Tuesday, August 19, 2014

On Mariela Castro’s ‘No’ Vote and Cuban LGBT Advocacy

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.

News Briefs
  • Today’s Washington Post features a profile of the Peruvian government’s recent highly-publicized efforts to crack down on illegal gold mining, which have included raiding mining camps and demolishing equipment. But despite these displays, the Post notes that just four illegal miners have gone to prison as a result of the government’s campaign.
  • Following the publication of the Datafolha survey which showed that Marina Silva’s likely entry to the presidential race poses a serious threat to President Dilma Rousseff, Folha has an analysis of Silva’s likely support base. According to the paper, the poll found that those who backed Silva tended to be better educated, younger, and upper-middle class. Datafolha head Mauro Paulino argues that this demographic fits well with those who participated in the protests of June 2013.
  • Brazilian news site Ponte reports that President Rousseff has signed a new law into effect which grants city police, known as the Municipal Guards, new powers as well as permission to carry firearms. Ponte notes that several security analysts have questioned the reform over its alleged potential to fuel jurisdictional disputes with the state-level military police.
  • La Silla Vacia has an account of the work of the victims’ delegation to the Colombian peace talks in Havana, describing how delegates were swiftly informed of their nomination over a 48-hour period and then whisked away to Bogota, then Cuba. While their encounters with government and FARC negotiators were emotional and laid a positive foundation for reconciliation, La Silla notes that their reception back home -- especially among right-wing Uribista sectors -- shows that more work on this front is needed.
  • The Washington Examiner reports on the challenges that Washington faces in propping up an anti-narcotic helicopter fleet in Guatemala, where officials’ late payments to contractors have made it so that just two of the six U.S.-supplied helicopters are airworthy due to a lack of spare parts.
  • Pope Francis announced yesterday that he was lifting a ban on the beatification of El Salvador’s Archbishop Oscar Romero. As the BBC reports, the pontiff told reporters that he saw Romero as a “man of god,” and said it was important that the beatification be completed quickly.
  • In a column for Foreign Policy, former senior advisor to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) Fulton Armstrong offers a look at the recent AP reporting on USAID activity in Cuba. Armstrong claims that his work with the SFRC exposed him to a number of controversial projects like the ones the AP has exposed, and asserts that a number of State Department and USAID employees have privately expressed concern over the lack of oversight of the humanitarian agency’s work on the island.
  • Infojus, the press department of Argentina’s Ministry of Justice, has released a copy of the forged birth certificate of the re-located grandson of Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo President Estela de Carlotto. As EFE reports, the certificate was verified by a police doctor, and falsely lists the grandson’s parents as rural farmworkers.