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March 2019
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Mariela Castro promotes pro-LGBT 'legislative package' in Cuba

The daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro on Wednesday said there is a
"legislative package" that would extend rights to LGBT Cubans.
Diario de Cuba, an independent website that is blocked in Cuba, reported
Mariela Castro, who is director of the country's National Center for
Sexual Education, did not provide specific details when she spoke to
reporters at her organization's headquarters in Havana's Vedado
neighborhood. Mariela Castro said the Cuban National Assembly could
consider the package once they approve proposed constitutional reforms,
which Diario de Cuba said could take place in 2018.
"We have a lot of aspirations," she said, according to Diario de Cuba.
"Sometimes we don't have enough working groups or sufficient
understanding of the effect that certain changes can have."
"These proposals are studied and analyzed in order not to do things
superficially," added Mariela Castro.
Diario de Cuba reported Mariela Castro made the comments after she
signed an agreement with the U.N. Population Fund and the Dutch
government to implement the second phrase of a project that is designed
to promote "sexual education, sexual health and human rights" on the
Communist island.
Granma, the official newspaper of the Cuban Communist Party, on
Wednesday reported on the agreement that Mariela Castro signed. It's
coverage did not mention the legislative package about which she spoke.

IDAHOT events to take place in Cuba in May
Mariela Castro's comments come less than two months before her
organization, which is known by the Spanish acronym CENESEX, will hold a
series of events in Havana and the city of Santa Clara that will
commemorate the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.
Cuban lawmakers in 2013 approved an amendment to the country's labor law
that banned employment discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Mariela Castro, who is a member of the Cuban National Assembly, voted
against the proposal because it did not include gender identity.
Cuba's national health care system has offered free sex-reassignment
surgeries since 2008. Independent LGBT rights advocates and critics of
the Cuban government maintain only a few dozen people have been able to
undergo the procedure.
Former Cuban President Fidel Castro, who died last November, in 2010
apologized for sending thousands of gay men and others deemed unfit for
military service in the years after the 1959 Cuban revolution to labor
camps known as Military Units to Aid Production. The Cuban government
also forcibly quarantined people with HIV/AIDS in state-run sanitaria
until 1993.
The Cuban constitution defines marriage as between a man and a woman.
Mariela Castro, who is former Cuban President Fidel Castro's niece, in
recent years has publicly spoken in support of marriage rights for
same-sex couples.
She noted hate crimes remain a problem in countries in which gays and
lesbians can legally marry in remarks that she made earlier this month
at a film festival in the Mexican city of Guadalajara. Mariela Castro,
who is a member of the Cuban National Assembly, also said the country
does not "like to copy anyone" as she discussed why the country has yet
to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples.
LGBT rights advocates who work independently of Mariela Castro and
CENESEX in 2015 launched a campaign that urged Cubans to sign a petition
in support of the issue. They hoped it would spur lawmakers to publicly
debate the issue.
The activists have criticized Mariela Castro for not publicly supporting
their campaign that appears to have stalled. They have also told the
Washington Blade that Cuban authorities routinely harass and even detain
them for publicly criticizing Mariela Castro and her father's government.
The Blade has reached out to several Cuban LGBT rights advocates — those
who support Mariela Castro and work independently of her and CENESEX —
for reaction to her latest comments.

Source: Mariela Castro promotes pro-LGBT 'legislative package' in Cuba - Continue reading
Gay Cuban journalist, activist fired from radio station

A gay Cuban journalist and activist says he was fired from a
government-run radio station because he worked with independent media.
Maykel González Vivero hosted a program on Radio Sagua that highlighted
the history of Sagua la Grande, a small city that is roughly 165 miles
east of Havana.
González, who is a member of Proyecto Arcoiris, an independent Cuban
LGBT advocacy group, wrote on his Facebook page last week that Radio
Sagua Director Carlos Orlando Manrique did not extend his contract
because of his "collaborating with private media." González said his
last program aired on Sept. 3.
Activist challenged Cuban government in 2015 Blade interview
González 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 has also contributed to Diario de Cuba and other independent
Cuban websites that are critical of the Communist island's government.
González in 2012 publicly criticized the removal of statistics from the
Cuban census that noted the number of same-sex couples who live in the
country. He wrote on Facebook that Radio Sagua punished him for
"criticizing an event that the country had made a priority."
González said Radio Sagua Director Carlos Orlando Manrique filed a
complaint with Cuban officials in 2014 after he learned that he was
planning to travel to Geneva.
González wrote on Facebook that members of the Cuban Communist Party
told him he could declare himself a "counterrevolutionary." He traveled
to Switzerland twice and returned to work at Radio Sagua.
González wrote on Facebook that he is among the members of Cuban civil
society who have met with Norwegian and Swedish officials. He attended
an internet forum in Stockholm last year.
"The deputy director (of Radio Sagua) told me before I went to
Scandinavia, 'You will not come back,' as though to insinuate that I
would not return," wrote González on his Facebook page.
González told the Washington Blade during an interview at his apartment
in Sagua la Grande in May 2015 that he had faced harassment at Radio
Sagua because of his independent LGBT advocacy. He said there are
"risks" for criticizing Mariela Castro, the daughter of Cuban President
Raúl Castro who champions LGBT-specific issues as the director of the
Cuba's National Center for Sexual Education, and other government
officials and organizations.
"People quickly assume that you are a dangerous person because you are
someone who asks questions," González told the Blade. "As a result you
find yourself in this zone where you are seen as a social pariah."
González told the Blade on Wednesday during a telephone interview from
Sagua la Grande that his LGBT activism "was very visible."
He said "it doesn't appear" as though his advocacy efforts or his public
criticism of Mariela Castro factored into Radio Sagua's decision to fire
him. González told the Blade the Cuban government in recent months has
targeted other journalists.
"I am not the only one affected," he said.
The U.S. formally restored diplomatic relations with Cuba in 2015.
The State Department notes in its 2015 human rights report the Cuban
government "does not recognize independent journalism." It also
indicates that officials on the Communist island detain independent
journalists and subjects them to physical abuse and other forms of
The Committee to Protect Journalists describes Cuba as one of the "most
censured" countries in the world.
Radio Sagua writes on its homepage that it reports "the truth about Cuba."
Neither Radio Sagua nor the Cuban Embassy in D.C. returned the Blade's
requests for comment. Efforts to reach representatives of the Cuban
government in Havana were unsuccessful.
González told the Blade that he plans to continue working with
independent Cuban media outlets. He said he will also redouble his LGBT
advocacy efforts.
"I would like to work with the press," said González. "I would like to
return to activism stronger."

Michael K. Lavers has been a staff writer for the Washington Blade since
May 2012. The passage of Maryland's same-sex marriage law, the HIV/AIDS
epidemic, the burgeoning LGBT rights movement in Latin America and the
consecration of gay New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson are among the
many stories he has covered since his career began in 2002. Follow Michael

Source: Gay Cuban journalist, activist fired from radio station - Continue reading
Cuba same-sex marriage campaign gains traction

CARDENAS, Cuba — Niurca Rodríguez is a housewife with a gay son, Onasis,
who lives in the Cuban city of Cárdenas that is near the beach resort of
She told Victor Manuel Dueñas of the Babel Sociocultural Project, a
group based in the city of Santo Domingo in the province of Villa Clara
that advocates on behalf of LGBT Cubans and other disadvantaged groups,
in a interview she recorded at her son's home on May 5 that she is "very
proud" of him. Rodríguez also expressed optimism that Cuba will one day
extend marriage rights to same-sex couples.
"It has already been approved in other countries," Rodríguez told
Dueñas, referring to same-sex marriage. "I wish for the same thing in Cuba."
Dueñas is among the Cuban LGBT activists who are behind a campaign in
support of marriage rights for same-sex couples on the Communist island.
The campaign — known as "We Also Love" or "Nosotros También Amamos" in
Spanish — officially began last December.
Activists have encouraged Cubans to sign a petition in support of
marriage rights for same-sex couples. They ultimately hope to spur
members of the Cuban National Assembly to debate the issue in December
when they hold their annual meeting in Havana.
"I want to get married one day," Dueñas told the Washington Blade on
June 2 during a telephone interview from Cárdenas. "This is my dream."

José Armando, a 27-year-old gay man who works for a state-owned
transportation company in Cárdenas, expressed a similar statement in an
interview that Dueñas added to the video that includes Rodríguez's
comments in support of the marriage campaign.
"[Same-sex marriage] would give me the chance to enter into a union with
the person who I love," José Armando told Dueñas.
Government has 'obligation' to protect minorities
The Cuban constitution defines marriage as between a man and a woman. It
also bans discrimination based on race, skin color, sex, national
origin, religious beliefs and "any other offense against human dignity."
The Cuban National Assembly in late 2013 approved a bill that added
sexual orientation to the country's employment nondiscrimination law.
Mariela Castro, the daughter of President Raúl Castro who directs Cuba's
National Center for Sexual Education, voted against the proposal because
it did not include transgender-specific language.
"The state's institutions educate everyone from an early age on the
principle of equality of human beings," reads Article 42 of the Cuban
Dueñas told the Blade that the Cuban government has "an obligation" to
"create laws to protect minorities." Roydes Gamboa, a Havana-based
lawyer who founded Free Angel, a group that fights anti-LGBT
discrimination in Cuba, also referenced the country's constitution
during a May 20 interview at the Habana Libre hotel in the Cuban
capital's Vedado neighborhood.
"It is going to happen in full relation to the principle of equality,"
Gamboa told the Blade.
Mariela Castro supports same-sex marriage
Gay men were among the tens of thousands of people that then-President
Fidel Castro sent to labor camps known as Military Units to Aid
Production in the years after the 1959 Cuban revolution. The Communist
island's government forcibly quarantined people with HIV/AIDS in
state-run sanitaria until 1993.
Gamboa told the Blade that one of the marriage campaign's biggest
challenges is homophobic attitudes among lawmakers and Cuban society.
"These legislators are from the triumph of the revolution with no
intention of politicizing the issue," he said, referring to marriage
rights for same-sex couples.
Mariela Castro, who is Fidel Castro's niece, has previously said she
supports marriage rights for same-sex couples.

She made no public mention of the marriage campaign in two marches she
led in Havana and in the city of Matanzas last month that commemorated
the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. The National
Center for Sexual Education, which is known by the Spanish acronym
CENESEX, and a representative of the Cuban government in Washington did
not respond to the Blade's request for comment on the marriage campaign.
Tico Almeida, the gay Cuban American president of Freedom to Work, gave
a speech in Havana on May 12 that focused on marriage rights for
same-sex couples and other LGBT-specific advocacy efforts in the U.S.
Mariela Castro and Evan Wolfson, founder of Freedom to Marry, were among
those who were in the audience.
Wolfson and Almeida both told the Blade that they were able to have
lunch with Mariela Castro after the event.
"It was a very interesting conversation," Wolfson told the Blade on June
3 during a telephone interview before he flew to Australia to meet with
activists who are campaigning in support of marriage rights for same-sex
couples. "She (Mariela Castro) spoke about her hope of moving forward
the importance of Cuba having the freedom to marry and building on the
steps they have taken."
Almeida expressed a similar sentiment, noting to the Blade on Monday in
an email that he and Wolfson spoke with Mariela Castro roughly a year
and a half after President Obama announced the normalization of
relations with Cuba.
"We had a very thorough and respectful discussion about some topics on
which we agree, like marriage equality for same-sex Cuban couples, as
well as some topics on which I strongly disagree with the Cuban
government," Almeida told the Blade.
Gamboa is among the Cuban LGBT activists who have criticized Mariela
Castro for not publicly supporting the marriage campaign.
He told the Blade that he "was not interested in" the campaign after she
met with Wolfson and Almeida because activists who are not affiliated
with CENESEX and her father's government. The two men met with Gamboa
and other advocates who are campaigning for marriage rights for same-sex
couples while they were in Cuba.
Wolfson and Almeida also met with U.S. Chief of Mission Jeffrey
DeLaurentis at the U.S. Embassy in Havana.
"I was proud to help organize Cuba travel for one of my heroes, Evan
Wolfson, and I was determined that we would not make the same mistakes
as too many Hollywood celebrities and some high-profile LGBT Americans
who have attempted to engage on Cuba issues," Almeida told the Blade,
without referring to a specific person.

Trans actress Candis Cayne traveled to Cuba last month. She took part in
the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia march that
Mariela Castro led in Havana on May 14.
Cayne has not responded to the Blade's requests for an interview about
her trip to Cuba.
Almeida met with activists in Matanzas and in the city of Cienfuegos
while he was on the Communist island.
"I considered it absolutely critical that we meet with the Cuban leaders
of the 'Nosotros También Amamos' campaign petitioning for marriage
equality in Cuba," he told the Blade.
Activist: Marriage campaign will benefit LGBT Cubans
The U.S. is among the more than a dozen countries that have extended
marriage rights to same-sex couples.
Two men in the Colombian city of Cali on May 24 became the first
same-sex couple to legally marry in the South American country. Mexican
President Enrique Peña Nieto reiterated his support of nuptials for gays
and lesbians last week in the Huffington Post.
Almeida told the Blade that he plans to organize a delegation of LGBT
Americans that will travel to Cuba later this year. Gamboa said that he
and others who are working on the marriage campaign have spoken with
activists in the U.S., Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Mexico and other
"We can bring it to Cuba," he told the Blade, referring to marriage
rights for same-sex couples.
Juana Mora, a Havana-based activist who met with Obama in March while he
was in the Cuban capital, told the Blade on Monday during a Facebook
interview that the marriage campaign will benefit LGBT people across the
country. These include trans people who she described as "the most
vulnerable" to violence and discrimination because of their gender identity.
"Any campaign helps in passing laws in favor of the community," Mora
told the Blade.

Source: Cuba same-sex marriage campaign gains traction - Continue reading
Evan Wolfson travels to Cuba

Freedom to Marry founder Evan Wolfson arrived in Cuba on May 11, 2016,
to take part in International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia
commemorations. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)
Two American LGBT rights advocates arrived in Cuba on Wednesday to take
part a series of events that will commemorate the International Day
Against Homophobia and Transphobia.
Freedom to Work President Tico Almeida on Thursday is scheduled to take
part in a panel on LGBT advocacy in Havana that is organized by the
National Center for Sexual Education, which is directed by Mariela
Castro, daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro. He and Freedom to Marry
founder Evan Wolfson will also attend marches and other events
commemorating the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia
that are taking place in the Cuban capital and the city of Matanzas
through May 21.
"Thanks to President Obama, the restoration of relations between the
U.S. and Cuba allows people to travel and exchange ideas, and I am
thrilled to now be one of them," said Wolfson in a press release.
This year's International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia
commemorations in Cuba are taking place against the backdrop of a
campaign in support of marriage rights for same-sex couples that
independent LGBT rights advocates launched late last year.
The campaign — known as "We Also Love" or "Nosotros También Amamos" in
Spanish — encourages Cubans to sign a petition in support of the issues.
The Cuban constitution currently defines marriage as between a man and a

Mariela Castro, who spearheads LGBT-specific issues on the Communist
island, publicly supports marriage rights for same-sex couples. The
independent advocates who are behind the gay nuptials initiative have
accused Mariela Castro and her organization of not doing enough to spur
Cuban lawmakers to act on the issue.
"I am looking forward to meeting the brave Cubans advocating for
marriage equality," said Almeida, a Cuban American with relatives in

Wolfson: Human rights are universal

Then-President Fidel Castro sent more than 25,000 gay men and others
deemed unfit for military service to labor camps in the years after the
1959 Cuban revolution.
The Communist island's government forcibly quarantined people living
with HIV/AIDS in state-run sanitaria until 1993. Fidel Castro apologized
for sending gay men to the camps, known as Military Units to Aid
Production, during a 2010 interview with a Mexican newspaper.
Supporters of Mariela Castro, who is a member of the Cuban Parliament,
point out that Cuba has offered free sex-reassignment surgeries under
its national health care system since 2008. They also note that she
voted against a 2013 bill against discrimination in the workplace based
on sexual orientation because it did not include trans-specific protections.
Cuba and the U.S. officially restored diplomatic relations last August.
President Obama traveled to Havana in March.
He spoke publicly about human rights during a press conference with Raúl
Castro and in a televised speech at Havana's Alicia Alonso Grand
Theater. Obama also met with two independent LGBT rights advocates
before leaving the country.
"Human rights are universal," said Wolfson. "It's time for the freedom
to marry in Cuba and across the Americas."
Wolfson has traveled to South Africa, Switzerland, Germany, Austria and
other countries since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last June that
same-sex couples can legally marry across the U.S.
Freedom to Marry formally shut down earlier this year.

