May 14, 2019 at 10:14 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Cleve Jones ‘dismayed’ by arrests at LGBTI march in Havana
Cleve Jones on May 14, 2019, said he is “dismayed” by the arrests that took place at an unsanctioned LGBTI march in Havana over the weekend. The National Center for Sexual Education, an organization directed by the daughter of former Cuban President Raúl Castro, honored Jones during its International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia commemorations. (Photo by Gil Goldstein via Wikimedia Commons)

Cleve Jones on Tuesday said he is “dismayed” by the arrest of several people during an unsanctioned LGBTI march that took place in Havana over the weekend.

Jones, who is based in San Francisco, and Rainbow World Fund Executive Director Jeff Cotter in a statement said they “are saddened by the” Cuban government’s decision to cancel two International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia marches that were scheduled to take place in Havana and the city of Camagüey “due to pressure from anti-LGBTQ fundamentalist Christians who oppose the significant advancements that LGBTQ people have made in Cuban society.”

“Secondly, we are dismayed by the government’s attempt to shut down an alternative conga organized by independent LGBTQ activists and the arrests of some participants of that event,” added Jones and Cotter.

Jones was to have been the grand marshal of the Havana IDAHOBiT parade organized by the National Center for Sexual Education, an organization within the Cuban Ministry of Public Health that Mariela Castro, the daughter of former Cuban President Raúl Castro, directs.

Evangelical church groups publicly opposed efforts to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples through Cuba’s new constitution that passed overwhelmingly in a Feb. 24 referendum. CENESEX in it’s May 6 statement that announced the parades’ cancellations did not mention the evangelical church groups or “anti-LGBTQ fundamentalist Christians.”

CENESEX on May 10 honored Jones during a gala at Havana’s Karl Marx Theater. Jones also spoke at a CENESEX-organized party that began at the same time as the unsanctioned march.

Independent Cuban journalists and others who attended the march uploaded videos to social media that show plainclothes police officers manhandling participants before they were taken into custody.

Juana Mora Cedeño, an independent LGBTI activist who met with then-President Obama in Havana in 2016, is among those who were detained in order to prevent them from attending the march. Maykel González Vivero, publisher of Tremenda Nota, the Washington Blade’s media partner in Cuba, reported Isbel Díaz Torres and his partner were among the other independent activists whose whereabouts were unknown for several hours after authorities detained them.

Jones and Cotter in their statement said they “met with the leadership of CENESEX” and “communicated our concerns directly” over the cancelled IDAHOBiT marches, the arrests at the unsanctioned march and the Cuban government’s decision to prevent this reporter from entering the country on March 8. The statement does not specify whether Jones and Cotter met with Mariela Castro or CENESEX Deputy Director Manuel Vázquez Seijido.

“While we cannot confirm this, we have been assured that the detained LGBTQ activists have been released and will not receive severe punishment,” said Jones and Cotter.

The Human Rights Campaign and former U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), who was born in Havana, are among those who have criticized the Cuban government over the arrests at the unauthorized march. Mariela Castro continues to insist without proof that opponents of the Cuban government in Miami and elsewhere organized the event.

“The government claims that both the religious fundamentalists and the independent LGBTQ activists are being exploited by forces who oppose the regime for economic and political reasons,” said Jones and Cotter in their statement.

“It has been a complicated and difficult week but we are all grateful for the positive interactions we have experienced with the Cuban people and to witness their continued progress on LGBTQ issues,” they added.

The statement ends with Jones and Cotter saying, “none of these events alter our position that the U.S. blockade is a cynical and cruel imposition of great suffering upon all the people of Cuba that must end.”

The Blade has reached out to Jones and Cotter for further comment.

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

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