake up from its delusional love fest with the dictators in Havana,” said right-wing House Foreign Affairs chair Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL). Republican Members of Congress released web videos and organized conference calls denouncing the visa as “outrageous.”
Even presumptive GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney got in on the action, releasing a statement accusing the Obama administration of “a slap in the face to all those brave individuals in Cuba who are enduring relentless persecution.”
Ros-Lehtinen and Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), David Rivera (R-FL) and Albio Sires (R-NJ) wrote a strongly-worded letter to the State Department saying:
The administration’s appalling decision to allow regime agents into the U.S. directly contradicts Congressional intent and longstanding U.S. foreign policy.
If it’s “longstanding U.S. foreign policy” to deny Mariela Castro a visa to enter the U.S., someone forgot to tell President George W. Bush. The Bush administration granted Castro not one but three visas to enter the U.S. in 2001 and 2002. State Department spokesman william Ostick told the Miami Herald:
Mariela Castro visited once in 2001 and twice in 2002. I can’t discuss her visas specifically, but you can assume she needed one to travel.
An Obama surrogate, Freddy Balsera, told the Herald:
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.
A ThinkProgress search of the Lexis Nexis news database for Mariela Castro’s name during 2001 and 2002 returned no results relevant to her trips to the U.S.
Former attendees at the Latin American Studies Association (LASA) said that Cuba has long been a presence at LASA conferences. This year, the State Department accepted 60 visas, denied 11, and is still processing 6. A State spokesman said visas couldn’t be rejected simply because “we don’t like you.”
LASA’s president told the Associated Press that Castro’s appearance at the conference was “an academic issue, not a political issue,” and that she’d answered a call for papers like any other conference speaker.