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Fidel Castro's niece heading to Bay Area with rare U.S. visa

May 22, 2012 |  3:40 pm

MEXICO CITY -- Mariela Castro, the outspoken daughter of Cuban President Raul Castro and niece of his brother Fidel, is scheduled to appear this week at a major conference in San Francisco after receiving a controversial U.S. visitor's visa.

The younger Castro has become a leading advocate (link in Spanish) for gay and lesbian rights in her island homeland and throughout Latin America. She will be speaking on a panel Thursday about the politics of sexual diversity during the annual congress of the Latin American Studies Assn., one of the largest such groups in the world.

The State Department's decision to give her a visa for the trip immediately drew protest from hard-liners in the Cuban American exile community and a smattering of elected officials. Even the presumed Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, used the visa issue to criticize his rival  President Obama.

A State Department spokesman, while not commenting on the specific case because visa applications are supposed to be confidential, said there was no blanket denial of visas for "Cuban government officials." Still, other reports suggested special dispensation had to have been granted by the administration.

As director of Cuba's National Center for Sex Education, Mariela Castro has led campaigns against homophobic discrimination in her country and lobbied successfully for her father's communist government to pay for sex-change operations.


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-- Tracy Wilkinson

Photo: Mariela Castro (in the front center with dark hair) participates in a parade on May 15, 2010, to mark International Day Against Homophobia in Havana. Credit: Associated Press