HAVANA TIMES — Jose Agustin Hernandez, who goes by the name “Adela”, is the first transsexual ever to occupy a government post in all Cuban history. She was elected municipal delegate – a kind of town councilor – by her neighbors.
Adela lives in the town of Caibarien, in the province of Villa Clara, which is located in Cuba’s north-central region. After a year in office, she agreed to an interview with Publico magazine and to draw a balance of her work during this time.
Delegates and deputies in Cuba are not professional politicians. They make their living through regular jobs and do not receive a salary for these government positions. It was thanks to her day job, in fact, that Adela was able to secure many votes.
“I am a nurse who specializes in electrocardiograms and I am also part of the ER team. I have to deal with many serious cases and I try to establish a human relationship with patients and their relatives. Because of this, they see me as a human being as well and they realize that a person’s sexual orientation is of no importance.”
Adela became her neighborhood’s political and administrative representative through a popular, direct and secret vote. “I have to address the needs of the more than 500 people who voted for me. I am also responsible for managing two ration book stores that sell subsidized food products, a fish shop, a doctor’s office and three schools. I’ve been fairly successful if you bear in mind we’ve taken seven local matters to different State entities and received positive replies everywhere,” she explains to us.
Taking on Cuban Bureaucrats One on One
Adela tells us that “the management at State institutions and companies get back to other delegates through their secretaries, but they see me in person because they know I’m not afraid to take things to any level.”
She adds that “when a high official gives me an answer that doesn’t convince me I don’t accept it. They ask me to sign it, but I refuse because, if I’m not convinced, my voters will be less convinced.” Cuban officials know that “I can shake hands just as easily as I can put up my dukes,” a local phrase which means one can converse in a civilized manner and kick up a fuss with the same ease.
Adela and the electrical company had one such confrontation over the streetlights in the town’s Marti promenade. “They would tell me they didn’t have the resources to fix them. When I told them I would take the matter to the provincial capital and Havana, all of the materials they needed turned up.”
“Not long ago, an official closed down the locale where Caibarien’s gay community gathered. He claimed the ‘instructions had been handed down.’ I started looking into it higher and higher to find out who had given that order. I never found the person responsible, but the locale was reopened.”
Adela tells us she also has to work with her voters, as part of social work within the community. “For example, in my neighborhood there’s a girl who’s a prostitute who became pregnant. It was a risk pregnancy and she was taken to a prenatal clinic, where she was given good food and round-the-clock medical attention. The problem is that she left the clinic and the Ministry of Public Health asked me to try and convince her to go back. After patiently talking to her in a very humane way, I managed to get her to return to the maternity home.”
From “Faggot” to Politician
Adela lives in a poor neighborhood in Caibarien. Before being elected municipal delegate, she was the chair of a Committee for the Defense of the Revolution, a position she held for 29 years. While still very young, she was jailed for her sexual preferences. Her own father, who also mistreated her for “being a faggot”, had pressed charges against her.
Nothing, however, managed to break her. She tells us that “I set the goal of not bowing down to anyone, not letting anyone force me to do what I don’t want to do. I am a human being, just like everyone else, and I don’t stop at the obstacles in my way. To the contrary, every obstacle makes me grow and gives me greater confidence in myself.”
She insists that “nothing was able to make me renounce my ideals, neither the mistreatment, nor the insults nor the blows changed my feelings towards the revolution. I can’t continue to hold a grudge for the suffering I endured. Every country makes mistakes and Cuba made them in the way it treated us, but it has had the courage to acknowledge this.”
“Now I have the right to choose how to live, to the point that, soon, they are going to issue me a new ID card where I figure as a woman.”
Thinking about the future, Adela tells us Cuba is changing a lot, so much so that “Mariela (Castro) has said the National Sexual Education Center (CENESEX), which protects the rights of the LGBT community, will one day not be needed anymore.”
“I also hope that happens, that, one day, we won’t need anyone to defend our rights. It’s possible that, down the line, I’ll become a deputy. Becoming a provincial candidate and later a national parliamentary representative depends on how I fare as a delegate.”
“As a revolutionary, I am willing to get there if the country needs me and Cubans elect me.”
(*) Visit Fernando Ravsberg’s blog (in Spanish).