May 16, 2017 at 8:05 am EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Cuban activist prevented from meeting U.S. counterparts

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 near Cienfuegos, Cuba, in May 2015. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

HAVANA — An independent Cuban LGBT rights advocate claims authorities prevented him from traveling to Havana late last week to meet with a delegation of U.S. advocates.

Nelson Gandulla, president of the Cuban Federation for LGBTI Rights, told the Washington Blade he received a summons that ordered him to report to police headquarters in the city of Cienfuegos at 8 a.m. on May 12 for an “interrogation.” The meeting between more than a dozen independent Cuban activists and their U.S. counterparts who included Equality Florida CEO Nadine Smith began in Havana at the same time.

Gandulla told the Blade the police called him and told him he “wasn’t able to go to work” because the director of the city’s local health office was going to be visiting. Gandulla also said they told him he could not leave Cienfuegos Province or the country.

Gandulla said police on May 3 detained his partner in the street while working as an independent journalist and interrogated him for two hours. He told the Blade the agents who interrogated his partner took his camera, cell phone and tripod.

“They wanted to send him to prison for illicit economic activities,” Gandulla told the Blade. “They wanted to say that he receives money from abroad, which is not the case. He has never received money. They threatened him that if they saw him on the street filming or with a camera he would go directly to prison without a trial.”

Gandulla has told the Blade in previous interviews that authorities have previously detained and harassed him.

He said officials at Havana’s José Martí International Airport prevented him from boarding a flight to Panama City in order to travel to the Colombian city of Cartagena for a workshop that focused on documenting human rights abuses. Gandulla said security agents visited his home ahead of then-President Obama’s visit to Cuba in March 2016.

Gandulla and two independent LGBT activists were detained for several hours at José Martí International Airport in 2015 when they returned to Cuba after attending a workshop in Colombia. Authorities searched their luggage and confiscated their cameras and USB drives for 30 days.

Activists ‘have given voice to LGBT issues’

Mariela Castro, director of Cuba’s National Director of Sexual Health who is Cuban President Raúl Castro’s daughter, spearheads LGBT-specific efforts in the Communist country.

Mariela Castro on Saturday led an LGBT march in Havana’s Vedado neighborhood in commemoration of the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia that drew more than 2,000 people. LGBT-specific events are scheduled to take place in Santa Clara and other cities across the country in the coming days.

Gandulla and other independent advocates — many of whom met with the U.S. advocates on Friday — are critical of Mariela Castro on a host of issues. These include marriage rights for same-sex couples, trans Cubans’ access to sex-reassignment surgery and the country’s human rights record.

“It was an honor to meet more than a dozen brave, Cuban LGBT advocates who are part of organizations and campaigns that are independent of the Cuban government,” Smith told the Blade on Monday after she returned to the U.S. “Despite the specter of harassment and intrusive government surveillance, these leaders have organized in favor of marriage equality and given voice to LGBT issues.”

“I learned a great deal in our lengthy discussions and they expressed deep appreciation and a desire for greater engagement from the U.S. LGBT movement,” she added. “Florida has a unique connection to Cuba and I will eagerly continue to assist their efforts to secure equality and dignity for LGBT people.”

The Blade has made repeated requests to interview Mariela Castro in Cuba. The Cuban government has not responded to them.

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

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