Sunday, June 04, 2006

Cuba's Brokeback montaña


Cuba has made a major step forward in reducing the prejudice against same-sex relationships. The groundbreaking Soap Opera "The Dark Side of the Moon," has captivated the nation with five intertwined story lines about HIV/AIDS. However, the plot which has made the programme the must see event on Cuban TV is the story about a woman, Belkis, who suspected that her husband, a construction worker and loving father named Yassel, was having an affair with another woman. Then she learned the truth: Yassel was in love with another man.

In one emotional scene, Yassel's mother, Marcia, pleads with her husband, David, to allow Yassel to live with them after his wife throws him out. "This fairy is not my son," responds David, his face twisting in anguish. "I raised a man, a man. ... Tell him to leave here and go far away." But David eventually accepted his son after learning Yassel had been infected with HIV. In the end, Yassel also seems at peace with himself. "You don't know what it's like living with a mask, Belkis," he says to his wife, "trying to please everyone in the world, repressing your desires and annulling who you are."

As Peter Tatchell has pointed out, although Cuba legalised homosexuality in 1979, there is still discrimination, and the Cuban Association of Gays and Lesbians was suppressed as recently as 1997. But this soap opera is going out in prime time, and all programming must be approved by the Cuban Communist Party, so it has the official seal of approval. Attitudes have been improving slowly, and were given a boost by the arrival of a number of health professionals from the former German Democratic Republic. The American charity The Cuba AIDS Project also applauds treatment the Cuban healthcare system provides to HIV/AIDS patients in Cuba.

Magda Gonzalez, chief of the drama division for the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television, which oversees the nation's television stations, said the soap opera has been among the most-watched in Cuban history. Viewers have responded with a flood of mostly favourable e-mails, she said, and Yassel's relationship has been grist for radio talk shows and newspaper articles. "If you are going to talk about AIDS, then you have to deal with the theme of sex between men," Gonzalez said.

A recent story in the Chicago Tribune interviewed Cubans about their attitudes to the Soap. "Ten years ago this would have been impossible," said Daniel Hernandez, a gay 22-year-old student. "A lot of things have evolved." But Juan Miguel Mas, a 40-year-old dancer says: "This is a macho society where, even now, a gay man hides being with another gay like me,"

"There was never any space in the public discourse (about homosexuality). It's as if gays didn't exist," explained Alarcon, 26, a biochemist. "This is an important step in terms of getting the message about homosexuality to the people," he said. "We've seen it in movies, but everyone watches the soap opera. It helps people understand what it means to be gay."

Cuba is becoming increasingly influential internationally, and last month, Cuba was elected to a United Nations human rights council with 135 votes despite the opposition of the USA. Castro needed only 96 votes. Visiting Havana was one of the first initiatives by new Haitian President René Préval, and Bolivian President Evo Morales meet Castro the day before he nationalized his country's natural-gas industry. A Latinobarómetro poll last year showed that in South America, Castro's approval rating was 4.8 out of 10, and George Bush's was 4.1. Increasing liberalisation towards same sex relationships is welcome evidence that Cuba is in return being influenced by the tide of democratic reform in Latin America.

31 comments:

stroppybird said...

Good to see this issue covered!

AN said...

Actually, I started to write about another Cuba story, but then thought the L&G issue was more relevent to the misconceptions so many of the britsih left have towrds Cuba.

But here is the other stroy I was going to write about:

Cuban Medical Brigade Concludes Mission in Pakistan

Havana, May 25 (ACN) Pakistan's President, General Pervez Musharraf,
met with the Cuban Medical Brigade that assisted more than one
million victims in Pakistan's rural areas severely affected by the
October 2005 earthquake.

Your example will be in the hearts of the Pakistani people forever,
Musharraf told Bruno Rodriguez, Cuban deputy Foreign Minister and
head of the Cuban medical mission.

In a meeting held at the Presidential Palace with the medical
brigade, Musharraf hanked the Cuban people and President Fidel Castro
for the solidarity gesture and the donation of 32 medical assistance
tents, plus the offering of 1, 000 scholarships for low-income young
Pakistanis to study in medicine in Cuba.

On his part, Bruno Rodriguez briefed President Musharraf on the
outcomes of the work performed by members of the Henry Reeve Cuba's
International Medical Contingent during their 7-month stay in the
regions that were seriously affected by the earthquake.

Bruno Rodrigues said that the Cuban doctors assisted more than 1, 7
million patients, of whom 856, 268 were women. In all the doctors
performed 14, 506 surgeries.

The head of the Cuban brigade thanked President Musharraf for having
accepted the Cuban support and for the opportunity to meet the
Pakistani people.

Present at the meeting were Ivan Mora, Cuban ambassador to Pakistan,
Dr. Juan Carlos Duppuy, Head of the Henry Reeve International Medical
Contingent and Pakistani generals.

Dave Riley said...

For a broad webliography on Cuba and LGBT issues, please refer to:
http://www.walterlippmann.com/lgbt-cuba.html

and there's an interesting comment in the Chicago Tribune yesterday
http://www.sanluisobispo.com/mld/sanluisobispo/14739778.htm
on LA CARA OCULTA DE LA LUNA...

