Mariela Castro’s Gay Gamble In Cuba

In the wake of Cuban president Fidel Castro’s resignation earlier this year, the balance of power has shifted not only to his brother, Raul, but to another Castro, Mariela, Raul’s daughter.

Head of the National Center for Sex Education, Mariela Castro is proposing legislation that will bring bent boys and girls closer to their heterosexual peers. And she may be making all the right moves:

The proposed legislation would recognize same-sex unions, along with inheritance rights. It would also give transsexuals the right to free sex-change operations and allow them to switch the gender on their ID cards, with or without surgery.

There are limits: adoption is not included in the bill and neither is the word marriage.

“A lot of homosexual couples asked me to not risk delaying getting the law passed by insisting on the word ‘marriage’,” Ms. Castro said. “In Cuba marriage is not as important as the family and at least this way we can guarantee the personal and inheritance rights of homosexuals and transsexuals.”

Castro cites her father’s progression as evidence of Cuba’s changing attitudes toward the LGBT community: “I’ve seen changes in my father since I was a child. I saw him as macho and homophobic. But as I have grown and changed as a person, so I have seen him change.”

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  • Henry Gomez

    This an attempt by the regime to sanitize its image. Unlike America where prejudice against gays comes from the people, in Cuba gays were targeted by the government almost since the very beginning of the castro regime. Che Guevara, the poster boy of the Cuban revolution, was a notorious homophobe who set up the UMAPs (Cuban labor camps) to “re-educate” homosexuals, rockers and other “undesirables”.

    You have to take everything the the Castro regime says with a grain of salt the size of Mt. Everest.

  • Jonathon

    Henry, I disagree that these comments from Mariela Castro are just an attempt to sanitize the image of Cuba. This is not the first time that she has spoken out in favor of gay rights in Cuba. I believe that she is sincere.

    As to Che Guevara’s being a homophobe, I cannot find any source for this claim outside of very right-wing, conservative sources. (And for the life of me, I don’t know why they even care since they hate us too!) So far my searching hasn’t yielded a neutral souce for this claim, but given the culture and the time in which Che lived it wouldn’t be a surprise to me if he had anti-gay feelings. Besides, gays and lesbians are not accepted by a lot of Latinos – even in this country. Perhaps he would feel differently were he alive today. Regardless, Che is an important figure in the history of Latin America, and his record is full of pluses and minuses – as it is for us all.

    The political situation in Cuba is and always has been very complex. Castro and his government have done some deplorable things, and are rightly criticized for them. But they have also accomplished some wonderful things, and for those they deserve praise. Cuba under Batista was no walk in the park either. Batista was no saint and quite frankly was more or less a dictator in his own right.

    My hope for Cuba is that the socialist government will move into a new phase of existence and provide greater democratic control of the nation. I sincerely hope that they continue on their path to socialism – but not the Stalinist style established by Castro; rather they should look for Europe for their model where civil liberties and freedoms are balanced against the needs/interests of the state. A free, democratic socialist Cuba would be the best outcome; a return to the days when Batista and the Miami Mafia were in control would be an utter reversal of progress.

  • John Collier

    Jonathan — nice balanced response.

  • M Shane

    Clearly Henry is just spouting right wing propaganda. Hispanic people, because of catholicism, tend to be anti-gay. Che was half Irish, which makes that Catholicism even worse. The only anti-gay thing that I know of about him is that he got pissed off when Allan Ginsberg told him that he was cute. It’s true, but he was affronted.

    In a line with Jonathan’s remarks, It is all coming together beautifully in South &Middle America with democracy and socialism, as the people run out the ruthless dictators and capitalists installed by the U.S. I think that as they see that it is not Stalinism which is necessary but democracy, to resist unregulated capitalism they should take an example from Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Venezuela, and all of the other social democracies who are their neighbors.

    I have never been sympathetic with the insistence on marriage instead of same sex unions with rights . The Marriage thing has done more to ruin the gay movement for equal ruights because everyone wants to be as heterosexual as possible. All it does is piss anal retentive hetrohegimonic freeks off and is just politically stupid. It is to a large degree the product of stupids like Sullivan and Bauer who have dragged the gay community in the toilet with their compulsivity.

    Thanks Andrew for presenting this coverage. Personally I think that this is the most critical gay issue there is. Very forward thinking.

  • M Shane

    Oh, I should add that when the Socialist part y in Spain was just reelected their first move was to legalize gay marriages along with givinggthe Basques greater independence.

