[Marxism] As Castro fades, a crop of new leaders

Walter Lippmann walterlx at earthlink.net
Tue Dec 26 22:23:44 MST 2006

(Nice photo of Mariela Castro, daughter of Raul Castro and Vilma
Espin, who heads Cuba's National Center for Sex Education and in
that position speaks up and out in favor of full equality for 
LGBT people on the island. It doesn't do her any harm that she's
a strikingly beautiful woman, either. Mariela Castro has publicly
said that when Cuba's constitution is next amended, it should add
a ban on discrimination based on sexual orientation. To read an
earlier interview with Mariela Castro in the Mexican La Jornada:

The article refers to the head of Cuba's national bank as someone
named Julio Soberon. Actually, his name is Francisco Soberon, who
gave a principle report at last December's National Assembly meet:

And much more on these themes:

from the December 27, 2006 edition 

As Castro fades, a crop of new leaders

Interviews with two younger political figures suggest 
a gradual opening both economically and socially.

By Tom Fawthrop | Contributor to The Christian Science Monitor

In a country that is in the process of bidding a long farewell to its
ageing revolutionaries, Mariela Castro brings an expectation of
change along with an air of youthful passion. As the director of
Cenesex (the National Sex Education Center) Ms. Castro is eager to
consider where Cuba should go in a postrevolutionary era.

"We have many contradictions in Cuba," says Castro, the daughter of
Raúl Castro, Cuba's de facto leader and brother of ailing President
Fidel Castro. A Spanish doctor arrived in Cuba last week,
reenergizing speculation about the health of the Cuban leader, who
has not been seen in public since undergoing surgery in July. "We
need to experiment and to test what really works, to make public
ownership more effective, rather than simply adopting wholesale
free-market reforms," Ms. Castro says.

Leaders like Ms. Castro may indicate the extent to which a
post-Castro Cuba may be willing to liberalize, both economically and
socially. As Cuba's old-guard leadership fades, this new generation -
made up primarily of the sons and daughters of those who fought in
the 1959 Communist revolution - is perhaps more sympathetic to
economic reforms and more-liberal social policies.

Nevertheless, Cuba-watchers and experts have ruled out any dramatic
lurch toward a liberal market economy that might undermine the island
nation's heritage as the persistent holdout of traditional Communist
policies. More relaxed social attitudes may also evolve gradually.

Still, no one doubts that change is afoot.

"The transition in Cuba has already taken place" and this new
generation has a key role to play, says Richard Gott, a Latin
American analyst and former foreign correspondent for the
London-based The Guardian newspaper. "Carlos Lage will be the brains
behind the new government. He, together with Julio Soberon at the
central bank, will seek to chart a new economic course."

Now Raul Castro has started to echo some of his daughter's
sentiments. Addressing university students, he urged that they should
''fearlessly engage in public debate and analysis," according to
Granma, the Communist Party newspaper.

Cuba is one of several Latin American countries that once harassed
homosexuals as a matter of policy. But Mariela Castro, who is also an
executive member of the World Association for Sexual Health, insists
that job discrimination and mass arrests are a thing of the past.

"[Homosexuals] still sometimes face arrest by bigoted police" says
Castro, adding that she has sometimes clashed with the authorities in
her efforts to release gay men and women from prison.

"Now, society is more relaxed. There is no official repression of
gays and lesbians," she argues confidently.

A writer turned politico

Cuban writer and culture minister Abel Prieto has also emerged as an
influential power broker in a changing Cuba. Since joining the state
bureaucracy and the politburo, the long-haired, middle-aged minister
still exudes a passion for culture and a common touch.

In response to a question about the conflict of interest between
writers and the state, Mr. Prieto laughs, saying that, "sometimes I
feel like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but I hope that artists and
writers feel that I am still one of them."

Unlike many members of the government, Prieto is very candid as he
speaks about allegations that the Cuban government censors political

"It would be a delusion to think we could hide that torrent of
information," he insists, referring to anti-Castro websites. "The
only possibility is to beat them with a better concept of life."

Prieto also defended the arrest of the dissident writer Raul Rivero
in 2003.

"He was not arrested for his views, but for receiving US funding for
his collaboration with a country that has besieged our island,"
argues the minister, referring to the 45-year-long US trade embargo.

An avid fan of the Beatles since the 1970s when their music was
essentially banned by the Cuban state, Prieto has led an appreciation
campaign of John Lennon. In 2000, he unveiled a statue and dedicated
"John Lennon Park" to the musician's memory. Many Cubans joke that he
is not as much a Marxist-Leninist as a "Marxist-Lennonist."

Prieto, because of a moment on Cuban television five years ago, is
known as one of the few Cabinet ministers who has ever dared to
challenge the president. Cubans recall a news segment in which Castro
and Prieto appeared together.

After Castro blamed his minister for the fact that so many artists
were leaving the country to work abroad, Prieto defended himself.

Millions watched as their supreme leader accepted his error and
apologized to Abel Prieto.

"Prieto is extremely important. He has carved out a sizable space for
cultural expression [for] many Cuban artists and writers since he
became minister of culture," says Julia Sweig, director of the Latin
American Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington.

In a Foreign Affairs article, written after a lengthy visit to Cuba
in November, Ms. Sweig indicated that expectations were high among
Cuban officials that the government could move forward after Castro.

"People at all levels of the Cuban government and the Communist Party
were enormously confident of the regime's ability to survive Fidel's
passing," Ms. Sweig wrote.

That confidence was apparent in Raúl Castro's speech to the opening
session of the new parliament last week. "Tell it like it is - tell
the truth without justifications, because we are tired of
justifications in this revolution," the acting president urged his
ministers, according to the youth newspaper Juventud Rebelde.

US economic sanctions irrelevant

Attempts by the Bush administration to set the agenda for change in
Cuba, says Sweig, appear to be increasingly irrelevant to the reality
inside the country, as a new generation gains increasing clout.

Gott, the Latin American analyst, says that both Ms. Castro and
Prieto are figures to watch.

"Mariela Castro is a more than competent member of the Castro clan -
she will have an important role in social affairs," he says. "The
genial Abel Prieto might well be promoted from the culture ministry
to something more taxing."

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