Brief encounter with Mariela


For Miguel, who still dreams of being a Social-Democratic woman

Yesterday I went to a conference on sexuality held at the Museum of Fine Arts.  For two weeks, there has been a series on erotic art accompanied by films and talks.  Just this Tuesday there was a chance to hear about the incorporation of transsexuals into society and the prejudices that still exist against them.  So on the way to Alamar–where the Festival of Poetry Without End is going on–I dropped into the amphiteater in the old Asturian Center.

After the conference I had the chance to ask Mariela Castro a question that torments me every time I hear about tolerance for sexual preference.  I still don’t understand that we accept the right of another to choose with whom they make love, however we continue in this ideological monogamy they have imposed on us.  If concepts such as “sick” have now been banished from the study of homosexuality, why does the adjective “counterrevolutionary” continue to be used for those who think differently.  For me, it’s as serious to call someone who doesn’t conform a “faggot” as it is to call them a “worm.”

As today is the day that those rights should be at the center of everyone’s attention, I want to show a short video of my brief encounter with Mariela.  The audio is poor and so I have transcribed the dialog for those who are unable to hear everything.

Mariela:  Including treatment for transgender people is something that’s called for in the law.  We don’t ask for more. 

Yoani:  I’d like to ask if this entire campaign being undertaken, in some way, for society to accept sexual preference could, at some point, move to other roles and will also fight for tolerance of other aspects which could be points of view and political and ideological preferences.  Will we also come out of these closets?

Mariela:  I don’t know because I don’t work in that area.  The ideological and political field is outside my responsibility.  I think I am doing the best I can given my ability.


Translator’s note

Mariela Castro Espin is the daughter of Raul Castro and his late wife Vilma Espin, and she is the niece of Fidel Castro.  She is the director of the Cuban National Center for Sex Education and an advocate for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights.  


  1. Interesting point. I just happened to go and see the new movie ‘Milk’ which was about the life and assassination of Harvey Milk the gay supervisor of San Francisco. His whole campaign was based on the idea that gay issues and life were real and important, but that they led by a metaphoric extension to the rights of all minorities. In the U.S. an active and vibrant gay community is apparently an indicator of inclusivity for many types of people. It’s interesting that it works differently in Cuba. But of course, different nations have different intolerances.

  2. Seana, the only reason you see these kind of disccussions in Cuba about gays, transsexuals and lesbians is because of who is having these discussions, none other that Raúl Castros’s daughter. In the past this segment of society has been persecuted and abused just the same if not harsher than others, I am sure no one else would be able to have these discussions if your name is not associated with the regime. But going back to the point raised by Yoanni to Mariela about the intolerance of the system with regards to people with different points of view and political and ideological preferences, Mariela took the “Fifth Amendment” saying that this is a field outside her responsibility. Excuse me? If it is “outside her responsability” is because she does not have the gutts to tell her father about the injustices commited against the cuban people.

  3. Cuba has laws like any other country on earth under which collaborating hostile foreign governments is not permitted. While the United States government spends literally tens of MILLIONS of dollars to promote dissidence and de-stabilization inside of Cuba, Yoani Sanchez never speaks about against these. Here are the official documents of that US program to destabilize Cuba. Don’t take my word for it. Read them yourself:

    Ms. Sanchez left Cuba several years ago to live in Switzerland, and then she chose to return voluntarily. She was allowed to return by the Cuban government, and she had to know what the rule of Cuban life were.

    And don’t forget that Cuba is the on country on the planet where a hostile foreign power, one committed to the overthrow of the local government, maintains a military base.

    It’s true that political expression in Cuba is limited, but it’s also true that Washington has an openly-declared program to destabilize Cuban society and to overthrow the Cuban government. Under these circumstances, the Cuban government does what it feels it must to protect the society from such foreign intervention.

    Finally, while Yoani Sanchez was free to go to Mariela Castro’s meeting and ask a politically-hostile question, people from the United States are not free to go there and witness such things for ourselves. People from the United States need a permission slip from the federal government to travel to Cuba. Cuba is the ONLY country on the planet to which such a United States government restriction applies.

  4. That was a fair question and one that deserves an answer, good for you.
    The answer you received however, that was typical government diplomacy.
    Keep asking those tough questions. We’ll keep writing about it.

  5. What consenting adults do sexually in private is their own business–not the states. However, public sexual acts and teaching that they are all the same is wrong. Families should prepare their children to be good parents.

    Los actas sexuales que hagan los adultos en privado son sus negocios–no del estado. Pero, actas sexuales en publico y ensanando que todas son iguales es malo. Families debian de ensenar sus hijos ser buenos parientes.

  6. Walter Lippmann: Why just regurgitate the Castro government line on dissidents? What are you implying, that Yoani’s dissent is somehow foreign-inspired and paid for? No doubt, staying in Switzerland would have been the easy choice. But thankfully, history is full of examples of courageous individuals like Yoani who stood up against oppression and refused to do what was easy.

    As Yoani pointed out in her question to Mariela, human rights are indivisible. LGBT rights shouldn’t be separated from broader human rights and democratic freedoms.

