May 7, 2014 | by Michael K. Lavers
Cuban advocates not invited to international LGBT conference

Ignacio Estrada, Wendy Iriepa, Cuba, gay news, Washington Blade

Ignacio Estrada and Wendy Iriepa (Washington Blade file photo by Damien Salas)

A group of independent Cuban advocates have sharply criticized organizers of an international LGBT conference underway in the Communist country over their decision not to invite them to the event.

The Washington Blade on Tuesday obtained a copy of a statement onto which the Cuban League Against AIDS and six other LGBT advocacy groups that are not affiliated with the country’s National Center for Sexual Education signed. CENESEX’s director, Mariela Castro Espín, daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro, is president of the local committee that organized the sixth International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association for Latin America and the Caribbean Conference that is currently taking place in the beach resort of Varadero.

“We reject and denounce the fact that this meeting will take place with only the presence of a Cuban official and some non-governmental organizations,” reads the statement.

The groups describe the conference as a “mockery,” referring to the Cuban government’s human rights record they say includes continued harassment of independent LGBT activists from the authorities. The organizations specifically criticize both ILGALAC and Mariela Castro.

“Cuban civil society of which we are members is one that permanently denounces all these violations of human rights not acknowledged by those organizing the event,” reads their statement. “We are those who are not able to take a seat at the table of complicity that pretends to show an island where our community covers new ground.”

Ignacio Estrada Cepero, founder of the Cuban League Against AIDS, noted to the Washington Blade from Miami where he currently lives with his wife, Wendy Iriepa Díaz, a trans woman who once worked at CENESEX, that the Cuban government sent more than 25,000 gay men and others deemed unfit for military service to forced labor camps in the years following the 1959 Cuban Revolution.

Former Cuban President Fidel Castro in 2010 apologized for sending gay men to the camps known as Military Units to Aid Production or by the Spanish acronym UMAPs. Estrada told the Blade the Cuban government has yet to fully investigate them.

“Everyone agrees in the need to create a plural space where respect of the freedom of expression and assembly and the topic of human rights are no longer prohibited,” he said.

Mariela Castro’s supporters note she successfully lobbied the Cuban government to begin offering free sex-reassignment surgery under the island’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.

Cuban lawmakers late last year approved a proposal that seeks to amend the country’s labor law to ban anti-gay employment discrimination. Mariela Castro has publicly backed marriage rights for same-sex couples.

The ILGALAC conference is the first time Cuba has hosted an international LGBT gathering.

“ILGALAC 2014 will be a great experience from which there is a lot to learn,” ILGA Co-Secretary General Gloria Careaga Pérez told the Blade before traveling to Cuba.

Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen last week sharply criticized both conference organizers and the Cuban government. The Cuban-born Republican last May blasted a Philadelphia-based LGBT rights organization over its decision to honor Mariela Castro.

The Free Rainbow Alliance of Cuba, another independent Cuban LGBT advocacy group, also criticized Mariela Castro and ILGALAC for not inviting it to attend 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 guarantors of rights for the LGBTI community,” said the Free Rainbow Alliance of Cuba in a statement that Caribe Afirmativo, a Colombian LGBT advocacy organization, sent to the Blade last Thursday.

Neither conference organizers, nor Mariela Castro returned the Blade’s requests for comment.

The event is scheduled to end in Havana, the Cuban capital, on Saturday.

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

4 Comments
  • Decent groups should boycott the conference.

  • Here is some homophobic propaganda published in the revolutionary Mella Magazine of the University of Havana in 1965
    http://www.latinamericanstudies.org/cuba/Semanario-Mella-1965.pdf

  • YOUTUBE : CUBA DOCUMENTARY – "Conducta Impropria" – (Improper Conduct) – Part 1 of 12 –
    Mauvaise Conduite or Improper Conduct is a 1984 documentary film directed by Néstor Almendros and Orlando Jiménez Leal. The documentary interviews Cuban refugees to explore the Cuban government's imprisonment of homosexuals, political dissidents, and Jehovah's Witnesses into concentration camps under its policy of Military Units to Aid Protection. The documentary was produced with the support of French television Antenne 2 and won the Best Documentary Audience Award at the 1984 San Francisco International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wcF5ubWiy5k

  • THE PRINCES Mariela Castro IS TRYING TO CLEAN UP THE HOMOPHOBIC AND VIOLENT HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES AGAINTS THE CUBAN PEOPLE BY HER FAMILY! SOME OF THE LEFT ARE BUYING HER LITTLE CIRCUS! SO WHY HAS SHE NOT INVESTIGATED THE UMAP Military Units to Aid Production CAMPS (1965-1968)? IT HAS BEEN ABOUT 50 YEARS SINCE THESE CONCENTRATION CAMPS WERE ESTABLISHED IN CUBA!
    YOUTUBE: CUBA DOCUMENTARY – "Nadie Escuchaba" (Nobody Listened) 1 of 12 – Filmed in 1987. A passionate documentary by the late Nestor Almendros about the "Cuban Revolution" going wrong, while "nobody listened." This documentary touches my heart. For most Americans it's not easy to understand the full dimension of Castro's dictatorship and the constant violation of human rights in Cuba. While Hitler and Stalin have been considered cruel dictators, Castro is still called the "president" of Cuba, even though he refuses to have free elections; and those who dare to express their opinion against the Communist regime have only three options: jail, death or exile. My respect to late Nestor Almendros and to Jorge Ulla for their dedication of this testimony of the suffering of my Cuban people. (Spanish with English sub-titles)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pmnh9VgenJU

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