Castro illness may raise Cuba’s gay hopes

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Speculation is mounting over the future of Cuba after its leader Fidel Castro recently handed power to his brother Raul.

The president is currently recovering from treatment for internal bleeding, and the temporary appointment of his sibling may bring good news for the country’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in the future.

President Castro, 80, said the pressure of being in power since 1959 contributed to his illness.

Raul, currently Cuban Defence Minister, is hailed as a natural successor to Fidel, and his support for his daughter could mean greater rights for Cuba’s gay community.

President Castro’s seizure of power in the 1959 Cuban Revolution was followed by the targeting of homosexuals in society who were sent to work camps and in the following decades excluded from jobs.

Nowadays Raul Castro’s daughter, Mariela Castro is in charge of the government’s National Centre for Sex Education, from which she has promoted issues of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights, in stark contrast to country’s macho society and homosexual witch-hunts of the 1960s and 1970s.

Her department has previously campaigned for better AIDs prevention and promoted a soap opera involving a bisexual character and most recently pushed for a free gender transition law, which will be voted on in December.

She told the Reuters news agency that she is aiming to extend the Cuban Revolution to sexuality, “I want to bring the revolution’s humanity to those aspects of life that it hasn’t reached because of old prejudices.”

She insisted that she has the support of her father but admitted President Castro is harder to persuade, “Of course, I talk with my father whenever I have the chance. He is one of those in the party that supports our work. He thinks it is useful, good, just.

“Fidel is very sensitive to these issues, he is a pensive man and when the subject is one of justice it gets his attention. He asks for more information, more elements to consider.”

Her mother, Vilma Espin, was a champion of women’s rights in Cuba, and pushed for men to help out in the home and with raising children.

Ms Castro is now being pushed to promote gay unions in the country, she said: “Many people ask her if she plans to push legalisation of gay marriages.

“We do not know what we will propose. It depends on what we identify as homosexuals’ and lesbians’ main needs.

“Marriage is not as important in Cuba as in other more Catholic countries. Here consensual pairing is more important, what matters is love.”

If her legislation is approved it would rank Cuba amongst the most liberal Latin American nations on gay issues.

In 1979 homosexuality was legalised in Cuba, and the President has recently described being gay as natural. However the country has no anti discrimination laws based on sexual orientation and bans gay organisations.

Although the president insists his absence is not permanent, many Cubans are hoping for an end to his regime and in Washington plans are reported to have been made to help the island’s population after his death.