Mitt Romney’s camp has come unglued because a gay rights advocate is on her way to San Francisco. Horrors! But it gets worse: she’s coming from Cuba! And — brace yourself — her last name is Castro!
If you can think of a more perfect storm of Republican bogeymen, I’d be happy to hear it. But I doubt you can.
The terrifying apparition in question is Mariela Castro, the 50-year-old daughter of octogenerian Cuban dictator Raul Castro and niece of big brother Fidel. In Cuba, Mariela is best known as an outspoken champion of the LBGT community — which has never been in great favor with the regime, to put it mildly.
The State Department issued a visa to Mariela, along with dozens of other more or less prominent Cuban schoars, to attend the 30th Conference of the Latin American Studies Association, to be held starting Wednesday in San Francisco. They’re among 5,000 people expected to attend, including 2,000 or so from Latin America.
The real scandal is that the State Department refused visas to 11 Cubans, including some of the country’s best respected and most independent-minded scholars. But Romney and his allies had nothing to say about that. Instead, they’ve blasted the Obama Administration for issuing a visa to Mariela, suggesting it’s outrageous to admit the daughter of a dictator for a short visit to the U.S..
Here’s the full statement by Romney, who, in his dyspepsia, manages to get Mariela’s name wrong: (Attention Florida voters: Pander Alert!)
I am greatly disturbed by the Obama Administration’s decision to allow Mariel [sic] Castro, daughter of Raul Castro, to travel to the United States. We shouldn’t be extending an open hand to a regime engaged in the systematic and flagrant denial of basic human rights. While the Cuban regime engages in a fierce crackdown on dissent and continues to unjustly imprison one of our own citizens, Alan Gross, the Obama Administration should not be welcoming the daughter of a dictator. The United States should be standing up for those on the island who are risking their very lives fighting for freedom.
In fact, Mariela isn’t known as an “arm of [Castro’s] regime” (as Marco Rubio charged). In fact, by Cuban standards, she comes tantalizingly close to being a dissident, albeit one with a particular cause.
As the director of the Cuban National Center for Sex Education, she is one of the country’s best known activists on behalf of the LGBT community, who are the object of widespread popular scorn and occasional crackdowns by the regime. She’s written nine books, in addition to adacemic articles. And in her visa application to attend the San Francisco conference, she indicated an interest to attend a panel discussion on sexual diversity. (She’s also scheduled to attend an event at the New York Public Library before flying home.)
If denying visas to the relatives of dictators from entering or even living in the United States were official policy, I can think of a long list of people over many decades who’d have been ripe candidates for detention and deportation.
The only point in Romney’s feigned outrage at Mariela Castro’s brief trip is to prove his bona fides to the dwindling ranks of voters in south Florida for whom anyone vaguely connected to the Castro regime in anathema.
It’s fair to call the Cuban regime what it is: a museum of failed communist semi-orthodoxy run by a decrepit gang of human rights abusers. It’s fair to be outraged at the unjust detention of Alan Gross, the American who remains in Cuban custody for promoting internet access in Cuba. But it’s absurd to make Mariela Castro a proxy for the regime in Havana and a symbol of America’s residual dyspepsia where it comes to all things Cuban.