May 26, 2018 at 12:00 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Cuban authorities not ‘directly’ targeting LGBTI asylum seeker’s partner

Jansel Moreno, right, with his partner, Victor Manuel Dueñas. Dueñas in January flew to Amsterdam with his cousin, Onasis Torres, and asked the Dutch government for asylum. (Photo courtesy of Victor Manuel Dueñas)

SANTA CLARA, Cuba — The partner of a Cuban LGBTI activist who is seeking asylum in the Netherlands says authorities on the Communist island have not “directly” targeted him.

Jansel Moreno spoke with the Washington Blade on May 15 in Santa Clara, a city in Villa Clara Province that is roughly 170 miles southeast of Havana.

Moreno’s partner, Victor Manuel Dueñas, founded an LGBTI community center in Santo Domingo, a town that is outside of Santa Clara. Dueñas and his cousin, Onasis Torres, are also affiliated with the Babel Sociocultural Project, a Cuban LGBTI advocacy group, and are among the activists who launched “Nosotros También Amamos,” a campaign in support of marriage rights for same-sex couples on the island.

Moreno told the Blade that Dueñas and Torres were receiving “threats from the state” after the Babel Sociocultural Project late last year began to publicly question the police’s mistreatment of LGBTI people in the city of Cárdenas.

Moreno and his mother were with Dueñas and Torres at Havana’s José Martí International Airport on Jan. 27 before they boarded a flight to Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport where they asked for asylum on grounds that they face persecution in Cuba based on their sexual orientation. Moreno told the Blade it was “very emotional.”

“He kissed me, I kissed him,” he said. “It was very tough.”

Dueñas met with U.S. activists in Havana in 2017

Dueñas and Torres worked independently of Mariela Castro, the daughter of former Cuban President Raúl Castro who spearheads LGBTI-specific issues as director of the country’s National Center for Sexual Education (CENESEX). Dueñas is among the Cuban LGBTI activists who met with Gender Rights Maryland Executive Director Dana Beyer, Equality Florida CEO Nadine Smith and other American advocates at the U.S. Embassy in Havana last May.

Mariela Castro on May 4 told reporters during a Havana press conference that CENESEX plans to submit proposals to Cuba’s National Assembly that would extend marriage and other rights to LGBTI Cubans. CENESEX this month also held marches and other events in Havana and in the city of Pinar del Río that commemorated the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia.

Supporters of Mariela Castro and CENESEX point out Cuba since 2008 has offered free sex-reassignment surgeries under its national health care system, even though less than 50 people have been able to obtain the procedure. A Havana woman who is raising her late daughter’s three young children with her same-sex partner last October received custody of them.

Moreno told the Blade it is difficult for LGBTI Cubans to prove they face persecution based on their sexual orientation.

Dueñas and Torres are currently living with other asylum seekers in the Dutch city of Utrecht.

Moreno remains optimistic the Dutch government will grant Dueñas asylum, but the prospects for Torres and other LGBTI Cubans remain in doubt.

Dueñas has previously told the Blade that more than 200 LGBTI Cubans are currently seeking asylum in the Netherlands.

Dutch government urged to accept Cubans’ asylum request

Dueñas on Thursday told the Blade from the Netherlands that Dutch Secretary of State Mark Harbers has said he will not accept the Cubans’ asylum requests, even though they have held protests and press conferences outside the country’s Parliament in The Hague. COC Nederlands, a Dutch LGBTI advocacy group, and LGBT Asylum Support are working with the Cubans.

“To reject asylum request from hundreds of Cuban LGBTI without thorough investigations into the situation in Cuba is unacceptable,” said COC Nederlands Chair Tanja Ineke in a May 9 statement.

Dueñas said his lawyer has told him that Dutch authorities have until July 30 to make a decision in his case. He also provided handwritten documents to the Blade that indicate Cuban authorities have charged him and Torres with “treason” and “treason against the homeland.”

Dueñas said he and Torres face up to eight years in prison if they return to Cuba.

“That’s why I’m really screwed,” said Dueñas.

Dueñas told the Blade that Cuban authorities detained a woman was deported from the Netherlands on May 19. He also said LGBTI Cubans — including Nelson Gandulla, founder of the Cuban Foundation for LGBTI Rights — are now seeking asylum in Spain, Serbia and other European countries.

A spokesperson for the Dutch Ministry of Justice and Security on Friday declined to comment on Dueñas and Torres’ cases, but did provide statistics that indicate they are among the 155 Cubans who asked for asylum in the Netherlands in January. A spokesperson for the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs has yet to respond to the Blade’s request for comment.

Dueñas: ‘I am truly afraid’

Moreno still lives in Dueñas’ family home and he speaks with him through email or WhatsApp, even though access to the Internet in Cuba remains somewhat difficult and expensive. Moreno did not specifically tell the Blade whether he wants to join Dueñas in the Netherlands if he were to receive asylum.

“Right now I feel really sorry,” said Moreno.

Dueñas told the Blade the uncertainly over his case “and above all else whether he will be able to see Jancel, my mom or my nearly 80-year-old grandmother one day” is also taking its toll.

“I am truly afraid,” said Dueñas. “With Holland I am not sure.”

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)

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

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