HAVANA TIMES – Russian President Vladimir Putin, perhaps the most powerful homophobic leader on the planet, will be received with a great song and dance this Friday in Havana, where he is to meet with his counterpart Raul Castro.
Is there any way to convey a recommendation to the Eurasian country on behalf of the Cuban government, in defense of the victims of the LGBT community in Russia, or do the rules of diplomacy preclude such a daring gesture? Could those of us who make up Cuba’s civil society do it?
The fact of the matter is that Russia has become a champion of backward legislative reforms that curtail the liberties of its citizens in the name of supposed “traditional values”, values the country has sought to export to the rest of the world.
In 2012, the UN Human Rights Council approved a resolution advanced by the Russian delegation, titled “Promotion of human rights and fundamental liberties through a better understanding of the traditional values of humanity,” a proposal that was rejected by human rights activists around the world.
Around that time, the renowned members of the Russian feminist band PussyRiot were imprisoned for criticizing Putin at a Moscow cathedral, where they staged a “punk mass” critical of the president.
This side of the planet, we tend to think that Latin Americans are particularly macho and homophobic, but the truth is that, in Russia, homosexuality is still considered “morally unacceptable” by a considerable part of the population.
This posture has received the support of the Russian Duma, which, in 2013, approved a controversial law aimed at prohibiting any type of “homosexual propaganda” around the country, a law that had already become effective in Saint Petersburg and nine other regions in Russia in 2012.
The law aims to “protect children,” in view of the fact that “homosexual propaganda has become very strong in Russia.” Further down, the law states that “the family, maternity and infancy in their traditional conception (…) represent values that ensure uninterrupted generational replacement” and, as such, “must be vigorously defended by the State.” Children must be protected “from factors that have a negative impact on their physical, intellectual, psychological, spiritual and moral development,” the promoters of this law tell us.
For Nikolai Alexeyev, a renowned champion of gay rights in Russia, the law implies that everything, from events to banners demanding gay rights, will be prohibited and organizers fined. It could also mean that members of the LGBT community will be prosecuted simply for holding hands on the street or kissing in public.
In 2012, Alexeyev filed a suit aimed at eliminating a norm issued by the Moscow city hall prohibiting pro-gay rallies in the Russian capital for the next 100 years, but the main Moscow court ratified the prohibition.
Hate crimes and cases of rape are common news for the Russian press thanks to this slap on the back homophobes have gotten from the government. All the while, LGBT activists are beaten on the street and arrested by the police when they protest.
All of this worries me deeply. The desire to ensure an uninterrupted generational replacement is shared by our politicians, troubled by the island’s aging population, low birth rates and (even though they don’t say it) by the emigration of young people of both genders in their reproductive age.
It worries me because the idea that “homosexual propaganda has become very strong” is also constantly expressed here at home, in pro-religious blogs written in Cuba, in the comments of those who witness the small, multi-colored conga line that traverses Havana’s 23 street once a year in May.
All of this is so despite the fact that the Cuban government has been ignoring the proposal to modify the country’s current Family Code (which at least partially recognizes same-sex partnerships) for years, and that there are no substantial laws that protect members of the LGBT community from discrimination.
Will our government entertain the homophobic initiatives of this Asian power, or, on the contrary, will Raul Castro give Putin some of the informative flyers produced by the National Center for Sexual Education? It would be good to know this beforehand.
I also wonder whether anyone will tell Putin how, in January of 2014, Cuban authorities captured the Russian neo-Nazi leader Maxim Martsinkevich, a notorious torturer of homosexuals from Russia and other East European countries. Martsinkevich was the leader of a far-right group called Format18 and the organization Occupy Pedophilia, a group which, since 2011, had been torturing and humiliating young homosexuals and promoting racism.
One needn’t be a rocket scientist to see the correlation between this rise in Russian extremist groups and the reactionary measures of a government that is blind to the democratic progress that has been made in this area around the world, a government with enough economic power to ignore international law and even the Human Rights Charter.
Years ago, Cuba received the unpresentable president of Iran, a nation where members of the LGBT community are hanged for the simple fact of expressing their love publicly. Neither the Cuban government nor press condemned those practices and laws. No Cuban State institution that combats homophobia and discrimination condemned them either.
Will the same thing happen now? Will Cuba’s Granma newspaper speak of the “affection” we feel towards Putin in Cuba? Will members of our Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR) be called on to wave at the Russian millionaire responsible for the suffering of many human beings in his country? Are such glaring contradictions possible?
Or has the old slogan to the effect that our principles are not negotiable been discarded by Cuba’s political elites?
The games of diplomacy, the traps of money, geopolitical alliances, pardoned debts and various other affinities are the important thing here, let no one be deluded enough to think otherwise.
It is no accident that, in April of this year, Raul Castro and the Cuban Minister of the Interior met with the Chair of Russia’s Investigations Committee, and that, at the end of that same month, the Cuban president received and met with the Russian Foreign Minister.
They’re cooking something behind closed doors, though the press tells us they met to “go over the magnificent state of bilateral relations.”
Despite this, some lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals in Cuba look on this with suspicion.