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In Northern Colombia, LGBT Rights Meet Indigenous Prejudice

'Alternative' sexuality is despised in the traditionalist, native or Afro-Caribbean communities of northern Colombia. The choices for gays and lesbians tend to be harsh: face down your family and neighbors, or leave.

Pride day has never been more important in Colombia
Pride day has never been more important in Colombia
Joseph Casañas

CARTAGENA — Prejudice "is an everyday thing," says Tania Duarte, a gay community leader in Cartagena, the historic port and resort on Colombia's Caribbean coast.

Her gait is firm and determined, as she steps on the hot pavement in Barranquilla, a nearby city where we spoke. She takes short steps as if preparing to march in protest, and live. It is Gay Pride day here, and she ditched her fears a long while back. This transgender woman studied philosophy at the University of Cartagena.

She's no victim, and is clear on things. She understands that belonging to the LGBT (gay, lesbian and transsexual) community in Cartagena where she was born 25 years ago, is "all screwed up... though my family doesn't understand much about all this, when they see news and find out they discriminated against or killed someone from the community, they worry because they know perfectly well it could have been me." In 2017, 109 members of the LGBT community were murdered.

The first Meeting of Afro-Caribbean and Indigenous LGBT leaders from the regions of La Guajira, Cartagena and Tumaco, organized by the NGO Caribe Afirmativo, identified 10 "invisible barriers' to this community's advancement. The most prevalent were racism and low educational levels.

Tania adjusts her dress and fixes her turban to avoid hair curls dangling over her face. Paradoxically, she says, "the Palenqueros and Raizals are the most racist ethnic groups," referring to local Afro-Caribbean communities. "We treat each other really badly, but that too is because of a lack of effective education models and of rigor in recognizing ourselves ethnically."

For the way she speaks and her clarity of expression, Tania has gradually become a spokeswoman for the LGBT population in Cartagena, capital of the Bolívar department, and that has its risks. Colombia is seeing a significant rise in homicides, threats and forced displacements, among other rights violations, directed at defenders of LGBT rights. In 2017, 60 threats were registered against LGBT persons, while Caribe Afirmativo counted a unprecedented increase over 2016-2017 from six to 26, of threats against LGBT rights defenders and their organizations. "I am not breaking any paradigms with my leadership," Tania says. "There are many trans women who have taken their path and thanks to them, regardless of what they did, whether they were hairdressers or sex workers, it is now easier for me to go out the house."

Within the Afro-Caribbean context, the LGBT identity is made invisible as many in black communities think "this' came from the white man and thus, does not happen among black people or if it does, it is due to interaction with whites who have sought to export their "deviations' to other communities.

Things have gradually improved, though Tania has a practical guide today for anyone wanting to approach the gay community. "When you're going to meet someone, don't ask tired old questions like "do you like men or women, do you do upstairs or downstairs?". We're more than that, more than just the kinky stuff. We have a life and want to talk about it. About our favorite food, cinema, books. Make an effort, we're more than a sexual orientation," she says.

The belief that homosexuality is a kind of curse.

David Rodríguez is a gay man born in Uribia, called the indigenous capital of Colombia. Many of the Wayuu, the native people of the Guajira peninsula and kinsmen of Rodríguez, live in this district, and it was not easy for him to live out his sexual orientation. He says "for indigenous people the homosexual or LGBT person generally does not exist. He is considered an aberration."

The belief locally is that homosexuality is a kind of punishment or curse. A demon is thought to live in a gay man and "must be driven out," says one Wayuu leader from Riohacha.

To "exorcize it," a potion is prepared from a local nettle (pringamoza) as prescribed by a spiritualist or medium. "They peal it, heat it in water and the person is bathed in it or given it to drink," says the Wayuu leader. "This helps the hormones rise up until the vocal chords are once again those of a man," he says.

David fled before trying the potion, taking refuge in Barranquilla. There, in spite of adversity, he set about studying law. "I began to work and to become independent," he recalled. "I showed my family that being is gay is normal."

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Geopolitics

What Lula Needs Now To Win: Move To The Center And Mea Culpa

Despite the leftist candidate's first-place finish, the voter mood in Brazil's presidential campaign is clearly conservative. So Lula will have to move clearly to the political center to vanquish the divisive but still popular Jair Bolsonaro. He also needs to send a message of contrition to skeptical voters about past mistakes.

Brazilian votes show a polarized national opinion with two clear winners: former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and sitting president Jair Bolsonaro

Marcelo Cantelmi

-Analysis-

The first round of Brazil's presidential elections closed with two winners, a novelty but not necessarily a political surprise.

Leftist candidate and former president, Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, was clearly the winner. His victory came on the back of the successes of his two previous administrations (2003-2011), kept alive today by the harsh reality that large swathes of Brazilians see no real future for themselves.

Lula, the head of the Workers Party or PT, also moved a tad toward the political Center in a bid to seduce middle-class voters, with some success. Another factor in his first-round success was a decisive vote cast against the current government, though this was less considerable than anticipated.

The other big winner of the day was the sitting president, Jair Bolsonaro. For many voters, his defects turn out to be virtues. They were little concerned by his bombastic declarations, his authoritarian bent, contempt for modernity, his retrograde views on gender and his painful management of the pandemic. They do not believe in Lula, and envisage no other alternative.

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