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    A definition for Mariela Castro’s ‘mafia’

    Posted on Friday, 06.01.12


    A definition for Mariela Castro's 'mafia'


    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


    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


    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.

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