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USAID seeks to bolster LGBTQ rights efforts in Colombia

LGBTQ-inclusive peace agreement took effect in 2016

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U.S. Agency for International Development Colombia Mission Director Larry Sacks. (Photo courtesy of USAID)

BOGOTÁ, Colombia — The director of the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Colombia mission says he and his colleagues remain committed to the implementation of the country’s LGBTQ-inclusive peace agreement.

“The entire portfolio that we have and all of our work here in Colombia is really to support a durable and an inclusive piece,” Larry Sacks told the Los Angeles Blade on Sept. 21 during an interview in Bogotá, the Colombian capital. “The core principles of what we do are based on equality, inclusion, rights and justice.”

The agreement then-President Juan Manuel Santos and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia Commander Rodrigo “Timochenko” Londoño signed in Cartagena on Sept. 26, 2016, specifically acknowledged LGBTQ Colombians as victims of the decades-long conflict that killed more than 200,000 people. The accord also called for their participation in the country’s political process.

Wilson Castañeda, director of Caribe Afirmativo, an LGBTQ group in northern Colombia with which USAID works, is one of three activists who participated in the peace talks that took place in Havana.

Caribe Afirmativo Director Wilson Castañeda speaks to a group of Venezuelan LGBTQ migrants in Barranquilla, Colombia, on Sept. 14, 2021. Caribe Afirmativo is one of the Colombian LGBTQ groups that receives support from the U.S. Agency for International Development. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Colombian voters on Oct. 2, 2016, narrowly rejected the agreement in a referendum that took place against the backdrop of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric from religious and conservative groups. Santos and Londoño less than two months later signed a second peace agreement — which also contains LGBTQ-specific references — in Bogotá.

“That was a very progressive move,” said Sacks in describing the inclusion of LGBTQ Colombians in the agreement.

President Iván Duque, who campaigned against the agreement ahead of his 2018 election, spoke to the U.N. General Assembly hours before the Blade interviewed Sacks. Duque described it as “fragile.”

“Peace accords worldwide tend to be made or broken within the first five years of implementation, and Colombia is right at that point,” Sacks told the Blade when asked about Duque’s comments. “There are certain people deep in the territories and others and high governments who are really helping and making sure that it’s successful, and that there’s continuity, and that the gains that have been made are irreversible. And there’s others who may question, but at the end of the day, I think that from our analysis, it’s on pace with what we’ve seen of the implementation of other peace accords worldwide.”

“At least from USAID’s perspective, we’re doing everything that we can to help support the implementation on multiple chapters of the peace accord,” he added.

USAID specifically supports the implementation of rural development programs through the agreement, efforts to reintegrate former child soldiers into Colombian society and expand the government’s presence into “violence-affected areas.” USAID also works with the Truth Commission, the Unit for the Search of Disappeared Persons, the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, the government’s Victims’ Unit and NGOs that support the conflict’s victims.

USAID’s fiscal year 2021 budget for Colombia is $212.9 million. Upwards of $50 million of this money is earmarked for human rights work that specifically focuses on indigenous Colombians and Colombians of African descent, security, access to the country’s justice system and victims of the conflict.

More than 200 LGBTQ Colombians reported murdered in 2020

Sacks said USAID’s LGBTQ-specific work in Colombia focuses on four specific areas.

“The first is really to kind of shine a light on, raise the visibility, raise the profile on issues of discrimination and violence and stigma and all the issues that this population is facing,” he said.

Colombia Diversa, a Colombian LGBTQ rights group, on Sept. 15 issued a report that notes 226 LGBTQ people were reported murdered in the country in 2020. This figure is more than twice the number of LGBTQ Colombians — 107 — who Colombia Diversa said were known to have been killed in 2019.

Sacks acknowledged anti-LGBTQ violence is increasing in Colombia.

He said the mission works with Ombudsman’s Office of Colombia, an independent agency within the Colombian government that oversees human rights protections in the country, to provide additional support to LGBTQ rights groups. Sacks noted USAID also works with the Interior Ministry to “support the development of their LGBTQI-plus policies” and the country’s attorney general “to hold those accountable.”

Sacks told the Blade that USAID also works to provide “technical and legal support to help” LGBTQ Colombians and other vulnerable groups “access public goods, services and justice.”

