'The party was rigid'
Interview with Mariela Castro
Mariela Castro Espín, daughter of President Raúl Castro and director of the National Center for Sex Education (Cenesex), is the greatest advocate of critical awareness and renovation from within the system in Cuba. Her proposals and viewpoints demonstrate it.
Fernando Garcia [FG] – Last June, you presented a revolutionary proposal in favour of the recognition of the rights of gay couples and of sex change in Cuba. What is its status?
Mariela Castro – The proposal is centered on a reform of the Cuban Family Code, with the introduction of articles on sexual orientation and gender identity. They consider not only attention to transsexuals, in fact already existing since 1979, but gay rights, which is an area that has barely advanced. A year ago we took the initiative to the Parliament through institutions with the jurisdiction to do so. There was a very interesting dialogue with prospects to debate and approve it when it is appropriate. But during the process we learned better ways to obtain our objectives. And we decided to present to the leadership of the Communist Party a project with an educational strategy, with the support of the mass media, to circulate the changes we want to introduce into the Family Code. The goal is for society to understand the benefits that those changes have for the family. The Party will help us organize this work of sensitization. Its endorsement is very important in order to convince the deputies and the Cuban population, in general.
FG – When do you believe that a Cuban transsexual will be able to get an operation under the law and a homosexual couple will have the same marriage rights? Will they be able to adopt?
Mariela Castro – We have discovered that there was nothing in the law that prevents doing and covering those sex change operations. It only lacks legal implementation through a resolution from the Ministry of Public Health supporting the functions and objectives of the National Commission for Comprehensive Care of Transsexuals. This Commission will be authorized to issue a certificate permiting the corresponding changes in identity documents of these people without going through gender reassignment surgery. As for the couples, for the moment we are going to avoid complications and rejections: instead of approving homosexual marriage, which also would require changing the Constitution, we will create a Legal Union formula, which is only for same-sex couples and will recognize the same rights as those in marriage, except for adoption. Not only because it generates lots of resistance but because homosexual couples who collaborate with Cenesex have advised us not to complicate ourselves with adoptions because here and now, in Cuba, that is not their priority. And it is better to be modest in order to advance more firmly on what interests them.
FG – How has the CP and its old guard received what is proposed? In the international press it was all a shock.
Mariela Castro – Dialogue with the Party has been the best thing. In fact, the permanent dialogue of Cuban society with the CP is in the basic documents of this political organization. Recently, they organized a meeting with the directors of the most important media organizations of the country to explain the work of Cenesex as the coordinator of the National Sexual Education Program and the importance of holding the World Day Against Homophobia. In these years I have gone only to the international press which has been interested in our work: to the Cuban press I did not want to say anything yet because I was afraid of mishandling an inopportune moment. Because of the importance we attach to the reaction which may occur in our country, we have worked with the CP for an educational strategy, which materialized in a mass media plan. With regard to the Cuban World Day Against Homophobia, already we have begun to publish the first journalistic works, which will continue periodically throughout the year. As for reactions, there will be everything. There is resistance, but also learning among the old and young alike.
FG – Is Cuba an especially macho society?
Mariela Castro – All societies are patriarchal ..... Macho. The other thing is that in developed countries everything is more hidden because the language is more sophisticated and "politically correct". Because everything is better examined in order to cover up and even to lie. If not, how do you justify the gender-based violence that we know exists? I believe that Cuban machismo is less violent than that in Europe, thanks to a Revolution which established policies for women's rights since the 60's. Men have had to become more humble and yield space. Anyway, I want to emphasize the progress achieved in Spain, where they speak openly about gender violence. In other European countries there is the same thing but it is kept quiet.
FG – Here too.
Mariela Castro – Yes, we should talk more about this matter. We are fighting for it. But, although there is violence, predominately of the verbal type; the physical type is much less. Among other things, the community and neighborhood structures react quickly and restrain those situations. These are the conclusions of scientific studies carried out in Cuba. They are not my assumptions.
FG – There are many other areas, that have been identified, that require reforms in Cuba. In your view, what changes should be a priority?
Mariela Castro – For me, the key is to develop mechanisms for participation. That determines and identifies which changes must be made and how. The first thing is that everything has a logical direction. Because sometimes I feel that there are absurd mechanisms that seem to be changing. The most important thing is not to lose sight of the principle objective of socialism: the emancipation of human beings; their well-being with fairness and social justice, and that whatever is done satisfies the growing needs of human beings. It is not that now we want to construct a consumer society, which is the antithesis socialism, but that they produce the goods and services that people need. I also have faith in human betterment, which is why I betting on socialism. Now, I would like there to be fewer prohibitions, as my father said. Less bureaucracy would allow us to generate better levels of satisfaction. And insofar as we develop better mechanisms for participation, the same society is the one that proposes and decides. This was done in the discussion process after my father's speech on July 26: people criticized, analyzed and proposed. This has stayed a permanent mechanism for participation, which seems to me very good, but should not be the only way to do it.
Although the CP now governs alone, does it not have to make room for other political options? This matter has been discussed among everybody. Looking at the history of Cuba, a country besieged by one so powerful as the North Americans... ., that condition has not changed from the time of José Martí until today. Therefore it continues to overpower Martí's thoughts with a unique force. Then there was the Cuban Revolutionary Party, which Martí founded, when Cuban unity was finally accomplished. Thanks to that, independence was achieved. Lack of unity was one of the obstacles which prevented us from advancing. Cuba was the last country to gain independence from Spain on this continent. Martí succeeded, with all his genius, unitin all Cubans in that party of revolutionary unity and in establishing a common strategy. Fidel reclaimed Martí's idea.
