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Look who got a US visa: Raúl Castro's daughter

Mariela Castro, daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro, will travel to California this week on a US visa to attend a conference. But many Cuban scholars were denied entry, writes a guest blogger.

By Melissa Lockhart FortnerGuest blogger / May 22, 2012

In this 2008 photo, Mariela Castro, daughter of Cuba's acting President Raul Castro, visits the Child Protection Center in Havana.

Javier Galeano/AP/File

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A version of this post ran on the author's blog, cuba.foreignpolicyblogs.com. The views expressed are the author's own.

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Mariela Castro, the daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro, will be in California this week. Traveling on a US visa to attend a conference of the Latin American Studies Association (LASA), she appears to have made it through the same State Department review that denied visas to eleven seemingly less contentious scholars hoping to join the same conference. Some of those turned down are prominent Cubans who have been allowed US visas in the past, including Rafael Hernández, the editor of the Cuban intellectual journal Temas, who has taught at both Harvard and Columbia universities.

The convoluted issue of travel in the US-Cuba relationship remains a most consuming question for citizens and media alike, and the complications arise on all sides. US. citizens, of course, enjoy expanded rights to visit Cuba for “people-to-people” exchanges under Obama administration regulations, but the rules are specific and the agendas pre-approved, which means that opportunities are still quite narrow. Meanwhile, Cuban citizens hoping to travel anywhere abroad are subject to government controls, including application for an expensive exit visa that is out of reach for many – not only because of price, but because of various unspoken rules that result in denial of permission or years of wait. And, as in the case of the eighty Cuban scholars hoping to attend the LASA conference this week, a number of Cubans that proceed through the visa process with the US government find that the ultimate decision seems to be arbitrary, contradicting, and nontransparent.

On the face of it, this latest twist in the travel narrative is as confusing as any other, and media, scholars, and Congressional representatives have wrestled with it over the past few days. Why would the administration allow the daughter of the Cuban President to travel to the United States? Does Castro’s visa allowance represent a change in US policy?

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