News and Facts about Cuba

Cuban president’s daughter gets US visa

Updated May 17, 2012, 4:04 p.m. ET

Cuban 's daughter gets US visa

Associated Press

HAVANA — Cuban first 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 del 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 restrictions by President

Barack Obama's administration.

Castro, 50, is a noted advocate of gay rights and head of Cuba's

National Center for Sex . 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, President , also favors such a measure, though he has

not said so publically.

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 bi-partisan

delegation led by U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, was

here in February, meeting with President Castro as well as an imprisoned

American subcontractor.

Carmelo Mesa-Lago, the dean of Cuba -watchers and an expert at

the 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."

Almeida added that in recent years LASA had stopped holding its

congresses in the United States because it was too difficult for Cuban

academics to get U.S. visas, especially during the Bush administration.

This time, the association felt that relations seemed to be improving so

they brought the event to San Francisco, Almeida said, though some Cuban

academics' visa requests were denied.

Other prominent Cubans who have received U.S. visas recently include

Eusebio Leal, a historian who has spearheaded the renovation of Old

Havana and sits on the powerful Communist Party Central Committee. He is

currently on a visit to New York and Washington.

Mariela Castro, despite being the president's daughter and niece of

retired revolutionary leader , 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 longstanding 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 Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

"While the Cuban people struggle for against increasing

brutality at the hands of Castro's thugs, the Obama administration is

greeting high-level agents of that murderous dictatorship with open

arms," they wrote. "It is shameful that the Obama Administration would

waive the common sense restrictions in place to appease the Castro

dictatorship once again."

Others said the hardliners were stirring up controversy over something

that has happened many times before.

"It's a very positive thing they give her the visa," said Wayne Smith,

America's former top diplomat in Cuba and a long-time critic of the U.S.

on the island. "You have to consider the source, where the

criticism is coming from. They don't want dialogue."


Associated Press writers Paul Haven and Peter Orsi in Havana and Matthew

Lee in Washington contributed to this report.

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