March 30, 2017 at 7:34 am EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Mariela Castro promotes pro-LGBT ‘legislative package’ in Cuba

Mariela Castro, gay news, Washington Blade

Mariela Castro, daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro and niece of former Cuban President Fidel Castro, takes part in a march to commemorate the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia in Havana on May 14, 2016. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro on Wednesday said there is a “legislative package” that would extend rights to LGBT Cubans.

Diario de Cuba, an independent website that is blocked in Cuba, reported Mariela Castro, who is director of the country’s National Center for Sexual Education, did not provide specific details when she spoke to reporters at her organization’s headquarters in Havana’s Vedado neighborhood. Mariela Castro said the Cuban National Assembly could consider the package once they approve proposed constitutional reforms, which Diario de Cuba said could take place in 2018.

“We have a lot of aspirations,” she said, according to Diario de Cuba. “Sometimes we don’t have enough working groups or sufficient understanding of the effect that certain changes can have.”

“These proposals are studied and analyzed in order not to do things superficially,” added Mariela Castro.

Diario de Cuba reported Mariela Castro made the comments after she signed an agreement with the U.N. Population Fund and the Dutch government to implement the second phrase of a project that is designed to promote “sexual education, sexual health and human rights” on the Communist island.

Granma, the official newspaper of the Cuban Communist Party, on Wednesday reported on the agreement that Mariela Castro signed. It’s coverage did not mention the legislative package about which she spoke.

IDAHOT events to take place in Cuba in May

Mariela Castro’s comments come less than two months before her organization, which is known by the Spanish acronym CENESEX, will hold a series of events in Havana and the city of Santa Clara that will commemorate the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.

Cuban lawmakers in 2013 approved an amendment to the country’s labor law that banned employment discrimination based on sexual orientation. Mariela Castro, who is a member of the Cuban National Assembly, voted against the proposal because it did not include gender identity.

Cuba’s national health care system has offered free sex-reassignment surgeries since 2008. Independent LGBT rights advocates and critics of the Cuban government maintain only a few dozen people have been able to undergo the procedure.

Former Cuban President Fidel Castro, who died last November, in 2010 apologized for sending thousands of gay men and others deemed unfit for military service in the years after the 1959 Cuban revolution to labor camps known as Military Units to Aid Production. The Cuban government also forcibly quarantined people with HIV/AIDS in state-run sanitaria until 1993.

The Cuban constitution defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

Mariela Castro, who is former Cuban President Fidel Castro’s niece, in recent years has publicly spoken in support of marriage rights for same-sex couples.

She noted hate crimes remain a problem in countries in which gays and lesbians can legally marry in remarks that she made earlier this month at a film festival in the Mexican city of Guadalajara. Mariela Castro, who is a member of the Cuban National Assembly, also said the country does not “like to copy anyone” as she discussed why the country has yet to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples.

LGBT rights advocates who work independently of Mariela Castro and CENESEX in 2015 launched a campaign that urged Cubans to sign a petition in support of the issue. They hoped it would spur lawmakers to publicly debate the issue.

The activists have criticized Mariela Castro for not publicly supporting their campaign that appears to have stalled. They have also told the Washington Blade that Cuban authorities routinely harass and even detain them for publicly criticizing Mariela Castro and her father’s government.

The Blade has reached out to several Cuban LGBT rights advocates — those who support Mariela Castro and work independently of her and CENESEX — for reaction to her latest comments.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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