Source: Evan Wolfson travels to Cuba - Continue reading
Cuba to mark global day against homophobia, transphobia

The daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro on Tuesday spoke about her
organization's plans to commemorate the International Day Against
Homophobia and Transphobia.
Mariela Castro, director of Cuba's National Center for Sexual Education,
told reporters and her supporters in Havana that her organization, which
is known by the Spanish acronym CENESEX, will hold a series of events in
the Cuban capital and the city of Matanzas from May 10-21.
Mariela Castro is expected to take part in marches in Havana and
Matanzas on May 14 and 17 respectively. Candis Cayne, a transgender
actress who appears in Caitlyn Jenner's reality show, is slated to join
other LGBT rights advocates on a panel in the Cuban capital on May 10.
EFE reported Mariela Castro received an award on Tuesday from U.N.
Development Program Resident Representative in Cuba Myrta Kaulard that
acknowledged CENESEX's efforts to promote "equality" and combat
gender-based violence in the country. Mariela Castro also said that
delegates to last month's Cuban Communist Party congress in Havana
acknowledged people suffer discrimination because of their sexual
orientation and gender identity.
"We felt that support for our work within the party was more explicit,
much clearer," Mariela Castro told Cibercuba, a Cuban website.
Independent activists criticize Mariela Castro, CENESEX
Mariela Castro's supporters credit her with championing LGBT-specific
issues on the Communist island.
Mariela Castro, who is a member of the Cuban Parliament, has publicly
spoken in support of marriage rights for same-sex couples. She voted
against a 2013 bill against discrimination in the workplace based on
sexual orientation because it did not trans-specific protections.
Cuba has offered free sex-reassignment surgeries under its national
health care system since 2008, but independent LGBT rights advocates
insist that only a few dozen trans people have been able to undergo the
procedure. Adela Hernández in 2012 became the first openly trans person
to hold public office on the island when she became a member of the
Caibarién Municipal Council.
Then-President Fidel Castro sent more than 25,000 gay men and others
deemed unfit for military service to labor camps known as Military Units
to Aid Production in the years after the 1959 Cuban revolution. The
Communist island's government forcibly quarantined people living with
HIV/AIDS in state-run sanitaria until 1993.

Cuban LGBT rights advocates who are not affiliated with Mariela Castro
and CENESEX maintain that authorities routinely harass them.
The Cuban Foundation for LGBTI Rights and other independent advocacy
groups launched a campaign late last year that encourages Cubans to sign
a petition in support of marriage rights for same-sex couples. Those
behind the initiative have accused Mariela Castro and CENESEX of not
doing enough to spur lawmakers to act on the issue.
"When a situation presents itself and it requires something to be done
to resolve it in a way that affects many people, they never have
solutions or answers," Mariano López Borell, a campaign organizer who
lives in Havana's San Miguel del Padrón neighborhood, told the Blade in
a previous interview.

Cuban government unresponsive to Blade visa request
CENESEX's International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia events
are scheduled to take place roughly two months after President Obama
traveled to Havana.
Two independent LGBT rights advocates — Juana Mora Cedeño and Nelson
Álvarez Matute of Alianza Mano — were among the members of Cuban civil
society with whom Obama met. The president also raised human rights
during a televised speech at Havana's Alicia Alonso Grand Theater and a
press conference with Raúl Castro.

Obama announced in 2014 that the U.S. and Cuba would restore diplomatic
relations that had been cut since 1961.
The Blade has requested a press visa from the Cuban government that
would allow it to travel to the Communist island and report on CENESEX's
International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia events. The Cuban
Embassy in D.C. has not responded to numerous emails and phone calls
over the status of the request.
Editor's note: Washington Blade International News Editor Michael K.
Lavers traveled to Cuba in May 2015 to report on the country's LGBT
rights movement.

Source: Cuba to mark global day against homophobia, transphobia - Continue reading
Cuba slowly accepting LGBT community
Being gay in Cuba means many still have to live a double life
Will Ripley, CNN
Published: December 10, 2015, 1:30 am Updated: December 10, 2015, 1:30 am

Cuba, US begins talks on confiscated property, damages
Cuba imposes travel permit for doctors to limit brain drain
HAVANA (CNN) – As Cuba opens its doors to American visitors, the
government is encouraging more gay tourism.

After decades of persecution, new laws to protect LGBT rights mark a
dramatic turnaround for the Castro regime.

The show goes on at 2:00AM. Havana's drag queen cabaret. Lip syncing six
nights a week as cocktails flow and crowds grow. Cuba's underground gay
scene slowly becoming mainstream. A new club, the latest to openly cater
to LGBT customers.

"Now there's a boom. All the bars want to have drag queens," says
Kiriam, who began performing in secret 21 years ago. She takes us to a
tiny dressing room packed with female impersonators. Some do drag full time.

"Ten years ago," she says, "we might have been scared to perform or even
to meet in certain places."

A decade ago, Cubans could still go to prison for public displays of
homosexuality. In the 1960's and 70's, the Castro regime persecuted
sexual minorities, sending some people to labor camps. In recent years,
Fidel Castro himself has admitted responsibility for the quote, "great

Today, President Raul Castro's daughter Mariela Castro runs the national
center for sex education, Cuba's only state agency advocating for LGBT
rights. Cuba offers free sex change surgery and has among the world's
lowest rates of HIV and AIDs.

Kiriam says she's a "health promoter." However, critics say the Cuban
government overlooks a huge problem in the LGBT community. Prostitution
is rampant at gay cruising spots like the Malecon here in Havana. It
really surged during the Cuban economic crisis around 20 years ago and
continues today. The reason? Money.

Sex workers catering to foreigners can earn more in a single night than
a Cuban doctor makes in a month. Several men we spoke to say "gay for
pay" is one of many issues ignored by Cuba's mainstream LGBT activists.

Raiko Pin Nuñez, a Cuban blogger, says it's still complicated to be
openly gay on the communist-run island, "For example, if I walked down
the street right now holding my partner's hand it would not be taken
well. People would stare, make comments."

The topic is so sensitive, pin asks us to interview him away from his
friends at the public wi-fi hotspot where he runs his own YouTube
channel. He says his family accepts him but all of his ex-boyfriends
have left Cuba. He says those who stay are still forced to lead "una
doble vida" – a double life.

"My dream is to get married, to have kids. To have the same rights as
someone who is straight. But here it's complicated," said Nuñez.

He dreams of equality. And the end of homophobia that still permeates
Cuban society. A dream even the most optimistic LGBT advocates say is
likely decades away.

Source: Cuba slowly accepting LGBT community | - Continue reading
Cuba and LGBT Rights

LGBT rights in Cuba are perplexing from an ideological standpoint.
Communist theory itself is unclear on the issue of homosexuality.
Logically, one would assume that, given communism's emphatic support of
abortion, disdain for the family unit and rejection of religiously based
morality, its position on homosexuality would that of acceptance or
indifference. However, communist views on same sex relations are divided
into two opposing camps.

The small obscure non-ruling communist parties of the 1st world have
positions that range from acceptance to full support of the LGBT
community. On the other hand the large ruling communist parties of the
3rd world have positions on the LGBT community that range from apathy to
persecution. What is the reason for this discrepancy within the
Communist Party?

The answer is simple: location, location, location. The West, since the
industrial revolution, has been infinitely more welcome culturally to
homosexuality and other alternative lifestyles than the 3rd world where
communists have come to power in countries like Afghanistan, Cuba,
Vietnam, and Angola.

The ruling communist parties in countries like Afghanistan, Cuba,
Vietnam, and Angola have been faced with the task of governing highly
patriarchal, conservative and homophobic populations. They began to
revise orthodox communist theory to fit with the cultures on a variety
of issues including homosexuality. Homosexuality had always been seen as
a tertiary issue by the Old Left and not as an all-encompassing issue by
their New Left fellow travelers in the West and therefore these rapid
ideological accommodations were made rather painlessly and without much

This is precisely what occurred in Cuba. The relatively free love
between gays in post-revolutionary Havana quickly turned into long
stretches of torture and forced labor in the Military Units and to Aids
inside Cuban concentration camps. The Cuban Communist Party, in order to
keep its moral prestige and legitimacy intact under Cuba's culture of
machismo (as well as to placate the Soviets who had made their own
similar anti-homosexual revisionism under Stalin), went after
homosexuals more than any of Cuba's previous reactionary dictators like

This was done even though many notable top Cubans officials at the time
were heavily suspected of being homosexuals such as Alfredo Guevara,
Celia Sanchez, Armando Hart, Melba Hernandez and Jose Martinez Paez. In
fact it is an open secret in Cuban society today (as it was in the 26th
of July movement in the Sierra Maestra) that the current president of
Cuba, Raul Castro, is a homosexual. He assuredly must be not the only
one within Cuba's elite.

Therefore the Cuban Communist Party made an ideological concession in
exchange for control creating institutionalized homophobia in the 1960s
and 1970s. Its militant atheism already had alienated it from a deeply
religious Cuban populace. Toeing the Marxist line and turning a blind
eye to homosexuals or even actively supporting them would have turned
them into social pariahs.

The Party would have been unable to recruit members at a time when it
needed them the most in order to create the bureaucratic apparatchiks
and Cuban nomenklatura needed to efficiently complete the dual jobs of
both running and transforming Cuban society. Homosexuals became another
group added to the counter-revolutionary black list with the full
blessing of a Cuban people that despised and hated them.

The political reality of LGBT rights today in Cuba is that the heavy
handed persecution of gays prevalent in the 1960s and 1970s has
dissipated due to pragmatism rather than dogma. Today's Cuban Communist
Party through its unofficial street system of sociolosimo (bribes,
patronage, and control over jobs and food stocks) has entrenched itself
so deeply into Cuban society that it no longer fears a cultural backlash
from an exhausted and apathetic Cuban populace.

Homosexuality has become an opportunistic political football for the
Cuban regime that is repeatedly shedding all its ideological trappings
and seeks only power and survival. Therefore LGBT rights is an issue
that will keep mutating in the foreseeable future according to the whims
of Cuba's elite (three steps forward, two steps back or vice-versa)
regardless of Marxist dogma.

Source: Cuba and LGBT Rights - Continue reading
How Will Cuba's Real Estate Market Adjust to a New Era?
Thursday, July 30, 2015, by Curbed Staff

"Come on, this is bullshit, this is for show, it can't actually be real."

When travel journalist Nick Watt was told that travelers to Havana's
Paseo del Prado could find not just snack vendors and tourists on the
famous promenade, but a thriving, open-air real estate market where
Cubans buy and sell homes, he was a bit incredulous. But as he
discovered during filming of his Travel Channel show Watt's World, the
promenade plays host to a key part of Cuba's nascent real estate market,
a recently unleashed aspect of capitalism in the socialist country that,
as relations with the United States normalize, opens up a host of
questions and possibilities.

"Consider real estate in the same way people look at classic cars on the
street here," he says. "People like me love Cuba, we think the cars held
together with Band-Aids and the old colonial buildings are amazing. But
once the money comes in, will Cubans want up-to-date buildings? In 20
years, will there be old, dilapidated buildings here?"

Watt's trip to the market provides just a small glimpse at a larger
shift happening in Cuban real estate. In 2011, Raúl Castro allowed his
countrymen to buy and sell real estate for the first time in decades,
revolutionizing a socialist system that previously only allowed citizens
to trade property, like for like. It set off a small boom in home
renovations, as well as interest in acquiring and fixing up potential
hotel properties that could house an influx of new tourists.

The prospect of a more open market, even incrementally so, raises the
possibility of massive foreign investment in prime beachfront real
estate and the country's classic housing stock. Currently, Americans can
invest by sending money to a Cuban relative or associate who acts as a
frontman, but legally the deed remains in the name of the Cuban buyer,
adding a degree of risk. A potentially bigger question around foreign
investment may be the right-of-return issue; Fidel seized all
foreign-owned property in 1962, and the U.S. government currently
estimates that American citizens and corporations may have up to $8
billion in property claims to sort out as relations normalize

So far, Castro has held strong to his decision to limit real estate
sales to Cubans only. Considering that a few years in, the market is
still in a bit of an embryonic stage, that makes sense.

The sea change in property law has also encouraged entrepreneurial activity.
Seizing the opportunity in Raul's policy shift, Sandra Arias Betancourt
decided to become a residential real estate agent in early 2013. Not
surprisingly, she believes Cuba's market is unlike any other. A lack of
regular internet access means information sources American buyers and
sellers use every day are non-existent, and only about half of sellers
feel the need to involve an agent. Most just place handmade signs
outside their property and negotiate themselves, Betancourt says. But
still, she sees a booming market and increased opportunity.

"The market has exploded, especially since the beginning of this year,"
she says. "We have a lot of people buying."

Right now, transactions are 95% cash, she says, and she takes a standard
five percent commission for any sales. To succeed, she says agents have
to understand the people and what they really want. She sees a day
coming soon when Americans will begin to buy more property.

"People have been sniffing around this for years," says Watt. "I was
being asked by my American friends 10 years ago to buy property. People
have been trying to find ways for years."

Tom Miller, author of Trading with the Enemy: A Yankee Travels through
Castro's Cuba and a writer who has made annual trips to Cuba since 1987,
also believes that Cubans are just starting to get a sense of how the
market functions. Its evident in new online property sites, such as, which are still in their early days (founder Yosuan
Crespo, a computer programmer, launched the site in 2012).

"There's a certain amount of speculation," says Miller, "but you need a
certain amount of funds to do that, and Cuba's not a country where
people have the money for that kind of investment. What people are
mostly talking about is foreign investment. You can buy things with a
frontman, and Cuban-Americans are already doing it, but the whole
phenomena hasn't played out yet."

Miller believes a few serious issues need to be resolved before
Americans are snapping up homes. The mortgage system in Cuba is
currently non-existent—it's all "cash on the barrelhead"—and Cuba needs
to push through planned reforms of its financial system (currently,
prices are listed in CUC, the Cuban Convertible peso unit). Both legally
and financially, it's impossible for foreigners, he says.

"Calling it a potential real estate gold rush is a little too
optimistic," he says. "It's still iffy as far as Cuban immigrants
purchasing land and homes. Maybe in five or ten years, Crespo could be
the man with a Century 21 Blazer."

Castro has said he'll be in office until 2018. Miller believes that with
the right financial and banking reforms, the Cuban market could open up
by then; the country's rate of reform will control the real estate
market. But who knows what happens when Raul leaves office, and if his
successor will follow the same policies? It's another one of the quirks
of business in Cuba.

"What's happened in Cuba since 1959 has never happened anywhere else,
and won't happen again," says Miller. "It's a totally unique situation."

Source: How Will Cuba's Real Estate Market Adjust to a New Era? - Curbed
National - Curbed SF - Continue reading
Critics of Cuban government criticize bid to host LGBT conference

MEXICO CITY — Critics of the Cuban government this week blasted efforts
to allow the Communist country to host the International Lesbian Gay
Bisexual Trans and Intersex Association's biennial global conference in
Cuban-born U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) on Friday described
any attempt to hold an LGBT rights conference in Cuba as "unconscionable."
"In Cuba there are no rights for the LGBT community or for anyone else,"
Ros-Lehtinen told the Washington Blade.
Herb Sosa, a first generation Cuban American who is president of the
Unity Coalition, a Miami-based LGBT advocacy group, shared
Ros-Lehtinen's outrage.
"The irony of Cuba even uttering the word rights is both sad and
outrageous," Sosa told the Blade.
Ros-Lehtinen and Sosa spoke with the Blade a day after Cuban LGBT rights
advocates who are associated with the country's National Center for Sex
Education (CENESEX) — of which Mariela Castro Espín, daughter of Cuban
President Raúl Castro, is director — made an elaborate presentation
during the ILGA World Conference in Mexico City. It featured a slideshow
with pictures of hotels in Havana, the country's capital, and several
video clips of events associated with the International Day Against
Homophobia and Transphobia that took place throughout Cuba in May.
Activists during the presentation passed out condoms, stickers that read
"we want to talk about sexuality" and a pamphlet highlighting an annual
CENESEX conference on sex therapy and education that will take place
next September in Havana.
Two advocates held a large Cuban flag at the front of the conference
room at the Hotel Fiesta Americana Reforma as Manuel Vázquez Seijido and
Yasmany Díaz Figueroa spoke from the podium. The entire delegation of
more than a dozen people also wore white t-shirts highlighting Cuba's
participation in the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.
A number of people in the audience began clapping and chanting "Cuba"
during the presentation.
"The support of the state and civil society organizations and the
organizer of this conference call attention to their loyalty of the
mechanisms that will be put into place," said Vázquez.

The advocates noted during their presentation that Cuba hosted an ILGA
conference in May that drew hundreds of people from across Latin America
and the Caribbean.
Mariela Castro chaired the local committee that organized it.
"It would be a good thing for all sectors," he said, referring to the
ILGA conference.
Díaz also noted that Cuban doctors last month month traveled to West
Africa to help combat the Ebola epidemic.
Delegates to the ILGA World Conference ultimately chose Thailand over
Cuba and Botswana to host the biennial gathering in 2016.
Cuba wants to 'go forward'
Mariela Castro attended the ILGA World conference earlier this week
where she took part in a panel on how government officials can support
LGBT advocacy efforts. The Blade's attempts to interview her before she
left Mexico City were unsuccessful.
Supporters of Mariela Castro are quick to note she has spearheaded a
number of efforts over the last decade to promote acceptance of LGBT
Cubans and to curb the spread of HIV/AIDS on the island. These include a
condom distribution campaign and prompting the country's national health
care system to offer free sex-assignment surgery to trans Cubans.
Cuban lawmakers late last year added sexual orientation to the country's
labor law.
Mariela Castro has also spoken out in support of marriage rights for
same-sex couples.
Equality Forum, a Philadelphia-based LGBT advocacy group, in May 2013
honored her during its annual awards dinner.
Ros-Lehtinen said Cuba hosting a global LGBT conference "is just another
example of this regime's pathetic attempt to look like a tolerant
country, when in fact they are one of the most repressive regimes in the
"I for one will not fall for the lies that this desperate dictatorship
continues to spread," said Sosa. "[I] really hope our LGBT community
around the globe does their homework and sees the Castros for what they
are, and not what they tell us they are."
"When Cubans have true freedom to vote, speak, travel and love — then we
can talk about planning conferences and celebrating the successes of the
island's leadership," he added. "For now we simply mourn its victims and
pray for actual rights — not blood-stained press releases and staged
ILGA Co-Secretary General Gloria Careaga Pérez told the Blade earlier
this week it would have been "great" for Cuba to host the biennial
conference in 2016.
"Cuba is making very important changes," said Careaga. "They want to go

Source: Cuban government critics blast bid to host LGBT conference - Continue reading
Does Cuba Intend to Fight For Gay Rights?
JULY 23, 2014 8:58 PM )

A pioneer in the region, Cuba has begun to add to its list of internal advancements LGBTI rights; the 1990s saw the abolishment of many oppressive laws and practices towards gays while the National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX, Centro Nacional de Educación Sexual) was founded to affect policy change and to provide sexual education programs. As with just about anything occurring in Cuba, despite many progressive accomplishments, many Cubans strongly disagree with the purported extent of the changes and their use as propaganda by the Castro government abroad. Dissidents, activists, and human rights organizations denounce the government’s scope of inclusion and depth of understanding. Homosexuality is a topic that has faced a deluge of inconsistent government attitudes and policies, illustrating incompleteness and failure on the part of the government to include all Cubans within the Revolution, illustrating incompleteness and failure on the part of the government to include all Cubans within the Revolution.

