Castro’s niece casts rare ‘no’ vote in parliament, citing gay rights

Cuba’s parliament isn’t big on dissent. Most legislation that makes it to a vote is endorsed unanimously, as a matter of course. But Mariela Castro, the daughter of President Raul Castro — and the niece of Fidel Castro — is making waves by voting “no” on a workers’ rights bill, saying it didn’t protect people with unconventional gender identities.

It seems that before the December 2013 vote was publicized recently in a Cuban blog, no one could recall anyone voting against a measure in Cuba’s legislature. Some say a dissenting vote has simply never happened in Havana.

“This is the first time, without a doubt,” historian and former Cuban diplomat Carlos Alzugaray tells The Associated Press, which says other experts shared that view.

The legislation in question was an update of Cuba’s expansive Labor Code, which notably included explicit protections based on sexual orientation. But Mariela Castro said that because it didn’t also specify protections for people based on their gender identity and HIV status, it was inconsistent with her beliefs.

Castro recently explained her vote to blogger Francisco Rodriguez, whom the AP describes as “a pro-government gay rights activist.” She also told Rodriquez that she sees a wider range of opinions being voiced in parliament (a.k.a. the Cuban National Assembly of People’s Power).

“There have been advances in the way things are discussed, above all the way things are discussed at the grass-roots level, in workplaces, unions and party groupings,” she said, according to the AP’s translation. “I think we still need to perfect the democratic participation of the representatives within the Assembly.”

Castro has been a noted advocate for gay rights. In addition to her role in the legislature, she’s the director of Cuba’s CENESEX, the National Center for Sex Education.

By Bill Chappell, NPR

August 19, 2014

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