Posted on Friday, 05.10.13
Mariela Castro, Cuba and human rights
BY JOE CARDONA
In the wake of several Cuban dissidents' enlightening visits to the
United States — among them Yoani Sánchez, Rosa María Payá and Berta
Soler — came last weekend's arrival of Raúl Castro's daughter, Mariela
Castro, who attended (with special dispensation from the State
Department) a ceremony in Philadelphia to collect, of all things, a
human rights award. The brilliant American comic Carol Burnett once
said, "Comedy is tragedy plus time." This expertly sums up the Cuban
political polemic. Observed, studied and lived over time, Cuban politics
of the last half century remains a classic tragedy that has played out
as farce over 54 years.
The latest farce, a true tragicomedy: The Equality Forum, a non-profit,
LGBT organization based in Philadelphia, feted Mariela Castro for her
advocacy of gay rights in Cuba even though an entire island nation is
denied basic human rights daily.
While Castro's efforts in favor of the LGBT community on the island are
positive at face value, they cannot trump the rights and freedoms all
Cubans should have. Yet Castro, a sexologist who is the director of
Cuba's National Center for Sex Education, turns a blind eye, defiantly
defending her father and uncle's despotic rule over the decades.
The founder of Equality Forum, Malcolm Lazin, defended the selection of
Castro for an award, noting that Cuba was designated guest country this
year at the forum's annual powwow.
"There is no question that Mariela Castro has made a sizable
contribution to the LGBT community in Cuba. That activity is what we
recognized," he told me. "We were very open about the dismal situation
for gay men and women in Cuba during the 1960s and '70s. But that has
changed. A few years ago Fidel Castro himself apologized for this
terrible period of Cuban history."
According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, not everyone at the event was as
naïve as Lazin is about the Castros. Former U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, the
first openly gay member of Congress, who was also recognized by Equality
Forum, was quoted as saying, "I differ with her (Mariela Castro) very
sharply if she embraces the political repression of her father and
uncle." Unfortunately, the Castros' draconian rule in Cuba is not a
blurry memory — a notion Mariela Castro and the regime's apologists have
tried to put forth.
Human Rights Watch cites Cuba as "the only country in Latin America that
represses virtually all forms of political dissent." That accurate
characterization is adamantly refuted by Mariela Castro whenever she's
asked to explain the farce.
Last summer (on her last trip to the United States) Castro called Human
Rights Watch "not respectable." Much like her tyrannical father and
uncle have been doing for the last half century, she labeled all
opposition to their fiefdom as "paid CIA lackeys," and she dismisses all
of Cuba's woes by blaming the U.S. economic embargo. I spoke with some
prominent Cuban-American members of Miami's LGBT who vehemently object
to the Equity Forum awarding Castro. "It is incumbent upon those of us
who fight for equality to be sensitive to the plight of others who are
also struggling for freedom and equality," said Damian Pardo, founder
and former chairperson of SAVE Dade.
Herb Sosa, who presides over the Unity Coalition, an LGBT organization
for Latinos, questioned Castro's accolades as gay rights defender,
noting that several gay opposition members in Cuba tell him that every
time Mariela Castro holds a pro gay march or rally "they are rounded up
by government forces and kept away." "Sad to imagine that after so many
years of documented proof exposing Cuba's pathetic human rights record,
people are still irresponsible and ignorant enough to praise the Cuban