Carlos Sanchez, ILGA’s male representative for the Latin America and Carribean Region, reports on his recent trip to Cuba to participate in the Third Hemispheric Meeting Against the ALCA (Area of Free Commerce of America).

The ALCA is an initiative of the United States and of multinational companies that can seriously harm the weak economies of the region, worsening the reality that people live in the Latin American and Caribbean countries.

It was an excellent meeting: many ideas arose to resist that American strategy and to show that lesbians and gays also are affected by these agreements in various ways. It became obvious we need to have a much clearer and better-defined position regarding the economy in our region.

My intention to go to La Havana had an antecedent though: the vote of the Latin countries in the UN Commission on Human rights in the United Nations and the possibility of creating a lesbian and gay organization in Cuba.

Some time ago I already had a contact with lesbians in Cuba through a Spanish friend. In our mails, we could see their strong desire to get information and contact with other groups in South America.

I thought something needed to be done.

I also had taken contact with the Cuban embassy in Chile in June 2003. I wanted to understand why Cuba abstained when the UN Commission on Human Rights voted to delay the debate on the Brazilian resolution.

Those antecedents allowed me to elaborate a workplan in Cuba. All this allowed me to get support from the Political and Gender Commissions of the Communist Party of Chile, as much to make contacts as to suggest the best way to have the Cuban government consider our observations.

This is the result of my queries:
a)Regarding the vote in the United Nations.
- The Coordinator of the negotiations in the Commission of Human rights of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Cuban government said homosexuality is not sanctioned, nor punished in any way since 1994. Nothing is done to prevent lesbians and homosexuals to participate in the social and political life of the country. Therefore, the recognition of the rights of lesbians and gays is a question of principles; and, if no major impediment arises, Cuba will vote in favour of the Brazilian resolution. Otherwise, they would abstain; but in any case, they would not vote against the proposal of Brazil.

The difficulty they see in the proposal submitted by Brazil is a question of international conjuncture and opportunity. That is to say, in front of the North American aggression against Afghanistan and Iraq, they believe it is not very advisable to present a proposal that would open a new flank for attacking forces, leading to a greater isolation of the Arab countries. Arab countries see the Brazilian proposal as a initiative consistent with the US attempt to isolate them, and for that reason will shut themselves and not even want to debate it.

This seems to be the main preoccupation of the Cuban government regarding this debate. They think Brazil should choose another moment to present their proposal and believe it would be better postponing the debate until a better conjuncture.

I urged the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to explicitly express those explanations to the international lgbt community. Cuban officials said they are aware of that necessity and for that reason will possibly write up a declaration of principles and an explanation if they are themselves forced to abstain again. At the moment, they do know that it is necessary for them to do it, but have not yet decided how that shall be done.

b)The second subject is the possibility of creating an organization in Cuba. With respect to this, it is very difficult that Cuba changes its policy of not allowing the creation of new organizations in the short term.
- Those that already exist are connected with the local organizations “de base” (on the ground - Committees for the Defense of the Revolution). Cuba is constantly being threatened by the United States government. There have been several attempts at terrorist acts within its borders, promoted by the U.S. intelligence organisms. At the present time an open provocation on the part of the Bush government exists that maintains the country on permanent alert. That is why, I was told, the creation of new groups would distract their attention from this alert. Cuba’s priority since the 60ies has been the defense of the country.

- Nevertheless, there are a few civil organizations and state institutions that are working on sexuality and sexual minorities; and it is possible to establish a very direct relationship with them.

- Among those organisations: the National Center for Sexual Education, the Federation of Cuban Women, the Martin Luther King Center, the Center for Hiv/Aids Prevention and the Felix Varela Center. The two first ones are state institutions. The latter are a Protestant Church and two NGOs.

- We agreed to begin to work with a group of lesbians and gays in the National Center for Sexual Education. We talked about consolidating this work and its relationship with ILGALAC in the medium term.

This aims at persuading and convincing the administration and the politicians that lesbians and gays need a space of their own to generate cultural change regarding “machismo” and homophobia that are so deeply rooted on our continent.

Talking with the lesbian and gays there, we were able to see:
a)Neither institutional nor penal repression exists against lesbians and homosexuals.

b)There are no legal sanctions against lgbt people.

c)People are afraid of meeting and organizing themselves. It is mainly based on their experience in previous years, but one can assume that this feeling will disappear in the future if lesbians and gays start to work and keep working and eventually get support from the government. (The National Center for Sexual Education is offering this support).

d) “Transformismo” is well accepted by the majority of the Cuban population

e) There is indeed a change in the way people view homosexuality, but this does not mean the end of discrimination and homophobia. The population is just more tolerant with lesbians and homosexuals.

f)Lesbians and gays do not consider fighting for the right to marriage, because that institution in Cuba does not have the same value that it has in other countries. Unmarried and married people enjoy equal rights.

We were able to learn much and on very important matters as well. For instance,

Maternity and paternity are issues the National Center for Sexual Education is ready to work on. If lesbians or gays want to, they can access a program of assisted fertility...

The Federation of Women of Cuba, also offered a space to support the initiatives and concerns of lesbian women.

The Martin Luther King Center, which depends on the Baptist Church, develops a program for liberating sexual minorities and for the acceptance of sexual diversity.

Felix Varela Center gave us a very interesting video that tells of the process that sexual minorities have made in Cuba.

Sexual minorities seem to be living better times now in Cuba. In the medium term, even better than the rest of Latin America. There is much I could say on this, but time does not permit now.

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