“What Europe doesn’t realize is that in Cuba, change began in January, 1959.“
Juan Vivanco translated this interview with Mariela Castro from Italian to Spanish for Rebelión. English translation by Machetera for Tlaxcala.
Interview with Mariela Castro, Raúl Castro’s daughter, sexologist and writer
She’s Raúl’s daughter and says calmly: “The Cuban exit permit has to go; hotels shouldn’t be reserved only for tourists; free access to all kinds of electronic devices ought to be ensured…” Okay, they’d been “necessary prohibitions,” but as soon as conditions permit, they ought to go. “Differences with my father? I’ve had them ever since I was a little girl,” she laughs, “from how to set the table to political affairs.” But not over the essential questions. “He’s my main ally now.”
Mariela Castro Espin, the Youthful Face of Cuban Socialism
Fidel’s niece, the second daughter of the current president, read “Heidi” when she was a girl and tells how “afterwards, my mother gave me a book about Leonardo da Vinci that I liked very much.” Her father’s biography of Garibaldi, on the other hand, remained on the bookshelf; her preference being to watch Charlie Chaplin films with him. Today, 45 years old and with three children, Mariela is a sexologist committed to the rights of homosexuals and transexuals, the director of the National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX), the author of books about puberty, and a huge admirer of Roberto Benigni: “I adore him, not only his film Life is Beautiful, but also as a person. I’d like it very much if this message were to reach him…” While awaiting a response, she’s planning to go and see Quiet Chaos, and Nanni Moretti is another of her favorites: “In Stanza del Figlio (The Son’s Room) I cried as though the son were my own.”
Her second husband is a photographer from Palermo (“But Italians and Cubans have the same issues with machismo,” she laughs, “it’s the same Latin culture…”) so Mariela feels completely at home in Italy: “Ah, Michaelangelo’s David…I wish Cuban socialism were like the Renaissance, a renaissance in every sense; it’s what’s been lacking in the socialist experience.” Her latest chance to cross the ocean came yesterday when she landed in Milan for the International Youth Book Fair, which began March 31 in Bologna, where she’ll present “What Happens in Puberty?” translated to Italian by Bianca Pitzorno.
To what do you attribute your interest in these subjects?
In the Education Faculty my subject was the pre-school age. My mother (Vilma Espin, pioneer in women’s rights who died in 2007) had spent time working in the area of sex education. Little by little I became interested in that as well.
Through CENESEX you’ve achieved certain successes that various Italian associations have also claimed, such as hormonal treatments as a part of public health. Did you come up against many obstacles? Could it be said that Cuba is a homophobic country?
I would say that in Cuba there’s a soft, unaggressive homophobia; gays aren’t beaten or killed as happens in Europe or the United States. It’s true that there was a difficult period during the sixties and seventies, but homosexuality was not accepted anywhere in the world at that time. Later, thanks to work that had been done on women’s rights, differing sexual orientations came to be recognized as well.
What does your father think of your work? Does he give you advice?
Many years ago, in a congress of Cuban women, my father said publicly that my mother had helped him great deal in changing his mentality. And that I had also helped….he always tells me to do things like my mother did, carefully, with respect, with sensitivity. Without breaking things. And so I have.
What kind of president will your father be? Seen from Europe, compared with his brother, it seems that he is showing signs of openness. In his inaugural speech on February 24, he alluded to monetary reform and the abolition of many prohibitions…
What Europe doesn’t realize is that in Cuba, change began in January, 1959. Cuba is a country in revolution, in constant change. The transformations of this period are not dependent on a change of presidents; Fidel continues as commandante and all decisions are made with him.
But in any case they are two different leaders…
Of course, they have their own personalities. Fidel gives long, deep, philosophical speeches. My father is more to the point. Long speeches make him nervous. Fidel always has the ultimate objective in mind; he never loses his strategic vision. My father transforms it into reality, through daily steps. They are complementary.
Since Fidel’s illness in July of 2006, it appears that a range of different views have surfaced. Is the country opening itself to criticism?
But we Cubans are very critical about Cuba! It’s not true that there’s no freedom of expression! Maybe yes, now more than before, people think that their opinion deserves to be heard, and they speak. I also believe that it is a constitutional right to be able to go to a hotel [ed. note: as a university student claimed, scandalously, to Alarcon, the parliamentary president], to buy computers and electronic devices, get rid of the exit permits, resolve the problem of a dual currency. The important thing is that Cuba has the political will to recognize its errors and move ahead without losing sight of what it means to be human, and human needs. There’s plenty of room to argue and make proposals, within the framework of socialism. The majority of Cubans want socialism to be maintained, but managed better. Like any country, we should find our own path.