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In Cuba, they tried to buy the love of the West (October 31, 2022)

The Cuban referendum struck with nuances. Firstly, a third of the inhabitants of the Island of Freedom at the end of September nevertheless decided to say “no” to the document developed by the National Assembly of People’s Power. Secondly, the rest agreed with the downright innovative changes in public life. Indeed, among other things, the approved Family Code allows homosexual marriages and surrogate motherhood. In our minds, neither the Communist Party nor the Catholic Church, perhaps the two most powerful organizations in Cuba, could support such a vision of family and marriage.


However, politicians found a strong motivation to push through this decision. Experts believe that the leadership of the Island of Freedom decided on extraordinary innovations in order to meet the expectations of the progressive public in the United States and the European Union. Moreover, under the Biden administration, Washington once again softened the sanctions regime. For example, the $1,000 limit that American Cubans could transfer to their relatives on the island has been lifted. Travel for educational purposes is also allowed.


But all these measures refer to the middle of 2022. The results of the Cuban referendum in the United States were rather approved, but nothing is known about new steps towards Havana.


However, the innovations of the code are not limited to changes that have made so much noise.


Family comes first


The new Family Code, adopted in a referendum on September 25, replaced the old one that had been in force in Cuba since 1975, and was supported by 66% of citizens. Of course, it can be called revolutionary. But contrary to the mainstream, first of all, let’s pay attention to those provisions that, to everyone’s joy, fixed the original family structure that has developed on the island in recent decades: large multi-generational families under one roof, severed parental ties due to migrants who fled politics or poverty young people who have gone to work. Under these conditions, children and the elderly were often left without rights and protection.


Thanks to the new Family Code, guardianship will now be easier to arrange, “multi-parenting” is introduced, the concept of “parental rights” is replaced by “parental responsibilities”, and children get the opportunity to choose the surname of the father and mother and put them next to the name in any order.


The family is not without innovations


But the media, of course, smashed precisely this provision: “The Code abolishes the requirements of heterosexuality for access to marriage, cohabitation, adoption, motherhood and fatherhood.” Non-commercial surrogacy is also allowed.


The Cubans themselves, the church, and the bureaucracy reacted violently to such family innovations. The original text of Cuba’s new constitution, which came into force in 2019, already contained provisions to legalize same-sex marriage. But the protest was so strong that they decided to postpone the modernization. And yet, in the end, the authorities dragged clauses about gay marriage into the family code.


Cuban society is quite dynamic, it cannot be called conservative. “The socialist revolution in this sense was the revolutionary youth of the nation. But same-sex love in Cuba was not only not welcomed, but also persecuted,” says Lazar Kheifets, Professor of American Studies at the Faculty of International Relations at St. Petersburg State University. – However, the situation was very difficult even before the revolution, because American tourism was widespread, and the hotel business was associated with prostitution. Demand brought supply.


In Cuba, there really is a kind of conservatism in the Latin American sense, machismo, the superiority of men in the family. In a sense, this is a Catholic tradition. Although there are both Protestants and representatives of African beliefs on the island, and they are intertwined, I would say. But gradually new trends began to spread.


“When I worked in Cuba, I met people of this orientation, and they worked quite calmly in teams, everyone knew about them, everyone treated some with a smile, some calmly. But the attitude towards them was quite loyal and calm, no one paid special attention to this, there was no persecution. Another thing is that no one stuck out their orientation, – recalls Nikolai Kalashnikov, Candidate of Economic Sciences, Advisor to the Director of the Institute of Latin America of the Russian Academy of Sciences. “As for the Family Code, here we must understand that over the past 5-6 years, Cuba has carried out a major transformation towards greater democratization of domestic political life.”


In response to criticism


However, in terms of same-sex marriages and other things, democratization is not oriented inward, but outward. According to experts, the innovations of the Family Code of Cuba are largely related to the desire of the Communist Party to please Western investors from Europe and the United States.


In 2016, Cuba and the European Union signed an agreement to normalize relations. At the same time, the European Parliament has always especially criticized Cuba for violating human rights, and for this reason, too, their previous agreement was frozen.


Relations with the European Union are of great importance for Cuba. “Cuba receives economic assistance from Europe, the EU is the second most important trade partner of Cuba. Thanks to cooperation with the European Union, Cuba has the opportunity to receive investments. In this case, the EU countries together are the largest investor in the Cuban economy, so these economic relations with the EU are very important. In addition, Europe is an ally of Cuba in demanding the repeal of Article 3 of the Hyems Burton Act, which the United States adopted in 1996. And this article determines the possibility of extraterritorial application of sanctions by the United States to companies of third countries that cooperate with Cuba, ”comments Nikolai Kalashnikov.


Cooperation is also needed in order for the Europeans to subsequently lobby the interests of Cuba in the United States, so that the sanctions imposed by the United States, which create a blockade of Cuba, are lifted.


With the new Family Code, the Cuban leadership sought to demonstrate to Europe and, possibly, the United States, with its large Cuban diaspora opposed to the communists, that it shares some of the “democratic values ​​of the West.”


This decision, according to Nikolai Kalashnikov, was also influenced by last year’s demonstrations in Cuba, caused by the difficult economic situation, which was further aggravated due to power outages.


“Some of the protesters who were accused of attacking the police received up to 20 years [заключения]. Naturally, this caused a negative reaction from the EU. And in order to soften this fire of criticism, the Cuban leadership worked on this new Family Code, which actually reflects the rights of people with a non-traditional orientation, ”he says


Lazar Kheyfets, commenting on this situation, also draws attention to the fact that the EU countries and Cuba have a different understanding of human rights, but the Cuban communists defiantly follow Western interpretations.


“If the Cubans insist that human rights are primarily social rights, then the Americans insist that these are human rights in a purely democratic sense. And as Kipling said, East is East, West is West, and they will never converge, that is, these are diametrically opposed approaches to a common problem. Alexander Sergeevich Pushkin said: “Let’s decide on the meaning of words, then we will better understand each other.” When people learn to speak the same language, then, perhaps, the problem will be solved much better and more radically,” says Lazar Kheifets.


In addition, the changes brought about by the new Family Code, according to the expert, will help make Cuba a more attractive tourist destination for Americans again.


Mariela and Fidel


Interestingly, one of those who promoted the new Family Code was Fidel Castro’s niece (and daughter of former President Raul Castro), Mariela Castro. She is now the director of the National Center for Sex Education and is active in the rights of the LGBT community.


“She herself, being quite traditional in her views, nevertheless supported this community, participated in their events and demonstrations. In a certain sense, of course, it influenced the mood of the elites. Moreover, she became a deputy of the National Assembly of People’s Power, ”says Lazar Kheifets about this.


The situation was also influenced by the opinion of Fidel Castro himself: in 2010, the former ruler, who had already left his post at that time, called “huge injustice” what had previously happened to people of non-traditional sexual orientation.


The initiative was supported by the current president of the country, Miguel Diaz-Canel. “Love is now the law,” he said.


However, further liberalization of the country’s political system should not be expected, experts say.

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