The United States had a rare and unique opportunity last week to witness first hand a one on one conversation between two intelligent women. Unfortunately the event was promoted on live television for Spanish speaking audiences and for the international section of CNN.
AMANPOUR: Mariela Castro, thank you for being with us.
MARIELA CASTRO ESPIN, DAUGHTER OF RAUL CASTRO: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: I want to ask you first, who inspired you to this cause of gay rights?
ESPIN (through translator): In the first place, it was my mother.
My mother began to do this kind of work in the Cuban women’s organization, first defending women’s rights, children’s and youth rights and little by little she began to try and have people be respected in the LGBT community that, because of a very patriarchal culture inherited from the Spanish system continues to be our reality, these prejudices are still repeated.
AMANPOUR: Let me show you these pictures that we have found, amazing pictures of you and your family, your mother and your father and your siblings. This is the current president, Raul Castro, your father. And this is your mom, Vilma.
AMANPOUR: And which is you here?
ESPIN: Here. Esta.
ESPIN (through translator): I’m right here. This is me. I’m the second child.
AMANPOUR: Given your family’s history and the revolutionary hero and the tough guy image in Cuba, was it difficult to take up this cause of gay rights?
ESPIN (through translator): All families in the world are patriarchal families and they’re machista families. And in the case of my family, the fact that my mother was already working in this field, she ensured that my father interpreted this reality in a more flexible way.
And for me it was always easy to speak openly with my parents and this idea of fighting against homophobia was really something that I took from them.
But even so, although I found understanding in my family and my family was very understanding, even my father is very understanding right now, it’s a very difficult and complex process, and this is why my father always said that I have to be very careful about everything and to do this very attentively and carefully so that I wouldn’t hurt other people who don’t understand, but that I do have to provide people the instruments with which they can respect other realities, even though they don’t understand them.
AMANPOUR: You have written, “As I began to recognize the damage that homophobia was doing to society, I would come home and confront my parents with the issue. And when I got home, I said to my father, `How could you people have been so savage?’ My dad said, `Well, we were like that in those days. That’s what we were taught. But people learn.'”
So it was an evolution for your father.
ESPIN (through translator): Exactly. I think that Cuban society as a whole has been changing and its political leaders are also changing as part of society.
AMANPOUR: Even in this country, it’s taken a long time for politicians to agree, for instance, to gay marriage, same-sex marriage. President Obama has just said that he supports it. You must admire President Obama.
ESPIN (through translator): Yes. And when I heard this news, and I was questioned about it in the press, of course I can say that I support and I celebrate what President Obama has done. I believe that it’s very just and I feel a great deal of admiration for President Obama.
I believe that if President Obama had fewer limitations in his mandate, he could do much more for his people and for international law and international rights. Yes, I think that I dare to say that, because I’m not American. That’s really a right that the American people have. But I feel the right to express what I feel, and if I was an American citizen, yes, I would vote for President Obama.
AMANPOUR: On this issue of same-sex marriage, do you think that will become legal in Cuba?
ESPIN (through translator): Already several years ago, my mother began to promote this bill and even trying to propose changing legislation. First we were proposing the freedom of same-sex marriage.
But since there’s been such a debate on this and there are so many diverse opinions in Cuba, what is being proposed right now are civil unions, where gay couples have the same rights as heterosexual couples. However, this hasn’t happened as yet, and people who are in same-sex couples do not have any protection.
AMANPOUR: You can see these pictures of gay rights marches in Cuba itself. When do you think this law will be taken up? When do you think that there will be progress from the Cuban parliament on this?
ESPIN (through translator): According to what had been planned, it’s this same year that this still has to be presented, which recognizes the rights of same-sex couples.
AMANPOUR: As we’ve been talking, you’ve talked about human rights and you’ve talked about the limits of the state. So let me ask you about the rights in your country and whether you think that gay rights, civil rights, could lead to more different kinds of rights, political kinds of rights. Where do you see this trend going, opening up the space for civil rights?
ESPIN (through translator): At present, in the last few years, there’s been a big debate that the Cuban people have participated in in many sectors. And there have been criticisms and suggestions of what we have to change in Cuban society.
And many valuable ideas have come from this. And what we’ve seen is what the population believes should be our socialist transition process in Cuba. And we want to include everything that we believe to be our need. And of course, this translates into rights, civil rights.
AMANPOUR: Well, let me ask you about that. I’ve been in Cuba several times over the last 14 years, and I can see that under your father, President Raul Castro, there’s been opening on the economic front, but not so much on the political front. Again, do you think these civil rights will lead to more political diversity, more political rights?