  • Henry Gomez

    Here’s an essay from Zoe Valdes, the famous award-winning Cuban poet who lives in Paris, by no means a right-winger, about Che Guevara and his homophopbia.


    As for you slam on Cuban exiles, F-off. Why not ask any one of the 2 million people that have fled the “worker’s paradise”? When the the terrible Batista regime was in power, Cubans were free to leave and the net immigration to the U.S. was negative. That means more Americans were moving to Cuba than Cubans to America.

    You simply don’t know what you’re talking about and repeating a bunch of communist propaganda. The term “useful idiot” comes to mind.

  • Jonathon

    Keep in mind that the Spanish socialist party and the socialist/communist movement in Cuba have some pretty big differences, as do most European socialist parties compared to Stalinist-style socialism.

    Not all Marxists are the same!! Chinese and Russian communists were generally intolerant of gays and lesbians. But most European socialists are quite tolerant and see the fight for gay equality as part of the overall effort against the ruling, capitalist class and its allies, such as the Catholic Church.

  • Jonathon

    Henry, I am not going to get into a pissing contest here with you. But I will say that I know exactly what I am talking about, having studied Marxism and the history of communist states throughout the 20th century – the good and the bad. I am not “repeating a bunch of communist propaganda.” (I am not a communist; I am a democratic socialist.) I am giving you my informed opinion based upon years and years of study, research and thought.

    There are many reasons why Cuban immigration to the US was so low during the Batista regime – and it wasn’t because everything was “hunky dory” under Batista. The people may have been “free to leave”, but where would they have gone? Do you honestly think that the pro-Batista US government would have given them asylum or sanctuary? Do you think that if it weren’t the ludicrious “wet foot/dry foot” policy for Cubans that so many people would risk their lives coming here? (And paying a fortune to the criminals who help them escape!) Let’s start treating Cubans the same way that we treat Mexicans vis a vis immigration and then see just how many make the trek.

    Furthermore, a lot of the problems in Cuba are directly related to the US embargo. The availability of consumer goods and manufactured goods is limited because the US won’t let much through. Lifting the embargo and normalizing relations with Cuba would do a lot to improve the lives of Cubans and would consequently reduce the number of people seeking to leave Cuba.

    Batista was a cruel despot under whose rule the people suffered in great poverty. I do not dismiss the horrible, inhuman things that some people experienced in Cuba under Castro, yet neither will I dismiss the accomplishments made after the revolution. Literacy rates in Cuba are at almost 100%. All Cubans receive medical care and access to doctors. All Cubans have access to education – which is free through the post-graduate level. Cuba has produced an army of doctors who have been sent out to help in underserved parts of Latin America. Cuba also provides medicine and other humanitarian aid to poor countries. None of this was the case before the revolution.

    The Cuban exile community based in Miami has had far too much influence over the US’ foreign policy towards Cuba and have in fact been part of the problem in ending the embargo and establishing normal diplomatic and trade relations with the island. It is long past time for the US to move forward – even without them and against their wishes – to do what is right for the US and what is right for Cuba.

  • M Shane

    Jonathan; I should have qualified my referance to Spains decision about Gay Marriage.It goes back to the hispanic/Catholic
    origins. BTW you’re aware that China and Russia are Radically capitalist countries now .
    Milton Friedman was their American political adviser and they wanted to Model their sytem after Pinochet in Chile so theirs no democracy only despotic free entreprise.

  • M Shane

    Indeed, jonathan, as far as I’m concerned their is a lot more in common between Stalinists and and radical Capitalists politically than either has with social democracy. The Republicans confound tthe relationship between dem/socialism and Stalinism to confuse and scare Americans who aren’t to bright on that account.

  • Mauricio

    Jonathon: I am a gay Cuban living in NY. I am not a republican or right winger. Don’t stereotype us please. I am a “white” liberal-democrat who will vote for OBAMA. I left Cuba very young but I have met many middle aged and older gay Cubans that grew up in the island. I always ask when I meet a new one: was the Che homophobic? Yes, it is always the answer. (Some knew him.) Those that came after him as well. Not only did he hate us but he did not have any use for the arts once he was in power. Only “propaganda” art was permitted. So you can imagine that many gay artists, writers and so forth ended up working in farms and factories. You don’t have many gay Cuban testimonies about the Che because most individuals have died. Yes, AIDS. Also, many went back into the closet, emotionally and artistically, in order to survive among the Cuban “very homophobic” community in the USA. I visited Cuba in 2001 and saw many young gays around, and congregated in the Malecon but that did not mean they were free to be who they are or Ms. Castro is sincere. I asked. Everything is propaganda with them, I think Ms. Castro is using our fight for the right to marry to keep themselves in the news. They live for the headlines, they know how important public opinion is regarding policies.

