Several people arrested at what is likely Havana's first independent gay march

Activists, journalists likely arrested over disobedience toward end of march

HAVANA – An independently organized show of gay pride ended with several arrests in Havana on Saturday afternoon. 

The march started in Old Havana’s Parque Central, where activists had been urged to meet at 4 p.m.

Under significant police presence, some with dogs, activists and their supporters started arriving with gay flags and other rainbow-type expressions. 

Half an hour later, dozens had gathered and started marching along Havana’s famous Prado Avenue toward Malecon, the city’s seaside walkway. 

But as marchers tried to get to Malecon, police dressed in plain clothing arrested several of the people marching, presumably because some didn’t follow orders not to go beyond Prado Avenue. 

On Saturday morning, several vocal members of the LGBT community on social media reported state security forces had harassed and threatened them with arrests if they attended the march. 

In previous days, the independently organized march had already received a lot of attention from activitist and members of Cuba’s LGBT community after a government-sanctioned march was canceled. 

In what was described as necessary, the state-run National Center for Sex Education issued a statement Thursday clarifying the decision to cancel Cuba’s gay parade for the first time. 

Cancellation of the most visual display of gay pride on the island, according to the release has had ample repercussions seen widely on social media. 

But the statement adds in Spanish “aggression against Cuba and Venezuela has encouraged groups that, although they already existed, in recent times to try harder to distort the reality of Cuba, and they intend to use our Conga to discredit, divide and replace the true meaning of this activity.”

Supporters of the events were urged to still participate in other events but not to join “provocations or politically prejudiced attacks.”

Activists or those with sincere convictions were asked to “keep calm, to show discipline and responsibility, in order to contribute to the best development and present and future evolution of our events.”

Earlier in the week, Local 10 News first reported it was during an impromptu dialogue where Raul Castro’s daughter was present that members of the Cuban LGBT community were told the now-canceled gay parade would be used by foreign forces as the perfect scenario for their own agenda. This recent release further corroborates what attendees said about that meeting. 

Wednesday’s meeting was attended by a handful of concerned Cuban citizens who by way of a social media chat organized themselves and headed to the Ministry of Health in Havana to seek answers. Despite no prior contact with the government, officials at the health ministry were expecting the mostly college-aged Cubans. 

Mariela Castro was at the meeting. She is the daughter of Communist Party Secretary and former President Raul Castro and heads CENESEX, a state-run organization in charge of gay issues and at the forefront of the ongoing pride activities, including the parade. 

Organized groups could attack members of the LGBT community forcing police to act and create negative images around the world. That was one of the reasons organizers told the small group Saturday’s gay parade had been canceled Tuesday. 

The dialogue was cordial and respectful, said one of the attendees, who later asserted his group never ceased in voicing their disappointment and their argument over why the parade should not have been canceled.

“We would become part of the agenda of other groups,” they said they were told. 

“We told them we weren’t going to give up our rights,” the participant told the group in a chat. 

The dialogue with representatives from CENESEX was described as very positive. 

“Mariela [Castro] knew of our groups and alliances and was interested in our activities,” reported one of the participants of the conversation. 

The issue of church was also a topic of conversation and Mariela Castro reportedly told the group the church has been told it cannot spread propaganda on the streets; everything has to be done within the confines of the church. 

The Evangelical Church played a crucial role in fighting Article 68 in the proposed constitution which would have allowed a pathway to gay unions. The article was removed before Cubans voted on the referendum, which passed in February 2019. 

As for the alternate gay parade, which had gained momentum on social media, the group was told it had been organized by Miami groups. 

CENESEX Assistant Director Manuel Vazquez is said to have screen captures to prove the alternate parade was planned outside. 

Thursday’s release may have hinted at Saturday’s event when it told readers, “The political and civic maturity of our LGBTI population must predominate over any attempt to distort or sabotage what we have done among all and for more than a decade.”

In 2007. CENESEX began celebrating the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. On this 12th anniversary, 29 activities in Havana and Camagüey were programmed. 

About the Author:

In January 2017, Hatzel Vela became the first local television journalist in the country to move to Cuba and cover the island from the inside. During his time living and working in Cuba, he covered some of the most significant stories in a post-Fidel Castro Cuba.