ESPIN (through translator): As to political rights, what are you talking about?
AMANPOUR: Obviously, there’s one party in Cuba, so that’s one issue. But Human Rights Watch says that Cuba remains the only country in Latin America that represses virtually all forms of political dissent. So I’m trying to figure out whether there is space in Cuba for broader political rights, where people, for instance, can dissent without being sent to jail.
ESPIN (through translator): All right. Human Rights Watch does not represent the ideas of the Cuban people and their informants are mercenaries. They’re people that have been paid by foreign governments for media shows that do not represent Cuban positions correctly.
However, the presence of a sole party in Cuba came from the fight against colonialism, from Spain. Jose Martin had the merit of creating the Cuban revolutionary party in Cuba as a sole party, specifically to achieve independence and to avoid domination by the United States. So that’s the line that we followed in Cuban history because conditions haven’t changed.
And it hasn’t been easy. We’ve been working for many years to achieve this. We’ve achieved it in many spheres, in human rights, the rights of women, health, in many areas. But in other areas, where we haven’t reached that, we’re still working. That demand, that Cuba have various parties, no country has shown that having plural parties leads to democracy.
So the suggestions that they want to make to us aren’t valid. Conditions haven’t changed. Cuba is a country that for over 50 years have been subjected to the violation of international law with the financial blockade which has not allowed Cuba to access development.
AMANPOUR: I think I heard you suggest that if the embargo was not there and if you were not under pressure, that there would be a different political reality or there could be a different political reality in Cuba. Is that right?
ESPIN (through translator): Exactly. That’s right. If Cuba weren’t the subject of an economic and trade embargo, which has created so many problems for us, then Cuba, it wouldn’t make sense to have a sole party, just one party. But it’s when our sovereignty is threatened that we use this resource, which has truly worked in Cuban history.
AMANPOUR: As you know, there are many people, even inside Cuba, who feel that if the embargo was lifted, it would actually cause the one-party system to collapse. It would cause, perhaps, socialism to collapse.
ESPIN (through translator): I don’t think it would collapse. I don’t think socialism would collapse. I think it would become stronger. This is why they don’t lift the embargo.
AMANPOUR: Let me get to some of the reaction that your visit here has caused. Were you surprised that the U.S. government gave you a visa?
ESPIN (through translator): Even though I had obtained a visa under Bush in 2002, I was surprised this time. I didn’t think that I would be granted a visa. But I’m grateful. I was able to have a very rich exchange with professionals and activists in San Francisco and in New York as well.
AMANPOUR: You don’t need me to tell you what the Cuban-American community thinks. Florida Senator Marco Rubio accused you of bringing a campaign of anti-Americanism to the United States. Is that what you’re doing here?
ESPIN (through translator): In the first place, that senator doesn’t represent the Cuban-American people in the United States, just a very small interest group that has dedicated itself to manipulating policies in the United States towards Cuba affecting the civil rights of the Cuban-American people to travel freely and as often as they want, to be able to go back and see their families in Cuba.
So their leaders have always asked that we normalize relations based on respect towards our sovereignties and our social and economic projects. And I think that we can achieve this. I think it’s easy. It’s unfortunate that a small group of people are really limiting this process. I felt the friendship and the affection of the people of the United States.
I felt very well here. I’ve met wonderful people and I see that we share many points in common, Cuba and the United States. Right now in Cuba, there are many Americans because of the flexibility that Obama has. And it’s wonderful. They may feel very well there. And we’re ready. We’re ready to meet in friendship with any type of conditioning or political (inaudible).
AMANPOUR: Did you expect more from President Obama or has he gone as far as you expected him to go on the Cuban issue?
ESPIN (through translator): I think that the whole world and the American people have placed great hopes on President Obama and I personally understand that that is his position and that his public mandate limits him a great deal.
But I believe that President Obama needs another opportunity. And he needs greater support to move forward with this project and with his ideas, which I believe come from the bottom of his heart. He wants to do much more than what he’s done. That’s the way I interpret it personally. I don’t know if I’m being subjective.
AMANPOUR: Do you think that he wants to lift the embargo, and that there could be proper relations between Cuba and the United States under a second Obama term?
ESPIN (through translator): I believe that Obama is a fair man. And Obama needs greater support to be able to take this decision.
AMANPOUR: Do you want Obama to win the next election?
ESPIN (through translator): As a citizen of the world, I would like him to win. Seeing the candidates, I prefer Obama.
