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Person to Person Cultural Exchange in Cuba

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PHOTO ESSAY BY DONNA ACETO | Last week represented an historic milestone in the Obama administra­tion’s drive to end more than 50 years of US policy toward Cuba by normalizing relations. On August 14, Secretary of State John Kerry and Jeffrey DeLaurentis, the State Department’s chargé d'affaires in Cuba, raised the American flag over the new US Embassy in Havana.

Secretary of State John Kerry and Jeffrey DeLaurentis, the State Department’s chargé d'affaires in Cuba, raising the American flag  in Havana. | US STATE DEPARTMENT
Secretary of State John Kerry and Jeffrey DeLaurentis, the State Department’s chargé d'affaires in Cuba, raising the American flag in Havana. | US STATE DEPARTMENT

Even though the president’s actions in Cuba marked a sharp break from the past, in recent years more and more Americans have been able to legally travel there despite the overall embargo. Earlier in 2015, Gay City News photographer Donna Aceto traveled with Santa Fe Photographic Workshops, a New Mexico-based educational center, on what is officially known as a “person to person cultural exchange.”

Sadia, a lesbian outside the Fiat Cafe, a gay hangout across from the Malecón, the broad esplanade that makes up the sea wall in Havana. | DONNA ACETO
Sadia, a lesbian outside the Fiat Cafe, a gay hangout across from the Malecón, the broad esplanade that makes up the sea wall in Havana. | DONNA ACETO

Under the Fidel Castro regime, Cuba had, over many years, a deplorable record on gay rights and on the treatment of people living with HIV and AIDS. The new regime of Fidel’s brother, Raúl, claims things have changed, and in fact the new president’s daughter, Mariela Castro Espín, as head of the Cuban National Center for Sex Education, has claimed to be the island nation’s leading LGBT activist. Many others, however, have grumbled that her work is window-dressing for a still hostile regime.

It’s likely that as Cuba opens up to American travel, we’ll learn more about facts on the ground. What was abundantly clear to Aceto as she spent several days around Easter exploring the streets of Havana, however, was that visible LGBT life is part of the world that can be discovered in today’s Cuba.

A gay couple leaving Palm Sunday Mass. | DONNA ACETO
A gay couple leaving Palm Sunday Mass. | DONNA ACETO

 

 

 

 

A friendly child outside of church on Palm Sunday sports a Keith Haring shirt. | DONNA ACETO
A friendly child outside of church on Palm Sunday sports a Keith Haring shirt. | DONNA ACETO

A Lizt Alfonso Dance rehearsal. | DONNA ACETO
A Lizt Alfonso Dance rehearsal. | DONNA ACETO

Raices Profundas, an Afro-Cuban dance troupe, rehearses. | DONNA ACETO
Raices Profundas, an Afro-Cuban dance troupe, rehearses. | DONNA ACETO

A boxer working out Gimnasio de Boxeo Rafael Trejo, an outdoor public gym. | DONNA ACETO
A boxer working out Gimnasio de Boxeo Rafael Trejo, an outdoor public gym. | DONNA ACETO

Another boxer at Gimnasio de Boxeo Rafael Trejo. |  DONNA ACETO
Another boxer at Gimnasio de Boxeo Rafael Trejo. |DONNA ACETO

Old American cars, this one seen at dawn, are fixed using any metal that can be found. | DONNA ACETO
Old American cars, this one seen at dawn, are fixed using any metal that can be found. | DONNA ACETO

Convertibles, with driver, are hired out to tourists for the day. | DONNA ACETO
Convertibles, with driver, are hired out to tourists for the day. | DONNA ACETO

A manicurist peering from her office. | DONNA ACETO
A manicurist peering from her office. | DONNA ACETO

A woman tries to keep cool as she has a smoke. | DONNA ACETO
A woman tries to keep cool as she has a smoke. | DONNA ACETO

A cigar-smoking man sells the national communist newspaper Granma.  | DONNA ACETO
A cigar-smoking man sells the national communist newspaper Granma. | DONNA ACETO

Graffiti on the sides of many buildings added to vibrant color of the streets. | DONNA ACETO
Graffiti on the sides of many buildings added to vibrant color of the streets. | DONNA ACETO

Bicidrivers, or bicycle cabs, fill the streets of Havana. | DONNA ACETO
Bicidrivers, or bicycle cabs, fill the streets of Havana. | DONNA ACETO

At dawn, a bicidriver passes a mural of Che Guevara on the Cuban flag. | DONNA ACETO
At dawn, a bicidriver passes a mural of Che Guevara on the Cuban flag. | DONNA ACETO

Fidel Castro’s legendary rallying cry may face its greatest test now. | DONNA ACETO
Fidel Castro’s legendary rallying cry may face its greatest test now. | DONNA ACETO

"Bad Boy" relaxes. | DONNA ACETO
"Bad Boy" relaxes. | DONNA ACETO

Updated 5:17 pm, July 20, 2018
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