Last night it emerged that Mariela Castro, the daughter of Cuban President Raul Castro, will not be allowed to visit Philadelphia next week in order to speak about human rights at an LGBT forum - why? Presumably because the US State Department buckled under pressure from anti-Castro lobbyists. Yet this decision to block Ms Castro from attending said forum is almost as outdated as it is pointless.
First and foremost, it's worth noting that Ms Castro - who is the director of Cuba's National Center for Sex Education - does indeed deserve international commendation for her work promoting sexual tolerance in an area of Latin America where the LGBT community is often heavily discriminated against. She's instituted awareness campaigns, trained police on relations with the LGBT community and tirelessly lobbied lawmakers to legalise same-sex unions.
That sounds pretty good to me - so, why don't Americans like a woman who's working her ass off to improve the lives of Cuban minority groups? According to US Congressional Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami, the answer to this question is quite simple:
"The Castro regime was particularly brutal and harsh in its treatment of members of the Cuban gay community and as part of its revisionist push the dictatorship wants the U.S. to believe its lies because it respects no one's rights," she fumed. "The Cuban dictatorship would round up members of the gay and AIDS community and send them to forced-labor camps where their most basic human rights came under withering assaults."
Ah, I see - so we don't like it when the Cuban government discriminates against the LGBT community, nor do we like it when a woman campaigns to see that same bigotry erased. Wait...what?
The US government has no reason whatsoever to deny a human rights activist access to an international summit based upon her human rights record - that's the stupidest thing I've ever heard. On the other hand, many politicians will no doubt take little issue with denying a Cuban national the right to travel freely in America based upon the US government's longstanding trade embargo with Cuba. Consequently, that would make sense, had the US State Department not just allowed Jay-Z and Beyoncé to break travel restrictions by going on a holiday to Cuba based upon special 'cultural grounds'. That's totally fine, and more power to them; however, if the US State Department thought that sending a rapper to Cuba would serve some greater cultural purpose, how the hell can it rationalise keeping a gay rights activist from speaking at an equality forum? And what's more, why shouldn't these special travel privileges work both ways?
It's clearly time for the US government to get over its McCarthy-era hissy fit and admit that capitalism won the Cold War. Does the Castro regime have a poor human rights record? It sure as hell does - after all, its totalitarian regime loves cracking down on dissent almost as much as America's Communist allies in China. Yet if Americans continue to justify travel restrictions to and from Cuba based solely upon these lines, why do most Chinese nationals not get turned away at the American border? Well, aside from the Chinese government's dizzying level of wealth, it probably has something to do with the fact that the US State Department is wise enough to see that it would be a little unfair to blame the average Chinese citizen for every poor decision that his or her government has made. Indeed.
At this point, it's fair to say that denying Mariela Castro the pleasure of hanging out in Philly for a day is even more hypocritical than it is pointless - so why don't lawmakers stop acting like a Cuban gay rights activist is posing some menacing threat to the American way of life, and instead take a stab at drafting a productive piece of legislature for a change? After all, while Cuban-American Congressmen are high-fiving each other in celebration of their government's innate ability to keep Cuban nationals off US soil, the entire world is shaking their heads in disgust at that same government's refusal to put even the tiniest dent in its nation's rampant level of gun crime. Perhaps it's time to reshuffle our list of priorities.