June 10, 2014 | by Michael K. Lavers
Cuban LGBT advocate arrested for ‘peaceful protest’

David Bustamante Rodríguez, gay news, Washington Blade

Cuban authorities reportedly beat David Bustamante Rodríguez on May 26 as they arrested him during a “peaceful protest” at his home near the city of Santa Clara. (Image courtesy of Ignacio Estrada Cepero)

A Cuban LGBT rights advocate with HIV remains in jail more than two weeks after authorities reportedly arrested him because he criticized the country’s government.

Ignacio Estrada Cepero of the Cuban League Against AIDS told the Washington Blade during a telephone interview from Miami on June 6 that David Bustamante Rodríguez, 21, was “savagely beaten” and “arrested in a violent way” on May 26 after he staged what he described as a “peaceful protest” on the roof of his home near the city of Santa Clara.

Estrada said that Bustamante, who is a member of the Patriotic Union of Cuba and the United Anti-Totalitarian Forum that operate independently from the Cuban government, has been accused of “criticizing a figure who led Fidel Castro’s revolution” in 1959 and “criticizing the authorities.”

Estrada told the Blade that Bustamante suffered a broken rib and a fractured hand during his arrest.

He said the activist has also not been able to speak with his mother, Sandra Rodríguez de Bustamante. Estrada further noted Rodríguez, with whom he said he speaks regularly, said her son has not received anti-retroviral drugs since his arrest.

“We are concerned that David is not receiving specialized medical attention,” said Estrada.

Rodríguez, who is a member of Damas de Blanco, or Ladies in White who have staged weekly protests against the Cuban government since a 2003 crackdown on dissidents, claims her son has been targeted because he is gay.

Estrada told the Blade that authorities earlier this year forced Bustamante to cut his hair.

He said police have also arrested and beat Rodríguez on several occasions. Estrada told the Blade that Bustamante’s mother has been on a hunger strike for two weeks to protest her son’s detention.

“Last Monday marked two weeks since David has been in the prison for criminals with HIV and AIDS in the city of Santa Clara,” said Estrada. “They have kept him without bringing formal charges.”

Bustamante’s arrest took place less than a month after more than 400 LGBT rights advocates from across the world attended the sixth International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association for Latin America and the Caribbean Conference in the Cuban beach resort of Varadero.

Mariela Castro Espín, daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro who is the director of Cuba’s National Center for Sexual Education (CENESEX), was president of the local committee that organized the ILGALAC conference. Her supporters in recent years have applauded her for efforts to lobby her father’s government to begin offering free sex-reassignment surgery to trans Cubans, implementing a condom distribution campaign and sexual education curriculum and speaking out against anti-LGBT discrimination and for marriage rights for same-sex couples in the Communist country.

Estrada, whose wife, Wendy Iriepa Díaz, once worked for CENESEX, has frequently criticized Mariela Castro and her father’s government.

“She does not recognize the work that is done on the part of the independent gay community,” Estrada told the Blade last July while he and Iriepa were in D.C. “She only recognizes the official part.”

Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen has repeatedly criticized Mariela Castro and her father’s government over the country’s human rights record. The Cuban-born Republican in May 2013 blasted Equality Forum, a Philadelphia-based LGBT advocacy group, for honoring Mariela Castro.

“It’s very important for the U.S. community to understand what is the status of LGBT rights and the denial of rights in Cuba,” Ros-Lehtinen told the Blade last August after she met with Estrada and Iriepa in her Capitol Hill office. “Mariela Castro, as part of the regime, has been on a propaganda tour internationally and here in the U.S. especially trying to sell this facade that is really non-existent in Cuba.”

Neither Mariela Castro nor the Cuban government responded to the Blade’s request for comment.

“Until now there has not been any reaction from the government in Havana,” Estrada told the Blade. “I was monitoring it; there is absolutely nothing.”

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

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