LA HABANA — Mariela Castro Espín sparked another controversy this past Tuesday at the socially-distanced, online launch of the annual Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. The organization she leads, Cuba’s National Center for Sexual Education (CENESEX), has organized the event since 2008.
legislator, government official, and LGBTI activist, broadcasting together with
the lawyer Manuel Vázquez Seijido and the journalist Francisco Rodríguez Cruz,
took the opportunity to denigrate those who pursue activism outside of Cuba’s
governmental institutions. She referred to them as “cheap junk” and “little
In Cuba’s revolutionary tradition, anyone who speaks without the
government’s backing is pre-emptively discredited as prejudiced. For those with
a militant anti-Castro mindset, anyone who speaks from the government’s
institutions is similarly discredited.
So as not
to play this game myself, and to give Mariela Castro the credit she deserves, I
have to mention that she has advanced LGBTI rights in every area she could
influence. And she’s fought for them in the Cuban parliament, closed as it is
to any debate. All the prestige she enjoys among international LGBTI
organizations was earned.
aid, educational, and health services CENESEX offers decisively favor the
aspiration of equality of the gay, lesbian, and trans community in a country
that has had more homophobic and transphobic policies than other western
nations, particularly since the Cuban revolution.
For the LGBTI community, the work of this agency and the
discussion spaces it has promoted were a revolution. People far from Cuba and
with other perspectives have criticized this as “pinkwashing.” Here, in our
day-to-day lives, considering the charismatic leadership she exercises as
a “fag hag,” she’s seen as an all-powerful fairy godmother.
For the fags arrested in some cruisy spot, or for the trans people
rejected when they apply for a job, Mariela’s name is a talisman. She’s a
“boss” who inspires the same degree of devotion that most of the Cuban people
dedicated to Fidel Castro.
This cult-like mentality is not how healthy institutions
function, but it’s become normalized in Cuba. The people justify it,
undoubtedly because they lack other experiences of political participation. I
do not know how she sees it herself, nor if, in her most revolutionary moments,
she critiques this model.
Where CENESEX and Mariela Castro have contributed nothing to LGBTI
activism is when it comes to horizontality, transparency, and coherency, all
qualities this movement demands as its size and ambition grow.
That a heterosexual, cisgender person, not a fag, not a dyke,
not trans-anything, would be the activist with most recognition and authority,
reveals the incoherent foundation underlying Cuba’s official activism.
Mariela Castro also fails to critique the system she inherited,
a social project that excluded sexual dissidence. When she has had to take
sides, as in 2018 — when Cuban politicians suppressed a revision to the
constitution about marriage equality and agreed to submit it to a national
referendum in two years — she aligned herself with the official position and
asked her followers to do the same, betraying themselves in order to remain
loyal to the system.
There is a
moment that marked the close of Mariela Castro’s time as an activist, leaving
her role as a government official intact. The dilemma she lived for years was
resolved on May 11, 2019, the day when hundreds of LGBTI people and allies
marched through Havana to protest the cancellation of one of the public
activities that Mariela herself promoted for a decade.
She had to speak about this on television, and what came out was
the voice of an official. At that time, denying her activist side and offering
no evidence, she said that the independent march was not legitimate, that it
was paid for by the enemies of the state. In contrast to those who referred to
it as “the Cuban Stonewall,” she said it did not deserve a place in the LGBTI
history of Cuba and the world.
Her attitude towards the events of May 11, the only attitude she
could hold as a government official, liquidated all Mariela’s prestige as an
activist. The violent images we all remember were the government’s response to
its LGBTI citizens.
Some of the “little ticks” she referred to yesterday had to
leave the country after May 11. Others continue in Cuba and struggle to work
independently, despite the legal limits imposed by the government when it prevents
them from incorporating legally or raising funds, as CENESEX does.
The metaphor of the “little ticks” reminds us of Mariela’s other
controversial phrases with the same folksy flavor. And in this case, it’s very
apt. Out-of-control activists are insects that bite. The legislator, fixated as
she is on disobedient activists, wants an insecticide. May 11 was the end of
arrests. The plague must be treated with a spray.
Yesterday, Mariela said that independent LGBTI activists lack
“political culture,” but this should be read only as a lack of adherence to the
authoritarian social project of the Communist Party of Cuba. Among these
activists, there are liberals, those who sympathize with the U.S. sanctions,
but also anarchists, libertarian communists, and anticapitalists.
Mariela gives the traditional response of the political class in
Cuba towards the conservative opposition, as though there were no other to
give, as thought she was left without adequate language for the
“Elvis-Presleyans,” as Fidel called them.
What does Mariela Castro have to say to those of us who
disapprove of U.S. interference into Cuba’s affairs, but also reject the
authoritarian style of the Cuban government?
Her anachronistic response, her willful lack of understanding —
as though her previous blunders and insulting metaphors weren’t enough — will
cost her more than silence would, with all the “cheap junk” who marched through
Havana, against tradition, without the White House and without Revolution
Published at Sat, 09 May 2020 16:28:38 +0000