AMANPOUR: Now, as you know, there are many issues that cause problems between Cuba and the United States. One of the issues right now is Alan Gross. I want to play you something that he told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALAN GROSS, AMERICAN HELD PRISONER IN CUBA: I have a 90-year-old mother who has inoperable lung cancer and she’s not getting any younger. And she’s not getting any healthier. I would return to Cuba, you know, you can quote me on that. I’m saying it live. I would return to Cuba if they let me visit my mother before she dies. And we’ve gotten no response.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So my question to you is why should Alan Gross not be allowed to visit his sick mother?
ESPIN (through translator): The Cuban government has publicly requested that they want to negotiate based on human considerations, Alan Gross’ situation as well as the situation of the five Cubans who have been in prison for 15 years in the United States. And the Cuban people who are participating in this process is to seek a satisfactory solution for the six families, the five Cubans and for Alan Gross.
I think that it’s fair. I’m hurt by any families suffering. I’m dedicated to helping people and making them happy, and it seems to me that independently of the fact that he’s committed a crime and that he’s only served a short period of his sentence, I think that it’s fair that people can receive the benefit of flexibility in the world of law and justice, and that these negotiations go forward into the two governments. I think that as a people, we’re going to be very happy the situation has been solved.
But we have the case of Gerardo Hernandez, who’s in prison. His mother fell ill. He asked for permission to see his mother. His mother passed away, and Gerardo was not able to say goodbye to his mother. He also hasn’t been able to see his wife this whole time.
Alan Gross has been granted everything that he’s asked for. He’s been able to see his wife. He’s been able to have matrimonial conjugal visits and he has been treated with respect and dignity the way we always treat prisoners in Cuba.
We haven’t received the same treatment on the other hand for our five prisoners who have very long sentences. They’re not right. So what we want is the well-being of all of these families. That’s what we (inaudible) the most. I think that the six must be released, both the five Cubans and Alan Gross.
AMANPOUR: You yourself have said in New York this week, our system is open and fair, as you’ve just told me. Many would disagree with you, but you have said that. But you’ve also said that it could be more democratic. What do you mean by that?
ESPIN (through translator): I meant to say that we need to establish permanent mechanisms for the people’s participation when we make decisions, because this is the only way that all our people can participate.
AMANPOUR: We often wonder why it is that Cubans can’t travel very easily. Cubans have to get permission from the government to travel and come back. They can’t just leave. And it’s quite difficult to get permission. I mean, people have told me that inside Cuba. Why? I mean, what’s the point of that?
ESPIN (through translator): The subject of migration in Cuba was always managed politically from here and you know that there are many difficulties. And immigration law, even though the law in the United States is maintained, should change in Cuba.
So several years ago, there’s been a great discussion regarding the subject about how to modify this law and I understand that the fear and new immigration law will be approved in Cuba, which opens up to everything that the Cuban people have requested in our ongoing debate.
AMANPOUR: So you foresee change in the travel laws?
ESPIN (through translator): Yes, and I believe it’s going to come about very soon.
It’s one of the things that we’ve asked for the most in all of these discussions.
AMANPOUR: I have to ask you about somebody who you’re already having a bit of a verbal war with, and that is Yoani Sanchez, the dissident blogger inside Cuba. Why shouldn’t she be allowed to blog? Why shouldn’t she be allowed to say what she does?
ESPIN (through translator): The way I see it, Yoani Sanchez is allowed to express herself. She has a blog. She’s on Twitter. She’s on Facebook. She’s not in prison, even though she’s a mercenary. (Inaudible) she’s received over half a million dollar in prizes (inaudible) form of payment and (inaudible) mercenary does exist in Cuba.
Even though she’s done that, she’s not in prison. Even though she is breaking the law, she’s allowed to express herself and she’s allowed to lie. She has time to lie in everything that she wants. She’s free. She even has the most sophisticated technology which exists in Cuba to connect to Internet and to be able to publish her ideas.
AMANPOUR: In that regard, a couple of years ago, journalists came to Cuba, and they met with your uncle, Fidel Castro. And he gave an interview and he basically said the Cuban model doesn’t even work for us anymore. What do you think he meant by that?
ESPIN (through translator): He meant to say that in this new era, in Cuba’s new reality, with the development of the political culture and functions (ph) in our country, it was time for a change. We had to change our strategy. And that’s what we’ve been doing. He realized it. And as a leader, he was calling upon us to do that.
But those changes do not happen overnight. I repeat, they have to be worked on. We have to generate a debate, and I think that that is what we’ve been doing. And I’m very satisfied to see that the maximum leader of our revolution has identified our difficulties, because as a people we were also defining them.
AMANPOUR: Thank you very much for coming in.
ESPIN (through translator): Thank you very much.