HAVANA (AP) — Gay-rights activists organizing on social media held an unauthorized march Saturday down eight blocks of one of Havana’s main thoroughfares before they were stopped by police.
The march Saturday afternoon was the second by a non-governmental organization in Cuba in slightly more than a month. That’s highly unusual in a country where the only legal civil society groups are de-facto arms of the Communist government. Any sort of unofficial march or demonstration has long been met with a swift and overwhelming police response.
On April 7, more than 400 animal-lovers received an official permit and peacefully marched more than a mile through Havana, shouting slogans and waving signs calling for an end to animal cruelty.
Saturday’s gay-rights march received no such permit but police and plainclothes state-security agents allowed it to proceed from a gathering point in Havana’s Central Park, along the Prado boulevard until it reached the Malecon, the capital’s famous seaside promenade.
A handful of marchers were arrested when they attempted to push through a massive police presence and continue onto the Malecon.
“It was a complete success because we got so many people together despite all the expectations of government interference,” said Raul Soublett, a 26-year-old gay rights activist. “It’s historic.”
The march was organized largely using Cuba’s new mobile internet, with gay-rights activists and groups of friends calling for a march over Facebook and WhatsApp after the main government-run gay rights organization, the Center for Sex Education, canceled a Saturday march. The government group known its Spanish acronym CENESEX said it was canceling its annual Conga Against Homophobia and Transphobia because unnamed groups were attempting “to distort the reality of Cuba and use our Conga to discredit, divide and substitute the true meaning of the event.”
In response, activists called for the Saturday gathering at 4 p.m. in Havana’s Central Park, a plaza in the heart of the capital’s historic center.
Some gay-rights activists said online police had tried to prevent them from leaving their homes Saturday with threats of unspecified repercussions. But more than 100 assembled and marched, chanting “It could be done!” and “Diverse Cuba!” and waving rainbow flags.