Castro's daughter donned disguise to escape to US

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THE DAUGHTER of the Cuban President, Fidel Castro, said she used a false Spanish passport and disguised herself with make-up and a wig to flee to the United States.

Alina Fernandez Revuelta, who has long been estranged from her father, told a news conference in Columbus, Georgia, that she had left Havana undetected, contradicting earlier reports that she had been allowed to leave. She arrived in the US on Tuesday, having left Cuba a day earlier for Spain.

A State Department spokesman, David Johnson, said Ms Fernandez had asked for political asylum at the US embassy in Madrid. He said she was 'paroled' into the US - a special status for Cubans that eases their path to permanent residency - and will be eligible for permanent residence in a year.

Ms Fernandez, 37, left her daughter behind in Havana and yesterday appealed to the Cuban government to let the 16-year-old join her. She said her daughter knew of her escape but 'acted unaware of my plans as she was celebrating her 16th birthday the day before'.

There has been no official comment from Havana on Ms Fernandez's departure. On Wednesday, the Cuban Foreign Minister, Roberto Robaina, said he had no comment on reports that Ms Fernandez had left the country, adding he never commented on people who 'defected'. He said he did not see her case as exceptional. 'I think that at times like this many people have defected because the situation of the country is difficult, and these are times in which people prove themselves,' Mr Robaina said.

Ms Fernandez, a former model, has been a vocal critic of her father's government, on one occasion calling President Castro a 'tyrant'. She has said in the past she wanted to leave the country. During the 1980s, she was denied permission to emigrate with her Mexican husband, who eventually returned to Mexico alone. She does not use Mr Castro's surname and has said that she has not spoken to him in years. She had been living quietly with her daughter in a fashionable neighbourhood of Havana.

Ms Fernandez is the daughter of Mr Castro and actress Natalia Revuelta, a supporter of the Cuban revolution. Her mother, whom Mr Castro never married, said on Wednesday that her daughter's departure had come as a total surprise. 'It's her decision,' Ms Revuelta said, 'she's an adult and she controls her life. I will have to accept it.' But, she added, 'she's my daughter, and its sad.'

Although Mr Castro has never publicly recognised her, Cuban officials readily confirm Ms Fernandez is his daughter. The Cuban leader's only officially recognised child is Fidel Castro Diaz-Balart, a nuclear scientist who was head of Cuba's nuclear programme. He was sacked two years ago for maladministration, and has kept out of the public eye since then.

Ms Fernandez is not the first, nor the only, member of Mr Castro's family to fall out with him. One of his sisters, Juanita, has lived in Miami since defecting in 1965, six years after her brother took power. She has repeatedly attacked him and accused him of being a traitor. Another sister moved to Mexico. But Mr Castro's other four siblings remain in Cuba, and his brother Raul - who was a trusted lieutenant during the guerrilla struggles in the mountains - is considered Cuba's second most powerful man.