August 10, 2017 at 12:01 am EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Cuban activist refuses to attend U.S. Embassy event
Cuba, Pride flag, gay news, U.S. Embassy, Washington Blade

The U.S. Embassy in Havana flies a rainbow flag in honor of the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia in 2016. A Cuban activist who works closely with Mariela Castro, daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro, has refused to attend an event at the embassy in response to the expulsion of two Cuban diplomats from the U.S. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Embassy in Cuba)

A Cuban activist has refused to attend an event at the U.S. Embassy in Havana over the expulsion of two of his country’s diplomats from the U.S.

Francisco Rodríguez Cruz, a gay Cuban blogger who writes under the pen name Paquito el de Cuba, received an invitation to participate in an online chat about the use of technology to combat gender-based violence.

The event is scheduled to take place at the embassy on Thursday.

Rodríguez on Wednesday told a Cuban embassy staffer in an email that the expulsion of the two diplomats from the Cuban Embassy in D.C. “makes it impossible for me to accept (the invitation) this time.” Rodríguez wrote to the staffer hours after news of the diplomats’ expulsion broke.

“Nevertheless, I would like to share with you my sincere hope that both countries and peoples can continue to improve bilateral relations, based on the exchange of experiences and reciprocal learning — that is so important for social activism and other issues of common interest that we are developing as citizens — as well as maintaining the principles of being good neighbors and respecting Cuba’s sovereignty and independence,” said Rodríguez, according to a copy of the email the Washington Blade and other media outlets received.

Cuba, gay news, Washington Blade

Francisco Rodríguez Cruz in Havana. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Associated Press on Wednesday reported five American diplomats who worked at the embassy began suffering “unexplained” hearing loss last fall after they arrived in Havana.

U.S. officials told the Associated Press that some of the diplomats returned to the U.S. because their symptoms had grown “so severe.” The Associated Press reported American officials later concluded the diplomats “had been attacked with an advanced sonic weapon that operated outside the range of audible sound and had been deployed either inside or outside their residences” in Havana.

State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert on Wednesday confirmed the U.S. on May 23 expelled two Cuban diplomats who were working at the Cuban Embassy in Northwest Washington.

She told reporters during a press briefing the symptoms from which the U.S. diplomats were suffering were “not life-threatening.” Nauert did not provide additional details about their condition.

“The Cuban government has a responsibility and an obligation under the Geneva Convention to protect our diplomats,” she said. “So that is part of the reason why this is such a major concern of ours, why we take this so seriously, and in addition to the protection and security of Americans.”

The Associated Press notes the Cuban government closely monitors American diplomats who work in the country. LGBT activists who publicly criticize Mariela Castro, the daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro who spearheads LGBT-specific issues on the Communist island, have told the Washington Blade they have been placed under surveillance, harassed and even detained.

The Cuban Foreign Ministry on Wednesday in a statement said the U.S. Embassy in Havana and the State Department on Feb. 17 “informed” it of “the alleged occurrence of incidents that caused illnesses of some” embassy officials and their family members.

The statement describes the expulsion of the two Cuban diplomats from the U.S. as an “unjustified and unfounded decision.” The Cuban Foreign Ministry also said it has launched “an exhaustive investigation” into the alleged incidents.

“The ministry categorically emphasizes that Cuba has never allowed nor will allow Cuban territory to be used for any action against accredited diplomatic officials or their families, without exception,” reads its statement. “(The ministry) also reiterates its willingness to cooperate in order to clarify this situation.”

Rodríguez participated in U.S. Pride month chat

Former President Obama in 2014 announced the U.S. would normalize relations with Cuba.

The two countries reopened their respective embassies in Havana and Washington in 2015. They will remain open in spite of President Trump’s decision to reinstate travel and trade restrictions with Cuba that he announced in June.

U.S. embassy officials regularly meet with Cuban activists who work independently of Mariela Castro. Rodríguez, who works closely with Mariela Castro and her organization, the National Center for Sexual Education, on June 28 visited the embassy and participated in an online chat the State Department organized around Pride month.

Mariela Castro, daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro, speaks at a press conference in Havana on May 3, 2017. Francisco Rodríguez Cruz is a gay activist and blogger who works closely with Mariela Castro and her organization. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

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

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