BY STEVE ROTHAUS, srothaus@MiamiHerald.com
Gay Cuban Americans in Miami are furious that Fidel Castro's niece is meeting this week and next with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender activists in San Francisco and New York City.
"For Mariela Castro, or anybody else under the Castro dictatorship, to say they are representing the rights of anyone is an insult to the hundreds of thousands who have either been killed, jailed or assassinated by their own hands, or the nearly 100,000 people who’ve jumped into the ocean looking for freedom who haven’t made it here," said Herb Sosa, executive director of Unity Coalition, Miami-Dade County's leading Hispanic gay rights group.
Mariela Castro, whose father, Raul, succeeded his brother, Fidel, as Cuban president, is in the United States on a visa granted about a month ago.
An advocate for marriage and transgender equality, Mariela has been a visible gay-rights figure in Cuba, where until several years ago LGBT people were treated as outcasts and often sent to hard-labor camps.
U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami, known as both a staunch anti-Castro Cuban American and one of Congress' most outspoken Republicans for LGBT equality, is harshly critical of Mariela Castro's U.S. visit.
“The Castro regime was particularly brutal and harsh in its treatment of members of the Cuban gay community and as part of its revisionist push the dictatorship wants the U.S. to believe its lies because it respects no one's rights," Ros-Lehtinen told The Miami Herald. "The Cuban dictatorship would round up members of the gay and AIDS community and send them to forced labor camps where their most basic human rights came under withering assaults. This is all a public relations ploy meant to soften Cuba’s image abroad and it will not work."
Sosa calls Castro's public support for gay equality "a dog and pony show."
"The true LGBT leaders are routinely arrested, beaten up or simply disappear at the hands of the Castro leadership every time Mariela marches," he says.
Pedro A. Romanach of Miami calls her visit "patently absurd."
"She may be pro-gay marriage, but the very elementary rights Cubans don't have -- freedom of the press, freedom of assembly -- gay people don’t have those rights in Cuba," Romanach said. "Neither do straights."
Castro started her San Francisco visit attending meetings Tuesday on transgender healthcare at the University of California, San Francisco. She is scheduled to participate in an educational forum on the same topic at San Francisco General Hospital on Wednesday.
Later, the San Francisco LGBT Center is planning to host Castro for a discussion on Cuba's gay rights policies. She also is chairing a panel on sexual politics Thursday at the annual meeting of the Latin American Studies Association.
"She’s going to come over and be welcomed as some kind of hero by gay people and she’s not. There are anti-communist gay people in Cuba who she’s argued with," Romanach said. "She doesn’t represent anybody but herself. The real heroes in Cuba are the gay people who are pro gay and pro freedom, anti-communists who aren’t getting any publicity."
On Tuesday, Castro is scheduled to speak at the New York Public Library, along with Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. The forum is titled, "LGBT Rights in Cuba, the United States and Beyond: Mariela Castro and Rea Carey in Conversation."
"In 2010 the Cuban government began providing sex reassignment surgery free of charge as part of their universal healthcare. This was the result of several years of work by the Cuban National Center for Sex Education under the leadership of Mariela Castro Espín, niece of Fidel Castro and daughter of current Cuban president Raúl Castro. The current developments in LGBT rights in Cuba are remarkable given the discrimination suffered by gays, lesbians, and transgender people in Cuba in the 20th century, as well as comparison with current LGBT movements in the U.S. and abroad."
On Saturday, Romanach sent a protest email to Carey:
"I am gay, a registered Democrat, and a member of the Task Force Foundation. (I just sent you $40 renewing my membership a few days ago. In the past, I have also been a member of the Task Force Foundation, sending yearly contributions of around $35.) I am also an anti-Communist Cuban American in Miami," Romanach wrote.
"Ms. Carey, there are many anti-Communist gay Cubans both in Cuba and outside the oppressed island. Mariela Castro represents no one but herself. She does not represent gay Cubans. If you are to meet with her, and I hope you don't, I hope you will vigorously question her about why she supports a despicable dictatorship that denies basic freedoms to its citizens," Romanach continued. "With all due respect, if this is not done, I will not be renewing my Task Force Foundation membership as a protest. Mariela Castro is despised by anti-Communist gay Cubans and Cuban Americans because of her disgusting defense of the dictatorship which oppresses the land where I was born."
This report was supplemented with material from The Associated Press.