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LGBT Conference in Cuba Surrounded by Expectations and Controversy

ILGALAC_Cuba

Expectations are looming over the Sixth Regional Conference of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association for Latin America and the Caribbean (ILGALAC) (@ilgalac [es]), which will take place in Cuba from May 6 to 10, 2014.

The event is being organized by the state-run National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX) [es], which has worked for years in the field of sexual and reproductive rights for the Cuban people, where activist networks are beginning to emerge. The choice of the Caribbean island as the site of the event has been met with both praise and criticism.

In an interview with blogger Paquito el de Cuba [es], Gloria Careaga, Co-Secretary General of ILGA, states:

Cuba había manifestado interés en realizar la Conferencia de ILGA desde el 2006. Si bien en las Conferencias Regionales no había habido una clara manifestación recientemente, se consideró retomar la propuesta manifiesta. Cuba está mostrando pasos claros hacia la protección de los derechos LGBTI y creo que es importante conocer al detalle el trabajo que allá se está haciendo.

Cuba has shown interest in hosting the ILGA Conference since 2006. Although there had not been a clear manifestation in the Regional Conferences recently, the proposal was taken into consideration. Cuba is showing clear progress towards the protection of LGBTI rights and I believe that it is important to have a detailed understanding of the work that is being done there.

Activist and journalist Maykel González Vibero, member of the independent anti-capitalist project Arcoiris [es], recently said:

Aprecio que ILGALAC haya optado por mi país, y cuento con que Cuba, además de exhibir sus discretos adelantos, esté dispuesta a sopesar las estrategias más avezadas que también expondrá la conferencia.

I appreciate the fact that ILGALAC has chosen my country, and I count on Cuba to not only display its modest progress, but also to consider the more advanced strategies that the conference will present.

In an interview [es] with CENESEX, Pedro Paradiso Sottile, Regional Secretary of ILGALAC, acknowledges:

La realización de la Conferencia en Cuba es un hecho histórico y sin dudas fortalecerá el proceso que están desarrollando para la promoción y protección de los derechos LGBTI en el país, como en toda la región.

The Conference taking place in Cuba is a historic event and, without a doubt, will reinforce the process of promotion and protection of LGBTI rights in the country, as in the entire region.

He continues:

Además, para nuestra organización, el Caribe es una prioridad, donde debemos aunar nuestros mayores esfuerzos para luchar contra la discriminación por orientación sexual e identidad de género y sus expresiones, ya que es una de las regiones de mayor vulneración de derechos hacia las personas LGTBI, existiendo aún diversas leyes que penalizan la homosexualidad, asociándola a prácticas sodomitas o a través de la interpretación de las leyes desde un enfoque que refuerza la normalidad de la práctica sexual heterosexual y estigmatiza la diversidad sexual.

Furthermore, for our organization, the Caribbean is a priority. We must join forces to fight against discrimination by sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. The Caribbean region is one of the worst violators of LGBTI rights, whether through various laws penalizing homosexuality and associating it with sodomy, or through the interpretation of laws through a lens that reinforces the normalcy of heterosexuality and stigmatizes sexual diversity.

Controversy

On its website, ILGALAC published an international open invitation to participate in the conference, but a controversy has arisen on social networks about the cost of attending the event. The registration fee has been called excessive, garnering criticism mainly from Cuban activists who do not belong to the community networks of CENESEX. The situation is aggravated by the fact that ILGALAC rejected requests for scholarships to make the registration fee affordable for attendees who are not related to the institution.

On the Facebook page of the Conference [es], Carlos Alejandro Rodriguez Martínez said:

Me encantaría participar en ILGALAC, pero ni uniendo todos mis estipendios de la Universidad con el salario de mis padres puedo pagar la cuota de inscripción, alimentación y hospedaje. A los cubanos —no asociados al Cenesex— les resulta imposible asistir con los costos de la Conferencia, semejantes para extranjeros y nacionales.

I would love to participate in ILGALAC, but even if I combined my university stipend with my parents’ salaries, I still wouldn't be able to pay the registration fee and room and board. For Cubans not associated with CENESEX, it is impossible to attend because of the costs of the Conference, which are the same for foreigners and Cuban citizens.