USAID-supported groups assist Venezuelan migrants

The Colombian government earlier this year said there were more than 1.7 million Venezuelan migrants in the country, although activists and HIV/AIDS service providers with whom the Blade has spoken say this figure is likely much higher. Duque in February announced it would legally recognize Venezuelan migrants who are registered with the country’s government. 

The Coordination Platform for Migrants and Refugees from Venezuela notes upwards of 5.4 million Venezuelans have left the country as of November 2020 as its economic and political crisis grows worse. The majority of them have sought refuge in Colombia, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru and Chile.

Venezuelan migrants are among the upwards of 570,000 people who have benefitted from a USAID program that provides direct cash assistance — between $49-$95 per family — for six months in order to purchase food and other basic needs. USAID also supports Americares, a Connecticut-based NGO that operates several clinics along the Colombia-Venezuelan border and in northern Colombia that specifically serve Venezuelan migrants with the support of the Colombian Health Ministry.

The U.S. Agency for International Development and other groups support a hand washing campaign on the Simón Bolívar International Airport that spans the Táchira River, which marks the Colombia-Venezuela border. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The U.S. Agency for International Development and other groups have placed hand washing stations on the Simón Bolívar International Airport that spans the Táchira River, which marks the Colombia-Venezuela border. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Sacks noted USAID has an “agreement with” Aid for AIDS International, a New York-based group that serves Venezuelans with HIV/AIDS. Aid for AIDS International has used this support to conduct a survey of 300 sex workers in Maicao, Medellín and Cali.

USAID is also working with the Health Ministry to provide health care to Venezuelan migrants with HIV/AIDS, among others, who are now legally recognized in Colombia.

Caribe Afirmativo has opened three “Casas Afirmativos” in Maicao, Barranquilla and Medellín that provide access to health care and other services to Venezuelan migrants who are LGBTQ and/or living with HIV/AIDS. Medellín officials have also invited Caribe Afirmativo staffers to speak with LGBTQ migrants in the city’s public schools.

“Colombia has shown a generosity that you don’t see in many other countries with regard to migrant populations,” Sacks told the Blade. “They really open their borders, their homes, their hearts, to migrants, including the LGBTI community.”

Biden global LGBTQ rights memo is ‘tremendous benefit’

The White House earlier this year released a memorandum that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ rights abroad. State Department spokesperson Ned Price in May told the Blade the protection of LGBTQ migrants and asylum seekers is one of the Biden administration’s priorities on this front.

Sacks said the memo “gives us the political framework with which to operate and obviously sends a message from the highest levels of the U.S. government about LGBTQI-plus rights and equality and inclusion.”

“So for us, it’s a tremendous benefit,” he told the Blade.

USAID Administrator Samantha Power — a vocal champion of LGBTQ rights — has yet to visit Colombia, but Sacks said she has spoken with Vice President Marta Lucía Ramírez.

“We hope to get her down,” said Sacks.

Editor’s note: Michael K. Lavers was on assignment in Colombia from Sept. 11-22.

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South America

Upwards of 4 million people attend São Paulo Pride

First round of Brazilian presidential election to take place Oct. 2

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Upwards of 4 million people participated in the São Paulo Pride parade in Brazil on June 19, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Renato Viterbo)

SÃO PAULO — Upwards of four million people attended São Paulo’s annual Pride parade on Sunday.

AIDS Healthcare Foundation Brazil, Aliança Nacional LGBTI (National LGBTI Alliance) and Associaçao Nacional de Travestis e Transexuais (National Association of Travestis and Transsexuals) are among the myriad groups that participated.

 
 
 
 
 
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Openly gay Brazilian Sen. Fabiano Contarato is among the elected officials who marched.

The theme of this year’s parade was “Vote with Pride.” 

The first round of Brazil’s presidential election will take place on Oct. 2.

Polls indicate President Jair Bolsonaro is trailing former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Bolsonaro has already sought to discredit the country’s electoral system, even though a group of more than 20 would-be hackers who gathered in the Brazilian capital of Brasília last month failed to infiltrate it.

Associaçao Nacional de Travestis e Transexuais President Keila Simpson and other activists with whom the Washington Blade spoke while in Brazil in March sharply criticized Bolsonaro over his rhetoric against LGBTQ+ and intersex Brazilians. 

