Thursday, May 24, 2012

In US, Castro's daughter focuses on gay rights

Posted on Wednesday, 05.23.12

In US, Castro's daughter focuses on gay rights
Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO -- The daughter of Cuban President Raul Castro brought her
fight for gay rights to a U.S. forum Wednesday, stressing the need to
secure social equality for all, regardless of sexual orientation.

Speaking in Spanish through a translator, Mariela Castro addressed about
50 medical professionals and transgender advocates at San Francisco
General Hospital on Wednesday.

She has an international reputation as an outspoken gay rights advocate
and lobbied her father's government to cover sex reassignment surgery
under the national health plan, which it has since 2008, and to legalize
same-sex marriages, which so far it has not.

"If we don't change our patriarchal and homophobic culture...we cannot
advance as a new society, and that's what we want, the power of
emancipation through socialism," she said . "We will establish
relationships on the basis of social justice and social equality...It
seems like a Utopia, but we can change it."

Castro, director of Cuba's National Center for Sex Education, or
CENESEX, spoke about transgender health care in Cuba. Wednesday's speech
was part of her multiday visit devoted largely to meeting with gay and
transgender rights activists and an academic conference where she is
scheduled to chair a panel on sexual diversity.

She was one of at least 60 Cuban scholars who were granted U.S. visas to
attend Thursday's meeting of the Latin American Studies Association.

A number of Cuban-American politicians have criticized the State
Department - which provided special agents as Castro's security detail
in San Francisco - for issuing Castro an entry visa. They noted that
U.S. rules prohibit Communist Party members and other high-ranking Cuban
government officials from entry without special dispensation. Aside from
kinship, Mariela Castro has no official link to the government, although
CENESEX is part of Cuba's public health ministry.

She credited her late mother, Vilma Espin, who served as president of
the Federation of Cuban Women and was a member of the Communist Party's
Central Committee, with inspiring her to seek equal rights for Cuba's
marginalized citizens. Espin died in 2007.

"I promised her we would be able to achieve that, and I can't let go
because the process is not complete," she said.

Castro described Cuba's Communist Party as an increasingly good ally in
advancing gay rights. The party approved a statement earlier this year
advocating the elimination of all remaining forms of discrimination in
Cuban society, a position which can be used to push for policies that
benefit gay and transgender people, she said.

"What helped is we went to the Communist Party, the leaders, and told
them our ideological context of this," she said. "It was very difficult
to have this internal division in the Communist Party, but it seems like
they are becoming more and more relaxed."

During her 90-minute appearance at San Francisco General, she said she
wanted her audience to hear a Cuban's perspective on the half-century of
animosities between Havana and Washington because it helps explain why
the nation's growth on issues like gay rights has sometimes been stunted.

"The Revolution has grown in Cuba, and it's been more than 50 years
now," she said. "The Cuban people have been the victims of state
terrorists, of the economic blockade against Cuba, campaigns
to...misinform the world's population about the power of a revolution."

She also criticized Cuban exiles who oppose her father's regime and that
of her uncle, former president Fidel Castro, and support economic and
travel restrictions between the U.S. and her country.

Castro also visited the United States in 2002 during Republican
President George W. Bush's administration. She obtained a visa to attend
an event in Los Angeles, and also stopped in Virginia and Washington.

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