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Economic rights versus civil and political rights in Cuba

I have just read an article about how the first gay pride march in Cuba has been banned and the organisers arrested. I returned from Cuba on Monday where I was engaging with some members of the gay community about a documentary, which I was planning to make. I was staying in Vedado and this is the first I have heard of any Gay Pride march this week.

I think that it is very telling that this appears to have been organised by a Miami based group, which immediately sends warning bells to me about its authenticity, this is also backed up by the fact that only one protester turned up. After decades of  repression of the LGBT community, Mariela Castro has recently facilitated the passing of the most liberal LGBT laws in the whole of Central America, the Caribbean and most of South America, introducing civil partnerships in addition to making sex change operations free. I think that this makes the LGBT laws more progressive than the US. So to call this tokenistic is simply mendacious and smacks more of stoking the propaganda agenda of Cuban exiles in Miami.

I went to Cuba with many preconceived and dare I say naive assumptions about the country. I have a long history of involvement in the British centre left and this meant that I have spent many years as a Castro apologist, blaming the US blockade for all the ills, which have be-fallen the Cuban people. It’s easy to excuse the infringements on personal freedom in the name of revolution if you do not have to face these restrictions yourself.


In Cuba there were not the disparities of wealth which I saw in other central and S.American countries, few starved due to rations of rice and flour and sugar, however every aspect of the population’s life was heavily regulated. The state micro-manages every detail from morning until night. The "Revolution" is talked about as casually as we might talk about sport, Castro is venerated in every shop, wall, mural and the omnipotent image of the untainted Che is marketed in a way that could only have made him hugely embarrassed. In short I arrived in a police state held together with a personality cult worthy of Stalin.  

Cuba provides excellent educational opportunities and health care for its population there is no doubt about that. So they have a healthy, highly educated population but one completely without freedom of association or expression.  In centrally run economies, it seems that the boundary between private and public becomes blurred, the state finds it impossible to mange just the states resources but starts to encraoch in every aspect of  the individuals lives as well. Who protects a citizen against the state if there is no independent judicary or civil society groups? Even the most seemingly initially  altruistic state can develop over time into a bully, governments are after all only made up of people and are subject to the whims and personalities of those who make it up.

The following story while anecdotal made me challenge the concept that economic rights have to trump civil and political rights, or that you have to deny people their human rights to support a state just because it feeds and educates them. In Cuba, every attempt is made to keep tourists away from the locals; most bars frequented by tourists are for foreigners only, the Cubans taking advantage of the music inside to dance on the pavement outside. This is because the state is "protecting" the tourist from being "hassled" by the locals. The Cubans are of course just desperate for a few of the convertible pesos, which are pegged to the dollar to share some of the good things in life that we take for granted. Few people  I met were willing to talk about the political situation, openly. people are scared,  in fact, a musician I met, recognised me in the street. We were walking the same way so we had a brief chat, he was stopped by the police, IDed and taken to the police station simply for talking to me. I went looking for him the next day because I wanted to pay his fine and he told me that he had been asked to sign a statement apologising for letting down the revolution which had given him the opportunity to study, to eat and to healthcare.

This paranoia is undoubtedly exacerbated by the US blockade. Any attempts made by the US to support or fund dissident groups is seen as hostile and the groups are seen as American collaborators. The two countries are after all officially at war. And this is my point a US supported gay rights group organising a pride demo is hurting the gay community in Cuba rather than helping it. Its seen as foreign intervention and viewed with suspicion. As it says in the Museu de Revolucion " George Bush, thank you cretin for strengthening the revolution." I look forward to the day when all Cubans have complete freedom of expression and the same human rights that we enjoy but regime change has t come from below.

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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