October 11, 2017 at 12:00 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Trump draws sharp criticism from Latin America activists

Donald Trump, gay news, Washington Blade

President Trump has drawn sharp criticism from LGBTI rights advocates across Latin America. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

VALPARAÍSO, Chile — Activists in Latin America with whom the Washington Blade spoke in recent weeks sharply criticized President Trump over his administration’s stance on LGBT and intersex rights and other issues.

Diego Encalada, regional coordinator of Fundación Iguales, a Chilean LGBTI advocacy group, sat down with the Blade on Oct. 3 at a coffee shop in the Chilean port city of Valparaíso.

He described Trump’s decision to ban transgender people from the U.S. military as a “setback.” Encalada, a medical student who visited California and Las Vegas in 2015, also criticized Trump over a host of other issues that include his stance towards North Korea and climate change.

“He makes us laugh,” Encalada told the Blade as he drank a glass fruit juice. “[Trump] would clearly not make me laugh if I were . . . standing in the shoes of a trans person in the U.S.”

Fundación Iguales President Juan Enrique Pi also noted Trump’s decision to ban trans people from the U.S. military when he spoke with the Blade on Oct. 4 at his office in the Bellavista neighborhood of the Chilean capital of Santiago, which is roughly 70 miles southeast of Valparaíso at the base of the Andes mountains.

“What Donald Trump did with trans people in the U.S. Army is a tremendous blow to trans identity, not only in the United States,” said Pi.

“The world that Donald Trump proposes is a world that is different than what any human rights defender wants,” he added. “It is therefore a world with more discrimination, with more exclusion, with more prejudice.”

Rolando Jiménez, president of the Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation, largely echoed Pi when he spoke with the Blade on Oct. 2 at his organization’s offices that are located near Santiago’s O’Higgins Park.

“Trump’s election is a tragedy,” said Jiménez.

Jiménez spoke with the Blade less than 24 hours after a gunman who was in a 32nd floor suite at the Mandalay Bay casino hotel in Las Vegas killed 58 people and injured nearly 500 others during a country music festival.

Rolando Jiménez, president of the Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation, a Chilean LGBT advocacy group, in his office in Santiago, Chile, on Oct. 2, 2017. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet and Argentine President Mauricio Macri are among the Latin American leaders who condemned the massacre. Chileans with whom the Blade spoke in the days after the mass shooting asked about the prevalence of guns in the U.S. and what American politicians have done to reduce it.

Trump immigration policy sparks concern in Central America

Activists with whom the Blade spoke also criticized Trump over his administration’s immigration policy.

Andrea Ayala, executive director of Espacio de Mujeres Lesbianas por la Diversidad, an LGBTI advocacy group in El Salvador that is known by the acronym ESMULES, sat down with the Blade on Sept. 25 at a coffee shop in the upscale San Benito neighborhood of the Salvadoran capital of San Salvador. The interview took place less than a month after the Trump administration announced it will end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which has allowed roughly 800,000 young undocumented immigrants to remain in the U.S. and obtain work permits.

Ayala pointed out to the Blade that young undocumented immigrants from El Salvador account for the third highest percentage of DACA beneficiaries. She also highlighted the case of a legally married gay Salvadoran couple who were raising a young child in Bedford, Va., before the U.S. deported them, even though they are both DACA recipients.

“They came to a country that is not prepared to handle two dads with kids,” Ayala told the Blade, noting one of the men left El Salvador when he was a baby and neither of them speaks Spanish.

Pedro Santos, the gay nephew of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos who lives part-time in Brooklyn, N.Y., also discussed DACA when he spoke with the Blade on Sept. 28 at a coffee shop in the Chapinero neighborhood of the Colombian capital of Bogotá.

He said he has undocumented friends who have lived in the U.S. “for their whole lives” and some of their relatives have been deported. Pedro Santos also criticized Trump over his response to the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., in August that left Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old paralegal, dead.

“The precedent that he’s setting is I’m white so I have the power to mock you and I have the power, like I own you basically,” said Pedro Santos. “All of this is just letting white people know it’s okay to be racist, which is not and this is setting a horrible precedent for the U.S.”

Karla Avelar, director of Comunicando y Capacitando a Mujeres Trans, a Salvadoran trans advocacy group known by the acronym COMCAVIS, told the Blade on Sept. 22 during an interview at her office in San Salvador’s Flor Blanca neighborhood that her organization does not work with any “known” DACA recipients.

El Salvador and neighboring Honduras are among the countries that are included in the Temporary Protected Status program, which allows people from countries that have suffered war and/or national disaster over the last two decades to receive temporary residency permits in the U.S.

Avelar said COMCAVIS has worked with LGBT Salvadorans who have received TPS. She told the Blade that many of them are concerned the Trump administration will end the program.

“We are aware of people who have expressed concern,” said Avelar.