  • M Shane

    Mauricio; Public opinion is certainly important anywhere, not just Cuba. That doesn’t mean that the policy is not real. In this case, however it is news that may not be that popular.

  • andy

    Mariela has been talking gay rights in Cuba since as long as I remember she’s been head of Cenesex. Probably to defend her dad ;-)
    Nothing has changed and I think the Cuban goverment is just jumping in the same bandwagon of the Spanish: It is “fashionable” to promote gay rights so let’s do it
    I am all for gay rights and all rights that defend human beings from discrimination. I cannot help but remember in 1993 when I was denied a job in a hotel because “I could be gay”.. according to the hotel mamager and the Communist party representative at the hotel board. For them, my long hair was “sign of being gay.” Again, that was 1993!

    So yes, this is just a PR exercise by Castro II

  • oakling

    how, exactly, does discrimination against gays in the united states NOT come from the government? I’m not saying that’s where its roots are, but nor are its roots in the government anywhere else – it’s always in society at large.

  • Bill Perdue

    Several of the comments here have been from pompous ‘USA hurrah’ types, paytriotic hypocrites and the occasional guasano who deliberately close their eyes to the huge gains made by working people and farmers because of the Cuban revolution. Their criticisms, coming from citizens of a nation currently engaged in genocide in Iraq, betray a monumental level of hypocrisy.

    Actually, Latin America as a whole is beginning to undergo a sea change regarding GLBT rights and that very good news for our GLBT brothers and sisters in that priest ridden continent. The elections of left wing and populist governments in Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia and Brazil and elsewhere have helped spur this change. The corrective initiatives by several sectors of the Cuban government and the Communist Party reflect that. Their admission of past oppression of gays and lesbians, however tentative and timid, are good first steps.

    But they are not yet substantive. They need to repeal much of their penal code and modify it’s more draconian measures. For example Article 299: “pederastia con violencia” is an undefined offence that appears to include consensual sex and mandates penalties of from eight years imprisonment to death. Another, Article 303a: “importune a otro con requerimientos homosexuales,” or creating a “public scandal” includes touching, fondling, kissing and cruising . If someone, for instance your average homophobic cop happens to take offense, the penalties range from three months to a year in jail. These laws and their enforcement by bigoted police and prosecutors mirror the situation in the US and the EU until recently. They need to be repealed and be replaced by a ‘hands off’ policy that emphasizes total acceptance of our rights.

    One of the differences between Cuba and the United States is that racist, anti union and misogynist activity is punished there, and that includes hate crimes, discrimination and hate speech. Here racism, the oppression of women and antiunion activities are not only common they’re encouraged by politicians and religious cults. The spate of murders of GLBT youths in February is directly attributable to politicians like Barney Frank who ditched our agenda and the steady drumbeat of bigotry from religious cults.

    Given the fact that its common knowledge that the Cuban government and the Communist Party encouraged and later tolerated homophobia the situation won’t change much until these two institutions launch an educational campaign to explain why homophobia is wrong

  • walterlx

    As someone who’s travelled to Cuba regularly and stayed for long periods of time, I would like to affirm that that there’s been quite a bit of education in Cuba against homophobis in recent years. While there’s no autonomous gay institutions in Cuba, there’s been a clear shift away from harassment of LGBT people by the police, and an openness to LGBT cultural expressions. On my last visit, earlier this year, I attended a one-man performance piece written by one of the island’s internationally-acclaimed writers, Miguel Pineda Barnet, a piece about the life and tribulations of a drag queen. A few weeks earlier I saw a play about the family drama which ensued between the members of a lesbian couple when one decides she wants to have children

    For some time I have tracked these and much more in the media on these issues and placed them on a web-page devoted to LGBT issues in today’s Cuba:


    I recognize the name of Bill Purdue and would like to be in contact with him. We knew each other in Los Angeles, California, forty years ago. I’m sure from the comments above it’s got to be the same person.

    Thanks. I’ve shared this comment and some of the discussion with the CubaNews list which I edit.

