Showing posts with label International-Cuba. Way of Life. Show all posts
Showing posts with label International-Cuba. Way of Life. Show all posts

June 27, 2014

How can you be a Socialist in Cuba and Gay?



                                                                          


It was very late at night the last time Isbel Diaz Torres and his boyfriend were stopped by Cuban police.

"They asked for our IDs, which is a rare procedure," Diaz recalls.

The policeman then dropped the men’s IDs on the floor.   
 Castro on Pride

" 'That's very funny for you, a very funny thing to do,' " Diaz, an LGBT activist, said to the policeman. " 'Because you want to humiliate me, that's right?' "

He took the policeman's information down and went to the station to report him.

"It wouldn't change anything, but it is my civic duty," the 38-year-old Diaz says.

There is a long history of homophobia on the island. "Sons of the bourgeois, they go around with their little pants that are too tight. ... They want to do their girlie scenes out in the open," is how former Cuban President Fidel Castro attacked the young opposition in a 1963 speech at the steps of the University of Havana.

During that time, gay people, along with other "counter-revolutionaries," were sent to forced labor camps.

Cuba's attitudes toward sexual orientation have changed a lot since then: There's been a recognition of LGBT rights, promoted in no small part by Castro's own niece, Mariela Castro. Fidel Castro himself has recently criticized the machismo culture of Cuba and urged for the acceptance of homosexuality.

Activists like Diaz acknowledge the importance of these changes, but say it's hardly enough. Diaz says it's happening mainly in Havana, the capital, where there are gay-friendly bars, for instance.

But Diaz says he wants to be more than just able to have a good time out in the open.

"We can socialize. We can be together and have fun together," he says. "But you cannot build political groups in those bars. You wouldn't be allowed."

Ultimately, Diaz wants concrete laws protecting the Cuban LGBT community.

"We recently have changes in the Communist Party where they included a clause claiming respect for people with different sexual orientation," he says. "But that is not enough, because most of the people here in Cuba are not part of the Communist Party. We need real laws."

The Young Cuban Who's Bringing Activism In Line With The Revolution
For example, if his boyfriend is in the hospital, Diaz wouldn't be able to visit him.

"Entrance to the hospital is limited to the familia, the close relatives," he says. "I wouldn't be allowed in ... even if we lived together for 13 years."

Attitudes toward the Cuban regime have traditionally been very polarized — split neatly between a right-leaning opposition and leftist supporters. But a new generation is changing that. Diaz represents a class of young socialists that is also highly critical of the government.

Diaz is a member of the group Observatorio Critico, or Critical Observatory, a network of collectives seeking a place in the Cuban political landscape. They have a blog, which they publish via email since Internet access is limited in Cuba. The activists aren't really able to see the final product, or the comments, but still like to have an online voice.

Staking a claim in cyberspace is difficult for these groups. Finding an actual physical meeting place is an even bigger challenge. Often, they meet in the park.

In fact, that's where we meet with Diaz; he says he doesn't feel safe bringing us to his house. But meeting in public to discuss discontent has its drawbacks — namely, unwelcome guests from the government listening in.

The Cuba Diaz envisions is one where everyone can be involved in the decision-making.

"We also are fighting for a country where all the differences can be shared," he says. "Racial differences or cultural differences or sexual differences can be, can live together, can find a space for themselves here."

It sounds utopian, but Diaz is OK with aiming high.

"Maybe centuries ago it was funny to talk about the eradication of slavery, and it happened," Diaz says. "I think utopia, that's what moves a lot of people and thinkers and people of action during the history of humankind. We don’t have to be afraid of that."

by JASMINE GARSD

June 24, 2014

Nothing Like a Homophobe’s kid Coming Out: Pride in Cuba

I want to tell you about an island 90 miles from the Florida keys. This is where gays were imprisoned and deported. Now the gay community there is found a friend in the Castro’s government. Nothing to change the mind of a homophobe who unconditionally loves their kids and is when one of them come out!!!!(Adam)

Mariela Castro during a state-sanctioned march against homophobia.

Against the backdrop of gay pride in the United States — where cities are bursting with revelers and colorful parades celebrating gay rights — it's not unusual to spot groups of same-sex couples kissing.
But this past weekend, in Havana, Cuba’s capital, 60 people marked gay pride weekend with a second annual “kiss-in" to protest the country's persisting homophobia and challenge the country's tight grip on dissent.Against the backdrop of gay pride in the United States — where cities are bursting with revelers and colorful parades celebrating gay rights — it’s not unusual to spot groups of same-sex couples kissing.
But this past weekend, in Havana, Cuba’s capital, 60 people marked gay pride weekend with a second annual "kiss-in" to protest the country's persisting homophobia and challenge the country's tight grip on dissent. In a socialist country where organizations must align with the state's official agenda, the kiss-in is a political provocation: "to appropriate the streets, to normalize the rights of every person to be themselves, [in] broad daylight, is a political challenge in our country," Afro-Cuban journalist, activist and independent blogger Yasmin Silvia Portales Machado said in an interview with OnCuba magazine.
 The kiss-in, which last took place in 2012, happened during the country's first-ever event celebrating gay pride, highlighting the struggles of Cuba's LGBTQ community for visibility.
 A history of homophobia
 Back in 1963, Cuba's now retired leader, Fidel Castro, used homophobia to lambast his opponents during a speech: "Sons of the bourgeois, they go around with their little pants that are too tight. ... They want to do their girlie scenes out in the open.”  In the 1960s and 1970s, openly gay people were sent to forced labor camps; the government used physical labor as a way to "cure" them of homosexuality.  But Castro, and indeed Cuba, have come a long way from those days. Today, Castro has called for the acceptance of the country’s LGBT community. 
"Long gone are the days when political dissidents, rockers and gay people got sent to labor camps," Portales Machado told Mic via e-mail. “Even Fidel Castro apologized for this shameful episode in 2010 to a foreign newspaper, obviously, as from inside Cuba, he was never wrong." Yet even in today’s Cuba, repression still takes place in its public spaces, and gay people still face harassment from police for showing affection in public. It's indicative of the island's social environment, which remains highly heterosexual, patriarchal and predominantly white. According to Portales Machado, "There is a sustained effort to minimize the visibility of the LGBT community in public spaces; and whenever it is possible, to minimize their needs." “This is a common practice regarding all the minorities in Cuba who are trying to claim rights, such as people of African descent, and religious, non-Christian groups." Fighting for equality without space for dissent .
The group of activists and bloggers that organized the kiss-in are part of an independent organization called Proyecto Arco Iris (Project Rainbow), the first of its kind in Cuba. But being independent of the state also means that the people behind the project also challenge the country's tight hold on freedom of expression — a risk that activists like Portales Machado are willing to take to end homophobia in the country — a fight that will take more than lip service from Castro to tackle.
 “All the time we hear from gay or trans teenagers kicked out of their homes, of people who cannot get promoted to higher job positions because their superiors repudiate their gender identities," said Portales Machado. Fidel Castro's niece, Mariela, leads the country's state-sanctioned LGBT rights organization, the Cuban National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX). However, it ultimately represents the interests of the state, rather than the community, according to Aro-Cuban journalist Sandra Abd’Allah-Alvarez Ramírez, who studies psychology and gender at the University of Havana, and has been writing on her own blog, Negra Cubana (Black Cuban) since 2006. 
"CENESEX represents Cuba, but its priorities are different than ours," Abd'Allah-Alvarez Ramírez told Micvia Skype. “We wanted to ask for equal marriage rights, for example, but that wasn't a possibility, as it involved changing the Cuban constitution." Even pointing out that inequalities like sexism, racism and homophobia exist — contradicting the official party's line — is controversial in today's Cuba. The members of Proyecto Arco Iris believe that the country’s revolutionary government should take what they view as a truly leftist stance — one that includes actively combating homophobia, sexism, and racism. 
Signs of change The work of Proyecto Arco Iris is only becoming more visible — and the second annual kiss-in, was not romantic, it was symbolic of an inevitable revolution for gay rights:
 “There is nothing romantic in challenging state policy when it comes to civil rights of Cuba's LGBT community, and its autonomy," Portales Machado said. But the online world is helping create more space for Cubans to call for social change — and make its burgeoning gay rights movement even more visible. “I believe that we created a turning point with our coordinated use of several electronic communications resources — telephones and mobile phones and Internet social media," Portales Machado told Global Voices. Fusion Net recently reported that in the past 10 years, the percentage of Cubans using the Internet has grown from about four percent to 25%. While most Internet content is blocked and filtered as "anti-revolutionary," independent sites such as Bloggers Cuba, Observatorio Critico and La Joven Cuba feature reform-minded bloggers. Some write in favor of the Communist party, others remain critical or think it needs to change, yet all offer their individual perspectives about today’s Cuba. 
As technology only becomes more available in Cuba, the organization has more chances of expanding its work and challenging the state's tendency to make the LGBT community invisible. Still, even some of the smaller parts of organizing are complicated by the country's government.
 "It's a political challenge to create electronic newsletters without permission from the National register of News Publications," Portales Machado told OnCuba. “It's a challenge to break with the information monopoly of state media and its logic, which considers the publications of any independent organization to be a threat to national unity." But Abd'Allah-Alvarez Ramírez says that censorship is a risk that she and other activists have to take in order to finally make headway on gay rights: "I'm not afraid [of censorship] because I don't consider it possible. I fear ignorance more.”
Carolina Drake's avatar image By Carolina Drake  
   

February 5, 2014

Gay Rights in Cuba, Marriage, Adoption Sex Change

In the crumbling suburbs of Havana, Jorge and Alfredo's apartment is a hidden paradise.
Behind the head-height chain link gate, latched with a twist of fencing wire, is the footpath that leads past their neighbour's front doors - all of them open, and spilling out Cuban music into the sultry evening air.
Alfredo has placed pot plants along the walk, the cool lush entrance a welcome contrast to the heat and humidity of Havana.
In their courtyard; a tiny rainforest, with ponds full of Japanese carp and turtles, aviaries of parrots and cockatiels, and a wandering peacock.
And dogs. Lots of dogs. Alfredo breeds bichon habeneros. "It's Cuba's native breed," he says.
For a long time, Alfredo was the president of the breeders' association.
"There was a lot of mixing with street dogs. We spent years bringing it back to pedigree," he says.
It's Alfredo's apartment in name. But he and Jorge - both in their early forties - have been together here for 18 years.
And, like all other gay couples in places where gay marriage is illegal, they face the same problems.
"If I died tomorrow, Jorge would have a difficult time," Alfredo says.
"He might be able to get the apartment because of how long he's lived here - but not because of our relationship."
There were some gay marriages in Cuba last year, but they're not recognised by the state.
What's surprising about Cuba is what is accepted - indeed, sanctioned - by Cuba's communist government.
Havana has a gay beach, for example. It has around eight or nine gay nightclubs - open every night, hiding nothing, with transgender shows most evenings.
In fact, the nightclubs have direct links to a Cuban government ministry which, among other things, helps to place transgender Cubans into the workplace.
But perhaps most surprising of all is that the department provides free sex change operations to Cubans who want them. Around five or six are performed every year.
Gia has been through the system.
When she walks into Jorge and Alfredo's courtyard, everyone else gathered looks horribly underdressed.
Gia says she knew since she was "an egg" that she was not the boy she was born as.
She is partway through the process of transforming herself into a woman. And she's showing it off to full effect.
ABC cameraman Dan starts taking photos. Gia pulls out her compact and adjusts her perfect makeup.
"I began buying oestrogen from the government pharmacies in 2006," she says.
Gia applied for gender reassignment surgery, and began the process of preparation: including psychological testing, and medication to prepare her body for the change.
But in the end, she didn't go through with it.
It's hard not to notice those very real-looking breasts - especially in that top she's wearing.
"These implants were brought in from overseas by a friend. Undercover," she says.
"I paid $500 for them, then $300 to a surgeon to put them in."
A surprisingly large investment, given that most Cubans earn less than $50 a month.

Gia a secret from family of rich businessman boyfriend

How did she pay for them? What's her job?
Jorge laughs out loud and answers for her: "She's a kept woman!"
Gia's benefactor is her boyfriend - a rich Cuban businessman. It was he who didn't want her to go through with the full operation.
"There are a lot of men who don't want a fully changed partner," she says.
"They want to have the experience with another kind of woman. If you have the full change, you're just another woman. Whereas I am more... multi-faceted," she laughs.
Gia's boyfriend has a wife and three children. And no, his family does not know about Gia.

Gay life 'more or less normal' but machismo culture still alive

While the government may have a liberal approach to things like gender reassignment surgery, this is still Latin America. And the machismo culture is still very much alive here.
"It's better than it was 50 years ago, when the revolution was new," Alfredo says.
'Back then, there was repression of gays. You could be thrown in jail for having long hair if they thought you were gay."
Dan notes that Che Guevera wasn't exactly sporting a buzz cut at the time.
"That was a long time ago," says Alfredo.
"It's changed a lot. I've seen older gay couples, in their fifties and sixties - even maybe two or three generations before ours - who could live a life that was more or less normal in Cuba."
Except when it comes to the police.
Even now, Alfredo says, if police stop you in the street and realise you're gay, a whole different attitude comes into play. Jorge agrees.
"If we go to the gay beach, police will ask for my ID card. That never happens anywhere else," he says.
"The government kiosks charge twice the amount for drinks as they do anywhere else in Cuba. They say they're doing it to 'take care of us', and 'keep the undesirables out'."
But even Gia says in the times she's been taken to the police station - for undisclosed reasons - she's never experienced aggression or mistreatment.

Adoption a 'foreign concept' in Cuba

So are they allowed to adopt? The short answer is - no.
"But there is very little adoption in Cuba anyway," Alfredo says.
"The whole concept of an abandoned child is a really foreign concept to Cuban culture. Children born out of wedlock are invited into the family.
"I would have loved to have my own children - but Jorge doesn't."
Jorge agrees with a laugh: "I'm a pig!"
"And it's really expensive to raise kids in Cuba. Even something like milk is not always available," he adds.
All three say they live a normal life. But even with the government's relatively liberal approach, they say things haven't advanced very much.
Nor do they think they will.
"The conditions aren't yet created for something like gay marriage to happen," Alfredo says.
"The most important thing in Cuba is politics. Any other discussion is secondary.

