Mariela Castro, the outspoken daughter of Cuban President Raul Castro who is gay and lesbian rights activist and self-described "sexologist," has controversially received a US visitor's visa to attend a major conference in San Francisco.

Castro, niece of Fidel, will be speaking on a panel Thursday about the politics of sexual diversity during the annual congress of the Latin American Studies Association, according to the LA Times.

Republican Mitt Romney is among those to come out strongly against the Obama administration's decision to grant her a visitor's visa, saying he is "greatly disturbed."

"We shouldn't be extending an open hand to a regime engaged in the systematic and flagrant denial of basic human rights," Romney said in a statement cited by Agence France Presse.

The Miami Herald quoted Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a vice-presidential short-lister for Romney, as saying it was "shameful" to grant the visa.

Rubio described the Cuban president's daughter as "an arm of his regime" who's coming to the United States to "spread their anti-American propaganda."

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The decision to give Castro a visa also drew protest from hardliners in the Cuban American exile community, the LA Times wrote.

And Florida's top congressional Democrats also protested the move.

Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said in a written statement to The Miami Herald:

"The Bush Administration set a bad precedent by granting Mariela Castro a waiver in 2001 and 2002 as I believe that such visa requests should not be accepted because of the ongoing human rights abuses in Cuba.

"While I respect my colleagues, it's important to note they did not criticize President George W. Bush for granting Ms. Castro a waiver in 2002. Politics has no place when we are standing up for human rights."

Sen. Bill Nelson, facing a tough re-election campaign, said: "Allowing Raul's daughter to come to the U.S. when the regime still holds Alan Gross makes no sense."

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Defending the decision, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said: "We don't link visa policy in cases like this to our larger political and economic and human rights relationship with countries."

Another State Department spokesman said there was no blanket denial of visas for "Cuban government officials."

Mariela Castro, director of Cuba's National Center for Sex Education, has led campaigns against homophobic discrimination in Cuba and lobbied successfully for her father's communist government to pay for sex-change operations.

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