14ymedio, Havana, 20 March 2019 — Cuban authorities prevented Michael Petrelis, a renowned US activist for the rights of the LGBTI community (Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, Transsexuals and intersex), from entering the island on Wednesday, 20 March, according to the digital site ADNCuba.
“My visa (tourist card) was revoked and I am very sad,” Petrelis told 14ymedio through the app Messenger.
A few minutes before, he had posted a text on his Facebook profile, explaining that while trying to board his flight to Havana, an employee of Interjet Airlines informed him that the Cuban authorities had blocked him from entering the country. “I flew overnight from San Francisco to Cancun on a turbulent flight and will return home in a few hours,” he lamented.
The Interjet agent did not allow him to make a screenshot of the document with the refusal of the Cuban authorities, but wrote on paper that “for immigration reasons” he could not allow him to go on to Havana “since the country will not allow him to enter.”
When asked about the reasons for the refusal to allow him to board the plane bound for Havana, the airline workers told him they were unaware of them. “We receive the same message every time a passenger is prohibited from entering the Island,” he says they told him.
“I have no idea why I am excluded from the tourists who are allowed to visit Cuba, but it surely has something to do with having shared the life of the LGBTI community outside the control of the government,” Petrelis told 14ymedio.
“I am disappointed not to see my friends, not to experience fabulous times and not to be able to share my suitcases full of rainbows. To my Cuban friends, I let them know that my love and respect for them does not diminish due to the decision of their Government to deny me entry,” the activist added on Facebook while waiting to board a flight back to the United States from Cancun.
Earlier this year, Petrelis had traveled to the island to visit friends, distribute stickers and support public actions of gay pride and support the promoters of equal marriage in Cuba with public actions.
On that occasion he said he felt harassed by the authorities. The official National Center for Sex Education (Cenesex), headed by Mariela Castro, daughter of ex-ruler Raúl Castro, tries to represent the entire LGBTI movement, but some work on the same issues independently.
On the island the entry ban decreed against Petrelis has been strongly criticized. The activist Isbel Díaz Torres regretted that the Cuban government has demonstrated its “authoritarianism with impunity” and denounced the “little respect” that it has for the rights of that community.
Torres noted that “while Michael Petrellis campaigns in San Francisco to promote impeachment of Trump, on the island they have the luxury of rejecting and humiliating a great fighter.”
Many of the independent organizations of that community have denounced the pressure exerted by Cenesex to maintain control over the LGBTI community. Recently the Parliament decided to suppress a controversial article proposed in the constitutional reform that would have allowed the approval of marriage between people of the same sex.
The Parliament decided to postpone the modification of the Family Code for two years and put the new version to a vote in a plebiscite, which has been criticized by many activists who see equal marriage as a human right that should not be subject to popular vote.
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