Haroldo Dilla Alfonso
HAVANA TIMES — Activists of Cuba’s LGTB community organized around the National Center for Sexual Education (CENESEX) headed by Mariela Castro – the daughter of Cuban President Raul Castro – welcomed the New Year brimming with optimism.
In December of 2013, Cuba’s National Assembly of the People’s Power (Parliament) officially closed the debate surrounding the country’s new Labor Law and, following approval of the legislation, referred the document to a specialized commission tasked with incorporating the petitions made by the CENESEX – ensuring no one in the workplace suffered discrimination because of sexual orientation or for being HIV positive – in the most advantageous way possible. This procedure was certainly a bit strange (as the parliament approved the legislation before its final version had been drafted), but Cuba’s National Assembly isn’t exactly a house of parliament and the discussion had ended with a spiel by the vice president announcing a positive tilt to the balance.
A well-known gay rights activist supportive of the regime declared he had been left speechless with joy. Another – a reputable medical doctor – praised the measure as a leap forward in the strengthening of “Cuban democracy and republicanism”, proclaiming that Cuba “was one of the few countries in the world where a gender focus is applied.”
Both the activist and doctor were, in fact, undergoing that metamorphosis that leads an individual from excessive virtue to sinful indulgence, and I do not believe the step, had it been taken, had the democratic and republican significance the physician claimed it did. Nor would it have pulled Cuba out of the sorry place it’s in regarding sexual diversity. It did, on the other hand, legitimize the work of Mariela Castro and those close to her, consolidating her political position within the system.
Ultimately, however, none of that took place, for the commission in question eliminated every reference to sexual diversity in the document. When this happened, the gay rights activist regained his speech and complained bitterly about something we all know: our poor excuse for a parliament is not exactly transparent.
I believe this step back – not only for the LGTB community, but for all of Cuban society as well – teaches us two things.
The first is that the movement for the rights of different sexual orientations cannot continue to move forward in the shadow of the CENESEX, even if it considers this institution its ally. The commission’s refusal to include the issue of sexual diversity in the new legislation is nothing other than a pale and discrete illustration of the militant homophobia of Cuba’s political class, an attitude that, for many years, has expressed itself as the direct repression, exclusion and discrimination of homosexuals.
Government activists have always preferred to advance on tip-toes, highlighting the “achievements of the revolution” and the aspiration to treat homosexuals more decorously than they have been for more than fifty years. It is as though they wanted to throw out the dirty water and keep the gleaming child. What Cubans – be they homosexual, bisexual, heterosexual, transsexual or asexual – actually need to do today is scrutinize the dirty water some to understand our problems in all of their complexity.
The second lesson has to do with Cuba’s rigid sectarianism. The political putrefaction suffered by Cuban society today lies, most of all, in the capacity of the post-revolutionary elite to fragment society and isolate each of its different parts.
The demands made by Cuba’s emerging civil society (I am not referring to the opposition, which had its own debate elsewhere) generally assume this fragmentation as a given, and this allows the political class to “manage” these demands without much tension or uncomfortable politicization. Because of this, when they present themselves as though they stood for the whole, like a social synecdoche, they achieve nearly nothing.
I am not questioning whether different social sectors ought to demand specific rights, on the basis of their identity. Cuban society is diverse and, as such, ought to demand representation. But it must do so with the understanding that they are parts of a larger system. It is impossible for homosexuals to enjoy inalienable rights (such as those Mariela Castro speaks of in her frivolous spiels) if a system of consecrated civil, political and social rights does not exist in society. African Cubans will not be able to eliminate racist discrimination if they tolerate other forms of discrimination. While Cuba’s political regime continues to regard the rights of people as an administrative issue and becomes more or less permissive depending on circumstance, there will be no true rights for anyone.
This is what happened with the demands made by the CENESEX and with the entirety of the legislation in question. Ultimately, the issue of sexual preference is a secondary issue when it comes to Cuba’s new labor law.
The truly serious thing is that the Labor Law forbids the creation of independent unions, does not envisage the right to strike, reduces the social rights of workers and does not acknowledge the right of workers to keep their jobs regardless of their political opinions. It constitutes another step taken by Cuba’s political elite in the process of establishing an authoritarian capitalist system, for which they require a mass of dispossessed and subjugated workers.
Needless to say, had Raul Castro wanted to please his daughter on this issue, it would have sufficed to slam his fist on the table for all of the country’s deputies to have introduced the petitions made by the CENESEX. This would have given the regime a much-needed semblance of open-mindedness. If he didn’t, he must have good reasons I am unaware of.
To venture one hypothesis, I believe we witnessed one of the things Raul Castro offered as gift to the Catholic hierarchy, which could prove more cooperative politically in exchange of greater control over those fields where it can unfold its conservative vocation in full. This may again prove too much for the gay rights activist who welcomed the New Year thinking something new and better was coming, and leave him speechless.