Karla Avelar, gay news, Washington Blade

Karla Avelar is director of Comunicado y Capacitando a Mujeres Trans (COMCAVIS), a transgender advocacy in El Salvador. (Photo courtesy of Karla Avelar)

El Salvador and Honduras are among the most violent countries in the world. Rampant violence and discrimination from street gangs, the police and even family members based on sexual orientation and gender identity has prompted many LGBTI people from El Salvador, Honduras and neighboring Guatemala to flee their respective countries and migrate to Mexico and the U.S.

An executive order that Trump signed on Jan. 25 spurred construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border in order to curtail the number of undocumented immigrants who enter the U.S. sparked widespread outrage among advocates in Central America. The White House’s decision to reinstate trade and travel restrictions with Cuba and the Trump administration’s response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico have also been sources of criticism throughout the region.

“Since Donald Trump took office he has slowly started to dismantle the system of protections and access to human rights of LGBT people, among other targeted minorities,” Mariano Ruiz, a member of the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia board of directors, told the Blade on Tuesday from Buenos Aires.

The U.S. ‘has become irrelevant to people’

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions in July met with his Salvadoran counterpart, Douglas Menéndez, in San Salvador.

The meeting coincided with the arrest of more than 700 gang members who are affiliated with MS-13 and other gangs. The Justice Department announced while Sessions was in El Salvador that a member of MS-13’s Peajes Locos Salvatruchas Clique who allegedly killed three LGBT people in the country earlier this year was in U.S. custody.

Andrea and Isabel, two transgender women who are from San Luis Talpa, El Salvador, eat lunch at a restaurant in San Salvador, El Salvador, on Sept. 23, 2017. They asked the Washington Blade not to use their real names and hide their identity because of anti-trans violence in their hometown. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Vice President Pence in August traveled to Panama, Colombia, Argentina and Chile.

Luis Larraín, a gay candidate for the Chilean Congress who is the former executive director of Fundación Iguales, is among those who protested Pence outside his Santiago hotel. Larraín, who traveled to the U.S. earlier this year as a participant in the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program, told the Blade on Oct. 1 during an interview at his apartment that it was “important” to do so.

“It is important that the U.S. government takes note that the rest of the world — the majority of countries — are not happy with its impact,” he said.

Luis Larraín, a gay Chilean congressional candidate, protests Vice President Pence during his visit to Santiago, Chile, in August. (Photo courtesy of Luis Larraín)

An Uber driver in Panama City with whom the Blade spoke on Sept. 26 said thinking about Trump “gives me a headache.” Iván Chanis Barahona, a gay Panamanian lawyer who is part of the campaign to advance marriage rights for same-sex couples, said during an interview at a Panama City coffee shop a few hours later that Panamanians are “so disenchanted by what’s happening in the United States that they have stopped paying attention.”

“The U.S. has become irrelevant to people,” he told the Blade.

A mural outside a subway station in Panama City criticizes the U.S. over its ouster of Gen. Manuel Noriega in 1989. Panamanians with whom the Washington Blade spoke last month were either critical of President Trump or ambivalent towards his administration. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Ruiz said Trump is “doing what he promised, although up to now it didn’t have a direct impact on U.S. foreign policy” in Latin America or the Caribbean.

“We cannot assure this will not happen sooner or later,” added Ruiz. “This is a time in the world when all civil society needs to be together to repel, fight back and stand strong together towards fascists and right-wing governments that are taking power in many countries in the world.”

Rosalba Karina Crisóstomo, a lesbian activist in the Dominican Republic who is executive director of Comunidad de Lesbianas Inclusivas Dominicanas, a local advocacy group, sought to make a broader point.

“A state that guarantees the respect of human rights for all people is worthy of a noble ruler and loved by the majority,” she told the Blade on Tuesday.

U.S. embassies maintain relationships with activists

Activists in Honduras and Chile with whom the Blade spoke said they continue to receive support from U.S. embassies in their respective countries in spite of the Trump administration’s positions on LGBT-specific issues.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Randy Berry remains in place as the special U.S. envoy for the human rights of LGBTI persons. Embassies and consulates in June received guidance from the State Department that allowed them to recognize Pride month.

Hundreds of LGBTI advocates and elected officials from around Latin America earlier this year attended a conference in the Dominican capital of Santo Domingo the Gay and Lesbian Victory Institute co-organized with Diversidad Dominicana, a Dominican advocacy group, and Caribe Afirmativo, an LGBT organization that works throughout northern Colombia. Fundación Iguales and the Human Rights Campaign in August announced they plan to launch a Chilean version of the HRC Corporate Equality Index.

“The American government is one thing,” Jiménez told the Blade. “The American people is another thing.”

Herman Duarte, a lawyer who founded Fundación Igualitos, a group that advocates for marriage rights for same-sex couples in Latin America, echoed Jiménez and others who remain highly critical of Trump. Duarte told the Blade he nevertheless remains optimistic about the future of the U.S.

“I have faith that things will get better,” he said.

Ernesto Valle in San Salvador, El Salvador, and Nicolás Levy in Santiago, Chile, contributed to this article.

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

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