Cuban President Raul Castro’s daughter, Mariela Castro, receives U.S. visa to attend conference in San Francisco
Published On Thu May 17 2012
Mariela Castro, daughter of Cuban President Raul Castro, has been granted a U.S. visa to attend an academic conference in San Francisco. Castro, 50, will attend the Latin American Studies Association conference on May 23-26, and sources said she would be on a panel tackling the issue of sexual diversity. (May 16, 2012)
HAVANA—The Cuban president’s daughter, Mariela Castro, has been granted a U.S. visa to attend events in San Francisco and New York, sparking a firestorm of criticism from Cuban-American politicians who called her an enemy of democracy and a shill for the Communist government her family has led for decades.
The trip, which kicks off next week when Castro is due to chair a panel on sexual diversity at a conference organized by the Latin American Studies Association, is among several to the United States by prominent Cubans, some with close links to the government. Cuban academics, scientists and economists now frequently attend seminars in the United States, and Cuban artists and entertainers are also finding it easier to visit the U.S. due to an easing of travel restrictions by U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration.
Castro, 50, is a noted advocate of gay rights and head of Cuba’s National Centre for Sex Education. She has pushed for the island to legalize gay marriage for years, so far without success. She recently praised Obama’s stance in support of same sex marriage, and said her father, Cuban President Raul Castro, also favours such a measure, though he has not said so publicly.
It will not be Mariela Castro’s first visit to the United States. She was granted a visa to attend an event in Los Angeles in 2002, during Republican President George W. Bush’s administration, and also made stops in Virginia and Washington.
Prominent Americans have also been frequent visitors to Cuba. Former U.S. president Jimmy Carter came last March, and a bipartisan delegation led by U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, was in Cuba in February, meeting with President Castro as well as an imprisoned American subcontractor.
Carmelo Mesa-Lago, the dean of Cuba economy-watchers and an expert at the University of Pittsburgh, said Cuba has long had a large presence at the LASA conference, without sparking much protest.
“Academic exchanges like these are not new, but what’s different in this case is who she is,” he said.
The LASA International Congress, which includes hundreds of sessions on academic topics, takes place May 23-26 in San Francisco, a city closely associated with the history of the gay rights movement. Cuba’s state-run press said Castro will be among 40 Cuban experts in attendance.
According to the website of the New York Public Library, Castro is also to take part in a May 29 talk with Rea Carey, director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, about international gay rights, as well as sexual identity and orientation in Cuba.
The trip was confirmed by an official at her institute and a State Department official, both of whom spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter. The State Department official said several other Cubans who wanted to attend the LASA conference were denied visas.
State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland declined to comment, citing rules that prohibit discussion of individual visa applications. But she said that if Castro shows up in San Francisco it would be a “fair assumption” that she had entered the country legally.
LASA president Maria Herminia Tavares de Almeida, a University of Sao Paulo professor of international relations and political science, said Castro was selected for her expertise on gender issues, not for her famous family.
“She’s coming as any other researcher or participant that has attended a call for papers and had their paper accepted,” Almeida told The Associated Press in a phone interview. “It’s an academic issue, not a political issue.”
Mariela Castro, despite being the president’s daughter and niece of retired revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, has no official link to the government, though her organization presumably receives state funding. It is not known whether she is a Communist party member.
Cuban-American Sen. Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, slammed the visa decision on Wednesday, even before the visit was announced.
Menendez called Mariela Castro “a vociferous advocate of the regime and opponent of democracy.” On Thursday, four other Cuban-American lawmakers added their voices to the outcry, noting that State Department guidelines prohibit visas to officers of the Communist party or government of Cuba.
“The administration’s appalling decision to allow regime agents into the U.S. directly contradicts congressional intent and long-standing U.S. foreign policy,” wrote Representatives Mario Diaz-Balart, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and David Rivera of Florida, along with Albio Sires of New Jersey in a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.