Regardless of government attitudes, the LGBTI community in today’s Havana is thriving, and open enough to be visible. The Teatro Nacional (National Theater, usually home to the ballet) hosts Proyecto Divino, featuring live music, shows of strength, and male strippers until 6AM. It acts as the government’s official endorsement of a gay party while keeping everything under one roof. On the other hand, certain privately owned bars are known for their clientele and public locations around Havana serve as informal meeting places such as a wooded area near the baseball stadium on the outskirts of the city. Support for the community tends toward obvious displays such as Proyecto Divino while excluding other more critical items. Nightclubs and discotecas, like all major venues, are government-owned in Cuba, and have therefore historically not been amenable to homosexuals. Legislative reform has also not assisted in the creation of safe and comfortable gathering spaces, and the government regularly shuts down popular gay bars and organizations.

The Castro regime and Cuba as a whole has a long history of LGBTI discrimination with which to contend. Cuba used to be one of the most repressive socially and politically towards homosexuals. Communism did not include gays, who had been supportive of Fidel’s revolutionary movement with hopes for societal change and abolishment of pro-harassment laws. These laws were maintained under the principle that gay men were not the Revolution’s envisioning of Che Guevara’s ‘New Man’ and between 1965 and 1966 homosexuals were placed in UMAP labor camps along with others considered unfit for military service and HIV patients quarantined from 1986 until 1993.

Nowadays, gay rights tend to extend only as far as one operates within the government. Cuba legalized state supported sex changes in 2006, openly serving as gay in the military in 1993, and the right to change one’s legal gender on their government ID Officially, marriage in Cuba is defined as being between a man and a woman. This is less important than in the United States,, as marriage does not hold the same societal values or financial rewards. CENESEX is currently working on legalizing civil unions, the reluctance on the part of the governing body illustrating to many Cubans the rifts between the political desires of the Castro family and actual government policies. Despite policy changes, however, advocacy and organizing attempts that test boundaries beyond government-endorsed measures are met with anger and attacks by the Castro family and government supporters.

Gay rights advocacy in Cuba, although effective, has similarly failed to resolve some of the more probing issues within the Cuban LGBTI community. CENESEX (Centro Nacional de Educación Sexual), founded by the feminist Cuban Women’s Federation, is the only legal channel for gay rights activism in Cuba. It has proven vital in opening the public debate on the topic, producing a series on television (the best way to reach everyday Cubans) called the Dark Side of the Moon about a married man who realized he was bisexual, supporting sexual diversity classes among students, publishing the journal Sexology and Society, and directing an educational association on human sexuality. Other chapters such as the Cuban League Against AIDS and Divine Hope technically function illegally. Functionally, this limits the degree of social change that can occur and the support provided to the LGBTI community. Similarly, many gay activists are also ‘dissidents,’ consistently followed and observed by the government as with Isbel Díaz Torres or beaten up (ostensibly by) the police as with Mario José Delgado.

As can be expected in Cuba, personal involvement by the Castro family in promoting LGBTI rights account for some of the greater contributions — and­ failures — of the Cuban government on the issue. In the 1990s, Fidel took full responsibility for Cuba’s homophobic policies in the 1960s, paving the way for some resolution of institutionalized discrimination and harassment. In practice, though, the government often appears disingenuous, paying lip service to the cause than actually changing it.

Castro family involvement in gay rights has continued over the years, with Mariela Castro, the government’s representative for sexual health and rights, at the epicenter of the debate. Mariela is the daughter of current President Raúl Castro and niece of Fidel and serves as the head of CENESEX . She is both advocate and propaganda machine, although her unwillingness to more extensively combat LGBTI issues has led to ample criticism and backlash. Dissident Yoani Sánchez and activist Mario José Delgado both target her personally in columns and tweets as culpable for failing to follow through with HIV/AIDS support and more profound structural changes that would truly assist the LGBTI community.

In Cuba, everyone is equal and everyone shares the same opportunities and benefits— this is the continued rhetoric of the Cuban government apparatus since its inception in 1959. Nevertheless, Cuba is not a utopia, and despite attempts to achieve communist ideals it is largely stuck when it comes to guaranteeing fair treatment of the LGBTI community. Discrimination of any kind is difficult to correctly identify, especially considering the effect of inconsistent, but intense, government involvement. By and large, this means that LGBTI rights are treated like a non-issue, halting further consciousness of bias towards homosexuals. Well-meaning Castro involvement has only fostered uncertainty, whereas real progress through renegotiation of party policies remains indecipherable outside of official circles. If true progress towards LGBTI equality is in the works, Havana’s bureaucrats have little intention of letting it show.

Source: Does Cuba Intend to Fight For Gay Rights? | Brown Political Review - Continue reading
Cuba Wants You To Think It's a Gay Paradise. It's Not.
Cuba has come a long way on LGBT rights since putting gays in labor
camps. But don't believe the Castro family's gay-friendly PR.

TRINIDAD, Cuba — I'm surprised to see a rainbow flag outside a tiny bar
called Gats Loco in Trinidad, an old sugar town on Cuba's Caribbean
coast. With a population of just under 75,000 and a reputation for
well-preserved colonial architecture, not cruising, a gay bar seems an
improbable niche-filler.
As of 1979, being gay is no longer a crime in Cuba, although under
Article 303a of the country's Penal Code, "publicly manifested"
homosexuality remains illegal, as does "persistently bothering others
with homosexual amorous advances." While I wonder whether or not Gats
Loco's conspicuous signage qualifies as a violation of Cuban law, I
watch a stray dog's legs collapse underneath it in the withering midday
heat. Gats Loco is the only bar in the area and they claim to have cold
beer. I head inside.
I sit down at the small counter, getting the impression that I am the
first customer they've had in a while. I ask the bartender for a
Bucanero Fuerte, the watery lager that is Cuba's go-to brew. He hands me
a cold one and sits down beside me. He says his name is Osmel, but
everyone calls him SiSi.
SiSi is an English professor who moonlights at the bar for extra cash.
He sharpens his grasp of American idioms by listening to heavy metal and
writing out the lyrics every night when he gets home. I figure he'll
love the copy of the Atlantic that I'm carrying in my backpack, which
features a headline across the cover reading, "What Straights Can Learn
From Same-Sex Couples." But when I hand it to him with a conspiratorial
wink, he looks perplexed. Then he breaks into a wide grin.
"Are you gay?" SiSi asks.
I tell him I am not. Neither is he. Nor is the owner. Nor are any of the
employees. Though incongruity is practically an art form in Cuba -- a
place where cabdrivers outearn cardiologists and Fidel Castro's son is a
golf champion -- I'm too curious not to ask how Gats Loco came to be.
"You know our president, yes?" SiSi asks, seeming to make a point of not
saying "Raúl Castro" out loud. "In 2010, he changed the rules and we
were allowed to open our own businesses. So, a friend of mine, he opened
this place."
He can see that he hasn't answered my question.
"Okay, so, this rainbow flag outside -- we are the only place in Cuba
with this flag in front," SiSi says. "I think it is European, and means
'inclusiveness.' Some people, I guess, know it as the gay flag, too. I
think the owner figured it might be good for business."
The gambit has already started to pay dividends. Not because Gats Loco
offers something unique to Cuba's gay community. Rather, it's because
Mariela Castro, daughter of Raúl, niece to Fidel, and the director of
the state-run National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX), has emerged
as Cuba's leading voice for the LGBT community in recent years. As the
story goes, when the straight, married mother of three heard about Gats
Loco and its rainbow flag, a representative sent word that Mariela would
be making an official visit to "sponsor" the bar. SiSi isn't sure what
the sponsorship entails beyond something about uniforms and logoed
aprons for the staff.
There are other gay bars on the island, but a gay bar willing to work
with the regime rather than against it is unusual. For Mariela, it's a
ready-made propaganda opportunity. And Gats Loco's owner wasn't going to
pass up a chance to ingratiate himself with a Castro.
The island is undoubtedly evolving, experiencing its first glimmers of
free enterprise in 55 years, but one thing has remained very much the
same: In Cuba, the regime is your ultimate customer. LGBT rights have
undeniably improved in Cuba over the past 50-odd years. But while there
have been some gains, many problems remain. The social stigma attached
to being gay in predominantly Catholic Cuba is present in the same ways
it is everywhere else in the world. Though the Castro family is no
longer sending LGBT people to labor camps as they did in the 1960s and
1970s, the only permitted LGBT movement in Cuba is the official,
state-run one that Mariela Castro has created. To that end, while the
rest of the world was celebrating Pride Week over the past several days,
Cubans weren't. The government in Havana refuses to recognize the
international week of LGBT rights celebrations, allowing only an
officially sanctioned gathering on May 17 -- under Mariela's patronage
-- to mark the World Health Organization's "International Day Against
With Cuba essentially having been run as a family business since the
Castros took over in 1959, it's only natural that 52-year-old Mariela
ended up working for her dad. Daughter of President Raúl and niece to
"Maximum Leader" Fidel, Mariela, known pretty much exclusively by her
first name, occupies an interesting place in the Cuban zeitgeist, a sign
of a liberalizing society -- but only so far. "Brokeback Mountain" may
have aired on Cuban state television in 2008, but the control Mariela
and CENESEX wield over the LGBT agenda doesn't give many Cubans a sense
of ownership in their own cause.
On paper, Mariela is perfectly qualified to run CENESEX, where she has
been since 1990. She has degrees in psychology and human sexuality from
two of Cuba's premier universities. However, the LGBT Cubans I spoke to
almost universally described Mariela as a creation of the state
propaganda machine, a benevolent face the world can see calling for
tolerance while the regime's usual brand of everyday totalitarianism
continues. After all, Cuba's biggest industry is tourism, with more than
2 million visitors last year. Western tourists prefer a "friendly Cuba"
to a notorious human rights violator.
The state announced in 2008 that, per Mariela's direction, the national
health-care system would begin providing free gender-reassignment
surgeries to those who qualified. In May 2013, Mariela traveled to
Philadelphia to receive the Equality Forum's International Ally for LGBT
Equality Award, followed by a trip in October to Montreal, where she was
honored by the Conseil Québécois LGBT. This past December, the Cuban
parliament passed a new labor code that included a clause outlawing
employment discrimination based on sexual orientation. (It can't hurt
Cuban Communist Party legislators to keep the boss's daughter happy.) On
its face, it would seem that Mariela has tried -- and continues to try
-- valiantly to move the LGBT agenda forward.
But not everyone's buying it.
"The reality for the LGBT community in Cuba is very different from that
described by the international media," Ignacio Estrada, a 33-year-old
gay man from Santa Clara, tells me. "We live under constant government
surveillance and harassment, while at the same time being manipulated
for their political purposes."
Ignacio is married to Wendy Iriepa, 40, a transgender Havana native who
once worked very closely with Mariela Castro at CENESEX. Under a 2007
pilot project, after pledging loyalty to the Revolution, she became the
first Cuban to receive government-sponsored sex-reassignment surgery and
underwent a full male-to-female transition.
Wendy may have been in Mariela's good graces, but as the founder of the
independent, and thus illegal, Cuban League Against AIDS, Ignacio was
considered a dissident. When Wendy marched with Ignacio and about 20
others in a small, unauthorized Pride Day parade in Havana in June 2011,
Mariela confronted Wendy, asking how she "could live, in bed and in a
home, with an enemy of the revolution." Wendy resigned from her position
at CENESEX immediately. Two months later, she and Ignacio were married
in Havana. The nuptials took place on August 13, 2011 -- Fidel Castro's
85th birthday. The guest list also sent a powerful message. Opposition
bloggers Yoani Sánchez and her husband, Reinaldo Escobar, were there.
Mariela wasn't invited.
"Mariela is a chameleon; she can change her character very easily," says
Ignacio. "She is very sociable with the people who work for her, but
never does anything for anyone without expecting something back in return."
Mario Jose Delgado is a gay activist and independent journalist in
Havana who also believes the outside world is being duped by Mariela. He
and other LGBT Cubans are "very unhappy about the awards and
recognition" she has received abroad, insisting, "It does not reflect
the feelings of the gay community on the island." Delgado says the
realities of LGBT life in Cuba are much uglier.
Last November, Delgado was headed home to the Alamar section of Havana
when three men in civilian clothes threw him into the backseat of a car.
They drove him to the outskirts of town, where he was beaten in the face
with a rock.
Delgado says the men, who have never been identified, were interested
only in the information he was carrying, which included names of members
of a Christian LGBT group Delgado belonged to called Divine Hope. The
attackers took his cellphone and USB drive, as well as his notes and
calendar, where the details of a demonstration Divine Hope was planning
to hold the next month were stored. They also took his baseball cap for
good measure.
Delgado is certain his attackers were state security agents, though it
is impossible to know for sure what exactly prompted the beating. He's
gay, he's Christian, and he's a blogger who is outspokenly anti-regime.
It's a volatile combination in Cuba, where activists of all stripes who
dare to organize independently are regularly targeted by the security
Delgado doesn't have much to lose by speaking to reporters. But there
are plenty of LGBT Cubans who have settled into relatively comfortable
lives by not calling too much attention to themselves.
In Havana, I rent a room in a private home (the Cuban government
legalized this in 1997). Two men live here and it is obvious they are a
couple, though they never say it. One of them has carved out a
successful career working for the state theater, something that doesn't
happen by making waves on social issues. The dial-up connection in their
duplex apartment is a luxury in Cuba, but looks like an antique to me.
What also seems oddly outdated is the way they refer to one another as
"friends," something I haven't heard since the 1970s.
They obviously feel awkward about their situation. But living in
relative peace like this is a quantum advance from the era when same-sex
couples lived in fear of being rounded up and sent to a labor camp.
Even Fidel has come a long way. In a 2010 interview with the Mexican
newspaper La Jornada, he placed the blame for Cuba's historical
persecution of gays squarely on his own shoulders, calling it "a great
"If anyone is responsible, it's me," he said. "We had so many and such
terrible problems, problems of life or death. In those moments, I was
not able to deal with the matter of homosexuals."
Mariela, on the other hand, tends to adopt an oddly casual, even
defensive, tone when discussing Cuba's history of homophobia. She seems
to view the people sent away by her father and uncle as some sort of
accidental by-catch, human turtles mistakenly caught in tuna nets. In
May 2012, Mariela was questioned by a Cuban-American audience member
about her uncle Fidel's "concentration camps for gay men" during an
appearance at the New York Public Library. Mariela quickly corrected her
interlocutor, taking exception to the term and insisting they were
segregated "training camps."
The exchange between Mariela and her audience brings to mind a Cuban
saying: Cada cual habla de la feria según le va en ella. "Everybody
experiences reality in a different way." The reality Mariela packages
and sells may not be anyone else's but her own. Similarly, the reality
of Cuba's LGBT population is unknowable to the rest of the island.
"As a country, we are so isolated and lost that we don't even know what
is going on in the neighboring town," says Mabel Cuesta, a lesbian who
left Cuba in 2006 and is now a professor of Hispanic Studies at the
University of Houston.
Cubans are prevented from fully communicating with one another. Internet
access is scarce, expensive, and slow. Mobile phone penetration is the
lowest in Latin America, at 11 percent. Vehicle ownership has been
described by analysts as "exceptionally low," and the public
transportation system is a disaster, hampering intercity travel.
This explains a lot about life on the island, Cuesta says -- including
some misperceptions about Gats Loco. "The first bar in Cuba with a
rainbow flag was actually El Mejunje, an LGBT center in Santa Clara that
opened in the early '90s," she says.
Like Gats Loco, Cuesta says, El Mejunje also began as an independent
operation. And, like Gats Loco, they also quickly found themselves being
offered "assistance" by the government. "Following the usual practice
that the Cuban regime has always had toward anything powerful and out of
their control, they made it official very soon."

Source: Cuba Wants You To Think It's a Gay Paradise. It's Not. - Continue reading
Gay Fiestas Highlight Divisions in Cuba's LGBTI Community
By Ivet González

HAVANA, Jun 21 2014 (IPS) - Two men kiss each other while two women
dance together without making other clients feel uncomfortable at the
prívate club Humboldt 67, one of the venues seeking to cash in on an
untapped market by fulfilling the unmet demand for bas, restaurants and
other recreational spaces for the LGBTI community in the Cuban capital.

"Gay fiestas", which until just a few years ago were illegal and
generally ended in police raids, are now scheduled regularly at both
state-run and prívate establishments that form part of the flourishing
night life in this Caribbean island nation.

