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Wednesday, 14 September 2011

In Cuba, a death in custody, a flag raising, a raid

Mariela Castro addressing the Latin America pl...Mariela Castro Espín image via Wikipedia
By Paul Canning

A number of expat Cuban websites, such as EU-funded Cuba Encuentro, are reporting the death in police custody in Havana of a trans man 8 September.

Nelson Linares García, 34, had been arrested along with "about a dozen of homosexuals, transvestites and transsexuals in Old Havana" in Fraternity Park and "died while under arrest". A doctor certified "respiratory arrest" as the cause of death, but the authorities did not conduct an autopsy, according to Penúltimos Días.

According to Imbert Leannes Acosta, director of El Observatorio Cubano de los Derechos de la Comunidad LGBT (OBCUD LGBT, Cuban Observatory of the Rights of the LGBT), Linares García's friends informed the police repeatedly that he had hypertension but they did not pay attention.

The report is traced to Ignacio Estrada, a "noted dissident and gay rights activist" who married his transgender partner 14 August in what was billed as Cuba's 'first gay wedding'.

Another dissident, Roberto de Jesús Guerra, who was released from prison after two years in 2007, said that recent weeks had seen repeated raids by police on LGBT meeting at several sites in the Cuban capital.

Progress on LGBT rights in Cuba has been led by Mariela Castro Espín, the daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro. In June she told a conference in Glasgow, Scotland, that Cuba’s Communist Party may soon be ready to recognise gay rights.

Despite this progress, continuing police harassment in Cuba, including arrests, has been reported on gay Cuban blogs, such as that of the Reinaldo Arenas Memorial Foundation.

Herb Sosa, president of Unity Coalition, a Latino LGBT organization based in Miami that has provided materials and resources to LGBT groups, has accused the Cuban government of engaging in extrajudicial executions.

According to Acosta of OBCUD LGBT, repression of LGBT in Cuba is increasing, not only in Havana but "we have documented Matanzas [North Cuba] and Guantanamo [East Cuba] cases." He said that his group would protest repression to the United Nations. The organisation has not been allowed to officially register. Under the slogan "Homosexuality is a matter of rights, not of opinions", OBCUD LGBT ran the "National Campaign for LGBT rights" in June which included a march 28 June.


Mariela Castro Espín's organisation Centro Nacional de Educación Sexual (National Center for Sexual Education, CENESEX), has announced that in late September a group will fly the rainbow flag on top of Pico Turquino, the highest point in Cuba. The mountain is highly significant in Cuba's communist history, it is in the mountains where Castro began his guerrilla campaign in the 1950s.

However the flag flying will also promote the release of five Cuban agents imprisoned since 1998 in the United States that Cuba says are "heroes of the fight against terrorism ".

Mariela Castro in a new interview with Havana Times said that it is "the prejudices of Cuban society" which is holding back progress on LGBT human rights: "obstacles exist because prejudices dominate institutional decisions here."

Though she said that:
"The dialogue that we’ve achieved with the Ideological Department of the Communist Party has been very important because, though at the beginning they were quite alarmed, now they’re our allies."
She cited prejudice as the reason within the government department as the reason why the Ministry of Justice has refused to accept proposals for legal change made by CENESEX and OBCUD LGBT, rather than Catholic Church opposition saying:
"The Catholic Church has been consistent in outlining its disagreement with what we’re doing, but it isn’t waging war against us. I don’t feel that they’re the obstacle."
She again spoke of hopes for a public debate at the 7th Cuban Communist Party Congress, in January 2012:
"According to what delegates who attended the 6th Party Congress told me, [her father, Raúl Castro] spoke about the issue and said that it was now necessary to make decisions in this respect and to overcome those problems. That gave me a great deal trust and faith. I’m hoping this issue will be raised in the upcoming party conference."
She revealed that her mother, Vilma Espín, had supported same-sex marriage nearly forty years ago:
"When the Family Code approved in 1974 or ’75 was presented, my mother proposed that marriage be considered “a union between two people,” so that homosexual couples wouldn’t have any problems. My dad also conveyed much to me. Although people don’t know it, he was not in favor of many of these things (repression against gays) but he had to move within the consensus of a very complex circle. Thanks to my mom, he didn’t agree. He came from a patriarchal and homophobic culture but he recognized that it could change thanks to her influence."
Updated to add: A newly released by Wikileaks State Department document has suggested that non-state supported LGBT initiatives in Cuba are receiving American funding.

HT: Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender and Queer Jamaica
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