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.