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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.

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But the issue must be viewed through a different lens. The US line of rhetoric has long been in favor of respecting dissenting opinions, freedom of speech, and open exchange of ideas: it is a constant trope in Washington’s advocacy for change in Cuba. The basis for changed regulations for Americans traveling to Cuba was the value of people-to-people exchanges, and a flow of ideas and culture between the United States and Cuba. Allowing Castro to attend the LASA conference makes sense in that context, particularly because her role in Cuba is more nuanced than her family connections: she may be the daughter of a Castro and a member of the Communist Party (the only political party in Cuba), but as the Director for the National Center for Sexual Education (CENESEX), she is the most prominent and outspoken gay rights activist on the island. Her work has been pivotal in the many reforms that have been enacted on the island in favor of recognition and acceptance of LGBT human rights, and has resulted in pioneering legislation, including allowance for transgendered individuals to receive sex reassignment surgery without charge (as a health care provision), and to change their legal gender. Human rights are Mariela Castro’s passion, and politics is not: she recently openly congratulated US President Barack Obama on his expression of personal support for marriage equality, encouraging the world to take note of his words.

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During her visit to Northern California, Castro will speak at San Francisco General Hospital on Cuba’s policies toward transgender people. She will meet with various members of San Francisco’s LGBT community at a meeting Wednesday evening. On Thursday morning, she will lead a panel at the LASA conference.

Mariela Castro’s visa, then, seems to be the part of this story that is consistent with existing policy and rhetoric around human rights, people-to-people exchanges, and largely non-political engagement with Cuba. But consistent application of that policy and rhetoric would have meant granting visas to the other Cuban scholars that had hoped to attend the LASA conference. Castro’s visa has been the focus, but it is not the troubling part of the sequence of events. Why deny visas to scholars that have enjoyed the right to travel to the United States in the past, on the claimed grounds that their presence would be “detrimental to the interests of the United States”? That is the question that remains to be answered.

– Melissa Lockhart Fortner is Senior External Affairs Officer at the Pacific Council on International Policy and Cuba blogger at the Foreign Policy Association. Read her blog, and follow her on Twitter @LockhartFortner.

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The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of Latin America bloggers. Our guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. To contact us about a blogger, click here.

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