`Socialist Cuba must protect gay rights`

Daughter of current Cuban president Raul Castro, Mariela, heads the Cuban National Center for Sex Education. She discusses same sex marriages, women in power and, of course, family affairs in her interview with RT.

Read the full transcript of the interview

RT: What can you share with us about your father, and about the Castro family, that few would know or expect?

MC: We are a united family with key values that helped us grow up as decent people. I admire and respect my parents for their history. I’ve been a very critical daughter since childhood. Maybe that’s why some have called me rebellious. But I always say to my parents that they were much more rebellious than me, so they have no reason to complain.

I admire the revolutionary work that took place in Cuba throughout its history, long before the participation of my father and mother. It has influenced a great deal my decisions, life projects, and ideology. I also like the authenticity that prevailed in Cuba’s revolutionary past despite the common belief that it was a mere satellite of the Soviet Union. I can assure you that it wasn’t. But we did take all the valuable examples from the Soviet experience and the European socialist camp.

We all lament the collapse of the Soviet Union because it achieved some magnificent things that could be improved and reconsidered dialectically. In my father’s relationship with the USSR, I liked that it was very sincere, transparent and critical. He managed to establish a human and very beautiful friendship that went far beyond politics. I don’t know whether it has been or will be written about, but that’s what I lived and observed. So in my family I saw authenticity, originality, spontaneity, learning capacity, flexibility and not this rigid thing the world used to hear of.

RT: How often do you get to see your uncle? How’s Fidel feeling?

MC: I haven’t seen him since he got sick. As far as I understand, he’s very well. Above all, I can appreciate it in the things he writes, his reflections, how attentive he is to what is going on in Cuba and worldwide. He shares his points of view and his experience as a wise old man with a very rich history that had an important influence on the Cuban nation and even the practical experience of socialism.

RT: One day your uncle, Fidel Castro, a symbol of the longevity of the revolution, is going to die, do you think his death will change the status quo here in Cuba?

MC: First of all, the death of Fidel will bring great suffering for the Cuban people and will be an enormous loss. But as far as I can see, Cubans are willing to continue on the path of socialism even when our Comandante is no longer with us, even when my father and other forefathers of the revolution are not. Our people want socialism.

Of course, we are very self-critical, so what we need is a better and enriched version of it that would resolve most of the existing contradictions. The people themselves are proposing actions necessary for the survival of our socialist society; a society that should always guarantee social justice, equality and solidarity within the nations as well as in relations with others. We want welfare, but not as exaggerated as that of the consumer societies. I think that socialism in Cuba will survive and become what we have considered to be a utopia.

RT: Can there be same sex unions in a communist, traditionally Catholic state?

MC: Yes, I believe that in a society like ours same sex unions are possible. It’s true that in the history of the countries that have tried to create socialism, the sexuality-related prejudices from their capitalist past have persisted. But in the Cuban version of socialism it will surely be possible to make fundamental changes in the lives of men and women according to their sexual orientation and other elements of their sexuality that haven’t been contemplated by other socialist nations to the day. Of course, there are very strong influences of the religions predominant in our cultures, but they are not going to become an obstacle to achieving the aims that would guarantee other human rights that socialism must guarantee. That is why we've proposed a bill to legalise same sex unions to Parliament.

RT: What makes you feel you can overcome the stigma within the Communist Party and legislative barriers to pass the bill?

MC: As head of the National Center for Sex Education and not as daughter of the president, I’ve presented an educational strategy strongly based on the mass media to bring the attention of the Cuban society to various expressions of sexuality within it.

RT: When will we see in the bill that could make Cuba the most liberal country in Latin America when it comes to the rights of sexual minorities?

MC: We’ve already accomplished a lot. For example, we’ve achieved a resolution by the Public Health Ministry that guarantees transsexuals specialised attendance, including sex change surgeries, thanks to which these types of operations are about to begin. They were first performed in 1988, but interrupted due to people’s incomprehension. We are proposing important changes to the Family Code that include the right of people of the same sex to a legalised union.

We are also working on a Gender identity law that would make it easier for transsexuals to change their sex in identity papers, regardless of the sex change surgery, because not all of them are medically eligible for this operation. Nevertheless, these people do need society to recognize them in accordance with their gender identity and not their biological sex.