  7. Good point John, LGBT rights shouldn’t be separated from broader human rights. A choice is a choice: might it be political, ideological, sexual or religious. If one defends the rights of LGBTs they should also be at the forefront of the defense of broader human rights.

    “It’s true that political expression in Cuba is limited” – – – It’s not limited. It’s unconstitutional in Cuba. The only party you are allowed to support in the free election is the Communist Party. I don’t call that limited. I call that nonexistent. That’s why Yoani’s question was so poignant.

  8. The fundamental difference between one’s sexuality and political beliefs is that you are born with your sexuality. One’s politics are the product of the environment and ethical beliefs. Therefore prejudice against people’s ideologies is on a different level and can not be legislated in the same way. Neither can you force someone to accept the humanity of someone who’s morals, beliefs and politics are 100% contrary to one’s own.

    In California, University Professors have been fired or sanctioned for not signing a nationalistic political oath. In many other states and cities, an anti-Communist pledge is still enforced, a vestige from the 50s and 60s when it was routine and discrimination was open. Still today, very few governments, businesses or laws protect people from political discrimination in the US.

    I agree that in almost all cases, political discrimination in employment is abhorrent – and there should be laws saying so. However, in times of war, these protections always fall by the wayside. Cuba, unfortunately, has been under attack for 50 years. There is also a distinction between being discriminated against one for their beliefs, and another for one’s actions and associations, when they involve national security.

  9. Carlos, I do understand that power trumps many things. Still, although we’ve had a few top politicians’ children come out here, it hasn’t rearranged things in the same way that it apparently has in Cuba. It’s still interesting to me that the hand that’s been dealt to a ruling family has played so differently between our two countries. I suppose the similarity is that in our country, the lesbian daughter of a right wing politician is accepted, without really changing anything either for gay rights or for any other minority causes here. But after watching ‘Milk’, I’m made aware that the agenda for GLBT people has really shifted in the U.S. And that that’s a good thing–for everybody.

  10. Seana, I’m not sure if your comment about “the hand that’s been dealt to a ruling family” and the reference to “the lesbian daughter of a right wing politician [in the US]” is meant to suggest that Mariela Castro is a lesbian. She may be, she doesn’t share that information with me — well let’s be honest here… she doesn’t share anything with me, not least because we’ve never met. But she is married to a man, and has three children, including one from a relationship prior to her marriage.

  11. Mr. Lippmann, Cuba is a free and sovereign nation that must abide by the Declaration of Human Rights as like any other signatory to such charter. Unfortunately, because the Cuban dictatorship considers persons it does not like enemies doesn’t justify to deprive 11 million Cubans their basic human rights. Please correct there is no room to justify dictatorships in 2008 using “Enemies” to perpetuate one family ruling a country for 50 years. If we look back in history we the best example of “enemies” (Jews) used by the Nazi regime to justify its totalitarian regime and extermination of millions of innocent lives. Please lets not make excuses for ruthless dictators who deprive their people of their basic rights!

  12. Actually, sadly enough, the Declaration of Human rights is not a legally binding law. Even if there were, most countries wouldn’t care anyways, they’d just do whatever they because that’s what countries do. Especially closed border countries such as Cuba.

    For some more answers on the Declaration of Human Rights feel free to visit the UN in Canada website:

  13. Sickboy, unfortunately you are absolutely right because countries use the old, “we are a sovereign nation” tool. However, they are expected to adhere to it and follow it. The Cuban government continues to systematically violate all articles of the document.

  14. Santiago, I know! It just kills me when stuff like that goes on. But then again you’re hard pressed to find any nation that adheres to the Declaration 100%… In Canada we have our Aboriginal people that are mistreated, the US has Guantanamo, China has Tibet and the list goes on and on. I wish there was a solution for this… if someone thinks of something please let me know!

  15. Cubans only recently gained the right to enter their own hotels on the island. That’s sad and obviously not a revoulution for the people. Cuban people can not even travel to different PROVINCIAS within the island with out the fear of being locked up if caught. Some here want you to look elsewhere. The blinds are now open.

  16. My friend Carolina Valencia produced to report on how alternative sexual preferences are treated in Mariela’s Cuba.
    The north (Canada) doesn’t see and hear enough of the worse treatment given to alternative political preferences.
    You would not believe the opinions of Cuban life that I hear from “intellectuals” at fancy cocktail parties and on the Cdn Broadcasting Corporation, and in the media from brainwashed university professors.
    They are convinced that Fidel is on the right track :[

  17. correction – link was lost
    My friend Carolina Valencia produced “Two Cubas” to report on how alternative sexual preferences are treated in Mariela’s Cuba. The north (Canada) doesn’t see and hear enough of the worse treatment given to alternative political preferences.
    You would not believe the opinions of Cuban life that I hear from “intellectuals” at fancy cocktail parties and on the Cdn Broadcasting Corporation, and in the media from brainwashed university professors.
    They are convinced that Fidel is somehow, after 50 years of HR abuse and starvation, on the right track :[

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *