CheHo: a Doubly Controversial Cuban Initiative

By Dmitri Prieto

Rogelio M. Díaz Moreno y Boris Caro.

HAVANA TIMES, Sept. 12 — The political use of digital social networks has become a suspicious topic in recent times.  In Cuba, there have been abundant explanations regarding how malicious agents of the empire have provoked youth “revolutions” in peaceful countries, where dissenters using Facebook and Twitter have managed overnight to assemble huge “critical masses” of human beings in the principal squares and streets of their respective capitals.

According to these conjectures, more than one “patriotic” government has been overturned in the last years through the employment of non-violent “political technologies” by tiny seditious pro-imperialist groups, for whom learning to use cybernetic networks was a key point in their fateful labor of bringing together a human mass, (giving them identifying colors and subversive slogans).

Later, the traitorous political promoters of the standardized “classic” bourgeois democracy take charge of the now altered political moment, (displacing the idealists and over-digitalized “revolutionaries”) and presto! a new country is now ready to return to the pastures of the world capitalist system.  [This is a summary of the conspiracy hypothesis).

Such a scenario has been used by some Cuban (and non-Cuban) analysts to explain the political crisis and corresponding popular revolutions in the Arab countries.  But then the 15-M arrived.  It was just a tad too absurd to rationalize this movement of indignant Spaniards for Real Democracy Now! via the conspiracy theory: that some Tweeters from the CIA had somehow convinced the multitudes to leave off working in order to congregate (under the blazing sun) in Madrid’s Plaza del Sol.

In the end, in all of these countries the question of the actual role of Tweeters or Facebookers “in the service of the Empire” is now fodder for the historians. It has become clear that the digital resources of instantaneous interconnection, though originally a capitalist product, have also been of tremendous use to “genuine” popular movements with broad social roots.

CheHo (whose name may recall the sixties for some: CHE Guevara and HO Chi Min, although in “Cuban” it means something else..) is a Cuban project in Facebook, still very far from being able to assemble a “critical mass” in the plazas of Havana…given, in the first place, the enormous difficulty Cubans have in accessing Facebook.

But given everything explained above, it is already a controversial and even suspicious initiative for those who believe in the digital conspiracy theory.  And it is doubly so for other motives.  Because the CheHos are Cuban Heterosexuals who struggle against Homophobia: straight allies in the tradition of Noam Chomsky or Sandra Bullock, although perhaps not as famous!

If there is a “critical mass” that they wish to create, it’s a mass of respect for the elemental rights of those who behave differently from the remaining majority of the population in one particular aspect of life: their sexuality.  Digitally, they represent a small fraction of the “majority” who want to promote respect for the minorities.  Isn’t this as noble a cause as many others?  Especially in Cuba, one of many countries where homophobia is systematically built into the everyday consciousness of people.  The CHeHos work politically, but it’s the politics of and for everyday life.

We spoke with one of the activists of this small but growing group that emerged into the public light on the Campaign against Homophobia (in May of this year, almost simultaneously with the Spanish 15-M). HT interviewed Rogelio M. Díaz Moreno, (husband of Yasmin Silia, also recently interviewed by HT Other participants in the project, together with Rogelio, include Boris Cano, an activist from the Cuba Bloggers group, and Jorge Baños, a photographer.

HT: How was the initiative born for a movement of heterosexuals against homophobia?

Rogelio M. Díaz Moreno: Combating homophobia, like the fight against the discrimination of women or against racism, arouses the conscience of anyone who wishes to behave in accordance with the ideal of egalitarian justice. The problem is visible, you may know some people who suffer because of it, and when you enter into the frontlines of confrontation you discover that uniting with them in some way is the right thing to do.  Under the umbrella of CENESEX there were already associations of gays, lesbians, etc. who within their limitations, offer a framework within which such affected people can organize.

On the other hand, as you know, there are people who – although they feel it’s the right thing to do – are inhibited when it comes to expressing support or solidarity, because they are still dragging around a bit of subconscious prejudice, or fear that they too might be considered homosexual. In addition they didn’t have a specific framework to do so within the organizations of the LGBT population, which are very specific.

So in the march against homophobia this past May 17, with a good number of us “heteros” raising the rainbow flags, it occurred to us that we could also form an organization for straight people in support and solidarity, and we set down the foundations right there at the Cuba Pavilion (where the campaign was headquartered).  Later we formed the Facebook group.

HT: Why the name CHeHo? (And is that how you write it?)

Rogelio: Gay people here frequently use the term “cheos” a bit satirically, to refer to straight people.  Also, the use of acronyms – using initials to form a word that in itself has a significant meaning – is always stimulating and fun.  When we began talking about the project, a coalition of heterosexuals against homophobia there was a “C”, an “He”, and the sound “Ho”, pronounced in Spanish with a silent H.

