March against homophobia in Cuba is suspended amid suspected fear of clashes

In this file photo Mariela Castro, at the center wearing a blue shirt, waves while riding in a classic American car during a Journey Against Homophobia and Transphobia parade in Havana.
In this file photo Mariela Castro, at the center wearing a blue shirt, waves while riding in a classic American car during a Journey Against Homophobia and Transphobia parade in Havana.

A sex education center headed by the daughter of former Cuba ruler Raúl Castro has canceled a lively street parade known as Conga Cubana that is a key part of the island’s annual set of events against homophobia and transphobia.

“There will not be a Conga Cubana against Homophobia and Transphobia this year, because of certain circumstances that are not helpful to its success,” the National Center for Sex Education (Cenesex), led by Mariela Castro, said in a statement Monday.

The parade is part of Cuba’s annual “Journey Against Homophobia and Transphobia,” which is scheduled to take place from May 7-18 with events across the island.

The statement added that the reasons for canceling the colorful Conga Cubana included “the international and regional tensions” that impact “the normal development of our daily lives and the implementation of Cuban government policies.”

One of the organizers of the “Journey Against Homophobia and Transphobia” events told el Nuevo Herald that “the true motive” for the cancellation was “to avoid confrontations with Christian groups.” The organizer, who spoke on condition anonymity for fear of reprisals, added that authorities asked “to avoid any kind of confrontation” that could spark a massive street protest.

This year’s Conga Cubana was to have been held in the eastern city of Camagüey, home base for the 2019 events, as well as in Havana, its usual location.

The cancellation was immediately criticized on social media. Adiel González Maimó, a Baptist practitioner who also is an active member of the LGTBI community, challenged the decision.

“How much does the Conga cost to hold?” González Maimó asked on his Facebook page. He also complained that other street marches organized by the government, such as a torch-lit parade by young Cubans and the workers’ march on Labor Day, had not been canceled.

“I do not agree. It is an injustice and a tremendous step backward,” added González Maimó. He said that “religious fundamentalists” had threatened to take to the streets in response to the Conga Cubana, and “fear” had led Mariela Castro’s team to cancel the event.

Cuba’s judicial Family Code “will not recognize same-sex marriage or adoptions because of a lack of political will and our fear of the churches. That should be the real reasons. The political and religious conservatism and fundamentalism win again,” he added.

Cuban churches and the LGBTI community clashed during the recent constitutional reform process. Article 68 of the draft proposal would have recognized same-sex marriage. But after negotiations between Communist Party and church leaders, and signs that many Cubans opposed it, the island’s parliament removed the text and decided to hold a plebiscite within two years to reconsider the Family Code.

Conga Cubana organizers said that fear of potential clashes stems from the fact that Cuba is experiencing an economic crisis due to the ongoing crisis in Venezuela, its principal ally and benefactor. A street parade that would attract a large crowd, amid threats of counter-rallies by Christian groups who oppose same-sex unions, led to the cancellation.

Celia Mariana García, another critic of the Conga Cubana’s cancellation, questioned that if the reason behind the cancellation was hardships Cubans are currently experiencing — including dwindling food supplies and basic services — then why were other events such as the March of the Torches, held Jan. 29 in Havana, allowed to go on despite massive damage and hardships caused by a recent tornado that affected some of poorest neighborhoods?

“What’s going on? Is there an epidemic, that we can’t have gatherings? The statement they published doesn’t say much. The decision was taken, and period. You obey and be grateful. Seriously?” García wrote on Facebook.

The “Journey Against Homophobia and Transphobia” started in 2008, pushed by Mariela Castro as part of the struggle to recognize the rights of the LGBTI community in Cuba, a country where gays were long persecuted.

During the rule of the late Fidel Castro, Mariela’s uncle, homosexuals were detained in forced labor camps known as Military Units to Help Production (UMAP). The government has never investigated that period, and never held anyone responsible for the abuses.