Several Cuban-American lawmakers are decrying a State Department decision to grant visas to a troupe of Castro-backed Cuban artists who are scheduled to appear at the Kennedy Center.
They are also asking Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to consider denying the visas before the two-week festival begins on May 8. It runs through June 3.
Many of the artists who are scheduled to appear at the festival, "Artes de Cuba: From the Island to the World," are apologists for the Castro regime, making the show an extension of the Cuban government's propaganda machine, the lawmakers argue.
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The lawmakers also criticized the Kennedy Center's decision to showcase Cuban-government backed films during the festival because the island's repressive Communist government has spent decades brutally suppressing independent expression.
"It is a disgrace that despite the abundance of Cuban ingenuity and creativity in the arts, that so many resources would be devoted to highlighting the works generated by a brutal, repressive regime that has no respect for free and independent expression," they wrote.
Florida GOP Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario Diaz-Balart, Carlos Curbelo, as well as Democratic New Jersey Rep. Albio Sires signed a letter to Pompeo late last week, asking him to "carefully and judiciously consider whether each of these Cuban nationals is worthy of the extraordinary privilege of U.S. entry."
Neither the State Department nor the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts responded to a request for comment on Sunday; this story will be updated if they respond.
A brief description promoting the event on the Kennedy Center’s website calls it a festival "celebrating the artistic richness that has emerged from this ‘island archipelago in the sun.'"
"This unprecedented gathering of Cuban and Cuban-American artists represents some of the world's greatest form the island and the Diaspora," the description says.
The festival's participants—at least those coming from Cuba—are hardly diverse, the lawmakers argue.
Several prominent Cuban artists who have expressed opposition to the Castro regime and were subsequently targeted for beatings, arrests, and imprisonment, including Gorki Aguila and Damilo Maldonado, better known as "El Sexto," have been excluded from the festival, the lawmakers noted.
Meanwhile, the event includes Omar Portuondo, Yissy Garcia, and Milanes, who the lawmakers labeled "apologists for the Castro regime."
Portuondo, they point out, has publicly supported the "unjust execution" by firing squad of three Afro-Cubans whose crime was attempting to escape the Castro regime, the lawmakers said.
The lawmakers and other critics of the Cuban government argue that only artists who pledge loyalty to the Cuban government and have never expressed any dissent about its harsh crackdowns against dissidents and protesters can participate in state-endorsed performances, such as the one taking place at the Kennedy Center this month.
"We are concerned that so many talented artists who do not support the Castro regime's propaganda appear to have been shunned, while the regime's propagandists seem to have been welcomed with open arms," the lawmakers wrote.
They also said it's inappropriate for the State Department to be granting entry to "so many propagandists" from Cuba after its decision to severely reduce staff at the U.S. embassy in Havana over the mysterious sonic attacks against U.S. diplomats living in Havana and frustration about the U.S. investigation’s inability to determine how and why the attacks occurred and who perpetrated them.
The lawmakers were especially critical of the Kennedy Center's decision to include a "mini film fest" to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Havana Film Festival, an event in Cuba, which since its inception "has only permitted the showing of regime-approved, pro-Castro propaganda films," the lawmakers wrote.
They noted that the Havana film festival is run by the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry, which they said was "one of the Castro regime’s first institutions formed to censor information, disseminate the regime’s propaganda, and control Cuban culture."
"In fact, it appears from the Kennedy Center's website that films were selected the regime's designee, Ivan Giroud," they wrote.
Giroud is president of the Havana Film Festival.
The State Department’s decision to grant the visas for the Cuban artists, the lawmakers wrote, is inappropriate, especially when consular services at the U.S. embassy in Havana has been reduced to processing only visas for official diplomatic business or for extremely rare emergency cases in which the applicant has a life-threatening illness requiring treatment in the United States.
The lawmakers said they are increasingly concerned that Cuban nationals, including those claiming asylum, as well as human rights and democracy activists, and others in "urgent circumstances," now must arrange air travel to Colombia or Guyana to interview with U.S. officials about their cases.
Most Cubans earn just $30 a month, making the air travel prohibitive for most seeking visa entry to the U.S. to travel to Colombia or Guyana.
"It adds further insult to injury that Castro regime apologists seemingly gain U.S. entry easily and en masse, while more deserving Cuban nationals do not enjoy the same privileges," they wrote.
"U.S. entry is an extraordinary privilege, which should not be granted to the propagandists of a brutal dictatorship that actively opposes U.S. interests and policy at every opportunity," they wrote. "In addition, the State Department should not contribute to the further marginalization of artists that the regime brutally attempts to silence."
The lawmakers argued that granting the visas to these pro-Castro artists is "not-consistent" with President Trump's partial rollback of President Obama’s efforts to normalize relations with the Cuban government.
Update: A State Department spokesperson said "All communication to the Secretary of State is reviewed and responded to appropriately."