Two months after Cuba’s revised labor code went into effect, and more than eight months after the measure passed the country’s National Assembly, the AP reports on a largely unnoticed detail in the voting breakdown: Mariela Castro voted against it.
Mariela Castro, the daughter of President Raul Castro and niece of Fidel Castro, gave the thumbs-down to a workers' rights bill that she felt didn't go far enough to prevent discrimination against people with HIV or with unconventional gender identities.
None of the experts contacted by The Associated Press could recall another "no" vote in the 612-seat National Assembly, which meets briefly twice a year and approves laws by unanimous show of hands.
"This is the first time, without a doubt," said Carlos Alzugaray, a historian and former Cuban diplomat.
Analysts cited by the AP are split over the significance of the move. Some believe it is evidence of increasing tolerance for critical debate in the Assembly, while others think it is only a sign that the daughter of Raul Castro can get away with what others can’t.
But more interesting than the weight of her vote is another component to the story: the fact that Castro was not alone in calling for greater protections for HIV-positive or transgender individuals. In fact, the news largely escaped notice until the law went into effect in June and LGBT advocacy groups on the island began to publicize Castro’s “no” vote.
As IPS reported last month, the LGBT rights collective Proyecto Arcoiris met with Cuban lawmakers in July to protest the exclusion of transgender and HIV-positive protections in the labor code. Toledo Santander, who headed up the parliamentary commission responsible for drafting the new code, reportedly told those present that the final wording had been altered by a “style commission.”
Francisco Rodriguez, who attended the meeting, wrote on his blog that he responded by rather diplomatically emphasizing “the need for state leaders and the government to study these topics more and to listen more to those who are specialists in these subjects, as well as to exert political leadership on scientific grounds.”
These kinds of encounters are important as they illustrate the potential for civil society to play a role in targeted advocacy on the island, especially when paired with relatively reform-minded political figures like Mariela Castro. For those interested in promoting democratic reforms in Cuba, studying these kinds of relationships might be a better use of time than, say, sending undercover foreign activists to university campuses to attempt to identify potential dissident youths.
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