State Dept. questioned by press for granting visa to high-ranking official of Cuba’s dictatorship

During a daily press briefing, the State Department took a question regarding its decision to grant a visa to Mariela Castro, the daughter of Cuban dictator Raul Castro and a high-ranking official of Cuba’s repressive and murderous regime. Faced with the unenviable position of trying to defend the indefensible, State Department spokesperson Patrick Ventrell did his best to answer the question without actually answering the question.

He was successful.

Via Capitol Hill Cubans:

From the U.S. State Department’s Daily Press Briefing with spokesperson Patrick Ventrell:

QUESTION: One directly has to – relates to travel restrictions. And that is, have you gotten this letter from three members of Congress – Representative Ros-Lehtinen, Representative Sires, and Representative Diaz-Balart about Castro’s – about Ms. Castro’s visa?

MR. VENTRELL: I’ll have to check on that, Matt. I wasn’t aware of that this morning.

QUESTION: Okay, well, regardless, the letter sent to Secretary Kerry was just sent, I think, this morning. So I’m not surprised you don’t have it. But perhaps you are able to answer some of the questions that they have —

MR. VENTRELL: I’ll do my best.

QUESTION: One is, why – these are questions that they asked: Why is the State Department ignoring current U.S. law by continuing to provide visas to Cuban Communist Party operatives such as Mariela Castro?

MR. VENTRELL: I do have a little bit of information about this. And again, what I said about adjudicating visas based on U.S. laws is something that we absolutely do. While we can’t discuss the individual – specific details of individual cases, under Presidential Proclamation 5377 and other applicable requirements, those are all duly considered and strictly followed in adjudicating visa applications submitted by Cuban nationals. Each visa request is reviewed on a case by case basis, including with our agency partners, and there’s no blanket ban on issuing visas to Cuban Government officials.

QUESTION: Okay. Number two: Given the fact that the United States must preclude any travel outside of a 25 mile radius – New York – for Cuban operatives – and I understand she was given a visa to go to New York to attend some kind of UN meeting – why did Mariela Castro get permission to go outside that 25 mile radius and attend this conference in Philadelphia?

MR. VENTRELL: Again, I can’t speak about specific cases. You’re right, Matt, that for certain countries at the UN, there are specific restrictions about officials who have come from that country who are going just for UN business in terms of traveling outside that radius, but those can be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

QUESTION: So if the – and not – and again, not specifically about this case, which you say you can’t talk about specifically, but if permission was granted, it would – to go outside that radius, it would have been because there was some kind of compelling reason for that person to do so? Is that correct?

MR. VENTRELL: Again, they have to be considered on a case-by-case basis.

QUESTION: All right. And then the last one is – it’s a question about reciprocity —


QUESTION: — and whether U.S. diplomats in Cuba are given the – are freed or the restrictions on their travel have been either removed or eased in any way.

MR. VENTRELL: I’m not aware that they’ve been eased. There certainly are restrictions on our people, and at times, from time to time in the past, we’ve had frustrations or problems with travel, even sometimes for routine consular matters. But I’d have to check in terms of the very recent past.

QUESTION: All right. But you don’t know of any specific reciprocity for – in exchange for the Mariela Castro (inaudible)?

MR. VENTRELL: Not in this specific case, but reciprocity is something that is one of our principal concerns and something that does govern how we look at this.

QUESTION: Okay. And when you do answer – when you do get this letter, when the Secretary does get this letter, and presumably there will go – be a response —


QUESTION: — do you know if the Department is able to say more to members of Congress than you are allowed to say from the podium?

MR. VENTRELL: I think there are some waivers to visa confidentiality for members of Congress, and I think that they’ll be able to answer in more detail in terms of how this specific presidential – again, let me read it to you again. It’s —

QUESTION: Yeah, no, they cite it —


QUESTION: — 5377, Section 1, all right.

MR. VENTRELL: Yeah. So I imagine in the letter we’ll be able to get into more detail.