HAVANA, Dec 2 (IPS) – Gay rights advocates in Cuba received an unprecedented response from Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, in a meeting held at the ministry itself, after they complained about this country’s support in the United Nations for an amendment seen as a step backwards from the government’s position against discrimination based on sexual orientation.
"A summary of the conversation will be on my blog in a few hours," journalist and gay activist Francisco Rodri¬guez Cruz told IPS shortly after emerging from Wednesday’s meeting, which was also attended by Cuban Deputy Foreign Minister Abelardo Moreno.
The reporter, who is better known by the name of his blog, "Paquito el de Cuba", said the meeting "was as unexpected as it was useful and beneficial.
"All of the people taking part in the meeting learned something from it," said the blogger, a member of Cuba’s ruling Communist Party. He is one of the protagonists of what could, without exaggeration, be described as a historic moment: the first formal meeting between a Cuban foreign minister and representatives of this country’s gay community, which has only recently begun to openly organise.
Other participants in the meeting with the foreign minister were Dr. Alberto Roque, head of the sexual diversity unit in the Cuban Multidisciplinary Society for the Study of Sexuality (SOCUMES) and coordinator of Hombres por la Diversidad (Men for Diversity), a group that advocates the right to free sexual identity, and Ada Alfonso and Mayra Rodríguez, assistant directors of the government’s National Centre for Sex Education (CENESEX).
SOCUMES and CENESEX were the first to express their concern over the Cuban delegation’s vote on Nov. 16 in the U.N. General Assembly’s Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Affairs Committee, known as the "Third Committee".
That day, the Committee passed an amendment introduced by Morocco and Mali on behalf of African and Islamic nations that removed the explicit mention of sexual orientation from a General Assembly resolution on extrajudicial, arbitrary or summary executions.
The motion, which triggered controversy in on-line publications and blogs and prompted Rodríguez Cruz to send an open letter to the foreign minister, called for replacing the words "sexual orientation" with "discriminatory reasons on any basis."
Cuba was the only Latin American country among the 79 that voted in favour of the amendment. Most of the countries in the region, including important allies like Venezuela, were among the 70 nations that voted against the motion, while the delegates of two Latin American countries, Nicaragua and Bolivia, were not present during the vote.
Seventeen countries in other regions abstained from voting.
According to the recent blog post on "Paquito el de Cuba", in the two-hour "chat" with the foreign minister and his deputy, "both officials spoke at length about the complexities of U.N. voting mechanisms" and "the inevitable confrontations and alliances between blocs of countries."
Besides describing "the political manipulations by powerful states against underdeveloped nations" in scenarios like the annual U.N. General Assembly sessions, the officials "listened receptively and with great interest to our arguments, concerns and suggestions."
According to Rodríguez Cruz, the minister said during the conversation that "there has been no shift in policy" with respect to Cuba’s opposition to any form of discrimination or its promotion of respect for free sexual orientation and gender identity.
The controversial vote in question was the result of "an unforeseen and very specific circumstance," said Minister Rodríguez, as reported by the blogger.
The vote cast by the Cuban delegation was, moreover, explained at the time to the Committee, the minister said. The text of the Cuban government’s explanation, which was delivered to the representatives of CENESEX and the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans community), was not reported by the journalists stationed at the U.N. or by the local press in Cuba.
In the document, the Cuban delegation clarifies that this Caribbean island nation is "against any kind of discrimination, for whatever reason, whether race, skin colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, economic status, birth or any other social condition.
"Cuba voted in favour of the amendment proposed by the group of African nations because it considers it to be sufficiently broad and encompassing. It refers to all executions committed on the basis of any kind of discrimination, which in Cuba’s view also includes killings committed on grounds of sexual orientation," the text adds.
During the meeting in the Foreign Ministry, it was announced that "within the next few days, Cuba’s mission at the U.N. will issue an additional statement with respect to this question."
Furthermore, Minister Rodríguez "confirmed that the Foreign Ministry will maintain, from here on out, a stance consistent with the government’s positions on the question of non-discrimination and respect for sexual diversity."
In what was clearly a response to the offer to "political decision-makers" by CENESEX and SOCUMES of the tools needed to continue including the right to sexual diversity among human rights, the Foreign Ministry offered "to work more closely together with CENESEX and LGBT groups."
"I never thought the minister would respond to me, and much less in person," said Rodríguez Cruz.