January 28, 2018 at 5:08 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
LGBT Cubans seek asylum in the Netherlands

Victor Manuel Dueñas, a Cuban LGBT rights advocate, gives a presentation at the Centro Comunitario de Cultura, an LGBT community center in Santo Domingo, Cuba, on May 16, 2017. Dueñas and his cousin on Jan. 28, 2018, asked for asylum in the Netherlands. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Two Cuban LGBT activists on Sunday asked for asylum in the Netherlands.

Victor Manuel Dueñas, who founded an LGBT community center in the Cuban town of Santo Domingo, and his cousin, bought roundtrip tickets to Moscow from Havana’s José Martí International Airport with a layover at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport.

Dueñas and his cousin left Havana on Saturday night and arrived in Amsterdam the next day. Dueñas posted a short video to his Facebook page before he and his cousin formally asked for asylum.

“A group of Cubans have come here,” he said.

Dueñas works independently of Mariela Castro, the daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro who spearheads LGBT-specific issues on the island as the director of the National Center for Sexual Education.

Dueñas is among the activists who launched “Nosotros También Amamos” — a campaign in support of marriage rights for same-sex couples in Cuba — in 2015. Dueñas is also affiliated with the Babel Sociocultural Project, a group that advocates on behalf of LGBT Cubans and other disadvantaged groups.

Hurricane Irma last September damaged Dueñas’ community center.

Dueñas on Sunday told the Washington Blade during a WhatsApp interview from Schiphol Airport that Cuban authorities began to target him because of the Babel Sociocultural Project’s efforts to raise awareness of police mistreatment of LGBT people in the city of Cárdenas, which is roughly 100 miles east of Havana on the island’s northern coast. Dueñas also said the government “considered” the same-sex marriage campaign that he and other advocates launched “a big mistake.”

“It’s not about the project,” he told the Blade. “It’s about me.”

Dueñas said he and his cousin are currently with more than half a dozen other LGBT Cubans who flew from Havana to Amsterdam last week. They will remain at Schiphol Airport until Dutch authorities interview them and begin to process their asylum requests.

Adriana, a transgender woman from Havana, told the Blade on WhatsApp from Schiphol Airport that Cuban police harassed her and other trans women. She and another trans woman in Dueñas’ group with whom the Blade spoke said authorities prevent them and others from gathering in parks and other public places because they think they are sex workers.

“I feel very good here,” said Adriana.

Independent activists harassed, detained

Mariela Castro publicly supports marriage rights for same-sex couples.

She took a picture with Dueñas and his partner last May during an International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia march that she led in Havana. Mariela Castro’s supporters also note that Cuba provides free sex-reassignment surgeries through its national health care system.

Mariela Castro, gay news, Washington Blade

Mariela Castro, daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro, leads an LGBT march through Havana on May 13, 2017. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A Havana woman who is raising her late daughter’s three children with her same-sex partner last October received custody of them. Independent activists have nevertheless told the Blade that authorities harass and even detain them if they criticize Mariela Castro or her father’s government.

Maykel González and his partner, Carlos Alejandro Rodríguez, who are independent journalists and activists, were detained last September as they covered Irma preparations in the city of Sagua la Grande. Nelson Gandulla, president of the Cuban Foundation for LGBTI Rights, last May told the Blade that authorities prevented him from meeting with Gender Rights Maryland Executive Director Dana Beyer, Equality Florida CEO Nadine Smith and other American activists in Havana.

The Blade could not immediately confirm Dueñas’ claim that 2,500 LGBT Cubans have asked for asylum in the Netherlands. He said a Dutch diplomat was with him, his cousin and a group of six other LGBT Cubans at the airport in Havana on Saturday.

Dueñas told the Blade that only his cousin and he flew to Amsterdam. He said a Cuban intelligence agent came to his home earlier this month and said he knew he was “going to Holland with the faggots.”

“This was a threat,” said Dueñas.

Dueñas said he faces eight years in prison if he is deported back to Cuba. The Blade has reached out to the Cuban government for comment on this claim.

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

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