So that fell into place by itself.  Now we can claim the name of “chehos” with satisfaction, giving it a connotation of which we can feel proud.

HT: What were some of your most relevant experiences during the last Cuban day against homophobia campaign, under the leadership of CENESEX?

Rogelio: It was really an interesting experience holding aloft the signs for the march on May 17 and stirring up the spectators.  Also, when one of our people got tired of waving the immense rainbow banner, he asked me to hold it for a while and I carried it for a few blocks.  It was an entertaining and dynamic march, and Mariael [Castro Espín, director of CENESEX] gave a very heart-felt speech.

HT: What plans do you have for the project?

Rogelio M. Diaz Moreno

Rogelio: We want to let the word of it get around, bring together a lot of people.  We plan to participate with CENESEX, but not to limit ourselves to that.  All of those who join us are going to have their own ideas about what we should do, and since we’re a project that projects itself as horizontal, the plans will be drawn up among all of us.  In general, this type of initiative should promote educational activities, which in itself is a huge sack which could include plans for recreational and cultural activities, reflective sessions, etc.….

HT: Technological platforms: only Facebook?  How will you interface with the lack of cyberspace in Cuba?  Is this merely a digital and virtual project, or will it have a “real-world” component?

Rogelio: We were able to open a space in Facebook thanks to the connectivity of one of our founders, but naturally we won’t limit ourselves to that.  We might open a blog.

We plan to let ourselves become known in the forums offered through civil society such as the Critical Observatory (OC).  And beyond that we don’t know.  CHeHo is pretty much in an embryonic state still, there’s no way of knowing right now where we’ll end up, but we do want to make a difference.

HT: You are also a blogger and part of Bloggers-Cuba (BC) a polemic group… How has your experience with bloggers helped you in the founding of CHeHo?

Rogelio: With the blogging and the participation in BC we received practice in the capacity of taming – as opposed to losing – the fear of doing something that seems right, although no one officially convoked us nor have we requested permission.  Plus, we learned about using our own criteria, writing, participation and debate and the critical thinking skills that are developed through the type of blogging that we’ve been doing.  With blogging you also develop – if you desire – the capacity of listening to others and becoming sensitive to their realities.

HT: A New York researcher (Ted Henken) recently published an interesting analysis of the Cuban blogosphere that immediately generated a great deal of controversy. Do you believe that there are similarities between the deficiencies and the polarizations that the LGBT projects and collectives face in the creation and development of a broad social movement and those that the bloggers and other cyberspace activists must confront?

Rogelio: That’s a very complicated question to respond to in one paragraph.  Regarding the cyberspace issue, there are two principal defined groups on opposite sides: the dissidents and the official bloggers.  They each have overly simplified political motives for behaving with a high level of exclusivity, each claiming to be the only legitimate representative; at the same time they occasionally make some effort or another to absorb those who don’t fit in to this kind of binary logic.

The LGBT projects or collectives, such as those under the wing of CENESEX have little connection with each other, perhaps due to limitations in the visions of their decision makers, concerns about camping on someone else’s property and also some weight from the fact that they are under the wing of a higher institution that limits their autonomy.

So it becomes difficult for them to open up to the rest of civil society.  I should have begun by saying that these are observations off the top of my head, because my only sources in this are what a few members of these projects have told me, so that my observations are surely very incomplete.

The wagging tongues say that the dissidents have also organized their own LGBT projects, but with this origin I don’t believe that either side will be able to advance greatly in mutual coordination, not without trying to have “the others” subordinated to their side, something that won’t be happening.

HT: What can be done so that initiatives like yours become more effective in everyday life?

Rogelio: What can we do so that what we do becomes more effective?  Man, first give us time to do something!  Any activity we take on can or should offer some results, be they small or medium.

So let’s say we do something, and conditions are better afterwards; after patiently obtaining these first results, we later go on doing other things.

Perhaps the first results are something as abstract as having our existence known.  Or having more people join us.  The simple concept here is that you make your path by walking it.

HT: How can others join CHeHo or support this project?

Rogelio: For me, CHeHo includes everyone who wants to be part of it, be it in the farthest reaches where they’ve never been able to contact us.  But since we are now connected, those who see our group in Facebook [link] – something that even I can’t do because I’m not in that privileged category.  Support might mean joining us, participating, explicitly expressing agreement with our group’s ideas, or in general any actions in correspondence with our principles; that is, combating homophobia in favor of respect for sexual diversity. That makes them part of us, I say, unless the person doing so doesn’t want to be associated with us.

Interviewer’s note: Even among the activists themselves there is yet no agreement on how to write their initials “Che(H)o”  I hope that the social networks help to make them known. Good luck!