FG – And when that siege from the United States disappears?
Mariela Castro – Probably things will change.
FG – Would we then have to create parties and hold multi-party elections?
Mariela Castro – I do not know what Cubans will decide when that happens. I can not imagine it. I am sure that if there is participation, Cubans will determine what is best. For now, the CP has to be a party of participation, as conceived by Martí , a broad party where all Cubans can share our opinions and ideas. I think that principle is reclaiming itself. But there was a time when I believe that was not so, at some point the Party was very rigid.
FG – How long was it or has it been the case?
Mariela Castro – Well, I am not a historian, but I believe a few years. However, I note that this is changing and it gives me satisfaction.
FG – The discussions in Cuba left criticisms that are being addressed, but much remains. People want to travel more freely and be able to buy or sell a car or a house without much hindrance. What do you think?
Mariela Castro – I do not know what is being analyzed or what is going to be decided. I love that these things will be solved. Actually, people can leave but with many difficulties. It is necessary to reduce the absurd obstacles, they seem to me appalling. However, I imagine that they are analyzing tons of things including why there were those restrictions and how it should be done now..... Because all countries have restrictions and rules for everything, but they do not have foreign laws that hinder further development of their national policies. We have the North American Cuban Adjustment Act, which rewards those who go illegally and they do not grant visas to travel to the U.S. legally. And this is a very serious matter that should be resolved with the support of governments that claim to love democracy. It is difficult to find a just measure in the midst of hostilities, but we can not put limitations on ourselves in addition to those already imposed by enemies of the Cuban nation. That everything be analyzed in depth, in order to find the best solutions. That we do not deprive people of their right to leave. For me, that they give permission to anyone who wants to leave, provided they do not owe any debt to society.
FG – As for the houses?
Mariela Castro – We should avoid that a person with money can have five houses when many people do not have shelter. It is a complex problem that also exists in Europe. Perhaps we have to find a formula that provides rights, so that citizens can buy one house, but not five.
FG – Fidel and Raúl have spoken of the need for a generational change. But in the election of the head of the Council of State we have not seen it.
Mariela Castro – I have the impression that the introduction of young people is to be done slowly, which to me seems intelligent. The first will join the historical ones, who risked their lives for the revolution and have no other commitment. That has value. I suppose there will be a process in which young people begin making executive decisions while the elders still designate strategies. I do not know, I am watching what is happening like everybody else.
FG – Would you be willing to get more in the political arena?
Mariela Castro – I do not like a political career. I feel freer as well.
FG – What did you advise your father lately?
Mariela Castro – Now I see him less because he is busier. And when we see each other, we try not to talk about problems because, if we do, we risk losing the familial encounter. He is most interested in my opinion on the subject of sexuality, in what we are doing. I must admit that he has greatly facilitated my contact with the Party, he has helped me. He sometimes plays [laughs]. He told me: "You have to convince so-and-so or so-and-so. Did you already manage to persuade this one? You have to make yourself an ally of this other one." He makes jokes, but he is giving me the message that there is resistance and we should work carefully.
FG – And more generally, does he ask for an opinion?
Mariela Castro – No, because we can discuss and we do not want it. Anyway, I give my criteria to his peers. If something bothers me or I do not agree with something, for example. So we do not fight.
FG – Have you discussed a lot of policies?
Mariela Castro – From childhood, I always asked, questioned, criticized.
FG – Does he heed you?
Mariela Castro – If he does, he will not tell me.
FG – How do you assess the way the relay of the presidency of the country was done and the role that has been reserved for Fidel?
Mariela Castro – Fidel is a leader, more than the head, he is a leader. That is a difference, that sometimes is not understood. He has a great moral, historical authority and wisdom. He has authority for being a very brave man, because always he risked his life, without fear of hurricanes, of the dictator, of spies, of any circumstance. Because he always committed himself to improving the lives of his people, although sometimes it was difficult because there was little bread and much to distribute. For Cubans, he is an historical reference and even a cultural and ideological identity. We will always call him comandante [commander].
FG – Often the differences between the two brothers are emphasized and there are some who see resistance from Fidel to the changes driven by Raúl.
Mariela Castro – I do not know, nor will I ever know. For me it is also a mystery because they are very discreet about what they do.
FG – In general, it is said that they are different and perhaps complementary.
Mariela Castro – They are very different personalities, but that of being complementary is a cliché. Each one contributes his own self. In my view, Fidel is the one that takes care of strategy, the fundamental objectives, the basic principles that should not change.... And my father, who has also participated in that, cares more attentively to the concrete moments of that strategy; the gears of the mechanism. He has a lot of common sense and teamwork. Because of that, the Army is considered the best organized Ministry. Common sense helps to find practical solutions. Fidel has a more philosophical sense, although many times he also demonstrated a great common sense. But Fidel is all about the great plays in the political arena. In the moments of confrontation or difficulty, seeing him is like seeing a chess master who always will find a brilliant move.
FG – They say that Raúl is hard, demanding.
Mariela Castro – He is demanding but flexible and very human. He is capable of forgiving apparently unforgivable acts.