I’m just back from another visit with my friend Miguel, who has been in Havana’s biggest prison for almost a year now. I started writing the update (many readers have reached out to me regarding Miguel and Esther’s plight since my two first posts) but that will have to wait; recent events – still unfolding – obligate me to write about my friend Pedro and what befell him on March 6…
At about 3am on the Tuesday in question, Pedro (not his real name) was leaving a get together with his best friend Gretyl (not her real name). Both of them were with their partners. As they kissed their respective lovers goodbye for the night, they heard a squeal of tires and the ‘woot! woot!’ which strikes fear into the hearts of every person of color in today’s Amerika. But this is Cuba, the couples no estaban en nada, as we say and so they were unconcerned. The cop car, Patrulla 122, rolled up to the two couples and requested the ID cards of the four young Cubans. After calling central dispatch and ascertaining that none of them had any priors, the cops turned to Pedro.
“You’re a disgrace. You need to do that somewhere no one can see you.”
While Pedro stood thunderstruck, smarting from the comments, Gretyl and her partner looked on, bystanders now, of no interest to the police.
By now you’ve probably guessed that Pedro is gay and he was kissing his boyfriend goodbye. Two couples. The same PDA. Two completely different experiences.
If you’ve followed my writing at all, you know that I only transmit first-hand or verifiable experiences. In Cuba, it’s important to consider your source, always, and know how to filter out the chisme (gossip), la bola (rumors), and run run (hearsay). These tendencies distort everything from policy making to ‘who’s zooming who.’ Just so we’re clear: this tale came directly from Pedro, as I read the letter he sent to Police Public Affairs and the Provincial Police Authorities.
Moreover, many of you have read about my involvement with the Cuban LGBTQI community. Maybe you’ve seen with your own eyes everything we do to support the queer community at Cuba Libro, including hosting documentary and debate nights, maintaining and promoting our cafe as a safe space, and distributing free condoms – nearly 14,000 since we opened in 2013. I was at the first Cuban conga against homophobia in 2007 and nearly every one thereafter (including with Toby. Unfortunately he got too excited being amongst all his sexually diverse friends; he stayed home this year).
So Pablo’s letter, which he was about to deliver to the legal department of CENESEX which deals with these issues, really upset me. CENESEX is quite aware of the problem – citing same sex couples for public indecency (what Pablo and his boyfriend were cited for) – and has been running workshops to educate the police force about citizen rights and the letter of the law, for years now. In short, it’s 100% illegal to cite anyone for kissing, hugging, walking hand-in-hand and the like, let alone detain or arrest someone based on their sexual orientation. Knowing Pedro as we do, we wondered if it was more than just a kiss goodnight. It wasn’t. We asked.
The fact that the straight couple was not fined or defamed (despite partaking of the same behavior), suggests that this is a clear cut case of discrimination based on sexual orientation. The verbal shaming and threat of going to the station – it’s all pretty ugly.
When the police told the young men to ‘get in the car, we’re going to the police station,’ Pedro paled – his parents don’t know he’s gay. And who do you call when you’re 19 and thrown in the clink? He confessed he was still in the closet and asked the police to not take him downtown. So they fined him and his boyfriend instead, 50 pesos cubanos ($2CUC).
I’m finding it hard to put into words how sad and angry all this makes me – a young man living in a (mostly) homophobic society who can’t or won’t come out to his parents and a police force which (too often) doesn’t understand the law and to boot, harbors a deep, ingrained, fucked up homophobia which they inflict on their fellow citizens…
The only thing I can say is we still have a long way to go and a lot of work to do. Sign me up.
11 responses to “Patrulla 122: Protecting, Serving, Discriminating?!”
Conner: Do you have specifics about what those of us who are foreigners but frequent visitors can do to help promote equality in Cuba?
Great question Bob which has me donning my thinking cap (in spite of being completely cogida w influenza; if you’re coming to Cuba, take care, its going around). So of course, donations should be targeted, thoughtful and relevant. Your casa owner does not need gifts, nor should you hand out treats on the streets (the woman tossing bags of gummy bears to little children of color during last week’s antihomophobia conga needs to learn this lesson). Partonize minority (incl LGBTQI) owned businesses. Avoid Air B&B (incl their experiences) – these are the country’s 1% and you’re making the well off better off, plus Air B&B has some seriously questionable business practices. Get into the provinces, where fewer tourist venture (do Cienfuegos and Trinidad count? No. I think not. Im talking Guantanamo, Las Tunas, Holguin, Granma, Stgo de Cuba.) Read up and become informed about contemporary class issues in Cuba.
Absolutely wrong answer…. if you want to promote equality in Cuba …live with cubans like cubans …do not play Robin Hood ….balance opinions……..including cities like Trinidad and Cienfuegos where inequality soars !!!
No one is playing Robin Hood here amigo. see http://www.cubalibrohavana.com for our donation programs around the country – going on 4 years now; just made a massive donation to asentamiento en Playa Caletones, Holguin. And not insinuating that Trinidad & Cienfuegos aren’t plagued by inequities but spreading tourist dollars to other (needier) parts of the country is important piece in the puzzle.
Great, magnificent answer. In fact, I’m just going to post it on TT. Anybody going to Cuba for the first time (and those who have been doing it wrong) should read it.
Sorry about “Pedro”. Cuba (thanks to Mariela) has made a great effort towards accepting the rainbow community in such a patriarchal society, but obviously there’s still a long way to go.
I’m intrigued about your last sentence, though. “Contemporary class issues in Cuba”… what do you mean? The class issues I know of are not precisely contemporary. Or, if you can, send me a link. Thanks!
No, not contemporary, but becoming aggravated/deepening due to certain US and Cuban policies and current context. Thanks for reading and writing in. things are very depressing around here lately. knowing someone is still reading this blog helps buoy dark spirits
Serious question. What do you mean by “Air B&B has some seriously questionable business practices” It’s very important for me to know that I spend my money in Cuba the right way.Thank you.
Encouraging casa owners to drop prices absurdly low to remain competitive, aggravating an already critical housing crisis for Cubans (ie gentrification), rewarding the most descaradao instead of the most worthy, questionable taxation practices…..
Air B&B seems to be screwing everyone up with the rent. I just watched Rick Steve on YouTube talking about the changed neighborhood in Portugal because of Air B&B.
Is it just me or does anyone else feels like American tourists ruin things for people? As soon they come in droves, prices hit high through the roof. Sure they help out with the economy but only short term.
Sorry to hear that, Conner! Wish I had some dosh to board a plane… I’m good at waving dark spirits and depressing times! I play lottery twice a week, so hopes are up! I’m always checking your blog for new entries. If writing keeps you going and you have the time… do it more often!
thanks Caney. writing is what keeps me from the ledge most days (others, Im reduced to petting and talking to toby. he never contradicts me!!)