Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Fidel Castro on persecution against gays in Cuba: "If someone is responsible, it's me"

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.

- 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...
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.

UPDATE: A few English language articles have started to roll in...


Unknown said...

Wow. Andre, thanks for posting this. How refreshing to hear a political leader say they are willing to acknowledge and error and accept responsibility for it.

Anonymous said...

Great words from a great leader. Nowadays the problem hardly exists anymore,even outside Havanna, gays and transsexuals are widely accepted. There are always exceptions of course, anywhere in the world. I´dare to say that gay life in Cuba nowadays is more accepted than in many of the so called "free" countries.Living in Cuba and Europe, con mis saludos. Frederic

Oquendo said...

The Cuban revolution began before the social and cultural changes that started in the late Sixties in most of the now so called progressive countries. It seems that in political matters, everything moves according to the priorities of the moment. Just think about the inability of Clinton before, and Obama now, to keep their political promises to the United States LGBTT population. The fact that Fidel Castro not only dared to answer questions like these, but accepted his responsibility, in my view, it is a step forward. How Cuba moves forward regarding LGBTT human and civil rights, amongst other issues, however, remains to be seen.

ben ramos said...

I have been to cuba and have met with various LGBT folks and have seen the wrk they do there. It is interesting that many americans dont realize that this isnt the first time that fidel and the revolution have taken responsiblity for what they have doen to the LGBT; they spoekn about it before, but many americans refuse to listen becuase theya re so caught up in what happened in the past.

there is still alot of hompohbia in cuba (very endemic in the culture, but not so much in institutions), but the flks of CENESEX and similar programs are doign alot of incredible work to elevate the cultural consciousness about these issues.

Ben Ramos said...

Also, I object to the term "dictator" at the beginning of this translation. Fidel castro was democratically elected by the cuban people.

Larry La Fountain said...

The horrendous and well-documented persecution of lesbians, gays, and trangender people in Cuba after 1959 is a shameful, unfortunate, and unacceptable episode of the Revolution under Fidel Castro. His apology is meaningful but hardly sufficient to make up for the legacy of his own and his government's actions. A lot more is required.

Blabbeando said...

Thank you, Larry.

On other sites I have seen people go as far as to say that Fidel Castro has more of a backbone that United States President Barack Obama for admitting persecuting gays in Cuba was wrong. It riles me up because 1) In the interview, Castro first tries to get away with saying he has no homophobic sentiments himself, then 2) Takes responsibility only when pushed on the issue and only as it relates to the years when the Cuban Revolution took place, and 3) Doesn't address all those gays his government sent to hard labor camps throughout the 70's, 80's and 90's.

It wasn't an isolated incident from the 1960's. It was the unofficial policy of the Cuban government through the 1960's and beyond.

And to those who would say Castro is better on LGBT issues than Barack Obama? Tell that to all the gays (and people with HIV/AIDS) who died in those hard labor camps and prisons.

It IS a groundbreaking moment, and I am grateful for Castro's words this late in the game. I also believe that his words will matter when it comes to improving the lives of LGBT people in Cuba. But it does not erase the suffering and death he was directly responsible for as the Cuban leader while he was on top.

Walter Lippmann said...

The La Jornada interview, in a complete English translation, may be read here:

A collection of hundreds of reports, documents and original translations from Spanish to English on the history of Cuba's relations with its lesbian-gay-bisexual and transgendered citizens may be read here:

libhom said...

It certainly is a fact that Castro has been better on LGBT issues than Obama for well over a decade. Obviously, this represents a tremendous reversal of course from what Castro did before.

What is it about Castro and the leaders of so many other countries on queer issues vs US leaders who are way behind? The answer is that religion and religious groups have far more power and influence in the US.

The fact that someone who once was brutally heterosexist is now better on queer issues than the vast majority of US politicians should shame the US and make people think about how fucked up things are in our country.