Anastasia Haydulina of Russia Today Television made an interview to Mariela Castro Espín, CENESEX director, on how Cuban society is dealing with changing perceptions of sexuality and concrete measures benefiting LGBTs, as well as transsexualism, same-sex unions, gay rights, HIV/AIDS and world issues.
Mariela Castro is Director of CENESEX – National Center for Sexual Education and a leading authority and proponent of LGBT freedoms in Cuba and globally. She is the daughter of President Raúl Castro,and her mother, Vilma Espín, was the founder and President of the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC).
We have selected some questions from the interview to the Russia Today Television in Havana Cuba, 1 January 2009
Tell us more about the history of homophobia in this country
Just like any other patriarchal societies in the world, Cuban society is homophobic. In the 1960s and 70s, it expressed itself as a political decision that discriminated against homosexuals, especially men. That was a general criterion coming from not only religions but even from sciences. Psychiatry classified homosexuality as a mental disorder. There were even therapists to change homosexuals into heterosexuals, 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. Today, 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 have been discussion and change ever since. And in order to avoid this (homophobia) in the future, we’ve got to be explicit in our laws and policies. Homosexuality is a reality to be taken into account, not got rid of.
Two thirds of Cubans with HIV/AIDS are homosexual men. Are they provided due treatment? Are the Cubans with HIV provided the treatments they need?
In 1983, when Fidel learned about the existence of AIDS, he asked the doctors of the Pedro Kourí Institute of Tropical Medicine to carry out research to avoid the tragedy on our island. Since then the state began designing its policies 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 prevention matters, these are fundamental to avoid the spreading of the epidemic. Even though Cuba maintains the lowest level (of infection) in the region and in the world, it keeps rising, so we need much more effective prevention and treatment. For example, the island buys condoms for the pharmacies, but many are donated and distributed free of charge as part of the center’s educational activities across the country. Thanks to this efficient work, (HIV) infection hardly occurs among adolescents. Unfortunately the existing prejudices impede us from many of the educational activities planned for the homosexual male population.
Is your father supportive of your work?
Yes, he’s supportive of my work, thanks to the past influence of my mother, on sexual education, and mine. Of course, from time to time we have discussions meant to convince him of the need for quicker solutions. He’s 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 to progress, so whenever I have a chance to sit down and talk with my father to convince him, I do so.
Your mother was an internationally recognized champion of women’s rights. What challenges remain for women in Cuba?
There are still the remains of machismo and inequality between men and women. Although there are few women in top governmental positions, we observe rising percentages 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 household chores and the upbringing up of children, because most of them still think that is our job, that "nobody can do it better than us." But men’s participation in all these household duties is no less fundamental, especially in a time of crisis.
What other changes would you like to see in Cuba?
I would like the US 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 has considerably prevented us from achieving our development goals. It has affected our economy, commercial relations, and financial mechanisms. Cuba doesn’t receive credit 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 penalized. We have big problems with the Internet without the access to optical fiber. It would be fundamental for life in Cuba to change, for its economy to grow, the salaries to rise. Then, we’d be able to produce, obtain, more materials and use the latest technologies. For example, I’d like to see improvements in 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, and we like its maturity. That’s why we need to cultivate mechanisms for people’s participation. It’s one of the things that preoccupy me most and will bring about a whole range of other changes.
You can read the full interview or watch it on You tube as follows: