July 15, 2015 at 3:25 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Cuban LGBT advocates harassed at Havana airport

Nelson Gandulla Díaz, Cuba, gay news, Washington Blade, Cuban Foundation for LGBTI Rights

Nelson Gandulla Díaz, president of the Cuban Foundation for LGBTI Rights, stands outside his home in Cienfuegos, Cuba, on May 15, 2015. The independent LGBT rights advocate claims authorities harassed him and two of his colleagues earlier this month as they tried to re-enter the country at Havana’s José Martí International Airport. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Independent Cuban LGBT rights advocates claim authorities harassed them and took their belongings earlier this month as they tried to re-enter the country.

Juana Mora Cedeño of the Rainbow Project, an independent Cuban advocacy organization, told the Washington Blade on Monday that authorities at José Martí International Airport in Havana early on July 6 stopped her and two of her colleagues who were returning from Colombia where they had attended a workshop on documenting LGBT rights abuses.

Mora said the officials confiscated their cameras and USB drives.

“They said they must review information that enters the country,” she told the Blade.

Juana Mora Cedeño, Havana, Cuba, gay news, Washington Blade

Juana Mora Cedeño, a member of Proyecto Arcoiris, met with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in Havana in February. She showed the Blade a letter she received from the California Democrat during an interview at her colleague’s home in the Vedado neighborhood of the Cuban capital on May 18, 2015. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Nelson Gandulla Díaz, president of the Cuban Foundation for LGBTI Rights, told the Blade earlier this week in a series of emails that immigration and state security officials were waiting for him and his fellow advocates at the airport.

Gandulla said the authorities examined their luggage and confiscated cameras and USB drives for 30 days. He told the Blade they landed at the airport at 1:10 a.m., but were unable to leave for nearly five hours.

The incident took place after Gandulla, Mora and a transgender colleague returned to Havana from the Colombian city of Cartagena where they attended a four-day workshop organized by Caribe Afirmativo, a Colombian LGBT advocacy group that maintains close ties with independent Cuban activists.

Caribe Afirmativo Director Wilson Castañeda Castro told the Blade on Tuesday that Cuban authorities subjected the trans advocate to “intense questioning” about his organization before she and her colleagues left Havana on July 1.

Attempts to reach the trans activist for comment were unsuccessful.

Fla. congresswoman blasts ‘Castro regime thugs’

Advocates who work independently of Mariela Castro Espín, the daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro who has spearheaded a number of LGBT-specific campaigns and iniaitives in recent years as director of the National Center for Sexual Education, say authorities on the Communist island routinely harass them.

Navid Fernández Cabrera, president of the Shui Tuix Foundation, an independent Cuban LGBT advocacy group, late last month claimed that two security agents prevented him and his partner from attending a Pride march in Havana. Fidel Malvarais Pelegrino, who represents the group in the city of Santiago de Cuba, told the Blade in May during an interview at Fernández’s apartment that authorities detained him for a week in June 2014 because he was in Havana without permission from the government.

“The U.S. commitment to universal human rights and democratic reforms in Cuba is unwavering,” a State Department spokesperson told the Blade on Tuesday. “We condemn any instance of Cuban government-sponsored harassment, use of violence or arbitrary detention of Cuban citizens who peaceably exercise their rights. We will continue to speak out on behalf of universal values we think are important.”

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), a Cuban-born Republican who represents portions of Miami-Dade County in Congress, described the independent LGBT advocates’ allegations to the Blade as “not surprising.” She further blasted “Castro regime thugs” who “would do everything they can to stifle the spread of human rights in Cuba.”

“From the confiscation of information and property to arrests for exercising the right to free speech, this is just more of the same from a decrepit dictatorship,” said Ros-Lehtinen.

Embassies to reopen on July 20

The U.S. and Cuba on July 20 will officially restore full diplomatic relations with the reopening of embassies in Havana and Washington.

Members of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington on July 11 began a week-long trip to Havana that Executive Director Chase Maggiano told the Blade will hopefully “raise awareness of LGBT rights in Cuba.” Ros-Lehtinen and other critics of the Cuban government continue to point out that human rights abuses have continued to take place on the Communist island since the process to normalize relations between it and the U.S. began late last year.

“Concessions by the Obama administration only serves to embolden the Castro state security attacks against not just the LGBT community but the people of Cuba as well,” Ros-Lehtinen told the Blade on Tuesday. “No matter how much the administration attempts to put a friendly veneer on an oppressive regime, Castro’s brutality against the people must not be ignored.”

A State Department spokesperson on Tuesday referenced President Obama’s position that “change won’t come to Cuba overnight.”

“We are clear-eyed about the Cuban government’s resistance to change,” said the spokesperson. “In exchanging stagnancy for engagement, however, the president’s new approach constitutes movement in the right direction and we will be in a better position than ever to promote human rights and empower the Cuban people to freely determine their own future.”

Neither representatives of the Cuban government nor the National Center for Sexual Education returned the Blade’s request for comment.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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