Rubio Protests Mariel Castro Visa

Photograph by Jose Goitia/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Mariela Castro, white shirt, celebrates the 3rd anti-homophobia festival in Havana, Cuba on May 16, 2009.

In the volatile world of Cuban-American exile community politics, it doesn’t take long for a fire to spread.

The medium of the message, in this case, is a sign of the times: Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, a rising Republican star, has taken his protest of the Obama administration’s granting of a visa to Cuban President Raul Castro’s daughter to YouTube.


The decision to grant the visa to Mariela Castro Espin “and spread the propaganda of her father’s regime is outrageous and an enormous mistake,” the junior senator from Florida says.

Mariela Castro, 50, who heads Cuba’s government-funded National Center for Sex Education, was granted permission to attend next week’s meeting of the Latin American Studies Association in California. She also is scheduled to speak on a panel about sexual diversity and politics at the New York Public Library — specifically about Cuba’s policy of government sponsored sex reassignment surgery.

Castro is ”not just his daughter — she is an arm of his regime,” Rubio says of the Cuban president’s daughter and niece of the longtime dictator, Fidel Castro. “It’s shameful that they would grant this visa.”

This sort of issue also has a way of taking on a life of its own in presidential campaigns.

In Florida, where Cuban-Americans account for an important bloc of the Republican vote, the ability of candidates to woo the community has been critical to success in the Electoral College.

Former President Bill Clinton succeeded, in his reelection bid in 1996, in securing 40 percent of the Cuban-American vote. He won Florida that year, though not in his first election.

His vice president, Al Gore, had less success in 2000, when — according to the U.S. Supreme Court — Gore lost the state to George W. Bush by 537 votes.

It was during that campaign that the Clinton administration forced a young Cuban refugee — Elian Gonzales — to return to his home in Cuba. The nighttime removal of Gonzales from his relatives’ home in Miami at gunpoint became an enduring image in the election campaign. With a vote as close as Florida’s, any single reason will explain Gore’s loss, yet the issue surrounding the young Gonzales was enough to deflate the Cuban vote and Gore’s chances of success.

Rubio insists he won’t be Mitt Romney’s running mate this year, for all the lure that could offer to his fellow South Florida Republicans. Yet Rubio knows a potent campaign issue when he sees one.

Witness his YouTube.

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