The niece of Fidel Castro is alive and well and was not aboard the the Air Algerie flight that crashed today in Mali.
The airport where the flight originated posted on its Facebook page that Mariela Castro was aboard the doomed plane. The bogus news spread like wildfire but was soon debunked.
Here’s what should know about Mariel Castro and the rumors of her demise:
1. 116 People Are Feared Dead on Flight AH 5017, but Mariela Castro Was Not Among Them
Air Algerie flight AH 5017 disappeared from radar today over Mali as it flew from Ouagadougou to Algiers. Later the BBC reported that Algerian aviation officials said the plane has crashed and that French military jets were searching to locate it. The airline later confirmed that the plane had crashed, and BFMTV reported that the French military discovered wreckage. The plane carried 116 passengers and crew members.
As details emerged about the crash, the airport in Burkina Faso dropped an apparent bombshell, claiming in a now-deleted Facebook post (seen above) that Mariela Castro was named on the passenger list.
As condolences flooded the Twittersphere, BBC Havana correspondent Sarah Rainsford tweeted that there were no Cubans on the flight, and others tweeted that Mariela is at a conference in Havana.
— Sarah Rainsford (@sarahrainsford) July 24, 2014
Mariela herself then confirmed to a Venezuelan TV station that she is “alive and kicking, happy and healthy”:
2. She’s Raul Castro’s Daughter & Fidel’s Niece
The 51-year-old Mariela Castro is the daughter of Cuban president Raul Castro and the niece of his brother and predecessor, Fidel Castro, who served as official president of Cuba from 1976 to 2008.
3. She’s a Well Regarded LGBT Rights Advocate
Mariela Castro founded CENESEX, the National Center for Sex Education in Havana, Cuba. The government-funded organization has been leading the charge of LGBT rights in Cuba, including developing a program for providing state-funded sexual reassignment surgery and hormone therapy for those in need of it.
Cuba is known as a deeply homophobic country, and Mariela Castro’s efforts almost singlehandedly turned the tide.
4. She Is Outspoken on the Global AIDS Crisis
Along with her LGBT advocacy, Mariela Castro has been outspoken on the international AIDS crisis and HIV prevention. Her condom-distribution program has helped Cuba achieve of the world’s lowest HIV infection rates.
5. She Is Married With Children
Mariela Castro is married to Italian Paolo Titolo, the general manager of Amorim Negocios, a wine cork distributor. The two have two children, plus a another child from her previous marriage to Chilean leftist Juan Gutierrez Fischmann.