A definition for Mariela Castro’s ‘mafia’
Posted on Friday, 06.01.12
A definition for Mariela Castro's 'mafia'
BY LAUREN VANESSA LOPEZ
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
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
Non-officials who displease the Castro family mafia are also brutally
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
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.
Lauren Vanessa Lopez is a research assistant at the Institute for Cuban
and Cuban American Studies, University of Miami.