A São Paulo HIV/AIDS service provider said Bolsonaro feels “AIDS is connected to faggots.” Other sources noted Bolsonaro has also suggested the COVID-19 vaccine causes AIDS.

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South America

Former Bogotá mayor elected first leftist Colombia president

LGBTQ+ and intersex activists welcomed Gustavo Petro’s election

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Former Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro votes in the second round of Colombia’s presidential election on June 19, 2022. (Screenshot courtesy of YouTube/AFP)

BOGOTÁ, Colombia — Former Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro on Sunday won the second round of Colombia’s presidential election.

Petro — a member of the Colombian Senate who was once a member of the M-19 guerrilla movement that disbanded in the 1990s — defeated former Bucaramanga Mayor Rodolfo Hernández by a 50.5-47.3 percent margin.

The former Bogotá mayor will be Colombia’s first leftist president when he takes office in August. Petro’s running mate, Francia Márquez, will be Colombia’s first female vice president of African descent.

“This is for our grandmothers and grandfathers, women, young people, LGTBIQ+ people, indigenous people, peasants, workers, victims, my Black community, those who resisted and those who are no longer with us … for all of Colombia,” tweeted Márquez after she and Petro won. “Today we are beginning to write a new history!”

Petro and Hernández faced off after they didn’t win at least 50 percent of the vote in the first round of the Colombian presidential election that took place on May 29.

Petro faced criticism ahead of the election because of his previous M-19 membership and fears his government will seek closer ties to Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s government, among other things. 

One source in Bogotá on Sunday noted to the Los Angeles Blade that Petro during the campaign pledged to fight violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and to implement policies “for the reaffirmation of gender and sexual orientation identities without barriers for all non-binary and Transgender people in Colombia.” Tatiana Piñeros, a Transgender woman who ran Bogotá’s social welfare and tourism office during Petro’s mayoralty that ended in 2015, welcomed the election results.

“I am very excited,” Piñeros told the Blade.

Wilson Castañeda is the director of Caribe Afirmativo, an LGBTQ+ and intersex rights group in northern Colombia.

Castañeda on Sunday said Petro and Márquez showed the “greatest commitment to the agenda of LGBT rights” out of the six campaigns in the election. Castañeda noted the campaign held “various meetings” with LGBTQ+ and intersex rights groups and pointed to the policies he implemented when he was Bogotá’s mayor.

“For the LGBT movement in Colombia, the triumph of the ‘Pacto Histórico’ campaign led by Gustavo Petro and Francia Márquez is very significant,” said Castañeda.

Angélica Lozano, a bisexual woman who became the first openly LGBTQ+ person elected to the Colombian Senate in 2018, and Mauricio Toro, the first out gay man elected to the country’s Congress, both praised Petro and Márquez.

“We will begin to write with all illusion a new page in the history of Colombia,” said Bogotá Mayor Claudia López, who is married to Lozano, in a tweet.

Chilean President Gabriel Boric, Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel, Honduran President Xiomara Castro and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken are among the world leaders who also congratulated Petro and Márquez.

“On behalf of the United States, I congratulate the people of Colombia for making their voices heard in a free and fair presidential election,” said Blinken in a statement. “We commend the many officials, public servants, and volunteers whose dedication made these elections possible.

“The United States and Colombia enjoy deep bonds between our peoples, shared values and shared interests in democracy, security, inclusive economic prosperity and human rights,” added Blinken. “Cooperation between the United States and Colombia has improved public health, livelihoods, rule of law and environmental protections in both our countries and throughout the region. We look forward to working with President-elect Petro to further strengthen the U.S.-Colombia relationship and move our nations toward a better future.”

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South America

Peru continues to lag behind other Latin American countries on LGBTQ+ rights

Attempts to ‘heal homosexuality’ remain legally protected

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LIMA, Peru — Peru is one of the few Latin American countries without pro-LGBTQ+ laws, and this evident backwardness in comparison to neighboring countries translates into a lower quality of life for those who do not identify as heterosexual.

LGBTQ+ Peruvians are highly vulnerable because of their sexual orientation and gender identity, and they also lack a regulatory framework that recognizes and protects them. This reality makes it more difficult for them to fight for equal rights in the areas of health, education and work, among others.

So-called conversion therapy is still allowed in Peru, and attempts to “heal homosexuality” remain legally protected.

