Thoughts on Orlando tragedy from Cuba

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I do my best to stay on top of the news of the world when I am here in Cuba, but as you all know, it’s complicated here. Wider availability of wifi hotspots spread out over Cuba’s public spaces makes it much easier, and the price has gone down to $1 – $2 per hour of internet access. Still, I mostly focus my time on responding to important emails, checking out Cuba-specific news, and using Facebook to see what the folks back home are up to. When Sarah sent me the news of the shooting in the Orlando gay nightclub immediately after it happened, like any warm-blooded person, I cried. 

It was for the innocent lives lost, for the foolish bigot who committed the shooting, and for the many narrow-minded people in the world who believe that they are doing the right thing when they cause harm onto others. When it was discussed on the Cuban state news that night in the hotel lobby that I was using as an office, the shock and sadness on my Cuban friends’ faces was apparent, and they gave me their heart-felt condolences. 

Raul Castro later made a statement condemning the shooting, and in support for the victims. I had expected it to have a stronger presence in Cuba’s news outlets, perhaps in editorials championing Cuba’s own human rights records and lack of violence – they have institutionalized protection for the LGBT community, and are continually strengthening those rights and protections. The state healthcare system covers sex reassignment surgery (free of charge). Raul´s own daughter, Mariela Castro is an internationally known LGBT human rights activist, founder of Cuba´s National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX), and an executive member of the World Association for Sexual Health. However, other than the Cuban president’s statement, I didn´t hear any other Cuban voices on the subject. 

The United States, while it has passed many progressive laws protecting minority communities, has a global reputation for it´s gun obsession and it´s violence. I´m currently in a country that suffers nearly 20 times more deaths per year to lightening strikes than to gun violence. If a heated argument or the rare physical altercation breaks out here, neighbors immediately respond to mediate and to help make peace. 

It occurred to me recently that perhaps Cuba was maintaining a respectful silence on the subject. To politicize this situation would be tasteless and cold, while in contrast Cuba is overall the warmest and safest place in the world that I have ever visited. Cuba’s record of being a peaceful country with legislated protection for the LBGT community speaks for itself, and they know that it doesn’t need to be used opportunistically in the face of this tragedy. 

I hope that in the US and in other parts of the world, we can move toward unifying discussion as opposed to divisive political maneuvering by self-interested politicians. It is only through empathy and educated discourse that we can elevate our societal norms and perceptions, and create a climate in which this can never happen again.

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