Cuba and the Importance of a Freedom Enabling Environment

By Osmel Ramirez Alvarez


HAVANA TIMES – Religious opposition of same-sex marriage and same-sex couples being able to adopt children has been widely criticized on alternative digital media platforms. There has been a lot of debate here on Havana Times even, both in favor and against. But, whether you like it or not, it is a homosexual’s right to want to change existing norms while it is also the conservative’s right to want to preserve these norms (for whatever reason they may have).

There are all kinds of people out there and just as many different ways of thinking. The important thing is that we can all express these thoughts and aptitudes freely and in a respectful environment. Religion and sexual orientations have already won a great amount of freedom here, which is made clear in the context of the constitutional debate we are now having. So, politics and the economy are the only issues we have still off limits here in Cuba.

Some time ago, Communists here crushed a religious person the same way they would crush a homosexual, private business person or member of the opposition. I remember in the ‘80s, a man was courting an aunt of mine and the only horrible defect he had was that he was a “businessman”, a serious stigma back then, which meant that my aunt didn’t accept him. Today, even though there is still a lot of headway to be made in this respect, having business skills is no longer a stain on your reputation but is considered a virtue instead.

I also remember when I was at the vocational pre-university course in Holguin, I went to visit my sister at the teaching-training university and I discovered that one of her classmates had been expelled because he was a homosexual. His classmates suspected his “problem” and so they looked through his belongings. They found love letters from another man and they thought it was offensive that he had shared a bathroom with them, all of them naked. So they beat him up real bad and reported him to the school administration. It was unthinkable that an “introverted” person (as they were called back then) could teach children.

My wife’s family are mostly Jehovah Witnesses. There are so many stories of prison time, arbitrary arrests and work pressures that volumes and volumes would have to be written in order to record them all. They are no longer persecuted but many Jehovah Witnesses believe that they are being watched and live in a constant state of anxiety, traumatized for life. One of them was a leader and he had to serve two sentences, one for six years and his family was unable to visit him for two of those six years. Military-men who wanted to climb up the ranks would regularly attack them at their work places or at CDR neighborhood defense committee meetings.

Their publications entered the country on the sly and underground copies were made. My wife’s uncle tells me that they invented a wooden box so that you could put a typewriter inside so that you couldn’t hear the keys tapping away. If a neighbor heard you typing, they could report you to the CDR and you would be locked up. Meetings were always held at different homes and no more than 10 people would gather together so as to not draw attention to themselves. In today’s magazines, there are many examples of religions under authoritarian regimes but there are none about Cuba yet. They say that they are afraid to do so because this could lead to a setback in their freedom to preach.

I once heard a very interesting and credible story from a Methodist Pastor in Camaguey. His church had been founded by a US Pastor, who had left a Cuban in charge when the Revolution triumphed. One day, a Jeep full of guards in olive-green uniforms went asking for the new Pastor and his wife told them that he had left the house. When she saw the bike thrown into the ditch, she imagined that they had taken him. She only heard from him two years later when he was released from a UMAP forced labor camp.    

Jehovah Witnesses are apolitical and so even though they oppose same-sex marriage, they abstain from voting. However, this doesn’t happen with the rest of Christian groups. They openly oppose same-sex marriage, put up propaganda and publicly protest against it. It’s clear that the freedom they enjoy today, was inconceivable in times past. The Government has learned to live with religion and homosexuality, but political freedom, direct democracy and economic freedom still scare them to death.

We have to wait and see what the impact of including the possibility for same-sex marriage in the vote for the new Constitution has. It’s a real risk for the system because it has a lot of opposition. Up until yesterday, Communists were homophobic but now they have become tolerant because they don’t go against their party, they just receive guidelines. However, there aren’t many Communists left. Today, religion and machismo are disseminated more than Marxism. They are of course relying on a lack of civic culture and the fear people have of their vote being supervised. It’s incredible but many people don’t know that voting NO is an option or they just don’t dare.

For now, I just invite you to look at the religious campaign of “the original family design” as an act of freedom. Just like what is happening with the fight for LGBT rights, which is finally possible today in Cuba.

This proves that freedom needs an enabling environment to come to light, something which we don’t have with respect to our basic political and human rights. That’s why its important to understand that Cubans aren’t cowards like many people claim, without any respect and unfairly, nor do we deserve what is happening to us. We just aren’t suicidal, that’s all.