The Peruvian Ministry of Justice at the end of 2020 requested for the first time a survey that focused on the LGBTQ+ community. It revealed 71 percent of Peruvians considers LGBTQ+ people are the most discriminated group in the country.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights in 2020 held the Peruvian state responsible for the rape and torture of Azul Rojas Marin, a Transgender woman, and ordered it to provide medical, psychological and/or psychiatric treatment and to prosecute the officers who tortured her. The ruling also called on Peru to track anti-LGBTQ+ violence in the country and develop a national strategy to respond to it.

None of this has been complied with so far, demonstrating the state’s indifference to LGBTQ+ rights. 

“LGBTI people are succinctly recognized in some regional or municipal ordinances at the local level, however, they have no recognition in any national legislation explicitly, which addresses their needs,” George Hale, institutional development director of Promsex, a Peruvian LGBTQ+ rights group, told the Washington Blade.

Jorge Apolaya, who has been organizing Pride marches in Peru for years, said that “discrimination against LGBTQ+ people in the country is associated with a heterosexist culture that continues to permeate the different spheres of society, not only in public services that should be available to all people regardless of their sexual orientation and/or gender expression or identity, but also in families whose structures continue to violate non-heterosexual people.”

Peruvian lawmakers recently passed a bill that eliminates the possibility of having comprehensive sexual education with a gender focus in schools, handing that power to parents. The country is one of the few in South America that allows it.

Most of the activists in Peru with whom the Blade spoke agree that previous governments have made no progress on LGBTQ+ rights, and that scenario will not improve because President Pedro Castillo, who took office last year, has publicly stated LGBTQ+ rights are not a priority for his administration.

Then-Congressman Carlos Bruce in 2014 came out as gay in an interview with a Peruvian newspaper. Alberto de Belaunde in 2016 became the first openly gay man elected to the Peruvian Congress. 

Former Peruvian Congressman Alberto de Belaunde. (Photo courtesy of Alberto de Belaunde)

De Belaunde tried to pass various bills that his colleagues did not support. He did, however, manage to start a public debate about the lives of LGBTQ+ Peruvians and responded to hate speech.

De Belaunde told the Blade that “Peru is a country with a serious problem of inequality, where not all its citizens have the same rights. The LGBTQ+ community faces a serious problem of exclusion as they do not see basic rights recognized and respected, such as the right to identity or the right to equality, and this impacts their quality of life.”

He also said the COVID-19 pandemic worsened the vulnerability of LGBTQ+ people, particularly trans people after former President Martín Vizcarra at one point implemented a “pico y género” rule that allowed people to leave their homes based on their gender. This regulation generated a wave of violence — mainly against Trans women — in Peru.

De Belaunde did not run for re-election last year, but two LGBTQ+ politicians entered Congress.

​​Susel Paredes from the center-left Purple Party became the first openly lesbian congressman in Peru. She also received the most votes of any woman who ran for Congress.

Peruvian Congresswoman Susel Paredes. (Photo courtesy of Susel Paredes)

Alejando Cavero of the right-wing Avanza País party became the second openly gay man elected to Congress.

Paredes explained to the Blade from her office in Lima, the Peruvian capital, that she is currently working to pass a marriage equality bill and another that would protect people based on their gender identity. Paredes said civil unions are unacceptable “because we are looking for full equality, not special laws for us.”

Cavero, on the other hand, has announced he will soon introduce a civil unions bill.  

He is also considering the elimination of the word marriage, leaving it exclusively for the religious sphere. Paredes and some Peruvian LGBTQ+ activists do not support this strategy.

Paredes, however, acknowledged her expectations regarding the approval of equal marriage in this Congress have no possibilities. She therefore said she will support Cavero’s civil unions bill.

“The possibilities that equal marriage will be approved are very limited and scarce due to the composition of the and scarce due to the composition of the Congress,” emphasized Paredes. “It is a Congress that has some left-wing conservatives and some right-wing conservatives. And the Peruvian right wing is absolutely conservative, there is no modern liberal right wing.”

“I believe that the civil union bill will be approved. But for that, we have to keep pushing for equal marriage. That way, the civil union bill will be approved faster and at last LGBTQ+ families will be able to have an institutionality,” she stressed.

Paredes is currently seeking legal recognition of her 2016 marriage in the U.S.

She said she will bring her case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights if Peru’s Constitutional Court rules against her.

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