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 government.”