But activists warn of the danger that the LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual,
trans and intersexual) community's newfound freedom to gather could
bring segregation of non-heterosexuals and the formation of ghettos
within this diverse collective.

"Olaces where LGBTI people can express themselves freely and without
pressure are necessary," Isbel Díaz, an activist with Proyecto Arcoíris
(Rainbow Project), which defends sexual rights, told IPS.

Bt she said these venues aren't likely to help combat homophobia because
they are recreational spaces, rather than platforms for activism.

"They don't arise autonomously from the LGBTI community but are an
attempt to cash in on the legend that the 'pink market' is prosperous,"
Yasmín Portales, another member of Proyecto Arcoiris, told IPS.

Portales said the police harassment has been reduced. But she added that
there is a growing public backlash against clubs that some people feel
are "indecent."

"We went from repression in the name of illegality to legalisation and
visibility, but without a broad public debate or discussion," the
activist said.

Independent cultural projects like El Divino and Los Dioses del Olimpo
organise shows and performances targeting the LGBTI community in
different state-run cabarets in the capital.

The shows draw a diverse public. But what they have in common is that
they can afford the entrance price of beween three and five CUCs (a
currency equivalent to one dollar) in a country where the average
monthly salary of a public employee is 20 dollars and the government
employs over 80 percent of the workforce.

Almost till dawn, the audience enjoys the shows with DJs, popular
singers, drag artists and erotic dancers.

Because of the lack of spaces for promoting and publicising the shows,
the organisers rely on text messages, flyers handed out on the streets,
or word of mouth advertising.

Other bars, discotheques and restaurants declare themselves "gay friendly".

The state-run Escaleras al Cielo is one of the most popular lesbian
bars, while the prívate Le Chansonier and Esencia Habana have special
"sexual diversity" nights.

Options are opening up, although fewer, even outside of the capital.

For example, La Vaca Rosada is a very popular prívate bar-restaurant in
the coastal tourist resort of Varadero, 150 km east of Havana.

"Although it is a tourist area, this is still basically a rural town and
there aren't as many gay venues as in Havana," Ever Cano, the owner of
the bar-restaurant, told IPS. He explained that he had to start out by
sensitising his 14 employees with regard to respecting all different
kinds of people and couples.

Cano describes his locale, which operates on the rooftop terrace of his
home, as gay friendly. The pop decor is clearly gay-themed, with
coasters printed with messages against homophobia and a menu offering
drinks with names like "Drag Queen Mojito" and "Vodka Travesti".

"I come from a generation that suffered a lot because of the many ways
gays were mistreated in Cuba," said the 52-year-old businessman, who is
also a tour operator in a state agency. "I was fired from my job and
kicked out of high school because of my sexual orientation. Today I'm
happy to be able to talk openly about what used to be a taboo issue."

Cuban culture is heavily machista, sexist and homophobic, and verbal and
even physical attacks against LGBTI people were common in public in the
first decades after the 1959 revolution.

Institutionalised discrimination has been gradually phased out since the
early 1990s, when homosexuality was decriminalised. But activists say
the police still frequently fine non-heterosexuals under the charge of
"public scandal" if they are effusive when out in public.

A study on Cuban cross-dressers, published in 2011 by journalist Marta
María Ramírez, says the first wave of "gay fiestas" occurred between
1994 and 1997, when they were organised as clandestine affairs in open
spaces, fields or car parks on the outskirts of Havana. The police were
always on the lookout, she reported.

"Although they were not exactly illegal, different pretexts were used to
clamp down on them. But they emerged again around 2004 and 2005, very
sporadically and isolated both in time and space," the reporter wrote in
the blog TransCuba.

A campaign in favour of respect for freedom of sexual orientation and
gender identity carried out since 2007 by the governmental National Sex
Education Centre (CENESEX) brought greater visibility to the LGBTI
community and gave a boost to some demands.

In 2010, CENESEX reached an agreement with the Ministry of Culture for
regular performances by drag artists in the Las Vegas cabaret in the
capital, which promote safe sex and prevention of sexually transmitted

Las Vegas hostesses Margot and Imperio – the stage names of
cross-dressers Riuber Alarcón and Abraham Bueno – sprinkle messages on
condom use in the shows they present.

Statistics on the LGBTI community in Cuba are scarce. But in a 2011
survey on HIV/AIDS prevention conducted by the national statistics
office, ONEI, 6.3 percent of male respondents between the ages of 12 and
49 said they had had sex with other men. Of them, 49.6 percent reported
that they had a stable partner.

The survey also indicated that 80 percent of those living with HIV in
Cuba are men, and that 86 percent of HIV-positive men have sex with
other men.

Male and transgender prostitution are common in these venues, where sex
tourism is also growing, catering to mainly older gay foreign men who
come to this country to have sex with other men.

Alberto Roque, a medical doctor and gay activist, identified other kinds
of latent discrimination in the growing number of gathering places for
the LGBTI community, which he said were frequented by predominantly
white gay men of means, while lesbians and transsexuals were less visible.

Black feminist Anabelle Mitjans created the Project Motivito, for
lesbians and transgender persons who can't afford to go to night clubs.
The initiative organises parties and events for non-heterosexuals in
prívate homes and public spaces, which are free of charge.

"The gay world is becoming a hard to afford space of capitalist
consumption, like a ghetto where lesbians aren't a source of profit,"
Mitjans, a university professor who identified herself as "queer", told IPS.

Mitijans defends the need for LGBTI venues, but she also hopes for a
society where she and her partner can go out and have a good time,
without suffering discrimination, anywhere they please.

Source: Gay Fiestas Highlight Divisions in Cuba's LGBTI Community |
Inter Press Service - Continue reading
Women in Battle Dress / Juan Antonio Madrazo Luna
Posted on June 10, 2014

HAVANA, Cuba – Lolita, Alejandra, Samantha, Paloma, and África María are
drag queens who stamp their feet on every Havana street corner during
the night, while the city sleeps. Some with warrior faces and others as
shy princesses patrol the streets and avenues of a broken Havana.

Lady Gaga is not the icon for them anymore. She has been replaced by
Conchita Wurst, the "bearded Austrian" who won the Eurovision Festival.
They don't believe in political surgery or the "factory of genders" that
the National Center of Sexual Education (CENESEX) proposes, after
converting Adela, a transsexual from Caibarién, into the first delegate
of Popular Power.

In the stories of these drag queens we find dysfunctional homes, school
drop- outs, sexual violation by a relative, and above all, humiliation
and rejection since childhood for being different.

As they consider themselves to be in the wrong body, they have
transformed it with accessories, paper-mache tits, hormones, or surgery.
The will to live has allowed some of them to work in hospitals, as
hairdressers, or by singing in small clubs. For others, prostitution has
been their lifesaver.

Africa Maria is an athletic "Negro" of 27 years. Her corn-blonde wig
contrasts with her dark skin. With her spike heels and fleshy lips
painted red, she goes out every night, from the male chauvinist district
of Los Sitios in Central Havana up to the slums of Vedado. Her theater
of operation is 23rd Street. Africa tells us, "We have displaced the
hookers from the streets. They don't consider us true women, because the
men who look for us know very well who we are. They come in search of a
repressed fantasy.

And she adds, "I came out of the closet when I was 17. I didn't finish
sports school since my father, an awesome solider with medals, who was
ascending the ranks, kicked me out into the street. And since then I
have not stopped selling my skin. And I'm proud, because in Cuba, to be
black, gay, and a transvestite, you have to have big balls."

Samantha, who considers herself one of the most sought-after
transvestites of homoerotic Havana, agrees.

"We render a service, we relieve our clients' tensions. And no one
imagines the dangers we face. Cubans have forgotten the fear of AIDS,
that we can get infected. But that's not our greatest fear. The worst is
the macho abusers who abuse us. We walk with a pocket knife or a
scissors to defend ourselves. Similarly, a tourist or the police can
hurt us. We gamble with life. Although sometimes we experience the
tenderness of a desperate Negro, who searches in us for the fantasy of
enjoying a white women, a pleasure, sometimes unattainable, because of
the racial prejudice in our society."

Lolita, Alejandra, Samantha, Paloma and Africa Maria warm up Havana,
with the steam of their bodies. Every day they look at the sea, at the
hope of the arrival of a cruise ship full of sailors. They don't give
up. They are "women in battle dress," who don't fear the night.

Friday, May 30, 2014, Juan Antonio Madrazo Luna

Translated by: Alberto and Regina Anavy

1 June 2014

Source: Women in Battle Dress / Juan Antonio Madrazo Luna | Translating
Cuba - Continue reading
May 2, 2014 | by Michael K. Lavers

Cuba to host international LGBT conference

More than 400 advocates from across the world will travel to Cuba next
week to attend the first international LGBT conference that will take
place in the Communist country.
The sixth International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex
Association for Latin America and the Caribbean (ILGALAC) Regional
Conference will take place in the beach resort of Varadero. A number of
parties and other events are scheduled to take place in nearby Havana,
the Cuban capital, during the gathering.
Mariela Castro Espín, daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro who is the
director of Cuba's National Center for Sexual Education (CENESEX,) is
president of the local committee that organized the ILGALAC conference.
Mariela Castro did not return the Washington Blade's request for
comment. CENESEX's website prominently features information about the
ILGALAC conference that includes a preliminary agenda.
"As the host country for the sixth ILGALAC Regional Conference, Cuba is
not exempt from the problems of the region's LGBTI communities," states
the organization. "The humanistic nature of the Cuban Revolution has
focused on the human being in his teleological purposes since its
beginning. Although the Cuban LGBTI movement does not have the
organization of other international movements, the fight against
discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the
country is now evident with more impact and achievements."
Robyn Ochs, a bisexual advocate and writer who is a member of the
MassEquality Board of Directors, will appear on a panel with Indian
writer Vikram Seth and Víctor Hugo Robles, a Chilean LGBT rights
advocate known as "El Che de los Gays" or "Che (Guevara) of the Gays."
Mariela Castro is scheduled to moderate it.
"I've long been interested in transnational conversations," Ochs told
the Blade, noting the conference is the first time she will have
traveled to Cuba. "I hope to learn a great deal."
Wilfred Labiosa, who is another MassEquality board member, will also
travel to Cuba and present at the ILGALAC conference.
"We can learn so much; how to organize and mobilize as a cohesive group
instead of people pulling their way to the way that they want and not as
a group," he said. "The Socialist regime can teach us so much about
organizing and mobilizing."
Francisco Rodríguez Cruz, a gay Cuban blogger who writes under the pen
name Paquito el de Cuba, will attend the conference alongside CENESEX
and another group affiliated with it. He told the Blade in an e-mail he
feels the gathering will allow Cuban advocates to gain a better
understanding of international LGBT rights movements.
"It will increase visibility for the continents' other LGBTI movements
and Cuban efforts and strategies towards respect of freedom of sexual
orientation and gender identity and stopping discrimination motivated by
them," said Rodríguez.
ILGA Co-Secretary General Gloria Careaga Pérez told the Blade earlier
this week from México there is "a great enthusiasm" on the part of the
Latin American and Caribbean advocates who plan to travel to the island.
"I think that ILGALAC 2014 will be a great experience from which there
is a lot to learn," she said. "Latin America today is considered one of
the most promising regions for the LGBTI community. The movement has
matured in a clear way. In the great majority of the countries there has
been a respectful dialogue with the government that has made it possible
for not only legal advances, but the orchestration of public policies
and a greater visibility and respect for the LGBTI condition."

Anti-LGBT discrimination, violence persist amid legal gains
Same-sex couples are currently able to legally marry in Mexico City,
Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, the Dutch Caribbean the French islands of
Saint Martin, Saint Barthélemy, Guadeloupe and Martinique and French
Guiana. Marriage, civil unions and other forms of relationship
recognition for same-sex couples have begun to gain traction in
Colombia, Perú, Chile and a number of other Mexican states in recent months.
Two women in Puerto Rico in March filed a federal lawsuit seeking
recognition of their Massachusetts marriage in the U.S. commonwealth.
Mariela Castro has previously stated she supports marriage rights for
same-sex couples.
Many Latin American countries include sexual orientation and/or gender
identity and expression in their anti-discrimination and hate crimes
laws, but anti-LGBT violence remains a serious problem.
A report that Global Rights, D.C.-based international human rights
group, published late last year noted trans Brazilians accounted for
slightly more than half of the 300 reported LGBT murder victims in the
country in 2012 — and an estimated 52 percent of them were people of
color. The murder of a cross-dressing teenager near the Jamaican resort
city of Montego Bay last summer further underscored the rampant
anti-LGBT violence and discrimination that exists in the country.

Jamaica and Belize are among the 11 English-speaking countries in
Central America and the Caribbean in which homosexuality remains
criminalized, although their sodomy laws have been challenged in court.
"We're very keen as a Caribbean regional network to participate in the
conference, to be well-represented and to bring Cuba into the regional
network," said Colin Robinson of CAISO, an LGBT advocacy group in
Trinidad and Tobago. "We're eager to partner with relevant partners on
the ground in Cuba."
Kenita Placide of United and Strong, Inc., a St. Lucian LGBT advocacy
group, will attend the ILGALAC conference.
Both she and Robinson have applauded Cuba on its LGBT rights record that
includes the passage of a proposal late last year that seeks to amend
the country's labor law to ban anti-gay employment discrimination.
The Communist Party of Cuba in 2012 approved a resolution against
anti-LGBT discrimination.
Mariela Castro's supporters note she successfully lobbied the Cuban
government to begin offering free sex-reassignment surgery under the
country's national health care system in 2008. They also credit Cuba's
condom distribution campaign and sexual education curriculum with
producing one of the world's lowest HIV rates.
"We have been following the success of Cuba and how they are open to
work with and recognize LGBT persons," Placide told the Blade on Friday.
"CENESEX, although not involved in a lot of the Caribbean work directly,
is looked to as a leader in activism on gay rights, thanks to the
guidance of Mariela Castro."
"Mariela Castro Espín, daughter of the current Cuban president, has been
able to influence that," added José Ramón, a Venezuelan LGBT rights
advocate who has lived in Spain since violent clashes between supporters
of President Nicolás Maduro and the opposition broke out in February.
"It is also positive because a good part of the movements that will take
part in the conference are sympathetic to the Cuban government."
Robles described the ILGALAC conference as a "unique, significant and
historic opportunity."
"At the same time, Cuba and its diverse organizations and public
institutions have become open and shown solidarity with ILGALAC
activists in an example of valiant social, political, community and
institutional integration," he told the Blade.

Critics of Cuban government criticize conference organizers
ILGALAC has come under criticism from those who feel the conference
should not take place in Cuba because of the country's human rights record.
"Hosting a conference on LGBT rights is just another farcical attempt by
the Cuban regime to pretend they care about anyone's rights," U.S. Rep.
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) told the Blade in a statement. "The sad
reality is that the Cuban people are harassed, beaten and bullied for
having a point of view that differs from the regime's. This desperate
move to seem tolerant does not even come close to obscuring the
repressive reality on the island."
The Florida Republican who was born in Cuba last May blasted Equality
Forum, a Philadelphia-based LGBT advocacy group, over its decision to
honor Mariela Castro.
Ignacio Estrada Cepera, who founded the Cuban League Against AIDS in
2005, was also critical of ILGALAC's decision to hold its conference in
His wife, Wendy Iriepa Díaz, a trans woman who used to work for CENESEX,
told the Blade last summer while in D.C. they feel Mariela Castro
"totally manipulates the (Cuban) LGBT community."
Estrada repeatedly noted during the trip the Cuban government forcibly
quarantined people with HIV/AIDS in state-run sanitaria until 1993.
Leannes Imbert Acosta of the Cuban LGBT Platform claimed authorities in
2012 detained her as she tried to bring materials to CENESEX on a
planned exhibit on forced labor camps to which the government sent more
than 25,000 gay men and others deemed unfit for military service during
the 1960s. Former Cuban President Fidel Castro in 2010 apologized for
sending gay men to the camps known as Military Units to Aid Production
or by their Spanish acronym UMAPs.
Estrada, Iriepa and other Cuban LGBT rights advocates who work
independently from Mariela Castro and CENESEX say they continue to face
harassment from the authorities.
"This event is the worst response to what is happening on the island and
a mockery to the true Cuban LGBT community," Estrada told the Blade from
Two staffers from Caribe Afirmativo, a Colombian LGBT advocacy group,
who are already in Havana are meeting with members of the Free Rainbow
Alliance of Cuba who are not affiliated with CENESEX. The group on
Friday issued a press release that criticized Mariela Castro and ILGALAC
for not inviting them to the conference.
"The Cuban authorities, through the National Center of Sexual Education
(CENESEX,) through its director's political use of family ties and
personal aura, try to control, manipulate and win international
legitimacy as promoters and guaranters of rights for the LGBTI community."
Hernando Muñoz of Colombia Diversa, another Colombian LGBT advocacy
group, told the Blade during a telephone interview from Bogotá, the
country's capital, before traveling to Cuba for the ILGALAC conference
that he is aware of criticisms over the island's human rights record. He
and Mariela Castro attended a 2010 conference in Madrid during which he
said she tried to say Cuba was "perfect" and "everything was going great
for homosexuals."
"I don't think so," he said.
Other conference attendees criticized the U.S. over its policy towards
Cuba that includes a decades' long economic and travel embargo.
"Cuba is more than what some group of (Miami) Cubans say it is," said
Labiosa. "It is a country full of rich culture, friendly people and a
government that wants to bring change under these horrible conditions
perpetuated by this relic U.S. embargo."
"It is a 55-year-old dinosaur that should never have been implemented,
was never effective and should long ago have been lifted," added Ochs.
"It is arbitrary: Why Cuba and why not countries such as Iran, Nigeria,
Russia, Uganda or all of the other countries with abysmal human rights
records, specifically toward LGBT people."

