Castro Admits Blame for Homophobia

by Tommi Avicolli-Mecca on September 7, 2010

Fidel Castro is admitting responsibility for the persecution, in decades past, of queers in Cuba. In an interview with the Mexican publication La Jornada, the former president of the island nation says that in terms of the homophobia of the post revolutionary days, “Si alguien es responsable, soy yo.” Which means: “if someone is responsible, it’s me.”

That persecution included sending gays off to “campos de trabajo militar-agrícola” (military-farming work camps) for the crime of being counter-revolutionaries and to “re-educate” them to their role in Cuban life — that is, to be straight.

“Yes, they were moments of a great injustice, a great injustice!” Castro says.

In trying to explain why this happened, Castro says that there were “tantos y tan terribles problemas, problemas de vida o muerte” (so many and such terrible problems, problems of life or death) to dealt with, including the unjust U.S. blockade of the island (which continues to this day), the threat of nuclear war, and the constant assassination attempts engineered by the CIA.

“It’s certain that in those moments, I couldn’t be worried about that issue, I found myself immersed in the October Crisis, the war, the political questions,” he says. The “October Crisis” is referred to in this country as the “Cuban Missile Crisis” of 1962, a time when the U.S. and Russia almost went to war over the building of nuclear missile bases in Cuba.

Castro believes that homophobia came about as a “spontaneous reaction in the revolutionary ranks” because in Cuba before the 1959 revolution, not only did people discriminate against blacks, but also against women and gays.

“Who was, therefore, responsible directly or indirectly, for not putting a stop to what was happening in Cuban society?” Castro asks. “The party? Because that was the time in which the Communist Party of Cuba did not explicitly address in its statues a prohibition against anti-gay discrimination.”

“If someone must assume the responsibility,” Castro says, “I assume it. I’m not going to blame others.”

Castro, who acknowledges that some of his best and oldest friends are gay, says that now “personally, I don’t have that type of prejudice.”

Castro’s remarks come at a time when Cuban attitudes towards queers are changing. Homosexuality was decriminalized in the 90s. Cuba offers transsexuals free sex change operations and is on the verge of recognizing same-sex unions. Recently, many cities on the island participated in a campaign called “Homosexuality is not a danger, homophobia is.”

A lot of the credit for this new awareness goes to Mariela Castro, the 47-year-old sociologist daughter of Fidel’s brother Raúl. Mariela serves as director of the Cuban National Center for Sex Education. Raúl took over the reins of running the country in 2008 when Fidel became too ill to continue as president. Mariela has long been an outspoken supporter of LGBT rights.

Maybe it’s a matter of being older and wiser or simply realizing that the gay revolution is here to stay. But whatever the reason, it’s about time that Fidel comes clean about the persecution of queers in Cuba.

Tommi Avicolli Mecca is co-editor of Avanti Popolo: Italians Sailing Beyond Columbus, and editor of Smash the Church, Smash the State: The Early Years of Gay Liberation, which was nominated for both an American Library Association and a Lambda Literary award. His website is www.avicollimecca.com.

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