Luis Rondón Paz has recently left Cuba. Seeking asylum, he was accepted as a refugee by Canada.
I caught up with Luis to talk about life as a refugee.
Why have you fled Cuba?
There were many reasons for me to run away from Cuba. When I came out, at the age of 24, I was already involved in the LGBTQ cause and human rights.
I attracted attention because of the way that I express myself in public and online, as a journalist and an LGBTQ rights activist. For years, I was being followed – I thought I would be able to resist the persecution. I was detained by the police a number of times, I was interrogated by Cuban intelligence, I was assaulted, and my life was threatened.
I was dying inside. I was paranoid. I was barely sleeping. I was unable to share what I was going through with anyone else because I developed severe trust issues, and I was afraid of what might happen to myself and my family because of my activism.
I was left with no other choice than to run away. I had to fight for my life and my mental health. There was no other way for me. I had to escape.
What’s life like for gay men in Cuba?
Despite the image that the Communist regime and its leaders sell to the world about the gay paradise in the island, in my experience as an independent activist and in my job as a tour guide, sadly, I’ve got to say that the Cuban society is very hypocritical when it comes to diversity and human rights. The regime ‘educate’ people to obey and to be grateful,
without giving them the right to complain. It doesn’t allow any other voices but the official ones.
In Cuba the majority of the spaces for the LGBTQ community are monitored by the Regime. They’re not affordable – it’s more oriented towards white-collar people, tourism, and prostitution.
Profiling by police is very common – especially in relation to prostitution and anyone from the LGBTQ community.
Work is another issue. The regime has managed for years to create that appears to value diversity in the workplace. But there are some places of work where you are allowed to express your gender identity and gender role, and others where you’re not. For example, the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Public Health both tolerate LGBTQ people, but at places like the Ministry of Superior Education and the Ministry of Sugar it seems as if LGBTQ people have no right to exist.
In public spaces, you can freely express your sexual orientation and gender identity, but only if you are wealthy, white, and from the Cuban elite and have connections with the Castro family, or if you’re a tourist. It helps if you know your rights and can fight back. The countryside is more conservative.
Why did you choose Canada as your country of refuge?
For Cubans, it’s almost impossible to get a visa to most Western countries. When I arrived in Canada last year, I wasn’t certain if my profile would fit that of an asylum-seeker – but, I had no other choice other than to risk it all. I had a valid Canadian visa, and I took my chance. I was alone, but I was free for the first time in my life.
The process is very long. Because I’m an activist and a journalist, I think there are points on my favour – however, the final decision is in the hands of the Canadian Government. I hope to get a positive response.
I’m finally starting to integrate in Canadian society. I’m learning the French language and for the first time in my life. I feel that Canada is where I should be and where i intend to live for the rest of my life. I found here the true meaning of the word home.
What would happen if you had to go back to Cuba?
When I arrived in Canada, I was mentally devastated. I was afraid of everyone, I didn’t trust anyone, I was afraid of the police, I had thoughts of self-harm – I was very fragile. It took me months to recover from the trauma and damage I had. I’m still taking medication to help manage the stress.
I now have a lot of new friends who love me, and organisations that are helping me during the application process.
Going back to Cuba is not an option.