Raul Castro Hub
Forget the stunning speech or the remembrance. Mandela's memorial provided ample opportunity to study Obama's interactions with world leaders, and the media, both social and traditional, are having a field day.
First, Obama shook hands with...a dictator! In honor of the Raul Castro moment, DailyKos has posted 10 photos of Republican presidents and VPs shaking hands with dictators.
The NYT wonders:
Was Mr. Obama trying to signal a new effort by the American government to reach an accommodation with Cuba 50 years after the Communist revolution that put Fidel Castro, Raúl’s brother, in power? Or was Mr. Obama simply trying to avoid delivering a diplomatic snub at a memorial dedicated to forgiveness?
The president’s aides would have known in advance which world leaders would be at the podium when the president approached for his own remarks. But White House officials declined to offer any explanation of the handshake or confirm that there had been a discussion about whether to offer one.
Still, Mr. Obama’s own remarks, delivered just moments afterward, offer tantalizing possibilities about what was going through the president’s mind when he approached Mr. Castro.
FOX News, of course, has its eyebrow arched over the exchange.
Watch, AFTER THE JUMP...
Meanwhile, another story is being weaved over a set of photos showing interactions between Obama and Danish PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt, while Michelle Obama looks on with an unamused stare.
LGBT activists in Cuba held a kiss-in yesterday to raise awareness of their continued oppression in the communist nation. They also presented Parliament with a list of demands, including investigations into 60s-era roundups of gay Cubans, laws that respect equality and more police protections against hate crimes.
The action comes just days before Cuba holds its second gay pride and was organized by a group called Project Rainbow, which calls itself an "independent and anti-capitalist LGBT group."
The Miami Herald offers some more details:
"Our document calls on the Cuban government to fully comply with international agreements it has signed on human rights, especially those that apply to LGBT rights," [activist Ignacio] Estrada said after delivering the petition [to Parliament].
The petition also calls on lawmakers to launch an investigation of the Military Units to Aid Production, or UMAPs — hard-labor camps created by Fidel Castro during the 1960s to detain homosexuals and government critics — and requests trials for government officials responsible for the camps.
Activists are also demanding that authorities stop applying the vaguely worded crime of “pre-criminal dangerousness” to gays and instead investigate complaints of those who are beaten or fired from their jobs because of their sexual orientation, Estrada said.
Cuban society has made small steps toward accepting their LGBT comrades — thanks in large part to Mariela Castro, daughter of current president Raul and Fidel's niece — but is still ruled by a macho culture that denigrates and dismisses homosexuality.
Mariela Castro, noted sexologist and daughter of Cuban president Raul, led a gay rights march in Havana on Saturday. From the AP:
The daughter of Cuban President Raul Castro said ... that her father advocated eliminating sexual discrimination, and reiterated her own hope the country would soon legalize same sex marriage.
Mariela Castro, a noted gay rights advocate and head of Cuba's National Center for Sex Education, also repeated her praise for U.S. President Barack Obama's public remarks in favor of same sex marriage, saying the American leader's words "have great value because of the influence they might have" on others.
Castro moderated her praise of the president, noting that although his words are lovely, there is as yet no federal push to legalize same-sex marriage in the United States.
Castro claimed that her father supports marriage equality as well, even though he's never spoken publicly on the subject. She insists he's "working behind the scenes" to bring about change in the island nation's marital law:
"[Working quietly] is surely part of his tactics and strategy; it is his style," she said. "I am not going to pressure him to say things publically, because I am more interested in concrete results."
Castro is hopeful that the Cuban parliament will address marriage equality when they convene in July. If they do, it will represent a rapid evolution in Cuba's stance on same-sex relationships: as recently as 2004, Havana's police were still raiding gay and drag parties.
Russia Today has posted an informative and comprehensive interview with Mariela Castro, daughter of the nation's President Raul, and Director of the National Center for Sex Education in Cuba.
The interview covers the possibility of same-sex unions in a predominantly Catholic, Communist state, overcoming stigmas and legislative barriers, when a bill might be passed legalizing same-sex unions in Cuba, the country's history of homophobia, HIV/AIDS, and the support she receives from Raul Castro of her work on sexual education.
Said Castro on the latter topic: "Yes, he's supportive of my work, thanks to the past influence of my mother, on sexual education, and mine. Of course, from time to time we have discussions meant to convince him of the need for quicker solutions. He's also influenced by other people that disagree with my work, and it's those people who create obstacles. But I believe that dialogue is fundamental to progress, so whenever I have a chance to sit down and talk with my father to convince him, I do so."
Watch the entire interview, AFTER THE JUMP...
President Raul Castro's daughter Mariela, an outspoken advocate of gay rights, presided over a massive state-backed rights rally over the weekend, to mark the International Day Against Homophobia:
"The meeting at a convention center in Havana's Vedado district may have been the largest gathering of openly gay activists ever on the communist-run island. President Raul Castro's daughter Mariela, who has promoted the rights of sexual minorities, presided. 'This is a very important moment for us, the men and women of Cuba, because for the first time we can gather in this way and speak profoundly and with scientific basis about these topics,' said Castro, director of Cuba's Center for Sexual Education. Mariela Castro joined government leaders and hundreds of activists at the one-day conference for the International Day Against Homophobia that featured shows, lectures, panel discussions and book presentations. A station also offered blood-tests for sexually transmitted diseases."
MSNBC also reports that Brokeback Mountain was broadcast in prime time on Cuban state television Friday night. A draft gay rights bill is expected to be considered by the Cuban parliament in June.
A brief clip from CNN's Headline News, AFTER THE JUMP...