By Dalia Acosta
HAVANA TIMES, June 24 (IPS) – Recognized for her work in defense of gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transvestites and transsexuals, Mariela Castro Espín advocates a form of socialism that is more just, dialectical, inclusive, and especially, participative.
Castro Espín, 46, is the director of the National Center for Sexual Education (CENESEX) and the principal initiator of a resolution approved in mid-2008 for performing sex change operations within the Cuban state health care system.
“Participation could be the key of socialism in the 21st century,” says Mariela, who is the daughter of Cuban President Raul Castro, and the late Vilma Espin (who died in 2007), a fighter for the rights of the women and sexual minorities who was one of the historic leaders of the Cuban Revolution.
In a conversation with IPS, Mariela talked about moments that have led her to where she is today, as well as the topic of socialist participation and the hopes of Cuba if the US blockade is lifted.
IPS: In 2004 you met with a group of transvestites and transsexuals who were seeking assistance. Today you are recognized as the initiator of a set of reforms in support of the right to sexual diversity in Cuba. Were you always understanding of differences?
MARIELA CASTRO ESPIN: It was part of a process of becoming conscious as a Cuban citizen who looked at reality, listened and questioned. Life in this country has taught me not to be a simple interpreter of reality, but to be part of it, to participate, to even try to change what I don’t like or what I believe should just be changed.
IPS: Tell us of some important moment in becoming the person you are today?
MCE: There are many. When I was a first-year student at the university I experienced the process of forging a revolutionary consciousness within the ranks of the Young Communist League (UJC), a process that I didn’t like and that I confronted the best I could; I believed in something better.
What greatly bothered me was the extremism, the prejudices. I hated the phrase “ideological diversionism” because I saw it as an instrument of the opportunists.
What also marked me was the massive exodus from the port of Mariel in 1980. For me it was a tremendous awakening to see how many of those extremists went running to Mariel, and, still today, many of those who were punished are still here participating in the Revolution.
I was also marked by the “Special Period” (the economic crisis that began in the early 1990s). It made me re-think about what kind of socialism I wanted. It’s very interesting to see all that has been achieved in the 50 years of Revolution, with complete sovereignty and the search for social justice, but we still have a long way to go and in very broad terms.
IPS: How should socialism be for it to continue being a valid option, both presently as well as in the nation’s future?
MCE: I continue betting on socialism, but one based on a dialectical focus in which we are required to address all the contradictions that continue to arise and to identify the changes needed for development.
IPS: How do you respond to today’s young generation, which is said to not feel a commitment to anything or anyone?
MCE: Through mechanisms of participation. For me, participatory socialist democracy is fundamental, not only at a llevel of political statements or at the theoretical level, but in the creation of those mechanisms in day to day life..
That is the salvation of socialism as the historic option and the only way that youth will feel like they are a part of this effort, because they would be participating in it and because they could contribute their opinions, concerns and criticism.
It’s necessary to create settings and opportunities in which youth can become a part of a reality that is being invented and created, one that they can experience and commit to because it’s part of their reality, one that they too are constructing.
IPS: Have you applied that principle to the current campaign of CENESEX in support of sexual diversity?
MCE: That’s exactly what we’re doing. CENESEX creates opportunities because we can’t do our work alone, nor should we. What we are doing is opening spaces and developing projects jointly. There is nothing more fascinating than participation, because we all assume responsibilities.
If participatory mechanisms are developed and improved in Cuban society, they will greatly enrich our process as well as those of socialism, since this has been its weak point throughout all of its history.
Cuba – this country so authentic, original, delicious and so contradictory – can also contribute to socialism as a system of Creole socialism in the Caribbean, which is what we are.
Otherwise you’re just trying to put on a suit on that doesn’t fit, one that has nothing to do with you.
IPS: With Barack Obama assuming the presidency of the United States, people have spoken a great deal about the possibility of that country easing its sanctions against Cuba. How do you imagine the island without the blockade?
MCE: A Cuba without blockade is a Cuba that will prosper. This is what I requested of St. Peter when I went to the Vatican, prosperity for Cuba. First I planned to ask for the end of the blockade, but I told myself that this would only be a part of the solution. We need prosperity, with or without the blockade.
The day they lift the blockade they will remove a very great weight from us so that we can survive in connection with the world.
But along with that it will be fundamental to improve the mechanisms of socialist democracy, because the lifting of the blockade in itself won’t impel prosperity. We have to improve our social system.
IPS: What do you think of the theory that the Cuban socialist system cannot withstand the impact of the lifting of the blockade?
MCE: To be alive is to be in danger, and the Cuban Revolution has always been in danger. Is it possible to have been subjected to more danger than what we’ve already been through? – I don’t think so. I believe it will be an opportunity, a dangerous one, but an opportunity, and we have to take maximum advantage of it.
It will be fundamental for Cuba, as it would be for any country. What country can survive a blockade? Cuba survived, but at a high cost – in many senses.
IPS: Do you share the opinion that we live in a country in which everything is seen through the perspective of its relations with the United States?
MCE: Everything is related to it. We have developed a culture of the blockade and we’ll have to learn the lessons of life without the blockade of Cuba, which wants to survive with a socialist system. In my opinion, it must be a system that is more prone to development, more inclusive and more dialectical.
Socialism cannot lose its dialectical focus of interpretation and development if we’re to withstand the impact of lifting the blockade. Everything that we do will have to be as a function of guaranteeing our sovereignty, without neglecting the internal mechanisms that mustn’t be as narrow as they have been.
I still have the energy, hope and strength to continue fighting for this socialism. I know that the Revolution has developed many defense mechanisms in the face of the constant hostility from the US imperialism and all its vast resources.
And that’s not just some trite phrase; it’s an expansive, intensive, very cruel imperial system, and it’s necessary to continue fighting, to not back down in the face of violence, in the face of the pressures that we will continue to confront.
When there is conviction on a road, you don’t yield. What’s most important is that we take this journey along the most intelligent route possible.
IPS: …that you don’t veer against the Cuban people themselves?
MCE: Exactly, that we don’t veer against ourselves. For that reason the development of participatory mechanisms is the key. How do we want Cuban socialism to be? How do we want to build it? How will we do it? And what are the principles that we cannot give up?
Of course, we must retain our national dignity, sovereignty, and social justice, so that in the search for development we don’t fall for mechanisms of exploitation, but there are indeed other mechanisms – perhaps ones of cooperation in the economic plane – that can allow us to prosper, to satisfy the population’s growing needs, perhaps through the fiscal policy, the possibilities of the state…
IPS: What do you expect from Obama?
MCE: In my personal opinion, he doesn’t have very good advisers on Cuba or on Latin America. I hope that we can have dialogue, a rapprochement. From his personal biography I find him to be a wonderful person, but now that he has assumed the role of president he has to wear another suit, and that’s difficult. I imagine that he wanted to do many things that he now can’t.
IPS: Do you think that, although Obama may not achieve substantial changes during his office, the single fact of his having been elected is an important symptom of change?
MCE: Yes, but the world needs a response from Obama. The world needs changes in the United States, a country that demands so many changes on the world in the interests of small circles of power.
The world is demanding the United States make deep changes to survive.
We cannot hope that the United States will cease being an empire, for the time being, and much less simply because of Obama, but at least the fact that Americans have chosen him is a symptom that they too want change.
As they say in Santería (an Afro-Cuban religion) when you want to wish someone luck, you always say Aché. So I say Aché Obama; so that he accomplishes all he can, all that’s possible.
Havana Times translation of the original article published in Spanish by IPS.