This comment received a response from CENESEX staff member Yasmany Díaz Figueroa, who is in charge of the institution's Youth Network and member of the local organization committee:

Me hablan de los 300 cuc, y parece no estar claro que es ILGALAC quien convoca la Conferencia, CENESEX es solo el organizador en Cuba, pero el evento es de ILGALAC. ¿Si esta cita hubiese sido en otro país, hubiesemos protestado porque la inscripción hubiese costado 300 o inlcuso más?

You're talking about the 300 CUC, and it seems to be unclear that it's ILGALAC who is convening the Conference. CENESEX is only the organizer in CUBA, but it's an ILGALAC event. If this event had taken place in another country, would we have complained about the registration fee being 300 or even more?

It should be noted that the median monthly salary in Cuba is approximately 500 pesos, which is equivalent to about 20 CUC, in comparison with the ILGALAC Conference registration fee of 300 CUC. This essentially means that only CENESEX activists can participate in the conference, as their expenses are covered by the institution. In general, when an international event is organized in Cuba, there is a quota for special registration in pesos in order to enable the participation of island residents. However, no such policy was implemented for this conference.

The blogger Yasmin Silvia Portales Machado tweeted at ILGALAC with a question, which has not yet received a response:

Does ILGALAC know that 300 CUC = A LOT OF $ in Cuba?

The conference has also led people to consider the diversity of positions on LGBTI rights in Cuba – where CENESEX is the only government-authorized gay rights group – and the lack of recognition of any discourse other than that of the so-called center. Perspectives do not always coincide with those of CENESEX, but that does not mean they are an attack against unity. González Vivero says:

Lamentablemente, la noción de un activismo ceñido a las estrategias institucionales no ha favorecido el empoderamiento de todas las personas LGBTI en el país. Asumir que sólo hay una ruta para promover y reclamar el ejercicio de derechos con implicaciones políticas deteriora la credibilidad de ese activismo institucional. Cuba, digámoslo sin la sutileza de las propuestas “respetuosas”, se ha quedado a la zaga con respecto a varias naciones latinoamericanas con atavismos semejantes a los nuestros. En Argentina, Uruguay, etc., la diferencia la hizo una sociedad civil saludable y heterogénea, capaz de establecer alianzas con los movimientos políticos progresistas para erigirse en entidad dialogante con los poderes.

Unfortunately, the notion of activism bound to institutional strategies has not worked in favor of LGBTI empowerment in the country. The credibility of this institutional activism is undermined by the assumption that there is only one right way to promote and demand the exercise of civil rights. Cuba – let's say it without the subtlety of the “respectful” proposals – is lagging behind the various other Latin American countries whose atavisms are similar to ours. In Argentina, Uruguay, etc., the difference has created a diverse and healthy civil society, capable of forming alliances with progressive political movements in order to establish itself as an entity in dialogue with the authorities.

On his blog, journalist Yuris Nórido posted a micropost called Justicia, where he says:

Algunos amigos me animan a que escriba sobre la próxima conferencia de la Asociación Internacional de Lesbianas, Gays, Bisexuales, Trans e Intersex (ILGA, según sus siglas en inglés), el próximo mes en Varadero. El hecho de que la organización escoja a Cuba es un gesto. Puede ser, incluso, un reconocimiento a los (insuficientes) avances de la isla en la materia. Pero lo cierto es que Cuba tiene todavía mucho camino por recorrer. Yo celebro el trabajo de Cenesex, pero insisto en que no basta. El Cenesex es una entidad estatal, tiene su campo. Pero nos hace falta también organizaciones no gubernamentales que luchen por el reconocimiento de derechos ignorados. Algunos dicen: poco a poco. Yo respondo: los derechos de las personas LGBT son los derechos de todos. Obviarlos, minimizarlos es una injusticia flagrante.

Some friends are encouraging me to write about the upcoming conference of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA), to be held next month in Varadero. The fact that the organization chose Cuba is a gesture. It could even be a recognition of the island's (insufficient) progress in the area. But the truth is that Cuba still has a long way to go. I applaud the work of CENESEX, but I insist that it is not enough. CENESEX is a state institution, it has its place. But we also need non-governmental organizations that fight for the recognition of ignored rights. Some say: little by little. I respond: the rights of LGBT people are the rights of all. To bypass them, to minimize them is a blatant injustice.

The press conference on the Sixth Regional Conference of ILGALAC will take place at CENESEX, on Monday, May 5, at 10:00 am.

*Cover photo montage from Radio Gourmet.

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