September 11, 2013

A Cuban’s View on How to Change the World


author photo
Veronica Vega: For years I had a hard time deciding between writing, painting or dancing. It was writing that proved to make the most sense financially in the short term. I live in Alamar, an aborted project for a city that only breathes from what’s left of nature, from the alternative cultural scene, and above all, from the infinite will of the human soul. I’m not a journalist. Writing in HT has been an opportunity to say what I believe can be improved in Cuba.
Illustration by Yasser Castellanos
Veronica Vega
HAVANA TIMES — I don’t generally like to say that I believe in “God”, because the concept has too often been abused.
I also don’t like telling people to “stay positive” – not only because the expression has become a cliché, but also because I’ve had to go through some rather rough patches myself, and I don’t take people’s problems lightly.
Once, a girl told me that, whenever she felt depressed, she would think about me and draw strength from me. I was of course surprised by this confession, but it also made me aware of the fact that many of the things we consider insignificant can be a real gift to others.
From my mother, I learned that poverty can encourage creative thought. My mother could have been an exceptional sculptor, but she dropped out of school to raise her daughters. When I was eleven, I had a dress all the other girls envied me for. My mother had painted a picture of Snow White and the seven dwarfs on it, copying it from a story book. So that the painting wouldn’t wash off, she had coated it with wood varnish.
It was the 1970s, and no one in Cuba had the kind of clothes you see now, with printed pictures of Disney characters and the like.
Some years later, when she didn’t have enough fabric to sow something with, she gathered up some strips of fabric thrown out by a textile factory and made me another dress. The strips of fabric had stripes of different colors on them. My mother came up with a design that, in order to notice the garment was made out of fabrics with different patterns on them, you really had to look closely.
In the course of time, I’ve had to be as inventive as my mother to overcome serious problems in terms of dress and footwear. I’ve put my craft skills to the test on many different surfaces, weaving solutions that could well be an investment in my future.
Whenever I enter a home that exudes poverty, I think that, with a little bit of imagination, I could decorate its furniture and walls subtly, making the place not only habitable but also magical. The first impression one gets from an object (as one does from plants) is whether or not they are being taken care of. Everything that exists outside of us is shaped by and sustained by the work of thought.
One of the ways of making a small or dimly-lit room look larger is hanging up mirrors on its walls. Mirrors, however, are expensive. Light-colored walls also help in this regard. But, what is one to do when one can’t even afford to buy paint?
More than once, to feel I was breaking free from the limitations of physical space and monotony, I would post up photographs showing large expanses of sky on my walls. I posted collages on my closet doors and I felt the space of my room grow larger.
Then, I had the idea of painting the rusted-up cage of an old fan with a gold-colored powder dissolved in craft glue. Over the rough, gunk-covered blades, I glued images that create swirls of colors when they turn.
I had to fill the bathroom door, eaten up by termites, with paper. The small, daily tragedies caused by this plague have made me react as children do: freely, as though playing a game. I fitted it with a knob and replaced the door handle with a tiny window that lets in a blue light.
I made a medicine cabinet out of a cardboard box, a pencil case with a Nestle ice-cream cup, decorated with a veritable, miniature art gallery made out of almanac cut-outs. These crafty inventions draw our gaze in and transport us far from tedium and frustration, often transformed into objective hurdles by our minds.
I am terrified by the lack of imagination I see all around me, even in the homes of more prosperous people, by the pieces of furniture that repeat themselves, as though churned out by the same factory, by the cold, impersonal metal shelves everywhere.
Framed, impersonal pictures bought at dollar stores, objects without identity, paraphernalia dressed up in the latest fashion, meant to signal one’s ascent up the social ladder, these things empty out the souls of children and teenagers, who grow up disoriented, seeking out acceptance, a shelter from insecurity, in gadgets and brand products.
The humbleness socialism taught us was false, but humbleness in itself is a force to be reckoned with, forcing us to search, to find, to value what we have.
Excess makes us less perceptive. As Einstein said, crises are the mother of inventions, discoveries and great strategies.
The question is how to revert the process, how to awaken, in a mind that has become resentful because of disappointment and shortages, not only confidence, but also the ability to create.
The crafts Art Attack, a television program enjoyed by many Cuban children (and adults), teaches audiences to make often require materials that aren’t available to the average Cuban.
I am not saying the solutions we find in Cuba ought to be implemented elsewhere (our reality is quite peculiar).
Thanks to the experiences I had next to my husband (a painter), when he decorated public spaces with graffiti, I know that people appreciate and look after the fruits of such artistic initiatives. People go as far as asking whether the artwork will last, if there are ways of protecting it.
One of my dreams is to paint the more frequented passages in my neighborhood, Alamar. I am referring to the passages that cut across buildings, which occasionally provide lovers with shelter from the rain.
I would want to see the walls of these covered with graffiti, with texts that make passersbys reflect on what it means to move, to change places.
I don’t like hammering an idea into people’s heads, telling them they ought to remain positive, because all formulas become hackneyed and hollow with time.
I’ve had to postpone fulfilling this dream because of basic logistic issues. This does not keep me from seeing that many things that are unappealing to us can be changed, re-signified.
It’s not a question of ceasing to look for a true and lasting solution further down the road. It’s a question of experiencing the happiness of acting freely, of transforming one’s surroundings, and doing it now, without waiting for payment, a loan, a miracle.
It is about the happiness of discovering that this material world is much more malleable, much less resistant to change, than we had imagined.
http://www.havanatimes.org/

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