A stunner of an interview with Fidel Castro was posted today on the site of the Mexican newspaper La Jornada. In it, journalist Carmen Lira Saade interviews to the former dictator at his home in Havana and discusses the US blockade, Cuba's relationship with Mexico and LGBT rights. Here is my translation of the passage in which the Cuban dictator addresses LGBT rights when he was leading the country.
[NOTE: The reporter writes in the first person and uses dashes for some citations and quotation marks for others, making the interview difficult to follow at parts. Nevertheless I have tried to retain the punctuation used in the original Spanish-language article from La Jornada].
Even though there is nothing that shows he feels any discomfort, I do not think Fidel is going to like what I am about to say.The article goes on to mention the work of Mariela Castro. Fidel's niece, in pushing for LGBT rights in the island and recent advances which include public health policies that allow transgender people to undergo gender-reassignment surgery free of charge.
- Comandante, despite the enchantments of the Cuban Revolution, the acknowledgment of and solidarity with a great part of the intellectual universe, the great achievements of the people against the blockade, in short, everything - everything - went down the pipes as a result of the persecution against homosexuals in Cuba.
Fidel doesn't shy away from the topic. He doesn't deny nor reject the claim. He only asks for time to remember - he says - how and when prejudice took over the revolutionary ranks.
Five decades ago, based on homophobia, homosexuals were marginalized in Cuba and many were sent to agricultural-military labor camps accusing them of being "counterrevolutionaries."
- Yes, he remembers, it was a time of great injustice - A great injustice! - he repeats emphatically - no matter who did it. If it was us who did it, us... I am trying to define my responsibility in all that because, of course, I don't hold that type of prejudice.
It is known that among his oldest of friends, there are homosexuals.
- But then, how was that hatred against the 'different' established?
He believes all was the result of a spontaneous reaction in the revolutionary ranks, which came from tradition. In earlier Cuba blacks were not the only ones discriminated against; women were also discriminated and, of course, homosexuals...
- Yes, yes. But not in the Cuba of the 'new' morality, the pride of those revolutionaries on the inside and on the outside...
- Who, then, was directly or indirectly responsible for not putting a stop to what was happening in Cuban society? The Party? Because the Communist Party of Cuba still does not 'explicitly' ban discrimination based on sexual orientation.
- No - says Fidel - If someone is responsible, it's me...
"It is true that at the time I could not take care of that issue... I found myself immersed, primarily, in the October Crisis [as the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 is known in the island], in war, on political matters..."
- But this became a serious and grave political problem, Comandante.
- Understood, understood ... We didn't know how to give it value ... systematic sabotages, armed attacks were happening all the time; we had so many problems, some terrible, problems of life or death - you know? - at we did not give it enough attention.
- After all that, it became very difficult to defend the Revolution abroad... The image had forever been damaged in some places, particularly in Europe.
- Understood, understood - he repeats -; it was just...
- The persecution of homosexuals could happen with be lesser or greater protest, anywhere. Not in revolutionary Cuba - I tell him.
- Understood; It's like when a saint sins, right?... It's not the same thing as when a sinner sins, no?
Fidel gives a faint smile, then get serious again:
- Look: Imagine how our days were in those first few months of the Revolution; the war with the Yankees, the how you think were the days of ours in those early months of the Revolution: the war with the Yankees, the issue of the armaments, and, almost simultaneously, the planned attempts on my own life...
Fidel reveals how they all had "tremendous" influence on him and how his life was changed by the life-threats and actual attacks he suffered:
"I could not go anywhere, I didn't even have were to live..." Betrayals were the order of the day and I had to go a salto de mata [an expression that means 'to live day to day']...
"To escape the CIA, which used to buy so many traitors, sometimes among my own people, was not an easy thing; but whatever, anyway, if responsibility has to be taken, I take my own. I will not blame others...", says the revolutionary leader.
He only regrets not having corrected it back then...
UPDATE: A few English language articles have started to roll in...