However, while I appreciate the thought that has gone into this post by[...../] I think its assessment of the role of Cuba more broadly is a touch shallow .

To quote and ask the obvious:

"Cuba is becoming increasingly influential internationally, and last month, Cuba was elected to a United Nations human rights council with 135 votes despite the opposition of the USA.

Why? How did this happen? Why would Cuba be elected to such a post? Whta si the basis of this "influence'?

" Visiting Havana was one of the first initiatives by new Haitian President René Préval, and Bolivian President Evo Morales meet Castro the day before he nationalized his country's natural-gas industry. "

Why would they do that? Whats' in it for them and their countries? You also forget to mention Hugio Chavez? What do these people hope to gain by visiting Cuba and -- even!!!! -- signing deals. You also forget to mention the number of doctors Cuba has working overseas such as in East Timor and Venezuela --and that the medical system in Ven is being rebuilt on the back -- brokeback -- of Cuban doctors in an arrangement concluded in oil.

No, a lot is happening ..much more than this weak paragraph suggests.

" Increasing liberalisation towards same sex relationships is welcome evidence that Cuba is in return being influenced by the tide of democratic reform in Latin America.

This unfortunately is poppycock. The history of gay rights in Cuba is a long and complex one and I suggest you check out the above reference. This isn't a sudden thing -- espcially in the face of machismo.

This "tide of democratic reform " is an absurd notion when you consider that despite the number of times Chavez has been elected to the Ven presidency -- he has been undermined and couped against. This is not a "tide of democratic reform " at all but a tide of massive opposition to neoliberalism packaged with aspects of a socialist perspective --=and any reading of the events in Venezuela will confirm that or Bolivia.

These masses of Latin America aren't passive agents in what's happening here -- it isn't simply above ground "reform" but a massive groundswell of protest and quest for a better world. At issue is how far it will go -- what's its dynamic. And thats' why it is so impornat to monitor events in Venezuela and Bolivia etcetera.

I'm aggregating reports and a podcast on Venezuela here:
http://vensol.blogspot.com/

I've also fdrawn in a lot of media updates that enriches the context.

AN said...

Hi Dave, nice to hear from you - even if you are uncharacteristically grumpy here!

Of course this post is superficial about the role of Cuba, it wasn't intended to be anything else!

So I hardly "forgot" to mention the Cuban doctors working abroad - I decided to write about something instead, and if you look back just a couple of weeks in this blog you will see another post from me on exactly that subject:
http://socialistunity.blogspot.com/2006/05/fidel-richer-than-queen.html

Certainly you are reading too much into the absence of a mention of Chavez, or my reference to "a tide of democratic reform", a formulation which does not contradict yours.

You have said nothing here that negates my main points,

i) that the unfolding events in Latin America are having a positive effect within Cuba, at the same time that Cuba is providing practical and inspirational assistance to the process.

ii) That GB&L rights in Cuba are liberalising, with the support of the Cuban Communist party.

Remember that this Blog is written primarily for a British readership, and here much of the left has a dismissive attitude towards Cuba, and all sorts of ill-informed rumours (such as Cuba having concentration camps of AIDS victims) etc, are accepted as fact by many socialists. That was the context this post was addressed towards.

stroppybird said...

I see the purpose of posts like this is to create a discussion and some thought around LGBT people and women in what are often macho cultures. It is often lacking when Latin America is discussed.

AN said...

true SB - but there is another issue that in England (not true in Scotland), the debate about Cuba has become completely stuck in the past.

There is intersting occassional reportage, but no analysis, in the Morning Star, but those who argue for a positve appraisal of Cuba - the RCG and the British supporters of the Barnsite SWP(US) are deeply sectarian. And the RCG in particular seem to argue that the British workers' movement should just be cheer leaders for events overseas.

The SWP and SP simply dismiss Cuba on the basis of it being with state cap or a deformed workers state. Thus ignoring the (one would have thought) obvious fact that this is a country of 11 million where the left are in power. There needs to be a much more open minded debate about what that means in practice.

I am pleased to see that Socialist resitance are bringing Celia Hart to their day school on 24th June, I am looking forward to it.

stroppybird said...

AN

Agree that the debate generally gets polarised when discussing latin America. With the recent Chavez visit the reports were either very sycophantic or very critical, nothing much in between.

Jim Jay said...

SB - I think that's right, but also, which I think is a greater problem, is they all focused on Chavez 'the great man' with Venezuela itself being present only as a backdrop, if at all.

Whilst this kind of pop star politics is probably easier I'm not sure how helpful it is.

stroppybird said...

Sort of political 'pop idol' mentality !

I generally find its difficult to criticise aspects of the left without people getting into their set pieces and being defensive. Thats what I have found with LGBT/womens issues but with other issues and the left.

Probably why I am still in the Labour Party looking for somewhere else to go and feeling depressed....

stroppybird said...

Not that I am uncritical about the LP, far from it as some of my SB posts show. Just can't find anywhere else to go.

Derek Wall said...

Well the easy point to make is join the Greens, it is pretty friendly environment here.

