Cuban police harass LGBT advocate ahead of Obama visit

An independent Cuban LGBT rights advocate says a police officer came to his home ahead of President Obama’s arrival on the Communist island.

Cuban Foundation for LGBT Rights President Nelson Gandulla Diaz told the Washington Blade on Monday during a telephone interview from the city of Cienfuegos that a female police officer came to his home on March 18.

“They visited me to know if I was going to move around Cuba or my province in the coming days,” Gandulla told the Blade on Sunday in a series of Facebook messages.

Gandulla spoke with the Blade on Sunday shortly before Obama and his family arrived at Havana’s José Martí International Airport.

Cuban police earlier in the day detained several members of the Ladies in White, a dissident group that holds weekly protests against Cuban President Raúl Castro’s government in Havana’s Miramar neighborhood.

An independent LGBT rights advocate in the Cuban capital with whom the Blade spoke on Monday said that police detained more than 50 human rights activists ahead of Obama’s arrival. The activist added that parks and other public places in Havana where LGBT Cubans traditionally gather have been “besieged by security and police.”

Gandulla: Mariela Castro is a ‘fraud’

Cuba’s human rights record continues to overshadow the restoration of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and the Communist island that Obama and Castro announced in 2014.

Gandulla and other members of the Cuban Foundation of LGBTI Rights with whom the Blade spoke last May in Cienfuegos repeatedly criticized Castro’s daughter, Mariela Castro, who promotes LGBT-specific issues on the island as director of the National Center for Sexual Education. A sign that described Mariela Castro as a “fraud” hung prominently on the front door of Gandulla’s home throughout the hour-long interview.

Gandulla told the Blade on Monday that police have questioned him on previous occasions.

He said in a previous interview that authorities detained him at José Martí International Airport for nearly five hours last July after he returned from Colombia where he had been attending an LGBT advocacy group’s workshop. Navid Fernández Cabrera, president of the Shui Tuix Foundation, another independent Cuban LGBT advocacy group, in June 2015 said police prevented him from attending a Havana Pride march that he organized.

U.S. reporters challenge Castro on human rights

Obama on Monday made numerous references to human rights during a joint press conference with Castro after their meeting in Havana.

“We will speak up for universal human rights; including freedom of speech, assembly and religion,” said Obama.

Castro in his prepared remarks stressed that his government “defends human rights.” He also referenced Diana Nyad, the lesbian swimmer who swam from Havana to Key West, Fla., in 2013.

Castro challenged CNN’s Jim Acosta, who is Cuban American, and MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell when they asked him about political prisoners and human rights.

“Give me a list,” Castro told Acosta, responding to his question about political prisoners.

Gandulla on Monday dismissed Castro’s comments.

“The answer was out of context,” Gandulla told the Blade.

Obama is scheduled to deliver a speech at a Havana theater on Tuesday before meeting with dissidents and members of Cuban civil society. He will also attend a baseball game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban national team before leaving for Argentina.

Gandulla told the Blade on Monday that U.S. officials have yet to respond to his request to meet with Obama in Cuba.