Cuba looks like it’s about to join the growing list of countries that have legalized marriage equality. The country is considering a new constitution that would define marriage as between two individuals, not as between a man and a woman.
But at least one scholar is warning that the move is government-sponsored window dressing meant to obscure the country’s continued control over its citizens.
In an op-ed in the Miami Herald, Cuban author and historian Abel Sierra Madero says that the move toward marriage equality is entirely in line with the country’s ongoing effort of “changing to make sure nothing changes.”
“The approval of same-sex marriage signals one step toward the recognition of individual rights, historically diluted,” Madero writes.
“But in the way that same-sex marriage is portrayed in Cuba, it also becomes an artifact, an instrument designed to avert and then annul a broader democratic discussion, not limited to the specific field of sexuality. It appears it will become another space for controlled diversity, created for public-relations purposes in the post-revolution era.”
Madero notes that the push for great acceptance of LGBTQ people in Cuba has been driven by the National Sex Education Center (CENESEX), which is led by Mariela Castro Espín, the daughter of President Raúl Castro. He charges that the effort is merely an attempt to tidy up the Castro regime’s long history of oppression, which included forcibly detaining LGBTQ citizens in military camps.
Madero has impeccable credentials to make such charges. He has written a history of the military camps and is recognized as a leading researcher on sexuality in Cuba. Among his many prizes is a fellowship from the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies at CUNY.
While there is no denying that Cuba has made important strides in improving the life of its LGBTQ citizens, it is also true that individual rights are severely constrained. Nothing happens in the country without the government’s say so.
There may also be a financial incentive for the country’s change of heart. Cuba has been eager to capitalize on tourist dollars to bolster its stagnant economy. LGBTQ tourism is a big component of that outreach.
Madero points out that a corporation owned by the Cuban military recently signed an agreement with a European company to run a hotel for LGBTQ tourists.
Cuba is hardly the only country facing criticism for a government’s use of LGBTQ rights to “pinkwash” its human rights record. Opponents of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories have been leveling the same charge against that country for years.
Madero wants to ensure that Cuba’s anti-LGBTQ past isn’t quickly swept away. “Forgotten will be the police raids and the underground gay clubs, the forced labor camps and the government homophobia,” he warns. “Now, more than ever, we need a policy of remembering.”