Michael K. Lavers has been a staff writer for the Washington Blade since
May 2012. The passage of Maryland's same-sex marriage law, the HIV/AIDS
epidemic, the burgeoning LGBT rights movement in Latin America and the
consecration of gay New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson are among the
many stories he has covered since his career began in 2002. Follow Michael

Source: Cuba to host international LGBT conference - Continue reading
Demystifying las UMAP: The Politics of Sugar, Gender, and Religion in
1960s Cuba
Joseph Tahbaz
'15 History major
Dartmouth College

Abstract: The UMAP, las Unidades Militares de Ayuda a la Producción,
were forced-work agricultural labor camps operated by the Cuban
government during the mid-1960s in the east-central province of
Camagüey. The current academic literature on the UMAP camps has
exclusively taken into account homosexual internees' experiences and has
characterized the camps solely as an instance of gender policing. This
paper will argue:
1) the UMAP was an integral component of the Cuban Revolution's larger
economic, social, and political goals,
2) the experiences of the diverse gamut of UMAP internees cannot be
generalized into a single, concentration-camp narrative, and
3) although gay men certainly endured horrific treatment at the camps,
Jehovah's Witnesses were the victims of the worst brutality at the UMAP.

Keywords: Cuba, UMAP, forced labor, gender, race, homosexuality,
Jehovah's Witnesses

The only third-party testimony of the UMAP camps comes from Canadian
journalist Paul Kidd, who was expelled from Cuba on September 8, 1966.1
The Cuban Foreign Ministry alleged that Kidd had written articles
critical of the Cuban Revolution and had taken photos of anti-aircraft
guns visible from his Havana hotel room window.2 Paul Kidd had just
returned from an unauthorized trip to Camagüey, where he "had the unique
experience … of tracking down a forced-labor camp hidden in the lush
sugar fields of central Cuba" (Kidd 1969, 24). What Paul Kidd chanced
upon were the "camps … known simply as UMAP" (24).

For nearly half a century, historians have almost entirely omitted the
UMAP camps from Cuban history while Cuban exiles have denounced the UMAP
as concentration camps.3 The current, scarce literature on the UMAP
camps has exclusively incorporated homosexual internees' experiences and
has characterized the camps solely as an instance of gender policing.4
This article argues that the UMAP was not a fringe of revolutionary
policy aimed at a sliver of the population, but an integral and
multifaceted component of the Cuban Revolution's economic, social, and
political aspirations. Firstly, the UMAP was a means of repressing
insufficiently revolucionario5 elements of civil society, such as
religious groups and secret societies. Secondly, the UMAP constituted
the extreme fringe of a nuanced spectrum of coerced, unpaid labor that
was central to the Revolution's economic goals. Thirdly, the UMAP sought
to "correct" those who exhibited a revolutionarily improper masculinity
and discriminated against not only homosexuals, but also Afro-Cubans.
Finally, while gay men certainly endured horrific treatment at the
camps, history ought to remember Jehovah's Witnesses as the victims of
the worst brutality at the UMAP camps. At the same time, however, the
experiences of the diverse gamut of UMAP internees – ranging from
Catholic priests to los hippies, as well as artists and intellectuals –
cannot be generalized into a single, concentration-camp narrative.
Instead, the UMAP camps performed many different functions and held many
different meanings. Because a topic of this nature is nearly impossible
to study in Cuba, the arguments put forth in this article draw upon
sources such as Cuban newspapers, memoirs of the camps, and interviews
with former internees.

The UMAP, las Unidades Militares de Ayuda a la Producción, were
agricultural forced-work camps operated by the Cuban government between
November 1965 and July 1968 in the east-central province of Camagüey.6
Two years before the first internees were sent to UMAP camps, the Cuban
government published Law 1129, which established a three-year SMO –
Servicio Militar Obligatorio (Obligatory Military Service).7 Under the
pretense of the SMO, those considered unfit for the regular military
service were sent to the UMAP camps. Two former Cuban intelligence
agents have both estimated that of approximately 35,000 UMAP internees,8
about 500 ended up in psychiatric wards, 70 died from torture, and 180
committed suicide (Fuentes 300–3; Vivés 238). The persons most
frequently interned at the camps were religiosos (religious zealots) and
gay men.9 The large swath of internees included Jehovah's Witnesses (Ros
191), Seventh Day Adventists (Blanco 73), Catholics (Cardenal 293),
Baptists (Muñoz; Blanco 73), Methodists (Yglesias 295), Pentecostals
(Blanco 87), Episcopalians (Blanco 73), practitioners of Santería
(Santiago), Abakuá members (Santiago; Izquierdo; Llovio 151; Cabrera
164), Gideon members ("Unidades," 8), those suspected of intending to
flee the country (Cabrera 12; Blanco 34, 67; Ros 47), priests (Ros 62),
artists (Guerra 2010, 268), intellectuals (Guerra 2010, 268),
ideologically nonconforming university students (Blanco 66; Ros 122),
lesbians (Guerra 2012, 254), los hippies (Improper Conduct; Cabrera 55),
marihuaneros (potheads) (Muñoz), drug addicts (Yglesias 299), political
prisoners (Santiago), government officials accused of corruption (Llovio
160), criminals (Ros 152; Former), prostitutes (Guerra 2012, 254;
Garinger 7; Martínez 70–71), pimps (Yglesias 299), farmers who refused
collectivization (Fuentes 300–3), persons who worked for themselves
illegally (Fuentes 300–3), vagos (deadbeats) (Blanco 2013), and anyone
else considered "anti-social" or "counter-revolutionary." With no single
group forming the majority, the term "UMAP internee" represents a
decidedly plural collective.

The UMAP was no state secret. In a roaring March 1966 speech delivered
on the escalinata (large stairway) of the University of Havana, Fidel
Castro remarked "some have to go to the SMO; some have to go to la UMAP,
Unidades Militares de Ayuda a la Producción" (Castro 1966). In 1966 and
1967, at least a dozen different articles in the Cuban press referenced
the UMAP camps, complete with photos of lush sugarcane fields and
interviews with cheerful internees.10

The two main recogidas (round-ups) of UMAP internees occurred in
November 1965 and June 1966 (Ros 146, 151). The Comités de Defensa de la
Revolución (CDR) – a nationwide government organization located on every
block – was mainly responsible for informing the military who were
destined for the UMAP camps (Yglesias 27, 275; Blanco 72; Lumsden 67;
Santiago). Most individuals were taken to the camps through a false
notice to appear for military service (Santiago; Ros 52, 79, 94, 101,
141). Individuals would receive a telegram with a notice to appear for
SMO at locations such as sports stadiums (Ros 37, 73; Cabrera 37).
Instead of being transferred to an SMO military camp, these individuals
were transported by train, truck, or bus to UMAP agricultural
forced-work camps in Camagüey (Ros 15). Conditions on the eight-hour
trip across the island were often very poor, with many internees
deprived of clean water and food (Cabrera 45; Ros 72–75). Often provided
no stops and no facilities on the ride, they had to relieve themselves
within the passenger compartment of the train or bus (Cabrera 45;
Santiago; Ros 72–75; Improper Conduct). Alternatively, instead of
receiving a false SMO notice, many individuals were directly rounded up
off the streets into buses and shipped to UMAP camps (Improper Conduct;
Martínez 66; Llovio 156). This selection method was reserved for gay men
and antisociales (anti-socials) such as los hippies. Former UMAP
internee and Ministerio del Interior (MININT) informer José Luis
Llovio-Menéndez wrote in his memoir that "MININT officers would patrol
known homosexual gathering places … they rounded up anyone who looked
like a homosexual and shipped these people off to UMAP" (156). According
to Cuban propaganda at the time, homosexuality looked like tight pants,
dark sunglasses, and sandals.11

Each UMAP camp typically held 120 men12 split into three compañías
(companies) of 40 internees further divided into squads of 10 (Ros
34).The number of internees could vary considerably, however, and some
camps held several hundred internees (Cabrera 245; Former). A typical
camp was a few hundred meters long and about one hundred fifty meters
wide and had three barracks, two for internees and one for military
personnel (Former; Sanger; Muñoz). The camps were surrounded by a 10
feet tall barbed-wire fence and had no running water or electricity
(Cardenal 294; Cabrera 54; Blanco 47; Ros 10; Muñoz; Sanger). Camp
brigades were given revolucionario names such as "Vietnam Heroico,"
"Mártires de Girón," and "Héroes del Granma."13 Most camps had bunk beds
with jute sacks slung between wooden beams for mattresses (Kidd 1969,
25; Cabrera 50; Former). Some camps had hammocks (Cabrera 53) or no beds
at all (Ros 84) and a few provided actual mattresses (Cabrera 167). The
UMAP uniform consisted of verde olivo (olive green) or dark blue pants,
a long-sleeve light blue denim shirt, and military boots (Ros 95;
Yglesias 278; Cabrera 53; Blanco 47; Llovio 147; Muñoz). As each camp
held roughly one hundred individuals and there were tens of thousands of
internees, hundreds of UMAP camps were scattered throughout Camagüey
(Kidd 1969, 24).

The internees were often divided by category (Jehovah's Witnesses, gay
men, Catholics, etc.) en route to the camps (Ros 24, 55). Each internee
was called by a number which was assigned to them upon arriving at the
camps (Santiago; Cabrera 61; Muñoz). In general, there were two types of
camps: camps only for gay men and camps for everyone else (Ros 55, 87;
Former; Llovio 156). Even while gay men were temporarily stationed at
the camps for general internees, they were sometimes assigned to a
separate platoon for homosexuals (Cabrera 58; Viera). To transfer
internees to camps for homosexuals, the guards would call the entire
camp to assemble and publicly select those who would be transferred (Ros
176). That the military actively segregated gay men not only from
society but also from within the camps demonstrates just how preoccupied
the government was with curbing the "diffusion" of homosexuality.

Internees performed a variety of agricultural tasks, ranging from
picking boniato (sweet potato), yucca, and fruit to tearing down
marabú,14 applying fertilizer, and weeding. Nonetheless, internees were
primarily engaged in planting and harvesting sugar cane (Ros 131–32;
Blanco 100; Bejel 100). Both SMO recruits and UMAP internees received an
equally meager salary: seven pesos a month – exactly one-tenth of the
state's monthly minimum wage in agriculture at the time (Ros 31;
Mesa-Lago 1981, 147; Kidd 1969, 24). Internees worked Monday through
Saturday and sometimes had to perform what was called trabajo voluntario
(volunteer work) on Sundays, which consisted of more agricultural labor,
but without any production quotas (Former; Blanco 100–101). Otherwise,
Sundays were spent resting and doing activities such as washing clothes
and writing letters to family members (Blanco 100, 104). The camp
político15 gave internees daily talks about current events and communist
ideology, with longer sessions on Sundays (Kidd 1969, 24; Blanco 53;
Former). Certain internees were released early in 1967 while others
stayed longer, but in general they were held at the camps for about
two-and-a-half years, i.e., until the dissolution of the camps in 1968
(Llovio 172–3; Yglesias 294; Former; Ronet 55).

The most vital function of the UMAP camps was not killing or torturing
civilians, but exploiting the labor of Cuba's supposed degenerates. The
experiences and conditions in the UMAP varied widely, but the one
constant among all the testimony is the inhumane number of hours these
internees were forced to work. One internee recalled that each worker's
daily quota for cutting sugar cane ranged between 18 and 24 cordeles
lineales, which is between 366 meters and 488 meters of cane.16 On
average, internees worked about 60 hours a week, but some internees have
reported working even more, at 12 hours a day, six days a week (Blanco
100; Cardenal 294; Kidd 1969, 24): "during the zafra [sugar harvest], we
would get up earlier, sometimes at four … we worked nonstop until lunch
… a few minutes of rest and we returned to cutting sugar cane until
dusk" (Muñoz). Llovio-Menéndez wrote that the work schedule at one camp
during the zafra began at 4:30 AM and ended at 7:00 PM with one 15
minute break at 10:00 AM and two hours allotted for lunch (147). Working
hours were longest during the zafra, which typically lasted from January
to April, but due to labor shortages in the 1960s was lengthened from
November to June (Pérez 236). For essentially half of the year, UMAP
internees were forced to cut sugar cane from sunrise to sunset six days
a week.

Certain internees were granted passes to leave the camps for lengths of
time ranging from one afternoon up to ten days (Cabrera 153–55, 176,
179, 203; Muñoz; Viera). Typically, they were only permitted to visit a
neighboring town or village, but sometimes they could go as far as
Havana. Internees were also given a week to spend with their families
for Christmas vacation and the New Year (Cabrera 228; Blanco 123;
"Vacaciones," 1966). For all of these trips, internees had to pay for
their own transportation (Blanco 124). Internees could also write and
receive letters and even receive packages, but all correspondence was
censored (Santiago; Cabrera 87–88). After three to six months in the
camps, internees were usually allowed to receive visits by family
members on one designated Sunday out of the month (Sanger; Blanco 91,
108; Former; Kidd 1969, 24). Family visits were supervised and internees
could not exchange uninspected documents with family members, but they
were allowed to bring internees items such as cigarettes or food (Kidd
1969, 24; Cabrera 112). Family visits were held at an off-site location
where family members were allowed to take photos with the internees
(Blanco 109; Muñoz). To maintain the illusion that the UMAP camps were
part of the standard SMO, the recruits wore a special uniform and
marched in unison for family visits (Cabrera 109; Muñoz). Besides family
visits, Catholic priests and Catholic youth occasionally visited
internees and even administered the Eucharist (Cabrera 136–37; Ros 185).
These visitation privileges demonstrate how the conditions at the UMAP
differed in some measure from what one would typically expect at
forced-work camps.

Many internees have reported that the quality and quantity of food in
the camps was very poor. One internee, who claimed to have gone from 170
to 120 pounds by his first family visit, remembered that at his camp
they ate stray cats, hens, and snakes they captured while working in the
fields (Blanco 108, 134). To the contrary, one former UMAP internee
claimed that "there was enough food … we ate lots of canned meat,
sardines, condensed milk; there was milk, rice, beans, there was plenty"
(Former). Although internees generally were not starved, internees did
not receive food if they had not completed their production quota for
the day (Former; Blanco 57). One reason for the scarcity of food was
that military officials would hoard foodstuffs for their personal use or
sell them to guajiros (people from the countryside) (Ros 166–68; Blanco
83). Water deprivation was another form of mistreatment (Blanco 55).
Former internee René Cabrera wrote in his memoir that at one camp they
were allotted just three glasses of water a day while they spent all day
outside in the sun cutting sugar cane (138). As a result, internees had
to drink contaminated water they found accumulated in the fields
(Cabrera 144; Blanco 55). Internees were granted access to medical
treatment and when necessary were transferred to military hospitals for
illness. Still, the denial of treatment by arbitrary camp guards
resulted in the deaths of some internees (Blanco 70–72, 115–22; Ros 179–84).

There are many reports of physical abuse at the camps, especially
directed towards testigos de Jehová (Jehovah's Witnesses). Former
internees have reported Jehovah's Witnesses being beaten, threatened
with execution, stuffed with dirt in their mouths, buried in the ground
up to their necks, deprived of food or water, forced to stand in
latrines with waste water, and tied up naked outside in barbed wire
without food or water until fainting (Ros 80, 101, 112, 193; Cabrera 63,
71, 197; Former). Llovio, who was sent to the UMAP camps for over a year
from early 1966 to June 1967 for accusations of corruption and later
became a camp doctor, witnessed first-hand the physical abuse some
internees received (Llovio 159, 160, 167). At one camp, Llovio saw a
young Jehovah's Witness hung by his hands from the top of a flagpole.
Llovio lowered the man and treated his hands, which he described as "raw
and bloody … numb and purplish" (153–54). For one afternoon, Llovio was
sent to provide medical care to the Malesar unit, a camp for
homosexuals. There, Llovio described the physical condition of the
internees as "deplorable" (157). As a doctor, he treated patients whose
bodies were covered with insect bites and others who had bruises left
over from beatings. The internees Llovio treated at the homosexual camp
told him that many of their privileges, such as receiving visitors and
mail, would be arbitrarily suspended. In addition, the camp guards
practiced a wide range of abuses: forcing internees to work past sunset,
sending ill internees to work, regularly beating internees while
working, forcing internees to stand at attention all day in the sun, and
making internees stand naked in ditches of camp sewage (Llovio 157,
158). Many camps even had designated punishment cells (Improper Conduct;
Viera; Santiago). For a respite from the camps, many internees mutilated
themselves so they could be transferred to a hospital (Ros 205–8;
Cabrera 192; Blanco 57–58). There also exist accounts of suicide at the
camps. A Catholic internee reported that he saw a gay man hang himself
in the UMAP camps (Cardenal 293). Former internee José Blanco, who was
transferred from the regular SMO to the UMAP for admitting that he
considered the possibility of emigrating from Cuba, also recalled cases
of internees committing suicide in camps not for homosexuals (34, 139).