We are great at agreeing to disagree where necessary and I think despite recent problems both the Scottish Socialist party and the SPEW show that leftism does not need to be sectarian..

but this is too easy a point...there is plenty of politics outside parties...if you don't like the Greens, burn your membership card anyway and get on with all the good campaigning that is worth doing which may be you do already...

stroppybird said...

Derek

Funny you should say that. Peter Tatchell gave me your number and suggested I speak to you.....

AN said...

I mooted the idea of joining the greens at our last Socialist Alliance/Unity branch meeting in Swindon.

Reactions were mixed, and there is still a big resistance from comrades who see the green party as irrelevent to, or unconnected with, the labour movement.

From my point of view the Green Party still needs to make efforts to move closer to the traditional concerns of trade union activists before it is likely to attract the left

Jim Jay said...

funny you should say that...

Birth of the Green Left

Jim Jay said...

funny you should say that...

Birth of the Green Left

Jim Jay said...

funny you should say that...

Birth of the Green Left

stroppybird said...

AN

I have looked at the Greens website and their policy. Some of it is good, better than the LP (ok, thats not saying much). Some sounds a bit wishy washy, sounding good but in a long winded way (again, the far left are not known for succinct direct writing either). Just feels a bit liberally and sandal wearing . Oh dear , should I say that out loud!
(Causing offence wherever I go....)

Then again, what is the alternative on the left? Like Louise I like to be able to disagree and debate . I have never found a far left grouping that I could feel comfortable in. The LP was always a compromise. Im pretty sure I will leave though, I can no longer find any reason to stay.

Oh dear, i'm verging on a AN/Louise disseration ....

stroppybird said...

AN

I have looked at the Greens website and their policy. Some of it is good, better than the LP (ok, thats not saying much). Some sounds a bit wishy washy, sounding good but in a long winded way (again, the far left are not known for succinct direct writing either). Just feels a bit liberally and sandal wearing . Oh dear , should I say that out loud!
(Causing offence wherever I go....)

Then again, what is the alternative on the left? Like Louise I like to be able to disagree and debate . I have never found a far left grouping that I could feel comfortable in. The LP was always a compromise. Im pretty sure I will leave though, I can no longer find any reason to stay.

Oh dear, i'm verging on a AN/Louise disseration ....

stroppybird said...

Bloody comments thingie is doing strange things ......

AN said...

hey - there seem to be a lot of multiple posting going on. I blame jim.

Call me superficial, but it is the liberal, sandal wearing image that is the obstacle to the greens attracting the left, rather than the actual substance of their politics.

As we have saiid before the fact that Derek managed to get 800 plus votes for the male national speaker position last year shows there is a considerable left in the Greens. And it is also an organisation where debate and caucuses are permitted.

Personally, we have a Socialist Aliance branch here in Swindon that has been modestly succesful in pulling together a network of cooperation between socialists, including an independent socialist councillor, and we have good participation from local trade union officials, etc. (it is a bit like Asterix's village after the Romans (Respect?) conquered the rest of Gaul (the SA?))

But at a national level, there is no clear alternative. And there is only so far we can go in Swindon without some national frame work.

Louisefeminista said...

AN says: "The SWP and SP simply dismiss Cuba on the basis of it being with state cap or a deformed workers state. Thus ignoring the (one would have thought) obvious fact that this is a country of 11 million where the left are in power. There needs to be a much more open minded debate about what that means in practice."

Very true! It is easy to be theoretical and the practicalities of the real world and real people get lost. T

he Cuban leadership is locked in a 1950s tankie bureaucratic mindset.

AN said...

I think that is historically true, and the 5 hour speeches don't do anything for me. But things are changing, and the less besieged Cuba feels the more relaxed it can become.

On the positive side thousands of young Cubans are going to Venezuela now. As Celia hart says: "But the freshness of the Venezuelan process, the voyages there, the possibility of experiencing other realities and intervening there are an enriching experience and it is important that Cubans, in particular young people - and not the Cuban government or state of course - can take part in the Venezuelan revolution, not only as doctors or teachers, but in the factories, the neighbourhood meetings etc"
http://internationalviewpoint.org/article.php3?id_article=1052

Louisefeminista said...

Good article in International Viewpoint. I may not be a member of the ISG any longer but I still read and subscribe to IVP.

Louisefeminista said...

Talking of Castro speeches, you too can read them in back copies of Intercontinental Press. An ex of mine was utterly devoted to that practice.

AN said...

Castro is one thing, but imagine a 5 hour speech by Chris Bambury, the very thought of it makes my blood run cold.

Jim Jay said...

It's not just going to Venezuela though. Venezuelan state TV is very popular in Cuba which means large numbers of Cubans have a very easy way of seeing what's going on (even if mediated through state TV)

I do wonder how happy Castro is about that

AN said...

presumably Castro is happy about it as Cuba was one of the original sponsors of the telesur TV network along with Venezuela.

Louisefeminista said...

Yeah, Chris B. is scary but so is Chris Nineham. At the 1st ESF in Florence just listening to his sloganising for 15 minutes made my blood pressure rise.... I can feel it rise again now just remembering

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