In the latest sign of a détente (of sorts) between the United States and its Communist neighbor, Mariela Castro will be granted a visa to attend a Philadelphia panel on gay rights in Cuba, CNN reports:
Initially not expected to receive a visa, the official said the case was “looked at again” and “the restriction on her visa has been lifted, which will allow her to travel” to the event on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues.
Although she is not gay, she has lobbied for gay rights in Cuba, including the right for same-sex couples to marry and for AIDS awareness.
Mariela Castro’s advocacy for gay rights is a sign of Cuba’s changing mores on this issue: the nation imposed harsh penalties for homosexuality for decades after the 1959 revolution until a thaw beginning in the late 70’s and continuing today. This change can be seen across the rest of the Americas, to differing degrees: Uruguay and Argentina legalized same-sex marriage in 2013 and 2010 respectively, and the U.S. is moving quickly in that direction as well. But it also speaks to a subtle thawing of U.S.-Cuba relations since Fidel ceded the presidency to his brother (and Mariela’s father) Raul, with a new emphasis on growing private businesses and liberalized travel regulations that have seen prominent opposition figures like blogger Yoani Sanchez permitted to go abroad tell the world about the regime’s wrongdoing.
Yet the number of political arrests in Cuba rocketed to over 6,000 last year, the highest total in decades and a reminder that freedom for media and opposition groups may lag behind the advance of gay rights in the country. If Cuba were to legalize same-sex marriage before it guaranteed the free press, it might be the first polity in history to make that particular rights calculus.