A decision by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to make an exemption and issue a visa to Mariela Castro, the daughter of Cuban ruler Raul Castro, has drawn irate criticisms from Cuban-American lawmakers and activists.
The visa approval came amid reports by two knowledgeable U.S. officials that Cuban authorities over the past year have increasingly harassed U.S. diplomats in Havana and tightly limited their travels around the communist-ruled island.
Mariela Castro, a sexologist who heads the Cuban National Center for Sex Education in Havana, is expected to participate in the four-day conference of the Latin American Studies Association, which begins Wednesday in San Francisco. Made up largely of U.S. academics, LASA generally invites 20-30 Cubans to its conferences, and a few are usually denied visas.
Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., criticizing the visa for Castro, said she is “a vociferous advocate of the regime and opponent of democracy, who has defended the regime’s brutal repression of democracy activists.”
The U.S. government and LASA should not be “in the business of providing a totalitarian regime, like the one in Cuba, with a platform from which to espouse its twisted rhetoric,” Menendez noted.
Issuing a visa to Castro while Cuban authorities hold U.S. government subcontractor Alan Gross “hostage in a Cuban prison,” only “sends the wrong message to the regime and to Cuba’s struggling opposition movement,” he added.
Menendez also argued that Mariela Castro, a prominent member of the Cuban Communist Party, should have been denied a visa under U.S. regulations that prohibit visitor visas to “officers or employees” of the government or party.