June 6, 2008
Cuba has authorized sex-change operations and will offer them free for qualifying citizens, an official said Friday. The move is the latest in a series of changes implemented by President Raul Castro since he succeeded his elder brother, Fidel, in February. Raul Castro's daughter, Mariela, heads Cuba's National Center for Sex Education, which strongly backs the new policy.
Health Minister Jose Ramon Balaguer signed a resolution approving sex-change surgery, said an official at the center who spoke on condition of anonymity because the measure has not been formally published. The resolution will be posted on the Internet on Saturday, the official said.
The procedure would be available to Cubans for free as part of their country's health-care system.
The sex education center has said previously that 28 transsexual Cubans have asked to undergo the surgery and that Cuban doctors have trained with physicians from Belgium to prepare for the procedures.
According to the center, a clinic for transsexual health will be created to perform the procedures, but it was not clear when it will start operating.
Cuba carried out a successful sex-change operation in 1988, but future surgeries were canceled because it sparked a negative public outcry.
Since becoming Cuba's first new president in 49 years, the younger Castro has done away with bans that kept most Cubans from owning cell phones in their own names and renting hotel rooms and cars. His government also has decentralized the floundering state agricultural sector, raised pensions for retirees and hiked salaries for some state employees, among other changes.