March 21, 2019 at 8:18 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Prominent US activist denied entry to Cuba
Cuba photos, gay news, Washington Blade
A rainbow flag tied to the fence outside of Cuba Libro, a privately-owned coffee shop in Havana’s Vedado neighborhood, on March 1, 2019. Michael Petrelis, a prominent LGBTI rights activist from San Francisco, says the Cuban government has prohibited him from entering the country. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

A prominent LGBTI activist from San Francisco claims the Cuban government has prohibited him from entering the country.

Michael Petrelis on Wednesday wrote on his Facebook page that an Interjet airlines ticket agent at Cancún International Airport in Mexico told him as he tried to check into his flight to Havana that Cuban authorities “had denied me entry into the country.” Petrelis said the agent wrote the message he received on his computer screen onto a piece of paper.

“We cannot allow him to travel to Havana because of migratory questions,” reads the handwritten message in Spanish, which Petrelis posted to his Facebook page. “He will not be allowed to enter the country.”

Petrelis has traveled to Cuba three times, with his most recent trip in January.

Petrelis told the Washington Blade in a series of exclusive interviews during and after his latest trip that a Cuban immigration official interrogated him upon his arrival at Havana’s José Martí International Airport on Jan. 2. Petrelis said the agent had printouts of the Facebook posts he wrote about his trip before he left San Francisco and asked him about the 10,000 rainbow stickers and 1,200 Pride bracelets in his luggage that he planned to distribute across Cuba.

Petrelis said an agent with the Cuban Interior Ministry the following day came to the private home in which he was staying and again asked about the stickers and bracelets he brought into the country. Petrelis told the Blade the agent then summoned him to a meeting.

Petrelis said officials at what he described as ministry barracks interrogated him for two hours and told him not to attend any protests, including the “human rainbow” at the Cuban Capitol that he had previously proposed. Petrelis said the agents directed him to bring his stickers and bracelets to the National Center for Sexual Education, an organization directed by Mariela Castro, the daughter of former Cuban President Raúl Castro who spearheads LGBTI issues in Cuba.

Petrelis told the Blade that officials again interrogated him at José Martí International Airport before they allowed him to board his flight out of the country.

“I’m disappointed I won’t see my friends, experience more fabulous times and share my suitcases full of rainbows,” wrote Petrelis in his Wednesday Facebook post. “To my Cuban friends I say, my love and respect for you is not diminished because of your government’s decision to deny me entry.”

LGBTI activists who work independently of Mariela Castro and her organization have sharply criticized the decision to deny Petrelis entry to Cuba. Tremenda Nota, the Blade’s media partner in Cuba, has sought comment from Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parilla.

Petrelis tried to enter Cuba less than a month after voters overwhelmingly approved the country’s new constitution that activists had hoped would have extended marriage rights to same-sex couples. The Cuban government on the eve of the Feb. 24 referendum blocked access to the websites of Tremenda Nota and other independent media outlets on the Communist island.

Editor’s note: The Blade will update this story with additional reporting from Tremenda Nota when it becomes available.

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

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