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An LGBT Blog Is Suspended Over Mention of Cuba’s 1960s-Era Labor Camps

Proyecto Arcoiris banner.

Renowned Cuban blogger Yasmín Silvia Portales Machado announced on her Twitter account in early February that the Proyecto Arcoiris (Rainbow Project) blog had been censored by Reflejos (cubava.cu), the Cuban state-owned platform that houses it:

Today I'm calling out CubaVa's censorship of LGBT Cuba blog @ProyectArcoiris 😾 #hijab @Negracubana @camiloglt @lrpbyzard

The project was conceived in 2011 and has both informed and generated discussions about sexual diversity and other related issues. Arcoiris defines itself as “independent and anticapitalist,” with the aim of “fighting for the rights of people with non-heteronormative sexual orientations and identities.”

In a conversation with Global Voices, blogger and activist Portales Machado explained the reasoning that the platform's moderators gave for the censorship:

De acuerdo al Grupo de Monitoreo de CubaVa -anónimo-, el párrafo resaltado viola la sección 6a de las Normas de uso del portal, porque es difamatorio de la Revolución.

According to the CubaVa Monitoring Group, which is anonymous, the highlighted paragraph violates section 6a of the website's usage rules, because it slanders the Revolution.

The highlighted paragraph that Machado refers to is below:

unnamed-2

It reads:

Coincido en que por aquellos años era muy común la homofobia, mas eso nunca justifica la creación de “campos de trabajo forzado”, ni la exclusión de personas a las universidades o los empleos por su orientación sexual.

Han pasado cincuenta años desde la creación de las UMAP y ni un solo responsable ha pedido disculpas al pueblo. Los máximos responsables aún permanecen vivos. El Ministro de las FAR en aquel momento es ahora el presidente del país.

Es momento ya de que pidan disculpas por ese acto de penalización, exclusión y castigo al que fueron sometidos miles de homosexuales y cubanos con una “conducta impropria”, como decían los llamados.

I agree that during those years homophobia was very common, but that never justifies the creation of “forced labor camps”, nor the exclusion of people from universities or employment for their sexual orientation.

Fifty years have passed since the creation of the UMAP [Military Units to Aid Production] and not even one person who was responsible has asked for the people's forgiveness. The higher-ups are still alive. The person who was minister of the FAR [Revolutionary Armed Forces] is now the president of the country.

It's about time that they ask for forgiveness for this act of penalization, exclusion and punishment, to which thousands of homosexuals and Cubans of “inappropriate conduct”, as it was called, were subjected.

The paragraph that led to the censorship of the blog, makes reference to the Military Units to Aid Production (UMAP in Spanish) camps that existed in Cuba from 1965 to 1968. Thousands of men were imprisoned under the command of these units, and one of the main accusations that led to their detention was homosexuality. Even today, the Cuban government has not publicly apologised for those events.

The censored fragment is part of the post “Con el perdón (o no) de Mariela Castro“, which translates to “With Mariela Castro's forgiveness (or not)” and was written by Arcoiris member and activist Jimmy Roque Martínez. In the post, Roque Martínez reviews an HBO documentary on Mariela Castro Espín, director of the Cuban National Centre for Sexual Education (Cenesex) and daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro. In the film, shown in last year's Habana Film Festival, Castro Espín refers to the camps which were operating whilst her father was the minister of the Cuban Armed Forces.

Machado said:

La notificación de que el blog “Proyecto Arcoiris” fue cerrado por segunda vez por violar la Sección 6 de las Normas de Participación, nos tomó por sorpresa. Sinceramente yo esperaba que se tratase de un error técnico.

The notification that the “Proyecto Arcoiris” blog was shut down for a second time for violating Section 6 of the Participation Rules took us by surprise. I honestly hoped it was a technical glitch.

And continued:

No se cómo eso “denigra a la Revolución”, de acuerdo a la sentencia que nos transmitió la funcionaria. Su única explicación fue que, aunque sean conocidos, no pueden ser publicados en el servidor http://cubava.cu.

I don't know how this “defames the Revolution,” as the judgment issued to us says. The only explanation given [by the civil servant who sent the censorship notice] was that although [the UMAP events] are well known, they cannot be published on the http://cubava.cu server.

Reflejos, which describes itself as “Cuban family blogs,” brings together blogs written from around the island and is the only one that provides this service in Cuba. It belongs to the Youth Club of Computing and Electronics (JCCE), an institution of the national Ministry of Communications. The platform has the aim of “functioning as a mirror in which Cuban people can unite in shared goals and interests.”

Reflejos is accessible from abroad, although it is not possible to create a blog from outside the island, nor is it possible to manage it from abroad even if it was created in Cuba. In order to keep a blog with Reflejos, one must access it from Cuba and reside in national territory.

Furthermore, the CubaVa Monitoring Group, which is responsible for the censorship of Proyecto Arcoiris, sent a notification to an email account that did not belong to Portales Machado. This error also brings the platform's data protection policy into question:

Subject: Notificación
From: Administración <cubava@cubava.cu> Date: 2/2/2016 12:05
To: yasmin@cubarte.cult.cu

Proyecto Arcoiris:
Una vez mas nuestras disculpas por haber enviado la notificación de violación a un correo que no era el del administrador sino el de un suscriptor que aparece entre los usuarios, con privilegios en su blog. Le aseguramos que tomaremos todas las medidas para que hechos como este no vuelvan a ocurrir.
Atentamente
Equipo de Monitoreo Reflejos

Subject: Notification
From: Administration <cubava@cubava.cu> Date: 2/2/2016 12:05
To: yasmin@cubarte.cult.cu

Proyecto Arcoiris:
Once again we apologise for sending notification of infringement to a non-administrator email. The email belonged to a subscriber that appears among the users with privileges in your blog. We assure you that we shall take every measure to ensure that events like this do not happen again.
Yours sincerely,
The Reflejos Monitoring Team

On the other hand, this is not the first instance of censorship of a Reflejos blog: the Monitoring Group has suspended other blogs that publish political content, as Portales Machado pointed out:

Están siendo expurgados de Reflejos, en el peor estilo del Quinquenio Gris: “La Jugada”, “Observatorio Crítico”, “Bubusopía”, ahora fue el turno de “Proyecto Arcoíris”. Mientras, la blogosfera evangélica publica montones de contenidos que contradicen abiertamente las políticas de los ministerios de Salud Pública y Educación, pero eso no preocupa al Grupo de Monitoreo.

They are being censored by Reflejos in a Quinquenio Gris fashion: “La Jugada,” “Observatorio Crítico,” “Bubusopía,” and now “Proyecto Arcoiris.” All the while, the divine blogosphere publishes thousands of posts that openly contradict the policies of the Public Health and Education departments, but this doesn't worry the Monitoring Group.

According to an announcement made by Portales Machado on Twitter, the Proyecto Arcoíris blog will be up and running again on 13 February 2016–without the censored text.

13Feb the @ProyectArcoiris #blog returns. We'll see for how long #bloginpeace #LGBT

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