The communist regime controlling Cuba announced a “rally for inclusion and respect for diversity” Monday after near-universal condemnation of the use of state violence to shut down an LGBT pride parade in Havana.
The Castro regime, which famously imprisoned and tortured openly and suspected gay Cubans in labor camps and prisons for decades, has hosted twelve “congas against homophobia” organized by dictator Raúl Castro’s daughter, Mariela. This year, Mariela canceled the conga over fears that the United States would somehow use the event against the regime. Dissident gay Cubans and allies organized a pride march in Havana, anyway, attracting an estimated 300 people and resulting in public beatings, arrests, and shocking videos of dissidents being hauled away into cars by plain-clothes state security officers.
The crackdown triggered international criticism but also upset prominent communists like singer-songwriters Silvio Rodríguez and Vicente Feliú. In an attempt to silence the near-universal condemnation of the regime’s actions, Cuba has now announced a new event to take place in remote Camagüey, 340 miles and abut a six and a half hour drive from the capital.
Granma, the official newspaper of the Cuban Communist Party, announced Monday that an allegedly pro-LGBT festival would take place from May 15-17 in Camagüey city, publishing a photo of a past regime-sponsored event featuring a sign with a rainbow, the international symbol of alternate sexual and gender identities, with the slogan “I am also Fidel.” Cuba’s “National Center for Sex Education” (Cenesex), led by Mariela Castro, will host the events allegedly aimed at promoting “social justice.” Castro will lead an academic discussion with regime-approved professors on how best to reconcile queer identities with the Cuban Revolution, a violently anti-gay movement that imprisoned anyone suspected of homosexuality in forced labor camps.
Camagüey is typically home to a companion event to Havana’s “conga against homophobia,” more easily accessible to western Cubans. This year, however, it will host the only government-sponsored queer event and follow a likely much more well-attended event in Havana, a gay pride rally organized “illegally” after Cenesex canceled the original conga.
Cenesex announced last week that it could not host the communist conga because of “the new tensions in the international and regional context,” implying that the United States would use the event to condemn Cuba’s abhorrent record of human rights violations against LGBT Cubans. The agency warned Cubans not to independently participate in displays of gay pride that did not also feature the mandatory worship of Fidel Castro prominent in every regime event.
The Castro regime then announced the opening of a new LGBT-friendly luxury hotel in Havana, accessible only to foreigners and regime lackeys with the money to afford it. Gay activists denounced the regime for threatening them to keep them from rallying.
“A few minutes ago, a State Security agent called me without identifying himself. With an aggressive voice, he told me repeatedly that I would be imprisoned if I continued to call for an LGBTI+ march on May 11,” Zekie Fuentes, one of the event’s organizers, revealed on Facebook. Agents also reportedly stationed themselves outside the homes of some activists on Saturday in an attempt to prevent them from participating in the event once they failed to stop it from occurring.
Independent Cuban LGBT activists ignored the order not to engage in gay pride activities without government approval and staged a march on Saturday, believed to be the largest unauthorized assembly in the country since at least 1994. Those participating chanting slogans like “diverse Cuba” and “yes we could,” not explicitly anti-communist mantras but threatening to the regime as they implied that the Castro family was not necessary to organize a successful public event. The regime responded to the march with violence, sending state police to beat and haul away some of the march’s most prominent participants. Communist police also arrested independent activist Daniel Llorente, who calls himself “the flag man” for his love of the American flag, just in case he decided to join the march. Llorente does not identify as LGBT and said following his release he had no plans to go to the event.
Mariela Castro initially dismissed the illegal rally as a “show” orchestrated by unspecified actors in Miami. On Monday, she published a rant on Facebook condemning the LGBT participants as “mercenary activism lackeys” and claimed that “many people who did not know what was going on” were somehow tricked into joining the event.
“We will keep struggling within the Revolution to strengthen it, because against the Revolution, nothing,” Castro wrote, paraphrasing a slogan popularized by her uncle Fidel Castro: “with the Revolution, everything; against the Revolution, nothing.”
“We will not cede to imperialism or its lackeys,” she continued. “Freedom is a great responsibility.”
Castro also accused counter-revolutionaries of “assailing mercilessly the sacred memory of my mother,” Raúl Castro’s wife Vilma Espín, the head of the communist “Federation of Cuban women” and an accomplice in the internment of tens of thousands in labor camps, including anyone suspected of being gay or lesbian. Mariela Castro made her mother the face of the nation’s first postage stamp “against homophobia” despite her record of persecution against LGBT people.
The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump condemned the repression.
“We are closely observing that the Alternative March began peacefully, but there were later aggressive detentions,” the U.S. Embassy in Cuba said in a statement. “The regime denies the Cuban people its fundamental rights. We are with the people of Cuba.”