Reporter William March has covered state and national politics since 1994. Email
Reporter Mike Salinero has covered Hillsborough County government since 2007. Email
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Nelson disses Obama on Castro daughter
Posted May 22, 2012 by William March
Updated May 22, 2012 at 06:29 PM
In the battle between the Obama administration and Republicans over the admission of Raul Castro’s daughter to the U.S. for a visit, Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson took sides today with the Republicans.
“Allowing Raul’s daughter to come to the U.S when the regime still holds Alan Gross makes no sense,” said Nelson, according to a written statement from his office.
That referred to an American arrested in Cuba in 2009 and sentenced to 15 years for carrying communications gear to the island. Gross said he was trying to help the Jewish community there set up a computer network and get internet access.
Republicans including U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio have criticized the Obama administration for providing Mariela Castro, a gay rights activist, a visa to come to the U.S. to give a speech in San Francisco May 24.
In a news conference call today, U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, said it was “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.”
Mitt Romney chimed in, “We shouldn’t be extending an open hand to a regime engaged in the systematic and flagrant denial of basic human rights ... the Obama Administration should not be welcoming the daughter of a dictator.”
Democrats responded that’s pure hypocrisy, because Mariela Castro has come to the U.S. before, including 2002, when she got a visa from the George W. Bush administration.
The Florida Democratic Party sent out a statement from Hispanic community leader Freddy Balsera saying Republicans are “playing with people’s emotions” in bashing Obama over the incident. He said they didn’t criticize the Bush administration for admitting Castro, “Because ultimately this is all about politics for them.”
One conservative Cuban group, Capitol Hill Cubans, said the two incidents aren’t comparable because since Raoul Castro took over the reins of government from his brother, Fidel Castro, his daughter Mariela has become a more important spokesman for the dictatorship.
Nelson, up for re-election in November, will face the winner of a Repubilcan primary including George LeMieux, Rep. Connie Mack IV of Fort Myers, and former Rep. Dave Weldon of Melbourne.
Nelson spokesman Bryan Gulley said Nelson’s reaction was delivered on the fly in response to a press question, and he couldn’t elaborate on it.