Cuban vice president’s daughter defected, living in Tampa

Aug 27, 2012

The following article was published on August 27, 2012 in the Miami Herald:

Cuban Vice President Marino Murillo’s Daughter Defected and is Living in Tampa

By Juan O. Tamayo

The 24-year-old daughter of Cuban Vice President Marino Murillo, sometimes mentioned as a possible successor to ruler Raúl Castro, defected earlier this month and is now living in Tampa, knowledgeable sources said.

Glenda Murillo Diaz crossed the Mexico border at Laredo, Texas, around Aug. 16, the sources told El Nuevo Herald, meaning she was paroled under the wet-foot, dry-foot policy, which allows Cubans who set foot on U.S. land to stay.

Her decision to abandon communist-ruled Cuba and settle in the historically antagonistic United States would be a vote of no-confidence on the profound economic reforms that Castro has ordered and that her father is in charge of enacting.

Marino Murillo, 51, known as Cuba’s “reforms tsar,” is vice president of the ruling Council of State and member of the powerful political bureau of the Cuban Communist Party. Castro last year put him in charge of executing the reforms.

A portly economist reported to have served as a military officer, he first came to public notice in 2006 when Castro, who served for decades as defense minister before succeeding brother Fidel, named him minister of internal commerce. He was later appointed as minister of planning and economy.

Glenda Murillo Diaz is his daughter and never received a U.S. visa to visit relatives or study in the United States, said the knowledgeable sources, who asked to remain anonymous because they were not authorized to officially comment on the case.

A person who claimed to have learned of Murillo Diaz’s defection from her relatives in Havana had been sending anonymous tips to El Nuevo Herald since last Monday, but the information could not be totally confirmed until Monday.

The young woman left Cuba about two weeks ago to attend a psychology conference in Mexico and turned up later at the Tampa home of a maternal aunt, Idania Diaz, who is married to Boris Loynaz, according to the person.

Her grandfather, Rolando Diaz, a Havana resident, happened to be visiting Idania Diaz in Tampa when Murillo Diaz arrived, the person added. Her father broke down crying when he learned of the defection, another relative in Havana told several neighbors.

A young woman who identified herself only as Glenda Murillo started a Facebook page last Tuesday that described her as a 24-year-old psychology student at the University of Havana.

She posted one photo of herself somewhere hugging “Aunt Idy” and “Uncle Boris” and another smiling and leaning against an Elvis fortune-telling machine. El Nuevo confirmed the Elvis machine is at The Pier, a tourist attraction in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Other photos she posted on Facebook and then removed showed her at a Hooters restaurant, hugging an elderly man and at Sculleys, a popular seafood restaurant in Madeira Beach north of St. Petersburg.

A man who answered the Cuban cell phone registered to Murillo Diaz and identified himself as her husband first told El Nuevo that she was in Tampa and would not be making any public comment. Asked if she had defected, he then said she was in Mexico and later that she was in Havana. He did not give his name and hung up.

A woman who identified herself as Rolando Diaz’s wife, Norma, said she could not comment when asked by phone if her niece had defected or planned to return to Cuba after visiting relatives in Tampa.

Several messages sent by El Nuevo to the Facebook accounts of Glenda Murillo and Idania Diaz were not returned. Glenda Murillo first accepted a Facebook friend request from an El Nuevo reporter, then quickly unfriended him. A woman who answered a phone listed to an Idania Diaz in Tampa hung up.

The Glenda Murillo in the Facebook photos bears a strong resemblance to the daughter of Marino Murillo, as shown in photos that were posted on the Facebook page of another Murillo daughter, Claudia.

Murillo Diaz did not receive a U.S. visa to visit or study, according to the knowledgeable sources. One Cuban man said he heard a vague report recently that a daughter of the vice president had received a scholarship to study in the United States.

Thousands of Cubans arrive in the United States each year by land from Mexico, then present themselves to U.S. border authorities so that they can be covered by the wet-foot, dry-foot policy.

One of the most senior Cuban government officials to defect in recent years, Pedro Alvarez, 68, the former head of the government agency in charge of all food and agricultural imports, also went to live with relatives in Tampa in late 2010.

Alvarez, who had been under investigation for corruption at the Alimport agency — which bought $711.5 million worth of U.S. products in 2008 — has never publicly confirmed that he defected or that he lives in Tampa.