Cuba’s communist regime sent police to beat and violently haul away some of the estimated 300 people congregating in Havana Saturday for an “illegal” gay pride march, organized after the regime canceled the annual Castro-led “conga against homophobia.”
Mariela Castro, the head of the Cuban National Center for Sex Education (Cenesex) that organizes the annual conga, disparaged the privately organized peaceful march this weekend as a “show” somehow orchestrated by anti-communists in Havana. While the Castro regime has brutally repressed LGBT people, placing them in labor camps along with Christians and other “counterrevolutionaries” in the 1960s, dictator Raúl Castro has allowed daughter Mariela to claim leadership of the government’s nonexistent gay rights agenda as a pet project.
Cuba’s political police arrested at least eight people – one of which was merely suspected of walking over to join the protest – and beat and hauled away some of the more defiant people in the crowd. Among those arrested were Ariel Ruiz Urquiola, an environmental scientist who went on hunger strike last year after being arrested for revealing Castro regime damage to the local ecosystem, and Daniel Llorente, the activist arrested for being wrongly presumed to be on his way to the march because he was clad in his signature American flag.
Urquiola appeared in photos taken at the event being hauled off by his feet by Cuban government agents, shouting while wearing a red, white, and blue lei around his neck.
The independent Cuban publication 14 y medio reported that the “Alternative LGBTI March” attracted about 300 people to Havana’s Central Park, the largest number for an illegal assembly since at least 1994. Those congregated waved rainbow flags and chanted slogans like “diverse Cuba” and “yes, we could.”
Fue hermoso y si unos cobardes se encargaron de opacarla al final, arrestando a 1s cuantos colegas, el sabor q ns keda es dulce. Los cubanos si tnemos sangre en las venas y ellos, o se adaptan a q el espacio público es d todos o llegará el momento q tndrán que arrestarnos a tdos pic.twitter.com/dy45jRRdzL
— taylor emilio torres (@TeteEmilio) May 11, 2019
The situation rapidly became violent when plain-clothed officers began attacking the assembled, physically hauling away some of the most prominent dissidents in attendance. In addition to Urquiola, local reporters identified Iliana Hernández, Oscar Casanella, Juana Mora, Yasmany Sánchez Pupo, Yennia del Risco, and Boris González Arenas among the detained. Another two activists, Isbel Díaz Torres and Jimmy Martínez, were identified as “missing” after their arrests. The Miami-based outlet Martí identified Hernández and Arenas as journalists present to document the event. Those known to have been arrested were kept in confinement until midnight, reports state.
Casanella posted photos of himself on Facebook sporting a bandage around his forehead and accusing the police of beating him and leaving him to bleed in a prison cell for hours.
“They took me to Calixto García Hospital and after some x-rays … they took me to the [police station] straight to the cells … of course, in the cell there wasn’t even water to wash off the blood I shed,” he said.
Reuters journalist Sarah Marsh posted a video of Casanella’s arrest on Twitter. In the video, the activist can be heard calling the officers “abusers” and stating simply, “I am going to walk, I am going to continue the march, I am walking … why? what have I done? I just wanted to keep marching.”
Moment when one activist was taken away by plain-clothed policemen pic.twitter.com/wQhBaQ8HIK
— Sarah Marsh (@reuterssarah) May 11, 2019
Casanella said he met Daniel Llorente in prison while being detained. Llorente is not an LGBT activist but an independent dissident whose sole act of protest is to display the American flag. He became world-famous in 2017 for waving the flag while running in front of that year’s May Day parade, an annual celebration of Marxism, and thus triggering a violent beating caught on camera. Llorente spent a year in prison and a mental ward, identified as mentally ill for stating that he believed in God, he later said.
“Yesterday around 3:30 p.m. State Security arrested me in front of the Capital, thinking I was going to participate in the Gay march,” Llorente wrote on Facebook on Sunday. “They noticed me carrying a towel with the U.S. flag on it around my shoulder … I was detained until nearly 11 a.m. In my cell were also Sandalio “El Guerrero” and Oscar Casanella.”
Llorente also posted an image of how he was dressed when arrested, crediting the Cuban dance music star Chocolate MC for sending him the U.S. flag towel.
The march occurred on Saturday to substitute the canceled “conga against homophobia” led by the dictator’s daughter. Cenesex, which Mariela Castro runs, issued a statement announcing that it was impossible to host such an event because “the new tensions in the international and regional context directly and indirectly affect our country, and have tangible and intangible impacts in the normal course of our quotidian lives and in the implementation of the policies of the Cuban state. The agency urged Cubans not to participate in any gay rights event not controlled by the Castro regime.
Mariela Castro dismissed the large gathering Saturday and did not address the violence by the Cuban regime against it, quoting a leftist thinker who condemned the rally and herself calling it “a show organized in Miami and Matanzas, backed by U.S. embassy officials and covered by foreign press.”
An activist speaking to 14 y medio, Yasmany Sánchez Pupo, before being arrested, described the purpose of the rally to 14 y medio as a reminder to Cubans to “not fear doing something for themselves without needing anybody else,” a dangerous idea in a communist state.
Contrary to attempts by Cenesex to marry the Castro agenda to false LGBT activism, the Castro regime has been notoriously repressive to queer Cubans, while the Cuban exile community became home to many fleeing the Castro regime. One of Cuba’s most celebrated writers, Reinaldo Arenas, wrote about his arrest before he left Cuba in 1980 in his memoir, Before Night Falls, describing brutal beatings and torture in Cuban prisons against gay and transgender Cubans arrested for their identity. He also noted that, in the 1970s, the Castro regime publicized the notion of “homosexuality as a pathological issue” and ordered gay communists “immediately removed from their place of work” because they “did not meet the political and moral standards to execute the office they held and, therefore, were unemployed or offered a position at a labor camp.”