|June 25, 2016||Filed under Cuba, Havana|
It was a perfect morning in Havana for a parade: blue sky, sunshine, sea breeze, rainbow flags, colorful costumes. Cuba Pride? To a visitor from a country where annual gay pride events are common, such a conclusion would be natural. But in Cuba, one would be quickly corrected that this is not a celebration per se, but an educational demonstration marking the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (“IDAHOT”).
The current champion of LGBT rights in Cuba is none other than the charismatic Mariela Castro (pictured above in the straw hat and white t-shirt), a 50-something year old straight woman and civil rights activist. She is the director of the Cuban National Center for Sex Education (commonly called “Cenesex”), and the daughter of President Raúl Castro. Without her support and connections, it would be highly doubtful that LGBT rights would have much of a platform or visibility in Cuba. Until the 1990’s, homosexuals were persecuted by the Castro regime. Although current laws forbid discrimination against LGBT people, hostile attitudes persist throughout Cuba, especially outside of Havana. Through education and public events, Cenesex aims to change that. (more…)
|May 28, 2016||Filed under Cuba, Havana|
Softened by twilight and a veil of greenery, the otherwise stark Che Guevara memorial looming over Havana’s Revolution Square appears almost wistful. The Cuban Revolution leader’s famous slogan “Hasta la Victoria Siempre” (Until Victory, Always!) reads more hopeful than strident. What are the victories achieved since 1959? What will they look like in the future? To experience Cuba is to grapple with the contradictions and complexities of a country and people rich in history and resilient in spirit.
Whiplash-inducing, photogenic Havana presents beautiful facades of restored colonial buildings, colorful classic American cars, festive cafes, and fine looking habaneros. The postcard perfect appearance of the city, just a 40 minute flight from Miami, belies the reality of most locals. While the government provides free education, health care and food subsidies, monthly wages average the equivalent of $25-30 U.S. dollars. Access to many other food products, household goods and materials is limited, ostensibly due to the decades-long U.S. trade embargo. Despite el bloqueo (“the blockade”), Cubans have persevered and even thrived in being resourceful with what they have.
One of several historic squares in Old Havana, a Unesco World Heritage Site designated in 1982, Plaza Vieja (Old Plaza) originates from the 1550’s. The former homes of the wealthy now house various institutions, and the plaza showcases contemporary sculptures by local artists. Throughout Old Havana, restoration efforts are funded primarily by tourism revenue. Although Americans have been restricted by the U.S. government to freely visit Cuba, travelers from the rest of the world frequent the country regularly. (more…)