Courageous Cuban Blog Turns 5

Fernando Ravsberg*

Francisco Rodríguez, author of Paquito el de Cuba.

HAVANA TIMES — When I was a kid, in the neighborhood in Uruguay where I grew up, we’d call anyone who didn’t show enough courage to climb a tree, make someone trip during a soccer match or trade blows with any adversary a “faggot.”

Time and maturity taught me that courage has nothing to do with sexual preference. Europe taught me to respect these and Cuba showed me members of the LGBT community who proved more courageous than many heterosexuals.

During a transvestite festival, I discovered Santa Clara’s Mejunje, a cultural center born in the times of widespread homophobia that survived thanks to the courage of its members, who stood up to all pressures while the rest of society was catching up to them.

Not far from there, Adela, a transsexual who became a People’s Power representative thanks to the votes of her neighbors is an example of what someone can do in a public office. Since being elected, she has won every battle against the bureaucracy and in defense of the people she’s taken on.

I began these musings because the blog, authored by my colleague Francisco Rodriguez, celebrates 5 years of existence this week. I still remember my surprise on reading Francisco introduce himself as a journalist, communist, HIV carrier and gay man.

Paquito does not mince his words in his blog to demand rights for the LGBT community.

“It’s been 5 intense years, it feels like more,” Paquito tells me over coffee. “The blog has given me a lot, from the personal as well as from the professional – and human – points of view.”

“The birth of Paquito el de Cuba marked a change in the times, just like the film Strawberry and Chocolate. The difference is that, in my blog, the two characters, Diego and David, are merged into one when I claim I am both communist and gay,” Francisco adds.

In the course of these years, Paquito, despite his membership in the Party, has criticized the government on several occasions. The most notable time was over a UN resolution where Cuba voted in favor of eliminating a clause condemning discrimination on the basis of sexual preference.

Paquito addressed the issue in his blog and questioned his government’s position. Days later, he and other members of the LGBT community were called to a meeting by Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez to debate the matter. At the next UN vote, Cuba had changed its posture.

“The agenda of traditional media leaves very little room to address such conflicts,” Paquito explains to me, adding that “the blogosphere is what’s making journalists re-think the type of press we have and the one we want to have.”

The blog openly discusses how members of the LGBT community are sometimes treated by the police, the exclusion of gay couples from the population census, the author’s position on the Pope’s visit to Cuba and the legal manipulation of the new Labor Code.

Adela parades next to Mariela Castro and the other members of the National Center for Sexual Education.

“At first, I was alone, but my blog could well disappear today, because there are many young people with good ideas blogging. The important thing is for people to continue participating, to keep the critical spirit alive and to ensure we’re sensitive enough to listen to others,” Paquito says.

“Power is not monopolistic, and we’re seeing many decision-makers in government learn this. The modification of the Labor Code bill is an example of how they’re beginning to listen to us, that they were receptive to the criticisms we made.”

Paquito does not mince his words in his blog. He singled out the Minister of Justice for slowing down the approval of the Family Code that acknowledges the rights of the LGBT community, and the Council of State Secretary for pronouncing a homophobic speech in parliament.

Paquito’s most important commitment, however, is the human one. “Renouncing your privacy, declaring yourself gay and an HIV carrier may be uncomfortable, but it is reassuring to meet people who identify with my story and that it helps others overcome their own problems.”
(*) Visit the website of Fernando Ravsberg.