September 26, 2019 at 6:42 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Mariela Castro banned from traveling to US
Mariela Castro, Havana, Cuba, gay news, Washington Blade, IDAHOT, International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia
Mariela Castro, daughter of former Cuban President Raul Castro, rides in the march observing the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia in Havana in 2017. She, along with her father and other siblings have been banned from traveling to the U.S. by the Trump administration. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Trump administration on Thursday announced the daughter of former Cuban President Raúl Castro who spearheads LGBTI issues can no longer travel to the U.S.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a statement said Section 7031(c) of the FY 2019 Department of State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Appropriations Act “provides that, in cases where the secretary of state has credible information that foreign government officials have been involved in significant corruption or a gross violation of human rights, those individuals and their immediate family members are ineligible for entry into the United States.”

Pompeo said Raúl Castro is no longer eligible to receive a U.S. visa because of “his involvement in gross violations of human rights.” The restriction also applies to Mariela Castro and his three other children: Alejandro Castro, Déborah Castro and Nilsa Castro.

Miguel Díaz-Canel succeeded Raúl Castro as Cuba’s president in 2018. Raúl Castro remains the head of Cuba’s Communist Party.

“Raul Castro oversees a system that arbitrarily detains thousands of Cubans and currently holds more than 100 political prisoners,” said Pompeo in his statement.

“Castro is responsible for Cuba’s actions to prop up the former Maduro regime in Venezuela through violence, intimidation and repression,” he added. “In concert with Maduro’s military and intelligence officers, members of the Cuban security forces have been involved in gross human rights violations and abuses in Venezuela, including torture. Castro is complicit in undermining Venezuela’s democracy and triggering the hemisphere’s largest humanitarian crisis, forcing 15 percent of the Venezuelan population to flee the country and precipitating a food shortage and health crisis of unprecedented scale in this region.”

Mariela Castro is director of Cuba’s National Center for Sexual Education. The niece of Fidel Castro, who came to power in the 1959 Cuban revolution, is also a member of the country’s National Assembly.

Mariela Castro in 2013 traveled to Philadelphia in order to accept an award from Equality Forum.

Mariela Castro in 2012 traveled to the U.S. with a group of Cuban scholars. Mariela Castro during that trip participated in a panel with National LGBTQ Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey and met with LGBTI activists in San Francisco.

Mariela Castro, Cuba, gay news, Washington Blade
Mariela Castro attends an Equality Forum event in Philadelphia on May 4, 2013. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Pompeo made his announcement three days after the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights held a hearing that highlighted the persecution of human rights activists and journalists in Cuba. Carlos Alejandro Rodríguez Martínez, editor of Tremenda Nota, the Washington Blade’s media partner on the Communist island, is among those who testified.

Yariel Valdés González, a Blade contributor from Cuba who suffered persecution because he is a journalist, on Sept. 18 won asylum in the U.S.

LGBTI activists who publicly criticize the Cuban government have told the Blade they regularly face harassment and the threat of arrest. They include Leodan Suárez Quiñones, a transgender activist from Pinar del Río province who said authorities detained her at Havana’s José Martí International Airport on Wednesday when she returned to the country from Jamaica where she participated in an event that focused on human rights and ecology.

The Cuban government on Aug. 15 prevented Leandro Rodríguez García, director of the Cuban Foundation for LGBTI Rights, an independent advocacy group, from traveling to the U.S. in order to attend a months-long program at the Washington Center in D.C. The Cuban government on May 8 prevented this reporter from entering the country after his flight from the U.S. landed in Havana.

Mariela Castro’s group days earlier cancelled its annual International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia marches that were scheduled to take place in Havana on May 11 and the city of Camagüey on May 17 respectively.

Cuban police on May 11 arrested several people who participated in an unsanctioned LGBTI rights march in Havana. Several independent LGBTI activists were detained in order to prevent them from attending the event, and a number of participants were later taken into custody.

Mariela Castro on her Facebook and Twitter pages has yet to publicly comment on Pompeo’s announcement.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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