May 17 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. has granted a visa to Cuban President Raul Castro’s daughter to speak at a conference next week in San Francisco, sparking angry protests from Cuban-American lawmakers who said the action contradicts U.S. policy toward the communist island.
Mariela Castro Espin, 50, who heads Cuba’s government-funded National Center for Sex Education, was granted permission to attend next week’s meeting of the Latin American Studies Association in California, said a U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a confidential visa matter.
Castro is the third Cuban official to receive permission from the Obama administration to visit the U.S. “in flagrant disregard of express Congressional intent and established U.S. foreign policy,” according to a protest letter sent today to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton by Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and three other U.S. lawmakers.
An advocate for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues, Castro will speak at a May 24 panel about sexual diversity and politics, according to the conference program. She is also scheduled to appear May 29 at the New York Public Library to discuss Cuba’s policy of offering free sex reassignment surgery under its universal health-care program.
A niece of longtime Cuban leader Fidel Castro, who formally ceded power to his younger brother four years ago, Castro hasn’t been a critic of her father’s communist government.
Florida Lawmakers Outraged
Three Florida Republicans -- Ros-Lehtinen and Representatives Mario Diaz-Balart and David Rivera -- joined Democratic Representative Albio Sires of New Jersey in expressing “outrage” over the State Department’s decision to provide entry visas to Castro and two other communist party representatives, Josefina Vidal Ferreiro of the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Eusebio Leal, Havana’s chief historian and an advocate for restoring the historical city center.
The letter asserted that the decision to grant the visas contradicts the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act of 1996 and a presidential proclamation that prohibits non-immigrant entry of Cuban government and communist party officials, unless the Secretary of State or her representative issues a waiver.
Senator Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican who has been mentioned as a possible running mate for presumed Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, called the decision “an enormous mistake.” Rubio called Castro’s daughter “an arm of his regime, an outspoken supporter” who would “spread the propaganda of her father’s regime.”
Senator Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, called Castro an “opponent of democracy who has defended the regime’s brutal repression of democracy activists.”
“Neither the United States government nor the Latin American Studies Association should be in the business of providing a totalitarian regime, like the one in Cuba, with a platform from which to espouse its twisted rhetoric,” he said in a statement.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland today declined to comment on the specific cases. She said there is “no blanket restriction on the issuing of visas to Cuban citizens. In all cases, visas are issued for legitimate travel purposes in the United States, including coming for conferences.”
“Each visa request is reviewed on a case-by-case basis. There is no blanket ban on issuing visas to Cuban government officials,” the State Department said on May 15.
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