Former internees have generally described the camp guards as arbitrary,
abusive, and incompetent, but there were exceptions (Former; Blanco 52;
Cabrera 141, 157). One former internee recalled Lieutenant Falcón, who
had been transferred to the UMAP camps after a dispute with a superior,
as a man who was "competent" and "respected everyone and was respected
by everyone" (Ros 88). René Cabrera developed a friendship with one
guard, who asked Cabrera to teach him how to read and even confessed
that he was ashamed of the abuses at the camps (Cabrera 185, 210). As
former internee Alberto Muñoz explained:

Of the officials … there were all types of persons. Some treated us with
respect and consideration. Others certainly admired us and did not fail
to show it. With many of them, we gained friendship. In many
circumstances we had officials who helped us and avoided committing
injustices … but there were also others who acted without the least bit
of sensitivity, making it difficult for us to find any human feelings in
With hundreds of different camps scattered throughout Camagüey,
conditions could range significantly in terms of the quality of food,
beds, and the abusiveness of the guards (Cabrera 167, 169). Conditions
in the camps also changed over time. Several internees have reported
that the quality of the camp food improved and the height of the
barbed-wire fences was substantially reduced after mid-1966 (Cabrera
167, 169; Viera; Blanco 2013; Muñoz).

If former Cuban intelligence agents' statistics are correct,
approximately 0.75 percent of internees died as a result of the
conditions they endured in the camps. This would mean that there was
roughly one death or suicide at each UMAP camp during a course of
two-and-a-half years. Although the conditions at the UMAP were brutally
inhumane, these figures also reveal that life-threatening torture was
not systematically practiced at the camps. The UMAP camps were a huge
tragedy, but they were not quite "Cuba's concentration camps." Sadly,
Cuba already experienced this phenomenon during the Cuban War of
Independence in 1896 when the Spanish government gathered about half a
million civilians into camps called reconcentrados. As a result of the
insurgents and counterinsurgents' mutual strategies of pillage and
destruction, approximately 10 percent of Cuba's entire population
perished in the makeshift reconcentrados (Tone 192–224). Unlike their
nineteenth-century forebears, however, UMAP internees were not literally
left to die. The most vital function of the UMAP camps was not to kill
civilians, but to exploit the labor of Cuba's lacra social (scum of
society) – without any concern for what the human cost might be.

Labor, Economics, and Sugar
In revolutionary 1960s Cuba, there existed a wide spectrum of unpaid
labor funneled toward the state ranging from trabajo voluntario to
coerced labor by political prisoners. Economist Carmelo Mesa-Lago
divides state-sponsored unpaid labor in Cuba into five categories:
overtime in the workplace, work through the Federación de Mujeres
Cubanas (FMC), socialist education in the escuelas de campo17 and the
university, SMO, and "rehabilitative work" performed by political
prisoners (Mesa-Lago 1969, 340). The UMAP camps lie somewhere on the
extreme fringe of this spectrum of coerced, unpaid labor.

The UMAP camps were indeed forced-work camps, but to properly
contextualize the UMAP camps it must be emphasized that state-sponsored
unpaid labor was not the exception but the norm in 1960s Cuba. In 1967,
state-sponsored unpaid labor constituted between 8 to 12 percent of the
labor force and between 1962 and 1967 totaled approximately 1.4 percent
of the national income (Mesa-Lago 1969, 354–55). During these years,
approximately one-third of state-sponsored unpaid labor in Cuba was
coordinated through the workplace, 45 percent through the military, 10
percent through students, 10 percent through the penitentiary system,
and about 2 percent through the FMC (340, 354–55). As early as 1960, the
government "reeducated" un-revolutionary Cubans at a work camp in
Guanahacabibes.18 Revolutionary theory, meanwhile, both elevated the
value of labor and laid down the ideological justifications for Cuba's
new labor regime.19

During the years of the UMAP, trabajo voluntario was widely employed in
the sugar harvests. According to government publications, over 57,000
unpaid workers participated in the 1965 zafra and over 71,000 in the
1966 zafra (Mesa-Lago 1969, 346). The source does not specify whether
this figure included UMAP internees, but since internees received a
monthly salary the figure most likely only referred to "volunteers." For
the 1967 zafra, a third of these "volunteers" were recruited from the
services sector and another third from the construction sector, two
industries which at the time were overemploying migrants from el
interior (inland Cuba) (346). The use of trabajo voluntario to offset
economic imbalances in the labor market reveals how revolutionary
economic policies had both ushered in new opportunities for campesinos
(people from the countryside) and resulted in acute agricultural labor
shortages. For the 1963 zafra, the Comisión Nacional Azucarera estimated
that 352,000 cane cutters were needed, but only 260,000 were available
(Pérez 59). The number of professional sugarcane cutters declined from
370,000 in 1958 to just 160,000 in 1964 – a decline of over 60 percent
(59). "How should this problem be solved?" asked one UMAP article from
the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias (FAR) publication Verde Olivo in
reference to Camagüey's acute zafra labor shortages ("¿Qué es la UMAP?"
1967). The government's answer to this daunting economic challenge was
the UMAP.

A range of structural changes in the Cuban economy contributed to Cuba's
severe agricultural labor shortage. During the 1960s, the labor force
participation rate actually declined because of the emigration of
working-age Cubans, higher school enrollment rates, and liberalized
retirement laws (Mesa-Lago 1981, 188). In addition, Cuba was witnessing
an internal migration from el interior to urban centers. Havana's
population grew 4.4 percent annually in 1960 and 1961, and 2.1 percent
in 1964 (128). Migrants from el interior found jobs in the army, state
security, police, mass state organizations, and bureaucracy (125). These
new urban residents filled the some 400,000 jobs which were added in the
services sector – mostly in the army and social-services administration
– between 1958 and 1964 (114). Agricultural workers who previously faced
seasonal unemployment due to the economic swings of the zafra now found
stable, yearlong employment through state farms and a guaranteed minimum
wage (125). Seasonal unemployment in agriculture had been virtually
eliminated by rural migration, guaranteed jobs, and overstaffing in
state farms (189). Accompanying these sweeping economic reforms was
lower productivity. A survey of 136 state farms in 1963 found that
employees worked 4.5 to 5 hours a day on average, but still received pay
for 8 hours (125). Lower productivity meant that yet more people had to
be hired to achieve production goals, thereby worsening the labor
shortage even more in a vicious, compounding cycle. Mesa-Lago estimates
that the overall productivity of the agricultural sector in 1965 was
just 78 percent of 1962 productivity levels. By 1965, the productivity
of the industrial sector had declined almost 10 percent since 1962
(134). To make matters worse, Cuba was also witnessing alarming rates of
worker absenteeism (47–49, 157).

Internal migration, overemployment in the urban job market, newfound
economic security for farmers, lower productivity and worker absenteeism
– all of these interlocking factors compounded into a severe shortage of
labor in agriculture. Absent the societal structures of slavery or
capitalism harnessing and exploiting individuals, apparently no one
wanted to cut sugar cane. In turn, the state took on the role of
coercing its citizens to perform labor through the mobilization of
"volunteers," soldiers, and political prisoners. The astounding
inefficiency of trabajo voluntario, however, meant that it could not
resolve Cuba's economic woes. For the 1964 coffee harvest, university
student volunteers picked coffee one-fifth as efficiently as salaried
workers (Mesa-Lago 1969, 351). In the 1962–1965 sugar harvests, unpaid
workers cut less than one ton of sugar cane per day while skilled
workers chopped down two to three times that amount (351). Consequently,
the production efficiency of the 1967 sugar harvest was a staggering 22
percent below that of the 1957 harvest (351).

As a result, the Revolution's economic policies were taking a serious
hit on the island's most lucrative resource: sugar. Paramount to Cuba's
entire history, sugar also played a leading role in the history of the
UMAP. When the Revolution's lavish industrialization plans and efforts
to diversify agriculture failed to materialize, Cuba's leaders turned to
sugar to move the country forward (Pérez 12–13). In 1963, the Cuban
government developed the Prospective Sugar Industry Plan, which between
1965 and 1970 would implement a series of aggressive development
policies: increasing land dedicated to sugarcane cultivation by 50
percent, planting higher-yield varieties of sugar cane, and setting a
production target of 10 million tons of sugar by 1970 (12–13). The
increased income from sugar sales would help Cuba pay off debts to the
Soviet Union and buy the capital goods needed for industrialization
(12–13). Essential to the success of this plan was economic cooperation
with the Soviet Union. In January 1964, Fidel Castro traveled to Moscow,
where he signed a sugar trade agreement with the Soviet Union. Cuba was
to deliver 24 million tons of sugar between 1965 and 1970 at a price of
6.114 cents per pound – well above world market prices during the late
1960s (Pérez 140, 143; Brunner 55). The income gained from record sugar
harvests and guaranteed prices would finance massive, state-sponsored
industrialization that would fuel the economic growth which would
finally land Cuba into communist paradise (Pérez 12–13). The only thing
standing between Cuba's ambitions and the Prospective Sugar Industry
Plan was a labor force to actually cut the cane. The UMAP was that key
stepping stone to the prosperous communist future which Cuba's leaders
were promising.

Throughout the early 1960s, the Cuban Revolution had been fighting to
secure its existence, dealing with the threat of a US invasion and
suppressing thousands of armed counterrevolutionaries in rural Cuba
(Domínguez 1978, 345–46). By 1965, after having finally secured the
Revolution and holding well over 20,000 political prisoners, the state
now proceeded to neutralize those considered potential long-term threats
(253–54). Although technically part of the military, the UMAP was not
designed to tranquilize external, violent enemies but internal, latent
threats: namely, homosexuals and members of civil society whose
loyalties were not wholly dedicated to the Revolution. Unique in that it
targeted not Cubans actively against the regime but Cubans deemed
insufficiently revolucionario, the UMAP camps were the pinnacle of
revolutionary Cuba's repressive, authoritarian policies.

Internees were not sent to the UMAP only because they were religiosos or
homosexuals. There existed gay Cuban men whose sexuality was an open
secret but were never sent to the camps.20 A Cuban was interned at the
UMAP because they were not adequately integrated into the Revolution and
their membership in a particular social category was enough to render
them contrarrevolucionario (counter-revolutionary) and thereby justify
their internment. The UMAP was as much about political repression as it
was about bigotry.

Achieving security, however, meant paying for a massive, costly
military. In 1963, there were 300,000 soldiers in the military – 10
times as many as in 1958 – and military expenditures accounted for 6.5
percent of the national income (Domínguez 1976, 322). After the
campesino uprisings were finally extinguished in 1965, the military
sought to find economic relevance and professionalize its forces, many
of which were inexperienced or not formally trained (324). There was no
role for the many uneducated or illiterate veterans in the plans for a
modern army. Instead, many of these officers were transferred to the
UMAP camps as a sort of demotion (Llovio 143). As a result, many of the
military personnel assigned to the UMAP camps were illiterate or
functionally illiterate veterans of the 1959 Revolution (Ros 45–46;
Domínguez 1976, 324; Yglesias 280). As a March 1966 article from Verde
Olivo entitled "¿Qué es la UMAP?" explained, the personnel at the camps
were "old members of the Rebel Army" of "intermediate level" and "almost
all of peasant background," which prepared them for "the difficulties
and characteristics of agricultural work." The labor harvested through
the SMO would also reduce the economic burden of the military. Promoting
the three-year SMO, Raúl Castro elaborated on the military's economic
mission in a 1963 government meeting, "If we only want an army, we can
have [the draftees] for two years … [but] because the armed forces
should help in the nation's economy … [we intend to make] the burden of
military expenditures on our people a bit lighter … we must work as part
of our service, especially in the sugar harvest" (Domínguez 1976, 324).

By neutralizing perceived potential contrarrevolucionarios, creating a
dumping ground for FAR personnel who did not meet the standards of the
modernizing military, and contributing to agricultural production and
thereby reducing the economic costs of the ballooning military, the UMAP
camps simultaneously helped accomplish three distinct goals all
essential to the military's transition to a professionalized, newly
relevant institution. In this respect, the UMAP was a highly strategic
move by the Cuban military.

Testigos de Jehová
Those interned on grounds of their religious activity probably made up
the largest proportion of UMAP internees, and of them, Jehovah's
Witnesses were the most severely abused.21 Young, active Catholics were
frequently sent to the UMAP camps and their experiences are very well
represented in the body of published testimony. However, Catholics
comprised just a small fraction of UMAP internees. One Catholic former
internee estimated that just 2,000 Catholics were interned out of a
total of 35,000 internees – just over 5 percent (Cardenal 293).
Protestant religions and sects such as Jehovah's Witnesses22 were viewed
as especially counter-revolutionary because of their historical and
allegedly treasonous connections with the norteamericanos (North
Americans, esp. from the United States). On March 13, 1963, in front of
the University of Havana, Fidel Castro gave a speech where he condemned
the "pseudo-religiosos" whom he called batiblancos: "there are three
principal sects, which are instruments of today's imperialism, they are:
Jehovah's Witnesses, Gideons International, and Pentecostals."23 Later
in the speech, he claimed that "these sects … are directly headed by the
United States … and they are used as agents of the CIA, State
Department, and Yankee policy" (Castro 1963). Since many Protestant
religions in Cuba originated from the United States and many still had
ties with the US, these sects were perceived as un-Cuban and potentially
contrarrevolucionario (Rosado 88, 93, 95, 134–35, 145). In addition, the
resolutely apolitical stance of Jehovah's Witnesses, which motivates
their resistance to practices ranging from saluting the flag to
fulfilling draft requirements, rendered them the pariah of the
boisterously patriotic and authoritarian Cuban Revolution (Yero 24).
When resistance met resistance at the camps, some of the very worst
abuses unfolded.

In 1938, there were only about one hundred Jehovah's Witnesses in Cuba.
By 1947, that number had grown to 4,000 and by 1965 there were nearly
20,000 – making them one of the largest organized religions on the
island (Aguirre and Alston 171; Rosado 194). In 1962, the Ministry of
Communication banned the import of Jehovah's Witness religious
literature and prohibited Jehovah's Witnesses from using mail for
distributing religious materials (Aguirre and Alston 190). In 1963,
foreign Jehovah's Witnesses were expelled from Cuba, just one year after
over one hundred Catholic priests had been banished from the island
(Aguirre and Alston 190; Treto 45). That same year, hundreds of
Jehovah's Witnesses were arrested for assembling without having obtained
a permit from their CDR and hundreds more on account of their
proselytizing activities (Calzon 14; Aguirre and Alston 191). In Pinar
del Río, nearly every Kingdom Hall was shut down and its property
confiscated (Aguirre and Alston 191). In the late 1960s, when there were
incidents of Kingdom Halls and other meeting places being attacked by
mobs with stone, brick, and iron, the government refused to prosecute
the perpetrators (Calzon 14). Numerous propaganda pieces produced by
Granma (Cuba's state newspaper) and Verde Olivo between 1965 and 1968
stressed the presence of Jehovah's Witnesses at the UMAP camps, complete
with photos and personal interviews.24 Conversely, of the 11 Verde Olivo
and Granma articles which reference the UMAP camps, not a single one
mentions homosexuals. Since the purpose of the propaganda was to combat
the camps' poor reputation, representations of gays had to be excluded.

There does not exist any testimony from testigos in the UMAP camps; all
information about their experiences comes from the eyewitness testimony
of other internees. This is not because these former testigo internees
are unknown or have all passed away. Rather, testigos de Jehová have
been extremely hesitant to share their experiences with those who will
publish their testimony. The reasons for this are threefold. Firstly,
upon religious principles Jehovah's Witnesses tend to shy away from
anything that even remotely relates to government or politics. Secondly,
because conditions for Jehovah's Witnesses in Cuba have begun to improve
over the past two decades, testigos in the Cuban-exile community do not
wish to publicize any criticisms of the Cuban government which may put
these meager religious liberties at risk.25 Finally, the highly
traumatic experiences of many testigos make it emotionally challenging
for these former internees to open up to outsiders. Jehovah's Witnesses
were by far the most abused at the camps (Viera). As former internee
Héctor Santiago, who was sent to camps for gay men, emphasized:

With us, they were terrible, but let me tell you the truth, they treat
you like a lady compared to the testigos de Jehová. Oh my god, they
really, really were terrible with them, terrible. The things that they
did to them … horrible, horrible.
Former internee René Cabrera, who was interned for his Catholic
activities, corroborated in his memoir, "The Jehovah's Witnesses, as
always, were the principal victims of the government's intention of
those crimes" (97).

Testigos de Jehová were not permitted to receive family visits, were not
granted passes to leave the camps, and did not receive packages or
letters (Cabrera 88, 113; Muñoz). In one instance, a camp guard did not
allow a testigo to see his mother who had come to visit him because he
refused to put on the verde olivo pants which had to be worn for family
visits (Muñoz). When first transferred to the camps, many Jehovah's
Witnesses refused to participate in any camp activities and many refused
to even wear the camp uniform (Former; Cabrera 59; Muñoz; Blanco 86).
Testigos faced severe punishments for their non-participation, such as
beatings, being buried in the ground up to their necks, or being forced
to stand outside for hours until fainting (Blanco 86; Ros 101, 112, 194;
Cabrera 59–60). However, most Jehovah's Witnesses began to participate
in camp activities and work after the great deal of coercion they faced
(Cabrera 74). Less strict guards did not force testigos to wear the UMAP
uniform (Former).

Jehovah's Witnesses experienced a variety of tortures in the UMAP camps.
In addition to the practices explained earlier, at some camps a guard
would take individual Jehovah's Witnesses who refused to wear the UMAP
uniform out into the fields and fire a pistol, pretending to shoot them
while the others were still in earshot. After faking this execution, the
guard would return to the camp and select another Jehovah's Witness who
refused to put on the uniform. Former internee José Blanco wrote in his
memoir that he did not see even one testigo concede to wear the uniform
in the face of these simulated executions (87). Another common
punishment was forcing testigos to stand in latrines filled with
excrement up to the waist or chest (Blanco 86; Former). At some camps,
guards forced Jehovah's Witnesses to scoop the sewage from camp ditches
with their bare hands (Blanco 86).