    Walter Lippmann
    passing through New York
    but soon returning to Los Angeles.

  • M Shane

    Andy ; Laws are laws and are made with the intention of creating precidence. It sounds like your naive political prejudice has given you brain damage. I have lost many of the jobs that I’ve had here in the good ol free U.S. mainly I know that no one expects that I am gay until afterI am hired I have been descriminated against here in Minnesota., where it is illegal, because a bitch who was a manager had a crush on me, insisted that I
    fuck her She was a bigot imported from Alabama and as a result of my telling her I was gay I have been though years of persecution. This involves large art organizations. I am exceedingly skilled at my job and my decrimination claim was fraudulently treated because the the Civil Rights Commission is run by Blacks who don’t believe, despite the law that, Gay people have employment or any rights.

    The action of the Socialist party in Spain and Cuba are honest attempts to change things despite obections by oposition, hardly because they are popular,. Wait till you miss some jobs here in the “free” U.S. Don’t let your own bigotry deter you from objective decisions. There is no reason whuy the Socialists would do it only because it was popular. Think.!

  • M Shane

    Consider the fact that here in the U.S Major political figures regularly speak against gay people. Prejudice is rampant. Don’t you read or follow anything. I even lost a job in San Fransisco, because the staff, despite my being stronger and more competent than anyone, was Chicano and hated fags. Domn’t tell me about Socialist prejudice. There is prejudice everywhere. Shame omn you feor using it to push a phony political agenda. Look at the U.S.

  • M Shane

    Mr Lippmann: great URL !

  • Brian Miller

    Mariela, why not stand for election and push for a democracy in Cuba?

    It’s all lovely that the dictatorship has deigned to talk more about gay issues, but at the end of the day, it’s still a dictatorship.

  • Brian Miller

    The action of the Socialist party in Spain and Cuba are honest attempts to change things despite obections by oposition

    “Opposition” in Cuba ends up in Florida, in prison or dead. Please don’t pretend otherwise.

  • Bill Perdue

    So Brian, exactly what do you do at the State Department? Or is it DIA? NSA maybe? CIA? VOA? CBN?

  • Mauricio

    The nerve of some people! How dare you paint my life with useless conspiracies and political opportunism? The tired rhetoric, arrogance and blatant and false propaganda of the “New” left is back. We have discrimination in the USA, plenty, I never said we were much better but at least I am not invisible and isolated like all Cuban gays in Cuba and to add more, in most of the Caribbean. How dare some diminish and dismiss my life and experience as a gay Cuban and by choice American. To give you an example: Rene Portocarrero, Amelia Pelaez, Lydia Cabrera, Raul Martinez, Servando Moreno Cabrera, and so many others dead (and alive) were (are) gay. Do you see any discussions about that fact? Do we have access to study this important aspect of their life and work? Do you see the leaders give gays in Cuba the credit for the creation of most Cuban culture? Talking about rights in a vacuum instead of highlighting to begging with how important we were and how a system erased our lives and kept us living in mortal fear is plain propaganda and exploitation of our fight for rights here. The day Ms. Castro says that she is sorry and asks for forgiveness, that day I will consider listening to what she has to say, not before. Headline hungry tyrants and their descendants only fool the foolish.

  • M Shane

    Mauricio I dare you to do some research regarding the U.S installed and supported Fascist dictatorships throughout South America(all of them!) You wil find that since 1950, starting with Chile(Pinochet), the U.S has uprooted every democracy and installed dictators with U.S. political advisors from Milton Friedmans Chicago Scool of Economics.
    Do some research then get huffy if you can.

  • M Shane

    This goes for you as well Brian; it’s never fun to discover that you’ve been living in a world of deliusions; But the Fascist dictatorships supported by 5the U.S. have brutalized and destroyed more lives than Castro or Che ever will.
    The ” new left ” is just a shift back to the reality of an economic system which precludes Stalinism as much as it does Fascism, which allows democracy.

    If we fail it will be only because of ignorance.

  • Mauricio

    Dear M Shane, why would you ask me to look up what everybody knows already? What about the historical context of those actions? The cold war, for example? Stalin? Those that came afterward? You should know by now that historians all over consider that “trillada” line lacking in weight and facts. Context is the key. We did worst things to African-Americans, Japanese-A, gays, women and indigenous people; our own. We have learned much since then and changed. More needs to be done. Dictators and tyrants don’t change. Instead, you have nepotism.

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