As rare as it is to have Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez on the record on LGBT rights, I wanted to share this little nugget from an interview given on the spot during his visit to Europe last month. In it, an Italian gossip show host lobbies a series of questions on controversial issues and elicits as clear an answer from Chavez on his views on marriage equality and anti-gay discrimination. From my translation:
REPORTER: Can you tell me your position on gay marriage? [EDIT] ...in a world in which gay marriage is possible.Translation caveat number one: Italian is not my first language, so I might have erred in translating some of the reporter's questions. Translation caveat number two: As you would expect for an Italian paparazzi show, the video has several edits which means that Chavez' response has been severely truncated. Translation caveat number three: "No es bien visto" can be translated as "it's not well-regarded" but doesn't have the full impact of "it's not considered to be a good thing" which is probably what Chavez means.
HUGO CHAVEZ: I believe that... look, each country has its customs, no? At least, in Venezuela, it is not well-regarded, no? But there are societies, there are societies, there are ideas which continue to mature [EDIT] ...what I am indeed against is any persecution against anyone based on sexual orientations...
REPORTER: What do you think... [CLIP]
HUGO CHAVEZ: ...we are all equal, the particularities of the individual, of a human being, have to be respected.
REPORTER: ..brings us, justly, to gay marriage... [CLIP]
HUGO CHAVEZ: In Venezuela, it is not well-regarded...
REPORTER: What do you think...
HUGO CHAVEZ: Now, if... Me? The same as Venezuelans, as the majority of Venezuelans, those of us who don't see it as being good.
HUGO CHAVEZ: No, but it's a state of opinion, it's a state of opinion. Which doesn't mean we are in opposition, that I am in opposition of what you might think.
All in all, Chavez admits a couple of things: 1) He thinks that marriage equality is a symbol of a 'mature' society and yet he sides with the Venezuelan population that believes marriage equality is wrong, and; 2) He says that he is against persecution against anyone based on sexual orientation.
Last week, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission sent out an urgent alert on the arbitrary detention of LGBT leaders in Caracas. So far, no word from the Venezuelan government or Chavez. I guess it's one thing to say that he is against discrimination against the LGBT community when interviewed in a foreign country but quite another when it comes to governing his own country.
Update (or, some additional thoughts as of 11/21/09): Over at Towleroad as well as below, some readers have taken some issue with what I wrote on this post. I wanted to address a couple of those issues.
On taking Chavez to task for violence and detentions against the LGBT community in Caracas instead of the local authorities and the city's mayor: Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma might be among those who oppose Chavez and the IGLHRC 'action alert' might be directed at local Caracas officials, but ultimately Chavez is the country's president and it would make a world of difference if he stepped in and publicly declared the detentions a violation of people's human rights. What's particularly galling to me is that there he is in Venice boasting that he is against persecution based on sexual orientation and yet, when he goes back home, he continues his long-term silence on LGBT issues.
On taking Chavez to task for his position on marriage equality when even US President Barack Obama does not support marriage rights for same-sex couples: I doubt that marriage equality advocates in Venezuela give a second thought to Obama or his position on the issue when advocating for the right of same-sex couples to marry in their country. The video was actually sent to me by an LGBT rights organization called Venezuela Diversa and, in a statement that accompanied the video, they deplored Chavez's stand on the issue. Interestingly, they argue that, on LGBT issues, Venezuela is being left behind other countries in Latin America (no mention of Obama) and argued that left-wing movements throughout the world had embraced the issue and now support it (an arguable point).
Argentina is about to see the first marriage between a same-sex couple in all of Latin America in a couple of weeks and courts and legislatures have paved the way for a series of advances in countries like Uruguay, Colombia, Brazil, Mexico, Chile and others. They are advances that have been obtained through the hard work of local organizations and activists with little economic or strategic input from organizations in the United States.
Obama should be taken to task for not being the "fierce advocate" he promised to be on LGBT rights but his reticence does not mean that every other heads of nation should get a free pass on LGBT issues, including marriage equality.
On these being 'fringe' issues in a region that is facing larger problems: Arguments that the Latin American region is largely homophobic and not amenable to be progressive on LGBT issues, or that these are fringe issues raised by a small minority in countries facing greater social problems, are defeatist and ignorant of the tremendous advances that have been made in the last few years when it comes to same-sex partnership rights in Latin America.
- Towleroad: Hugo Chavez on LGBT persecution and marriage equality (Nov. 19, 2009) - Read comments below post for commentary.
- The Huffington Post / IPS News: Venezuela: Gays Attacked, Harassed By Police (Nov. 4, 2009)
- President Chavez is too macho to be gay (Sept. 16, 2007)