Wednesday, May 27, 2015

LGBT advocate challenges Cuban human rights record

LGBT advocate challenges Cuban human rights record

SAGUA LA GRANDE, Cuba — A gay blogger who is a member of an independent
Cuban LGBT advocacy group told the Washington Blade last week that human
rights factor prominently into his work.
"Definitely for a situation like ours (in Cuba,) human rights are
something that are suppressed," Maykel González Vivero told the Blade on
May 18 as he sat at a table in the small apartment in the city of Sagua
la Grande that he shares with Carlos Alejandro Rodríguez Martínez, his
boyfriend of three years. He discussed the Cuban government's crackdown
on political dissent and disapproval of unauthorized gatherings,
intimidation and other issues.
"As activists we have concluded that it is important that we integrate
all of these issues into our work," said González.
González, who is a reporter for a government-run radio station in Sagua
la Grande, which is roughly 165 miles east of Havana along Cuba's
Atlantic coastline, began his blog Nictálope, a Spanish word that
describes a person or an animal that can see better at night than during
the day, in 2007.
He told the Blade that his blog initially did not have a "clear LGBT
perspective." González noted this position began to change when he
decided to publicly challenge Mariela Castro Espín, daughter of Cuban
President Raúl Castro who has emerged as the public face of Cuba's LGBT
rights movement as director of the National Center for Sexual Education.
"Bit by bit we said that we had discovered the need, the urgency to
offer an alternative image, a distinct option to what CENESEX and
Mariela Castro is offering," said González.
González, 31, spoke with the Blade a day after Mariela Castro led a
march in the city of Las Tunas that commemorated the International Day
Against Homophobia and Transphobia. Members of Proyecto Arcoiris, an
independent LGBT advocacy group of which González has been a member
since last year, organized their own events in Sagua la Grande and in
the nearby city of Santa Clara to mark the annual commemoration and to
highlight their support of marriage rights for same-sex couples in Cuba.
A picture that González posted to his blog on May 18 shows two Cuban
police officers at the Santa Clara march. He said they were "apparently"
there to "provide security."
"In other Cuban cities, as has been recently reported, the police
maintain its aggressive homophobic practices," González told the Blade.

Criticizing Mariela Castro brings 'risks'

González told the Blade that CENESEX, which works with the Cuban
Ministry of Health, did not invite him and other independent advocates
to a 2013 conference in the beach resort of Varadero that drew hundreds
of LGBT rights advocates from across the Americas and the Caribbean.
"The only Cubans who went to the conference were those who were involved
in CENESEX's work or those who CENESEX considered politically
acceptable," he said, noting he supports Cuban Socialism.
González in 2012 publicly objected to the omission of statistics from
the Cuban census that noted the number same-sex couples who live
together in the country. He told the Blade that CENESEX's reaction "was
silence," even though he said he and Rodríguez provided evidence of what
they described as the "homophobic removal" of the information.
"Mariela Castro apparently thought it was important to maintain her
politically correct attitude, rather than coherently stick to her
activism and denounce the homophobia uncovered in the census," González
told the Blade.
Mariela Castro publicly supports marriage rights for same-sex couples.
Clergy from the U.S. and Canada earlier this month blessed the
relationships of 20 gay and lesbian couples in Havana during another
series of events that marked the International Day Against Homophobia
and Transphobia.
The Cuban Constitution defines marriage as between a man and a woman,
but Mariela Castro and her supporters claim that CENESEX is working to
build support for nuptials for gays and lesbians among the country's
lawmakers. González told the Blade that Mariela Castro has remained
silent about the status of the issue in the Cuban Parliament, even
though she is a member of it.
"She even said a few years ago that we are not yet ready for marriage,"
said González. "And she did this as though she was speaking on behalf of
the LGBTI community. Clearly, as is frequently the case in Cuba, she
speaks on behalf of everyone and does not consult with anyone."
González added he feels CENESEX's influence outside of Havana is
minimal, even though Mariela Castro frequently travels abroad to promote
its work on behalf of LGBT Cubans.
A government-run radio station in the city of Camagüey on May 15
advertised the Las Tunas march and other events in the provincial
capital that commemorated the International Day Against Homophobia and
Transphobia. González told the Blade that Cuban television showed
Mariela Castro paying tribute to Vicente García, a leading figure in the
10 Years' War from 1868-1878 during which Cuba fought for independence
from Spain, in Las Tunas after leading the march through its streets.
"Trans people, gay people, lesbians in Sagua la Grande don't really feel
that CENESEX is working for them," said González.
González told the Blade there are "risks" for criticizing Mariela Castro
or any other government official and organization. He said he has faced
harassment at his job and difficulties accessing the Internet because of
his independent advocacy.
"There is a risk of quickly falling into a sort of social isolation
zone," he said. "People quickly assume that you are a dangerous person
because you are someone who asks questions. As a result you find
yourself in this zone where you are seen as a social pariah…it is very
Neither Mariela Castro, nor CENESEX responded to the Blade's request for
comment on González's criticisms. Manuel Vázquez Seijido, a lawyer who
is a senior CENESEX staffer, last month during a speech at a global LGBT
rights conference at Rutgers University School of Law in New Jersey
dismissed independent advocates who criticize his organization and the
Castro government.
"Their goal is to simply criticize institutions like CENESEX and of
course the Cuban government," Vázquez told the Blade.

Cuban people have 'love and hate' relationship with U.S.

González spoke with the Blade days before officials from the U.S. and
Cuban governments met in Washington for the fourth round of negotiations
in the process of normalizing relations between the two countries.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest and State Department
spokesperson Marie Harf both told the Blade on May 22 that the expansion
of rights to LGBT Cubans factors into the process of normalizing
relations between Washington and Havana.
González joked sarcastically that the Cuban people have a "very special"
relationship with the U.S. that can be described as one of "love and
hate," which dates back to the 19th century. He told the Blade he is
"not an optimistic man" when asked about the future of his country and
his thoughts about the normalization of relations between it and the U.S.
"It is an issue that almost nobody talks about," González told the
Blade, referring to the prospect of closer ties between Washington and
Havana. "It is not in people's daily conversation."

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