The Cuban government justifies its persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses by
claiming that the sect was part of a scheme orchestrated by the CIA. For
example, in January 1963, the Cuban government released a statement
announcing that it had sabotaged a CIA spy network based in Oriente
province, where they claimed to have found "a large quantity of buried
weapons … 36,000 Cuban pesos and some Jehovah's Witnesses' prayer books"
("Broke CIA Spy Ring," 1963). In a 1985 interview, Fidel Castro remarked
that "Jehovah's Witnesses cause problems everywhere … we were highly
sensitive. Threatened by the United States, we needed to apply a strong
defense policy – and we found ourselves faced with a doctrine that
opposed conscription. We didn't have any trouble over beliefs; rather,
all our problems were over ideas – and you don't know whether they're
religious or political" (Borge 186–87).

Seventh Day Adventists
Seventh Day Adventists had a unique relationship with the Revolution and
represent a very different relationship with the UMAP than other
religious minorities. In 1956, there were nearly 5,000 Seventh Day
Adventists in Cuba, with more than half located on the more rural,
eastern end of the island. Oriente, the province where Castro began his
uprising, was also the province with the most Seventh Day Adventists
(Rosado 169). In Oriente, one family of Adventists gave food and shelter
to a band of revolutionaries who were fighting dictator Fulgencio
Batista. Seeing that one of the men had no shirt because he had used it
as a bandage to protect a wound, the father of the household, Argelio
Rosabal, gave the revolutionary his only shirt. That wounded
revolutionary – Ernesto "Che" Guevara – was so moved by the man's
generosity that Che promised them the construction of a chapel in the
future (which was indeed constructed) (172–74).

In December of 1958, Antillian College, a school ran by Seventh Day
Adventists, fed and took care of wounded soldiers who were fighting in
the Sierra Maestra (172–74). When the first draft for the SMO was
enacted, 70 of the 110 eligible students at Antillian College were
drafted. After asking the government to release some of their students
so that the school could function, the majority of the recruited
Adventists returned to school. Still, the SMO was problematic for
Seventh Day Adventists because it did not make a distinction between
combatants and non-combatants (203). In response, the Seventh Day
Adventist Church created a commission to write a memorandum asking the
government to exempt the remaining 12 Adventists who had been called for
SMO. The memorandum explained the distinction between serving combatant
vs. non-combatant roles, Adventists' unique Sabbath observance, and
their loyalty to the government. The commission chose four pastors to
deliver the memorandum along with one lay member, Argelio Rosabal – the
same man who had sacrificed his only shirt to Che Guevara in the Sierra
Maestra. Rosabal personally delivered the memorandum to Che, who on
October 28, 1963, sent a letter enclosed with said memorandum to the
head of the Agrarian Reform program, Carlos Rodríguez. In the letter,
Che wrote, "[Argelio Rosabal] is the Adventist I spoke to you about …
you will know how to evade the law, or how to divert my attention"
(203–5). Che Guevara interceded on behalf of his Adventist friend,
Rosabal, for an exception to be created in the SMO for this sect.

Later, it ended up that Adventists would be sent to the UMAP camps, but
sociologist Caleb Rosado stresses that they were sent to the UMAP
"simply … because [they] refused to bear arms [and] there was no other
place to locate them" and not because they were considered lacra social,
as the government regarded other UMAP internees (205–6). Indeed, former
internees have not stressed abuses against Seventh Day Adventists, but
have mentioned the fairer treatment Adventists received in comparison
with Jehovah's Witnesses. Former internee José Blanco wrote in his
memoir that at one camp there were two Adventists who refused to work on
Saturday but compensated for their quota during the rest of the week.
The lieutenant at the camp did not bother them and allowed them to
fulfill their quota in this manner (Blanco 89). However, Blanco has also
stressed that Adventists received fairer treatment only because they
were the hardest working internees (Blanco 2013). Adventists were
apparently not the only sect granted the right to rest on their
respective Sabbath. In Granma, a member of Gideons International said,
"They allow me to rest on Saturday and work on Sunday" ("Unidades," 8).
However, like so many other aspects of the UMAP, the relatively better
treatment that Adventists received cannot be generalized for all camps.
At least one former internee recalled seeing Adventists forced to work
on the Sabbath and receive terrible abuse similar to that endured by
Jehovah's Witnesses (Ros 112).

Through the relationship that some Seventh Day Adventists forged with
revolutionary leaders in the Sierra Maestra, Adventists had a privileged
relationship with the revolutionary government which granted them more
flexibility in their religious activities than most sects. As a result,
Adventists were able to give their direct input to revolutionary leaders
regarding the SMO and thus helped inform what would eventually become
the UMAP policy. Even after the UMAP was closed, Adventists were given
accommodations to allow them to serve in the SMO whereas Jehovah's
Witnesses were imprisoned (Rosado 206). Crucially, this history
demonstrates that not all sects were sent to the UMAP camps because they
were perceived as contrarrevolucionarios. For Adventists, the UMAP camps
were a way to fulfill the SMO and provide more labor to the state.
Jehovah's Witnesses, on the other hand, were sent to the UMAP camps
because in the eyes of the state they were contrarrevolucionarios and,
consequently, suffered terrible mistreatment. Seventh Day Adventists,
however, were not associated with the same contrarrevolucionario stigma
and thus were not the target of abuse in the camps.

Outside the camps, Adventists also faced a relatively hospitable
environment. Whereas the number of clergy in most Protestant churches
dropped drastically between 1960 and 1963, the number of Adventist
clergy actually grew over 20 percent (Rosado 193). Between 1960 and
1984, the membership of Seventh Day Adventists grew over 50 percent to
nearly 9,000 members – whereas the number of Catholics, Jews,
Presbyterians and Methodists all faced drastic losses due to emigration,
the expulsion of foreign clerics, and discrimination toward religiously
active citizens (194). Evidence of regular abuse of religious groups
other than testigos is scant. In the memoir Dios No Entra en mi Oficina,
former internee Alberto Muñoz, who was sent to the UMAP as a young
Baptist seminarian, asserted that Christians were treated better in the
camps because "we had earned prestige and we had better relations with
our superiors."

Although all former inmates have recalled their experiences in the UMAP
as highly negative, not all internees turned against the Revolution as a
result of the abuses in the UMAP – as was the case for a few religiosos.
Nicaraguan Catholic priest and liberation theologian Ernesto Cardenal
met one Catholic who affirmed, "there [in the UMAP camps] I became a
revolutionary" because "in the concentration camp I realized that I
ought not to leave. That to fight to make the Revolution better you have
to be a revolutionary" (Cardenal 292–94). This particular Catholic was
not the only religioso who came out of the UMAP camps wishing to stay on
the island and improve the Revolution. One high-profile former internee
is Jaime Lucas Ortega, who was sent to the UMAP camps as a young
Catholic priest and is currently the archbishop of Havana (Ros 62).
Former internee Raúl Suárez, a Baptist who attended Western Cuba Baptist
Theological seminary, went on to become a member of Cuba's parliament
and in 1990 secured the right for Christians to assemble in their homes
for religious purposes (Blanco 98; Esqueda 30; Feinberg). A few UMAP
internees left the camps not dejected, but determined to improve the
plight of their patria.26

By the eve of the Revolution, the Abakuá secret society, founded by
slaves in Regla in 1836, had over 130 branches and controlled employment
at ship docks, tobacco factories, and slaughterhouses (Palmié and Pérez
219; Routon 380–81). This mutual-aid secret society was problematic for
the Cuban Revolution for a number of reasons. As its membership was
predominantly black (white members were accepted as early as 1857 and
later Chinese-Cubans also joined (Routon 380–81; Miller 171)) and
working-class (Palmié and Pérez 219), the class-conscious and
race-conscious organization was inherently an artifact of the
capitalist, racist superstructures that the Revolution intended to
destroy. Further, the organization's significant wield over labor
markets challenged the Revolution's new state-run economic system. Early
in the Revolution, the government manipulated the Abakuá Society by
playing favorites with individual branches to turn them against each
other (Routon 384). In 1968, 458 Abakuá members were in prison in Havana
alone (384).

Abakuá members were amongst the many individuals sent to the UMAP camps
(Santiago; Izquierdo; Llovio 151; Cabrera 164). Accounts of the UMAP
camps frequently describe "common delinquents" among the inmates, but
many of these accounts may be referencing members of the Abakuá Society,
which has long been associated with criminality (Guerra 2012, 262). For
instance, in one memoir a former UMAP internee wrote that "in the camps
there were also common delinquents. The most well-known was Eleguá who
came to the UMAP from a juvenile correctional facility in Jaruco. Eleguá
… was a young black Abakuá which was why he was the protagonist of the
sad episode" (Blanco 67). Clearly, the former internee conflated
Eleguá's criminality and his Abakuá membership. Eleguá is introduced as
serving in the UMAP because he is a "delincuente común" (common
delinquent), but the next sentence says that his Abakuá membership was
the reason he was sent to the UMAP. Although some accounts of the UMAP
camps may have conflated criminality and Abakuá membership, it should be
emphasized that some UMAP recruits actually were criminals who had been
transferred from jails where they had been serving time for serious
crimes such as murder and rape (Llovio 12).

Abakuá were not explicitly labeled contrarrevolucionario, but
revolutionary policies still seriously hindered their activities. The
Revolution's attitude toward the Abakuá initially celebrated the Society
as a unique component of Cuban culture and identity. Early in the
Revolution, the government recognized the Abakuá for their participation
in Cuba's wars of independence by inviting Abakuá members to a
commemoration ceremony (Guerra 2012, 155). Soon, the expression of
traditions with African heritage, including Santería and Abakuá, became
marginalized by the government. The act of wearing necklaces or shaving
one's head as part of Santería practices could risk one's job and the
initiation of children into Santería was banned (Falola 270).
Publications began to portray religions of African heritage as primitive
belief systems at odds with the goals of communism (272).
Representations of African heritage and tradition were not celebrated,
but treated as cultural relics of the past which would eventually
dissolve with the creation of a truly communist society (272).

An article published in the magazine El militante comunista the very
summer that the UMAP camps were closed expressed these same
condescending attitudes toward Abakuá. The majority of the article gives
a thorough history of the Abakuá in a non-politicized manner, but
concludes by urging the end of the Society: "enough with remembering the
leopard-men, who have served as the themes of literature and
sensationalist film" ("La sociedad secreta Abakuá," 36–45). The author
explained that the Abakuá Society is obsolete because "in our socialist
society … mutual-aid societies are not necessary. The revolutionary
state, which is today the people, jealously guards the security and
well-being of all citizens of the country" (44–45). The initiation of
young people into Abakuá is derided as "filling heads with reactionary
obscurantism, teaching customs and traditions, which, sooner or later,
will lead them to a clash with the authorities and with the rest of
society" (44–45). The article ends by forecasting that the Abakuá will
disappear in the "development of the revolutionary process" (44–45).
Representations of African heritage in the early years of the
Revolution, although sometimes giving a voice to Afro-Cubans for the
first time through theater and music, ultimately never treated
African-derived traditions as truly legitimate elements of Cuban
culture, but as relics of the past which would fade in the march for
communist progress.

These condescending attitudes toward Abakuá were reflected in the
government's hindering of their day-to-day practices. In the mid-1960s,
a special permit was required to authorize religious ceremonies (Falola
275). The application process required submitting a list of the
attendees one month in advance and an explanation of why the event
needed to be held. These restrictions caused so much difficulty for some
Abakuá members that during the 1960s some ceremonies ceased for years
(275). The Revolution's attitudes toward Abakuá and the over-regulation
of their activities reveal that race still mattered in revolutionary
Cuba. The patronizing discourse of the Revolution, led almost entirely
by white men, against the African-derived, predominantly black Abakuá
reinforced existing racial hierarchies under the guise of "communist
progress." As the case of the Abakuá demonstrates, traditions of African
heritage were imagined as primitive and incompatible with an advanced,
communist society. As a result, since one's local CDR president helped
determine who was sent to the UMAP camps, the racist prejudices of
individual CDR members probably contributed to many Abakuá members'
placement in the UMAP camps instead of the regular SMO.

A gendered interpretation of the UMAP cannot exclude the presence of
Abakuá at the camps, long notorious for being the site of Cuba's most
extreme gender policing. Masculinity is an essential component of the
Abakuá Society, a brotherhood that aims to foster a correct manliness
amongst its members. Effeminate or homosexual men can never join the
Society (Leiner 22). As the organization's oft-repeated criterion for
the proper member states: "A man is not just one who is not homosexual,
but also one who reflects the purest dignity of a human being through
being hard-working, fraternal, happy, rebellious against injustice, and
a follower of the Moral Code established by the founders of Abakuá"
("Sociedad Secreta Abakuá" 2013).

The Revolution viewed Abakuá as a threat because its brand of
masculinity was considered overly aggressive and degrading to women
(Routon 384). The 1968 article in El militante comunista challenges the
masculinity of the Abakuá in exactly this manner, arguing that they
fostered a machismo detrimental to society:

It is very important the role that 'machismo' plays, mistaken concept,
primitive and twisted of manliness, in the ñañiguismo [another term for
Abakuá]. It considers the woman a beast of burden and an instrument of
pleasure. They cultivate revenge for allegations of real offenses to
manliness or to religion … These acts of vengeance, curious thing if one
thinks about machismo, are always carried out in a treacherous and
cowardly way… It is not necessary to stress the attraction these things
have for lumpen [underclass scum]. Innumerable people have committed
bloody acts in the name of Abakuá, uncountable the unpunished crimes
thanks to their false concept of manliness and companionship. ("La
sociedad secreta Abakuá," 44–45)
Here, the machismo of the Abakuá is portrayed as a violent, misogynist
extreme of the true hombría (manliness) of the Revolution. In this
manner, the Cuban Revolution used the rhetoric of gender policing
against those on either end of the traditional masculinity spectrum,
both those who were insufficiently masculine and those who were
excessively machista (chauvinistic). The article's use of the term
lumpen to describe Abakuá – a term which referred to a web of different
types of individuals including vagos, homosexuals, enfermitos,27 etc. –
further links the Abakuá to the government's global gender policing
goals (Ros 9; Lumsden 71; Castro 1966). On both ends of the spectrum,
the Revolution reinterpreted certain gendered behavior as detrimental to
the goals of a communist society.
During the 1960s the Cuban Revolution severely and systematically
restricted gay citizens' rights. Gay people were not allowed to teach,
go abroad, join the military, attend university, practice the fine arts,
work in the press, or join the communist party (Lumsden 76; Young 28;
Santiago; Salas 160–61). In the university, students were purged for
accusations of homosexuality in public trials attended by hundreds of
students. Trials for accused homosexuals had the same procedures as
those for accused counterrevolutionaries (Improper Conduct; Guerra 2012,
247). Employment of antisociales and homosexuals was regulated through
one's expediente, a government dossier on every citizen which is
reviewed for hiring (Lumsden 76). Government documents such as
expedientes and military IDs contained symbols which marked one as an
antisocial or a homosexual (Young 38; Santiago). Héctor Santiago, for
instance, was barred from returning to his work in theater after leaving
the UMAP because his expediente indicated his antisocial status
(Santiago). Even in the legal system, gays were excluded. Court cases
handled through popular tribunals (a localized legal system for minor
cases implemented in 1963) were all held publicly, except for certain
cases involving a woman's "honor," juvenile delinquents, or homosexuals
(Domínguez 1978, 256). In a communist country aspiring for
classlessness, gays were an underclass.

Historians have characterized the UMAP as the pinnacle of the Cuban
Revolution's gender policing (Guerra 2010, 268). However, the vagueness
of this academic catchphrase lends itself to misinterpretation and fails
to fully describe the event of the UMAP camps. Firstly, not all the gay
men sent to the UMAP exhibited queer or effeminate behavior. Men
interned at camps for homosexuals could be effeminate, masculine, or
whatever (Santiago; Viera). Although classical machismo prioritizes
gender performance, what specifically preoccupied the Cuban Revolution
was its citizens' sexual behavior. As one former internee emphasized,
"What mattered was homosexual sexuality" (Santiago).

Secondly, the Revolution's repressive policies against homosexuals did
not merely police the gender of queers, but of the entire population.
For example, the Revolution's rhetoric of gender policing justified
repression against Abakuá because they projected a deviantly machista
masculinity. In this way, people on either end of the spectrum of
gender-normative behavior were at risk of being sent to the UMAP camps.
Moreover, straight and/or gender-conforming individuals were also
impacted by the state-sponsored campaign against homosexuality because
they now had to fear that an agent of the state – as close as the CDR up
the street or a fellow classmate – may accuse them of homosexuality. As
a young, self-identified heterosexual and revolutionary Cuban explained,
"The persecution of homosexuals … is hateful and unnerving. Not that
we're homosexuals. But there's always the fear that they'll think you
are, because of the long hai Continue reading
Cuban lawmakers ban anti-gay employment discrimination
December 21, 2013
By Michael K. Lavers on December 21, 2013

Cuban lawmakers on Friday approved a proposal that would amend the
country's labor law to ban employment discrimination based on sexual
"Experienced a countless number of emotions today in Parliament," said
Cuban blogger Francisco Rodríguez who blogs under the pen name Paquito
El De Cuba on his Twitter page as Andrés Duque of Blabbeando reported.
"We now have the first law that protects gays, in this case in employment."

