Mariela Castro wants better ties with US
04:01 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

"I would like him to win," Mariela Castro says of Obama's election bid

"Obama needs another opportunity," she adds

Castro says Alan Gross and the "Cuban 5" should be released

CNN  — 

The daughter of Cuba’s president supports the re-election bid of U.S. President Barack Obama, but believes he could do more were it not for the pressures he is facing, she said in an interview broadcast Monday on “CNNi’s Amanpour.”

“As a citizen of the world, I would like him to win,” said Mariela Castro Espin, daughter of Raul Castro, in the exclusive interview, which was conducted Friday in New York. “Given the choices, I prefer Obama.”

The 49-year-old gay rights advocate said that Obama has been constrained in his ability to effect change. “He wants to do much more than what he’s been able to do,” she said. “That’s the way I interpret it personally. I don’t know if I’m being objective.”

Still, she said, “I believe that Obama needs another opportunity and he needs greater support to move forward with his projects and with his ideas, which I believe come from the bottom of his heart.”

Asked if Obama would lift the half-century-old trade embargo on Cuba if he could, Castro said, “I believe that Obama is a fair man. And I believe Obama needs greater support to be able to make these decisions. If Obama had all the political support of the American people, then we could normalize our relationships, as good or better than we had under President Carter.”

During his single term as president, from 1977 to 1981, Jimmy Carter eased restrictions on U.S. travel to Cuba.

Castro added that she supports the release of Alan Gross, a U.S. citizen arrested in Cuba in 2009 and sentenced to 15 years on charges of subversion. But, she added, she also wants to see the release of the “Cuban Five,” who are being held in the United States for crimes of espionage.

Castro was unswayed by Gross’ recent request that he be allowed to visit his 90-year-old mother before she dies if he promises to return afterward to prison in Cuba.

“Alan Gross has been granted everything that he’s asked for: He has been able to see his wife, he has been able to have matrimonial, conjugal visits, and he has been treated with respect and dignity the way we always treat prisoners in Cuba,” Castro said. “We haven’t received the same treatment on the other hand for our five prisoners who have very long sentences that are not right. I think that the six must be released – both the five Cubans and Alan Gross.”

“Is that what you’re saying, that Alan Gross should be released and the Cuban Five?” host Christiane Amanpour asked.

“Of course,” Castro responded. “I’m referring to the five Cubans and Alan Gross. I believe that this would be the happiest solution for all involved.”

The gay rights activist said that sexual orientation and gender identification are among the rights that Communist Cuba still needs to address. A bill legalizing civil unions, not same-sex marriage, has been proposed, “however, this hasn’t happened as yet,” she said. “And people who are in same-sex couples do not have any protection in that sense.”

She predicted the legislature would address the matter, which her father has not opposed, this year.

Castro said the nation had learned to acknowledge and correct past mistakes after its aggressive quarantine policy for HIV-positive men and women during the early years of the AIDS epidemic was abandoned in 1993.

“I never agreed with these quarantines,” she said. “There were several international health organizations that evaluated these quarantines as a positive thing at a time when not much was known about how the epidemic spreads.”

Amanpour pointed to a Human Rights Watch description of Cuba as “the only country in Latin America that represses virtually all forms of political dissent.”

But Castro said the rights group “does not represent the opinion of the Cuban people. And their informants are mercenaries. They’re people who have been paid by a foreign government for media shows that do not represent Cuban positions directly.”

She defended her nation as one that allows dissent. “People who dissent don’t go to jail,” she said. “Everybody in Cuba expresses their view and there’s a political participation so that we can express ourselves and question everything.”

Holding an opinion contrary to that of the government “enriches the debate,” she said. “No one goes to prison for an opinion, rather for serving foreign interests who pay them. That’s called being a mercenary and that’s penalized in laws everywhere in the world, including the laws of this country.”

She said the island’s single-party system would disappear if other nations would stop trying to impose their will on Cuba.

“If Cuba’s sovereignty weren’t threatened, if the internal affairs of Cuba weren’t manipulated in media campaigns, if Cuba weren’t the subject of an economic and trade embargo, which has caused so many problems for us, then in Cuba, it wouldn’t make sense to have a sole party, just one party,” she said.

Though some critics have said the nation relies on the embargo to crack down on internal dissent, and that the nation’s socialist system would collapse if the United States were to lift the embargo, Castro disagreed about what would happen to her country.

“I think it would become stronger,” she said. “This is why they don’t lift the embargo.”

Castro offered no sympathy for Yoani Sanchez, the dissident blogger inside Cuba who has won multiple awards for her work, which is critical of the Castro government.

“She gives service to foreign powers who are interested in eliminating the Cuban experience,” Castro said. “She’s an official voice of the global dominant powers.”

Castro disputed Sanchez’s assertion that she was not allowed to work. “She is allowed to work in Cuba,” Castro said. “But she makes much more money with the prizes, which are being sent to her from abroad, than for any work that she might do with the very low wages that we have in Cuba.”

Castro predicted that Sanchez’s audience will “get bored of hearing lies,” and her influence will wane. “She doesn’t really fight for authentic rights; she’s not committed to the rights movement in Cuba, because she doesn’t even participate in any of the debates that are trying to achieve rights.”

Castro blamed the trade embargo for the fact that many Cubans are not able to use the Internet. “We pay Internet over satellite, which is very expensive,” she said. “We don’t have the access to the fiber optic lines that pass by Cuba. We’re negotiating with Venezuela to help us so we can maximize access to Internet.”

But she said Cubans still have access to “very big social networks.”

“There is more access to the Internet in Cuba, legal and illegal, than you can imagine, because the Cuban people are a curious people. And you can’t deny us the access to information.”

Asked about Sen. Robert Menendez’s description of her as “a vocal advocate of the regime, an opponent of democracy, who has defended the brutal repression of democracy activists,” Castro called the Democrat from New Jersey “a person who really doesn’t have his feet down on the ground.”

Asked why the United States had issued Castro a visa, a State Department spokesman noted that she had visited the United States twice during the George W. Bush administration. “However, one should not mistake the fact that a visa was granted to this person with our general policy towards Cuba,” Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs Michael A. Hammer told reporters in Washington. “In fact, we want, and we allow freedom of expression in our country, something, which in fact, does not occur in Cuba.”