Cuba has begun paying for trans men and women to have gender reassignment surgery.

Mariela Castro, the daughter of President Raul Castro and niece of former leader Fidel, confirmed to reporters yesterday that the country began paying for the procedures in 2008.

Gender reassignment surgery was effectively banned in Cuba in 1988, when the first such procedure caused an outcry. It was only legalised in 2007.

Eight trans people are thought to have had state-funded surgery in the last two years, while another 22 are waiting for their procedures.

Ms Castro is the head of Cuba’s National Centre for Sexual Education and is the country’s best known gay rights advocate.

It was her who lobbied the state to lift the ban, although she said the change was never made public to avoid controversy.

She told Associated Press: “These processes of negotiation are sometimes done very quietly, so as not to stir up ghosts.”

However, she would not confirm how much the procedures cost.

Sexual diversity was seen by Fidel Castro as a corrupt consequence of capitalism and trans people were treated with the same suspicion and prejudice as gays.

Homosexual sex was partially decriminalised in Cuba in 1979 and an equal age of consent was introduced in 1992.

While social attitudes towards gay people are generally negative, the capital city Havana has a thriving gay scene.

Under Castro, who ruled from 1959 until 2007, many gay men suffered in Cuban labour camps as the regime ‘re-educated’ homosexuals.

Gays were incarcerated in Military Units to Aid Production between 1965 and 1968.

Castro believed that hard work would rid the men of their “counter-revolutionary tendencies”.