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Saturday, Nov 18, 2017
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Cuban vice president's daughter living in Tampa

TAMPA - Her father is one of the most powerful men in Cuba, but a month ago, few people on or off the tropical island had heard of Glenda Murillo Diaz. One defection later, Murillo Diaz is a hot topic of conversation in her homeland and in the homes of Cuban Americans. Run a computer search of Glenda Murillo Diaz and dozens of links pop up telling the story of how the 24-year-old daughter of Cuba's vice president was at a psychology conference in Mexico last month when she crossed the Texas border and defected to the United States. She is now living with an aunt in Tampa.
Her aunt, Idania Diaz, told El Nuevo Herald her niece came to Tampa not for politics but for love; Murillo and her boyfriend plan to live in Tampa. Cubans who reach U.S. soil usually can stay in America under the "wet-foot, dry-foot" policy. Murillo Diaz's father, 51-year-old Marino Murillo, is Cuba's economic czar and a vice president. Murillo was handpicked by Cuban leader Raul Castro to help bring economic reform to the struggling communist country, and experts believe he might be the next in line to replace Castro as the country's leader. Murillo's rising star, though, could fade because of his daughter's defection. "There is no doubt in my mind that it affects the transition of power," said Ralph Fernandez, a prominent Tampa attorney often involved in Cuban American issues. He called the defection "a significant setback for Murillo." "It's an intelligence breech within his own house," Fernandez said. "She didn't do this by herself. How could that person be trusted?" A Castro family member can defect and it's overlooked because the family makes the rules, Fernandez said. In 1964, Fidel Castro's sister, Juanita Castro, defected to the United States, and in the 1990s, one of Fidel Castro's daughters, Alina Fernandez Revuelta, fled Cuba. But those rules don't apply for others in the political hierarchy, Fernandez said. Others with knowledge of Cuban policy and politics said they've seen this scenario before and leadership doesn't technically get silenced. Relatives of Communist Party leaders, athletes, artists, writers and professionals — some with more notoriety than others — have fled Cuba in the past, they said. "If Murillo can stay in, it doesn't matter if his daughter is here," said Jorge Duany, director of the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University in Miami. "It depends on the leadership." It isn't unusual to have a member of the Communist Party on the island who has a close relative living in Miami with a different philosophy and social standard, Duany said. "It's just a fact of life," Duany said. "Cuban families are divided because of politics." Murillo Diaz's defection won't likely become a symbol that's going to produce change on the island nation, said Mario Quevedo, a Tampa resident who was born in Cuba and immigrated in the early 1960s. He noted that Murillo Diaz hasn't spoken publicly or denounced the regime since her defection. The Tribune was not able to reach Murillo Diaz or her aunt for this story. "Victory (for Cuban Americans) would be something that produced change in the present Cuba that could bring about hope," said Quevedo. "I don't think this will have an impact on the future of Cuba." Pedro Velez Jr., a Tampa attorney born in Cuba, said the defection isn't that unusual, even for someone in the privileged class. It shows how even the elite in Cuba are suffering under the poor economy, he said. "Her actions obviously are of someone disenchanted with her country — who wasn't able to leave and come back as she wanted," Velez said. Added Duany: "Almost everyone in Cuba has been affected by this economic crisis." In the end, the defection might do little more than emphasize the division between Cubans who leave their homeland and those who stay behind, he said. "In some ways it can be seen as a win for the Cuban American community," Duany said. "But I don't know who wins or loses exactly. Having to cross the Texas border and moving here. "It's a sad consequence of how the system (of travel) is set up now. Both the Cuban and United States governments make it extremely difficult to travel between the two countries."

[email protected] (813) 259-7659 Twitter: @jpatinoTrib

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