Mariela Castro Espin, the daughter of Cuban President Raul Castro, has been taking part in Toronto’s WorldPride festival as both an attendee and a speaker at its human rights conference. In addition to being a member of Cuba’s parliament and an accomplished LGBT rights activist, Ms. Castro Espin is the director of the Cuban National Centre for Sex Education, which campaigns for the acceptance of Cuba’s LGBT population and their rights. In 2013, amendments were made to the Workplace Code of Cuba, which included provisions to prevent discrimination because of sexual orientation.
What is the current state of LGBT rights in Cuba?
We have noticed that there is a current of change in the Cuban population and all of this is done with the backing, the help and support of the Cuban government and Cuban institution and us organizations amongst civil society.
For example … [in] January, 2012, the communist party of Cuba decided to have as one of its main objectives to struggle and do everything it can to get rid of sexual identity and gender discrimination in the workplace. But from 2008 onward, we’ve already managed to achieve a resolution from the ministry of health in order to be able to carry out any type of medical interventions that transgendered people need in their life and all of this is free of charge from the medical authorities – hormonal, sexual re-assignment surgery, the full spectrum of the treatment.
[In Cuba] we have a service, almost like an ombudsman, an orientation service available to all people where we can provide information about their rights. … Since 2007 we’ve provided this legal service so this allows us to take polls on what situations to monitor. We have also set up an activist network throughout the country and different types of groups.
What are your thoughts on the spirit of WorldPride in Toronto?
[Yesterday] we went to the largest Pride wedding ever at Casa Loma. … Next year, during the Pride celebrations in Cuba, I want to have at least a symbolic celebration of couples coming together to show in a public way the hopes of some of these people.
Here [in Toronto] it may be legal, there [in Cuba] it will be a celebration of love because same-sex unions are not legal yet, so if we don’t manage to get the legislation passed before we have the celebration, it’s going to be just a celebration of love for all these partners who want to come together.
The President has presided over policies to open up the economy and encourage private business, and loosened travel restrictions so Cubans can see the world. If you give people more economic freedom and more freedom of movement, won’t they demand political freedom?
Cubans as islanders need to travel. We are islanders; we need to see the world … We are all very happy that the laws in terms of being able travel and come back, the [migration and] immigrations laws that have been loosened or changed made us all very happy. It’s a good thing … The only problem is that many embassies do not grant visas for us to go to those countries … and in terms of the United States, this has always been complex. There are limitations.
In terms of the updating of the economic strategy, it’s not that we are going back to capitalism; we’re fine-tuning what are the responsibilities of the state. In the economic activity, we have to see the balance between the state’s responsibility and private enterprise’s responsibility in terms of management. So before, the Cuban state was more paternalistic. They paid you whether you worked or didn’t work. So now you have to manage, you have to work, you have to manage your own earnings and that is a lot of work. There are people who have those skills and they are doing quite well.
This international worldwide cliché, obviously accepted by everybody and being pushed upon by everybody is that political freedom means [multi-party system], social democracy and similar ideas. They want to impose the same things on us because if you can divide you can conquer, you weaken. We have achieved throughout history this lesson that we have learned: Unity gives you strength.
The following interview, which was conducted through a translator, has been edited and condensed.