Mariela Castro Espín, the daughter of Gen. Raúl Castro, was in the United States speaking about the rights of the LGBT community. While reportedly speaking to a group of medical professionals and transgender advocates, Mariela went significantly off-topic and spoke of U.S. foreign policy toward Cuba and demonized the Cuban-American community.
Mariela stated, “A group of Cuban Mafia in the U.S., why are they taking away rights of American people to travel to Cuba? It’s not fair…You are millions of people against a tiny Mafia of people who have no scruples…We are fighting for the rights of Cubans and the rights of Americans.”
One can look at the elements of a mafia and wonder what on Earth would warrant this baseless comparison.
A mafia is generally a hierarchical clan, or “family,” in which dissent is not permitted; the boss controls decision-making and the family’s future. A mafia historically claims sovereignty over a given territory — a town or neighborhood — which it commands. A territory’s mafia uses this control to run illicit activities, what now is termed “organized crime.” Furthermore, the mafia grows its ranks by judiciously testing the obedience, savvy and loyalty of potential mafiosos. Those mafiosos who betray or displease the family bosses or padrinos are “dealt with” — generally, they disappear. Turncoats are often murdered.
Does the Cuban-American community fit this description?
The community is in no way cohesive. As the hard-fought U.S. elections demonstrate, Cuban Americans disagree on numerous issues and there is a vocal minority that seeks to change U.S.-Cuba policy. On domestic policy issues, there is also significant disagreement. Ultimately, there is a great deal of infighting within the community, but disagreements are peacefully handled. Real mafias do not allow for this level of disagreement and turn to violence to resolve the problem.
It is also worth noting that this community, which the Cuban government avidly criticizes, substantially helps the Cuban economy, sending about $600 million in remittances to relatives on the island. Furthermore, in 2009 alone, there were close to 300,000 trips from Cuban-Americans traveling to Cuba.
That does not sound like the Cuban-American community comprises and is dictated to by an intransigent mafia. Cubans who travel to the island as well as those who send remittances are not castigated, purged or persecuted. The Cuban-American community, furthermore, tolerantly opens its arms to all who have fled the failed politics and economic system of the totalitarian Castro clan. On any given day, one can observe former Cuban government officials and Cuban exiles conversing at Versailles.
Despite its constant use of the label “mafia” to describe those who most oppose its brutal policies, the Castro family’s rule of Cuba is far more adequately described as a mafia. One can easily take the key characteristics of a mafia and apply them to the Castro family rule.
To become a key official, one’s loyalty is fervently tested. New officials have demonstrated their devotion by coming up through the Party system from a young age, starting with the UJC (the Young Communist League) and then with membership into the Party before being assigned any major responsibilities.
Alternatively, they could have proven their loyalty through military service. Should a Cuban official become insubordinate, threatening or “subversive,” said official will be removed from power. If they are lucky, that’s all — examples most recently include Carlos Lage, ousted from his vice president’s post, and deposed Foreign Affairs Minister Felipe Pérez Roque. Sometimes they’re executed (Gen. Arnaldo Ochoa, Col. Tony de la Guardia), disappeared (revolutionary Camilo Cienfuegos) or jailed for long sentences (revolutionary comandante Huber Matos). Defectors who successfully escape the reach of the Castros live with a bounty on their heads, such as Florentino Aspillaga, who provided the United States with indispensable information about Cuba’s intelligence operations.
Non-officials who displease the Castro family mafia are also brutally “dealt with.”
The most recent cases of this cruelty include human rights activists and dissidents Orlando Zapata Tamayo, Wilman Villar, and Laura Pollan. The crippling of Ariel Sigler Amaya, who regained the ability to walk after U.S. doctors nursed him back to health, as well as Cuba’s continued incarceration of USAID worker Alan Gross, are indicative of the malice with which the Castro family operates. The 13 de Marzo tug-boat massacre of 1994, as well as the execution and incarceration of many who have tried to escape the island also demonstrate the extent to which the family will go to maintain control over its territory.
The Castro family also operates in organized crime, specifically: drug trafficking, trafficking in stolen art and other property, harboring fugitives, coordinating slave labor and extrajudicial killings (including the murder of four members of the Brothers to the Rescue over international waters), not to mention the level of government-sanctioned prostitution.
The instances of nepotism in the Castro family far exceed those that can be found in mafia organizations — as the handing of power from Fidel to his brother Raúl demonstrates, along with Mariela’s own position as Director of CENESEX, the Cuban National Center for Sex Education.
If Mariela Castro Espín would like to direct the term “mafia” at a group of Cubans, it would be most adequately applied to her own family’s brutal and total control over an entire nation for the past 53 years.