RT: Tell us more about it, what’s the history of homosexuality in Cuba?

MC: Just like any other patriarchal society in the world, Cuban society is homophobic. In the 1960-70s it expressed itself in political decisions that discriminated against homosexuals, especially men. There was a general criterion coming not only from religions, but even from sciences. Psychiatry classified homosexuality as a mental disorder. There even were therapies meant to change a homosexual into a heterosexual since that’s what was considered normal and healthy. So the Cuban politicians, educationalists and doctors acted in accordance with the scientific precepts of the time as well. Neither teachers, nor doctors could be gay.

To date no military person can be gay either, but there are homosexuals everywhere, whether out in the open or not. So we attend to them in our center, because humanity is about diversity. The most important thing here is that there’s been discussion and change ever since. And in order to avoid this in the future, we’ve got to be explicit in our laws and policies. Homosexuality is a reality to be taken into account and not gotten rid of.

RT: Two thirds of Cubans with AIDS are homosexual men. Are they provided due treatment? Are the people of Cuba provided due treatment when it comes HIV?

MC: In 1983, when Fidel learned about the existence of AIDS, he asked the medics of the Pedro Kuri Institute of Tropical Medicine to carry out research to avoid a tragedy on our island. Since then the state began designing its policy for HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention. Each patient infected with the virus is provided with all the medical assistance at the cost of the state. Although the medicines are very expensive, as well as the prevention measures, those are fundamental to avoid further spreading of the epidemic. And even though Cuba maintains the lowest level in the region and in the world, it keeps rising. So we need much more effective prevention treatments. For example, the island buys condoms for the pharmacies, but many are donated and distributed free of charge as part of certain educational activities across the country. Thanks to this efficient work the infection hardly occurs among adolescents. Unfortunately, the existing prejudices impede us from many of the educational activities planned for the homosexual male population.

RT: Is your father supportive of your work?

MC: Yes, he is supportive of my work thanks to the past influence of my mother on his sexual education and then mine. Of course, from time to time we have discussions meant to convince him of the need for quicker solutions. He is also influenced by other people that disagree with my work. And it’s those people who create obstacles. But I believe that dialogue is fundamental for progress. So whenever I have the chance to sit down with and talk to my father to convince him, I do so.

RT: Your mother was an internationally recognised champion of women’s rights. What challenges remain for women in Cuba?

MC: There still are the remains of machismo, the inequality between men and women. Although there are fewer women in top governmental positions, we observe a rising percentage of women technicians, lawmakers, vice-ministers, ministers, as well as among the regional party leadership. Besides, in the last two hurricanes that hit the island, the actions of the women governing the two worst-affected provinces made Cubans and especially women very proud. In troubled families women keep returning to their household chores and the upbringing of children because most of us still think that it’s our job and that nobody can do it better than us. But men’s participation in all these house duties is no less fundamental, especially in the times of crisis.

RT: What other changes or reforms would you like to see in Cuba?

MC: I would like the U.S. government to lift the financial, economic and commercial blockade that it has imposed on our island for fifty years against the Cuban people, and that considerably prevented us from achieving our goals. It has affected our economy, our commercial relations, and financial mechanisms. Cuba doesn’t receive credits from any bank and it’s very difficult for us to survive in the field of international economy – the companies that trade with Cuba are being penalised, we have big problems with the Internet without the access to optical fiber.

This would be fundamental for life in Cuba to change, for its economy to grow, the salaries to rise. Then we would be able to produce, obtain raw materials and use the latest technologies. For example, I’d also like to see improvements of the democratic participation mechanisms on the island, so that our government could function more fluently. It has a very peculiar and good structure, like no other in the world, but it lacks maturity. That’s why we need to cultivate the mechanisms of people’s participation. It is one of the things that preoccupy me most and that would bring about a whole range of other changes.

RT: What do you expect from the next U.S. president?

MC: I expect wonderful changes for the world and for the people of the United States. The people of the United States deserve a president like Obama and a first lady like his spouse. They and all of us need civilization and not barbarity. We need intelligent, honest world leaders. I think that with Obama’s presidency a whole new era will begin. It will be a totally different story in the U.S. and all over the world.