Rodríguez tweeted there was also what he described as an "intense
debate" about amending the island's labor law to also ban discrimination
based on gender identity and expression.

He said Mariela Castro, daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro and
executive director of the country's National Center for Sex Education
(CENESEX), proposed the trans-specific amendment. Rodríguez said she
also obtained support for it from Christian and intellectual leaders in

The Cuban newspaper Granma on Saturday reported Mariela Castro, who is
the niece of former Cuban President Fidel Castro, sought to amend the
employment law that broadly referenced "the equality of the worker," but
did not specifically ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and
other factors in the workplace. The publication further noted Mariela
Castro also sought to ban employment discrimination based on gender
identity, disability and HIV status.

Ignacio Estrada Cepero, founder of the Cuban League Against AIDS, told
the Blade on Saturday from Miami that he had previously predicted the
Cuban Parliament would have approved something along the lines of
banning anti-gay discrimination in the workplace during their most
recent meeting.

Estrada and his transgender wife, former CENESEX employee Wendy Iriepa
Díaz, remain critical of Mariela Castro and her father's government. The
two met with Cuban-born U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) in July
on Capitol Hill while they were in the U.S. on a three month trip.

"You would have to ask if any of us taking a seat inside the Cuban
Parliament would have been able to achieve this" Estrada told the Blade.
"It surely would have been impossible to achieve it."

Estrada added Cuban parliamentarians only approved the proposal to ban
anti-gay discrimination in the workplace because Mariela Castro
introduced it and she is the Cuban president's daughter.

Equality Forum in May honored Mariela Castro for her efforts on behalf
of LGBT Cubans. The executive director of the Philadelphia-based gay
advocacy group refused to allow this reporter to ask the Cuban
president's daughter about her country's human rights record during a
press conference before she accepted an award from the organization.

Ros-Lehtinen is among those who blasted Equality Forum for honoring
Mariela Castro. The U.S. government also faced criticism for granting
her a visa that allowed her to travel to Philadelphia to accept the award.

"The tyrannical regime in Cuba likes to fool those who are easily fooled
but, unless there are human rights for all, there can be no true rights
just for gays," Ros-Lehtinen told the Blade in a statement on Saturday.
"One would have to be quite gullible to give any credence to reports
that the non-freely elected sham of a parliament has passed a
non-discrimination law regarding individuals who are LGBT. The Castro
regime allows no freedom but it knows how to sugar coat its horrid human
rights record by promoting a law that will never mean a thing. The Cuban
people deserve freedom, whether they are gay or straight. Liberty knows
no gender identity."

CENESEX and the Cuban government did not return the Blade's request for

Source: "Cuban lawmakers ban anti-gay employment discrimination :
Washington Blade – America's Leading Gay News Source" - Continue reading
Latest Cuban Ministry of Health Statistics for HIV/AIDS / Wendy Iriepa
and Ignacio Estrada
Posted on September 22, 2013

Total number of people living with HIV/AIDS: 18,261
Total foreigners detected: 675

Total Persons with HIV/AIDS: 8,660
Diagnosed 2012: 625
Total AIDS Cases: 3,765
People Living with HIV/AIDS: 6,982
Ambulatory Care System: 5,988

Total deaths: 1,434
Deaths from AIDS: 1,321
Deaths from Other Causes: 113

Children in the Study: 74
HIV-positive children: 16

Average Age of Most Affected: 20 – 24

Infected practicing transactional sex: 641, which is 7.3% of infected
cases .

Province with greatest number of persons engaged in prostitution:
Las Tunas with 116 cases; 27.4 %
Holguin 138 cases; 17.5 %
Camagüey 130 cases;17 %
Cienfuegos 74 cases; 17 %
Isle of Youth 25 cases; 14.4 %
Santa Clara – Figure Unconfirmed
Santiago de Cuba – Figure Unconfirmed
Guantanamo – Figure Unconfirmed
Havana – Population cannot be estimated because of transience.

In 2012 in Cuba 108 HIV-positive women gave birth.

Major Causes of Death :
- Poor Adherence to Therapeutics
- Loss of Observation
- Late Diagnosis

Cuba keeps open a total of 3 Sanitariums from a total of 14 that existed
from the 1980s through 2005.

Cuba today has a total of 6 Prisons for Prisoners with HIV/AIDS compared
to one existing at the end of the 1990s in the city of Santa Clara.

With a varying criminal population, between 400-675 inmates have
HIV/AID; fewer of them are women. One of the routes of infection is
self-inoculation [in regular prisons to escape that prison environment].

Cuba offers Antiretroviral Treatment to about 5,000 people. They have a
CD4 cell count below 350.

Cuba has never been able to reduce nor has it shown a reduction in the
rate of diagnosis since the diagnosis of the first cases. This figure is
constantly growing.

8 July 2013

Source: "Latest Cuban Ministry of Health Statistics for HIV/AIDS / Wendy
Iriepa and Ignacio Estrada | Translating Cuba" - Continue reading
Homosexual Prisoners Suffer Abuse and Discrimination / Frank E. Carranza
Lopez in the blog of Wendy Iriepa and Ignacio Estrada
Posted on September 22, 2013
By Frank E. Carranza Lopez, Agencia Decoro

( — The alarming news came to us from Fausto
de la Caridad Urbay, President of the LGBT Liberal Youth of Cuba Front.

He is denied visits to gay prisoners at the HIV/AIDS special prison,
located a mile from the Maraguaco highway to San Jose de las Lajas in
the province Mayabeque. This prison has 5 internal sections, four for
men and one for women.

On 2 August 2013, he went to Section #2, medium security (the most
populous of the prison) to visit for four hours with family and friends
of the inmates. For years inmates have enjoyed this privilege without
hindrance. Most inmates are gay and along with visits from their family
receive visits from their respective partners.

Imagine the astonishment of the visitors when, after waiting some hours
for official entry, they were told that by superior orders only family
members could visit and no one else. The discontent caused quite a
commotion, followed by crude threats from the officials of internal
order (FOI), to which the families responded by asking to see the
director of the penitentiary, Jorge Luis Castillo. He did not show his
face and instead sent his second in command, who called himself Álvaro,
and who, upset and disrespectful to the gay community, told them, and I
quote, "Castillo is Castillo and I'm me and I don't care to allow gay
partners to visit here and if you don't like it you can complain as much
as or wherever you want and it won't do you any good, I'm in charge here."

After several minutes of protest, he decided to pass on the food the
visitors had brought, warning that this would be the last time and not
to take the trouble of returning.

Many of those prisoners are of the type called charity cases (with no
family), and only receive visits from their homosexual partners.

Currently the discontent within the facility is growing, daily
irritation increases, after the surprise inspection of high officials
from the Cuban Interior Ministry (MININT) triggered by a complaint
issued on June 27 by CUBANET, any return of the previous visitors makes
things worse.

The repression increased, the food returned to its original inedible and
indescribable state, vitamin K disappeared again along with injectable
Dipirona, and as if that weren't enough it seems the deputy director of
the prison, Señor Álvaro, carried out a coup d'etat against his superior
and won, playing the part of the Grim Reaper with the threads of the
lives of the inmates who require specialized care given their state as
patients with HIV/AIDS.

10 August 2013

Source: "Homosexual Prisoners Suffer Abuse and Discrimination / Frank E.
Carranza Lopez in the blog of Wendy Iriepa and Ignacio Estrada |
Translating Cuba" - Continue reading
Cuban LGBT rights advocates arrive in D.C.
July 29, 2013
By Michael K. Lavers on July 29, 2013

Two Cuban LGBT rights advocates who are visiting the United States for
three months on Monday arrived in D.C.

Ignacio Estrada Cepero and Wendy Iriepa Díaz on Monday met with staffers
of Us Helping Us, an HIV/AIDS service organization, and Casa Ruby, a
multicultural LGBT community center. Estrada and Iriepa are also
scheduled to meet with Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen on
Capitol hill on Wednesday before they return to Miami.

Estrada, who founded the Cuban League Against AIDS in 2005, told the
Blade while at Casa Ruby that he and Iriepa, a transgender woman who
used to work for Cuba's National Center for Sexual Education (CENESEX) —
which is directed by Mariela Castro Espín, daughter of Cuban President
Raúl Castro — want to "show how we live, how we work" in Cuba while they
are in the U.S.

The couple, who married in a high-profile wedding in Havana, the Cuban
capital, in 2011, said Mariela Castro presents what they described as a
distorted reality of the island's LGBT community to the world.

"Mariela totally manipulates the LGBT community," Iriepa said.

Estrada and Iriepa arrived in D.C. less than three months after Mariela
Castro traveled to the U.S. to accept an award from Equality Forum, a
Philadelphia-based LGBT advocacy group.

Mariela Castro's supporters note she successfully lobbied the Cuban
government to begin offering free sex-reassignment surgery under the
country's national health care system in 2010. Iriepa herself had SRS in
2007 while she worked at CENESEX.

Observers have credited Cuba's condom distribution campaign and sexual
education curriculum with producing one of the world's lowest HIV
infection rates. Cubans with the virus also have access to free
anti-retroviral drugs.

CENESEX in May scheduled a series of events across Cuba to commemorate
the annual International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. Mariela
Castro has also spoken out in support of marriage rights for same-sex
couples in the country.

"I am very proud of how we have advanced [LGBT rights in Cuba,]" she
said during an Equality Forum panel in Philadelphia.

Estrada and Iriepa and other Cuban LGBT rights advocates remain critical
of Mariela Castro and her father's government.

Leannes Imbert Acosta of the Cuban LGBT Platform claimed authorities
last September detained her as she left her Havana home to bring
materials to CENESEX on a planned exhibit on forced labor camps to which
the government sent more than 25,000 gay men and others deemed unfit for
military services during the 1960s. Estrada said that las fall during a
New York City panel organized by Cuba Archive – a group that documents
human rights abuses on the island – more than 500 people with HIV/AIDS
remain in prison for what he described as the crime of "pre-criminal
social dangerousness."

When the Blade attempted to address criticisms from Estrada and other
LGBT rights with Mariela Castro during a press conference before she
accepted the Equality Forum award, the group's Executive Director
Malcolm Lazin interrupted, preventing the questions from being asked.

"You work for the community but you aren't really from this community
without rights," Estrada told the Blade. "And without rights nothing can
be achieved."

Source: "Cuban LGBT rights advocates arrive in D.C. : Washington Blade –
America's Leading Gay News Source" - Continue reading
They Are Prosecuting an Activist Against Evictions in Old Havana / Luis
Felipe Rojas
Posted on July 13, 2013

The opponent Madelín Lázara Caraballo, detained for nine months in a
prison for HIV-AIDS sufferers, in San Jose de las Lajas, will be tried
Wednesday at the Old Havana municipal court.

She is accused of the crimes of "public disorder, Article 200.1.2,
contempt, 144.1, incitement to crime, 202.1.3, and resistance, 143.1, of
the Penal Code, for a single and joint sentence of three years
imprisonment ," according to a report released by Major Zeida Hernández
González, head of Reeducation of that prison.

Within the Cuban opposition Lázara Caraballo has been principal of the
Latin American Federation of Rural Women (FLAMUR) in Old Havana and a
member of the Republican Party of Cuba (PRC) in the Havana municipality.

On numerous occasions Caraballo was present as a Human Rights activist
in sites of potential evictions, as confirmed by several activists and
independent journalists from Cuba. Martinoticias had access to this
evidence through the program Contact Cuba, led by Norma Miranda and Luis
Felipe Rojas.

"This crime she is charged with, is because of her constant activism,"
says independent journalist Dania Virgen Garcia. "Every time there was
an eviction in Old Havana, she supported these people. "

Among the charges Lázara Caraballo now faces are those cited by the
prosecutor, who said that "she joins with people whose conduct is
antisocial who are not occupationally related" and that "she had shown
herself countless times against the revolutionary process." However,
among the witnesses is an administrator at a private business where she
worked part-time, and other workers will testify at the trial.

Madelín is a woman suffering from HIV-AIDS, but her case is aggravated
because she was two small children, a teenage daughter 13 and a boy 6.
The situation at home is bleak.

Her mother, Zoila Betancourt, is 80 and carries all the weight of the
family and has not seen her daughter since February.

In an interview with Contact Cuba Zoila said the 13-year-old
occasionally visits Madelín in prison but because of her age she can not
travel frequently to the site.

Zoila recalls that on her only visit to the prison to see her daughter,
"When I saw her I cried until I left."

Vladimir Calderón Frías, a HumanRights activist, accompanied Madelín
Caraballo to several activities and believes the authorities have shown
her no mercy because she is very aware of the evictions that occur in
her environment and the threats that the authorities use against citizens.

Vladimir confirmed with his testimony, the danger that others have seen
for the family of this opponent, as her 13-year-old daughter is being
raised practically alone, at a time in her life as difficult as adolescence.

Until 2011 Caraballo Betancourt supported the Ladies in White movement,
and was arrested several times, beaten and her house was kept under
strict police surveillance.

"That is a the reason there is now a prosecution request for three
years' imprisonment," said Calderon Frias.

9 July 2013

Source: "They Are Prosecuting an Activist Against Evictions in Old
Havana / Luis Felipe Rojas | Translating Cuba" - Continue reading
The Food Aid Problem Continues for People with HIV/AIDS in Cuba /
Ignacio Estrada
Posted on May 29, 2013
By Ignacio Estrada

Havana, Cuba – The population affected by HIV/AIDS in Cuba is still not
receiving oil as part of the aid from the United Nations Global Fund.

The Cuban community living with this disease has been living without aid
since late 2012 and this continues to date. The aid was restored only a
month ago and is expected to be only a total of 22 cans of sausages for
all the rest of the year. Meanwhile vegetable oil has not been deposited
in the warehouses for distribution.

According to what we learned, the food aid being delivered has only been
approved for two years, due to continued growth of the population that
lives with HIV/AIDS in Cuba, figures which are kept a state secret by
the authorities in power. The appearance of these figures in the media
would put in the public arena the uncertain efforts of the faltering
health system.

It is important to clarify that aid provided by the UN relieves the lack
of products on the island and is a relief for every home where a person
lives with the disease.

I asked one of the UN officials in Havana — who preferred that his name
not be mentioned — "Why did the help end before the scheduled time?" and
he unhesitatingly replied, "The health authorities on the island receive
help for a specific number of affected, which are backed by our project.
Each year in Cuba new cases are detected and they are given the help of
the already approved initial figure. This fact makes the products run
out sooner than expected and causes the bumps from one year to another…"

The truth is that this year the population that lives with HIV/AIDS has
received as aid only hot dogs and there is already talk of a second
round with the same amount but vegetable oil is conspicuously absent.
What many do not know is that even apparently after the next installment
Cuba will say a final farewell to an aid which for years has palliated
the hunger and the needs of the sick on the island.

27 May 2013 Continue reading
Forbidden Voices’: Female bloggers fight for freedom of speech By Hazel Pfeifer, CNN May 3, 2013 — Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT) Video link: – “Forbidden Voices” follows lives of female dissident bloggers around world – Female dissident bloggers often suffer violence, detainment by repressive regimes – Film follows Iran’s Farnaz Seifi, Cuba’s Yoani [...] Continue reading
Cuban Populace with HIV/AIDS Lacks Food / Wendy Iriepa and Ignacio Estrada
Posted on April 13, 2013

Havana, Cuba -For more than three consecutive months, the Cuban populace
that lives with HIV/AIDS has noticed an absence of the nutritive
products graciously granted by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS of the
United Nations.

The nutritive products have not been coming to any of the established
distribution points in the country since the latter part of last year.
Leaders of the commercial entities respond before the questions posed by
the affected that they do not know the why behind the absence of
supplies and even less why there is such a delay in the distribution of
the products.

In Cuba, more than 18,000 Cubans live with this malady and the majority
receive important help which alleviates the lack of fats and meat
available to the population. This isn't the first time that help has
disappeared without an explanation or cause, but the important thing to
remember is what the benefit of it means for each HIV+ Cuban.

Many in the world are unaware of the nutritive inequities that exist on
the island with regard to this malady. The foodstuffs that are received
dwindle in quantity and weight depending on the region where they live
and in accordance with the pre-established diet designed by the health
system that was previously fulfilled by the "canasta básica" or "basic
basket" granted by the régime.

We are mentioning this because we have received differing declarations
from information sources throughout the island. The HIV/AIDS population
in Havana is the most benefitted in terms of nutrition while the other
infected populace in the provinces only receive half of what is
distributed in the capital.

The subject has been discussed in different instances but never has
there been a response or a solution that benefits every Cuban that
struggles with this disease.

One could ask how many people are invested in this cause? Who would be
to blame in this occasion? Or is it that even International
Organizations headquartered in Havana cannot ensure and protect the
interests they represent? The questions are many and I fear that they
will continue unanswered.

As I write this note, I think only of that population, that while
government officials enjoy meals in abundance similar to those
representatives of international organizations headquartered in Havana,
many in that population don't even have something to swallow their
medicines with, while others replace milk with water only to cite an

The situation might vary in different regions, yet if we discussed
nutrition in the six penitentiary establishments that confine more than
500 recluses of both sexes with this disease, the discussion would never

Let this article serve as a voice for each person who lives with
HIV/AIDS and allow it to resonate and reach the ear of someone who is
really interested in these conditions. The scarcity and lack of food
access to the population affected by this disease cannot be shunned or
set aside.

Translated by: Ylena Zamora-Vargas

25 February 2013 Continue reading