Castro To US: Fidel's Niece Mariela Castro Granted Visa To Visit Philadelphia To Accept Award

Mariela Castro
Mariela Castro is the niece of Fidel Castro and daughter of current Cuban president Raúl Castro. Creative Commons

AP News reported today that Mariela Castro, the niece of Fidel Castro and the daughter of Cuban head of state Raúl Castro, has been granted a visa by the United States government to accept an award for her gay rights advocacy in person in Philadelphia.  According to Malcolm Lazin, executive director of Equality Forum, a gay rights advocacy group, Mariela Castro will be permitted to attend the Forum's 2013 summit on civil rights for lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgender people.  Officials told the AP that the US government's decision to deny Castro permission to accept the award - as reported last week - had been reversed.  Castro, the director of Cuba's National Center for Sex Education, was attending United Nations meetings in New York on a diplomatic visa last week, though Cuban diplomats are forbidden to travel more than 25 miles from New York without permission from the State Department, according to the New York Times.

A US official told CNN that the case was "looked at again" and that "the restriction on her visa has been lifted, which will allow her to travel".  Mariela Castro had been granted permission to attend an academic conference in San Francisco last year.  At the time, some Cuban-American lawmakers had criticized the State Department's decision to allow her entry.  Senator Robert Menendez, a Democratic from New Jersey, called her "a vociferous advocate of the regime and opponent of democracy."

Mariela Castro is part of Cuba's public health ministry, a deputy in Cuba's parliament, and the country's most prominent gay rights activist in addition to her post with the National Center for Sex Education.  She will receive the award from the Equality Forum for having helped carry out awareness campaigns, trained Cuban police on relations with the LGBT community and pressed lawmakers to legalize same-sex marriages.  In Philadelphia, she will receive the "International Ally for LGBT Equality" award and take part in a May 4 panel discussion.  The Equality Forum's annual summits concentrate on issues faced by the LGBT community in a particular nation, and this year, the nation at hand will be Cuba. 

"Equality Forum is delighted that the State Department has affirmed democratic values by authorizing Mariela Castro to speak at Equality Forum 2013," stated Lazin on the Equality Forum's website.  "Equality Forum 2013 is an open forum which will include a discussion of the history, progress and challenges of LGBT Cubans."

The summit will be held from May 2-5.

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David Iaconangelo is a Brooklyn-based writer and translator.  Formerly editor of ZafraLit, a blog of new short fiction from Cuba.  He has lived in and reported from various Latin American countries.