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Cuba’s Gay Politics Mired In Past


Cuba’s been going through a bit of a political puberty as of late. Last February, after 49-years in power, long-time leader Fidel Castro stepped aside and handed the presidency to his brother, Raul. Though still all in the family, many see Raul’s ascension as a positive move for the island, a sign that the communist government could evolve.

A little over a month later, Mariela Castro, the president’s daughter and leader of the government-backed Center for Sexual Diversity (CENESEX), took a progressive step when she called on the government to rewrite the 70s-era Family Code and pave the way for civil unions.

The “revolutionary redefinition” of family, says CENESEX spokesperson Alberto Roque Guerra, goes straight to epicenter of Cuba’s gay problem: “Family is the core of society. Homophobia and transphobia are first seen within the family. The fight against homophobia awareness is focused on the family as the main goal.” However true that may be, Guerra’s declaration purposefully ignores decades of state-sanctioned homophobia. What’s more, CENESEX’s push for equality eschews the true goal: assimilation.

The government’s modest progress – as well as its dubious explanations – has as much with political survival and public relations as it does with cultural evolution. Sifting through the various truths, one finds a debate shaded by political ideology, Cold War-inspired misconception and not a small amount of spin.


[Fidel, Raul and Che Guevara's legacies loom large in 21st century Cuba.]
Fidel Castro, in a 1965 interview, decried the gay threat, telling American journalist Lee Lockwood, “Young people should not be in the hands of homosexuals.” Though the gays could pledge revolutionary allegiance, they were not entirely trust worthy:

Nothing prevents a homosexual from professing revolutionary ideology and, consequently, exhibiting a correct political position… And yet we would never come to believe that a homosexual could embody the conditions and requirements of conduct that would enable us to consider him a true Revolutionary, a true Communist militant. A deviation of that nature clashes with the concept of what a militant Communist must be.

Thus, in their revolutionary zest, Castro’s regime erected reeducation camps, where dissidents, religious leaders and gays were to be cleansed of their “anti-social behavior” and trained to serve the revolution. In 2006, while discussing the controversial camps, Castro acknowledged their existence, but refused to align them with the “supposed persecution of homosexuals.” The “Military Units to Support Production,” he said, “were not internment units, nor were their punishment units. On the contrary, it was about morale, to give them a chance to work and help the country in those difficult circumstances.” Though the camps have since been abolished, the Revolution’s quest for integration remains the same, albeit with some timely adjustments.

To say the Revolution single-handedly created homophobia on the island would be unfair. There were other force at play, of course, including Catholicism and, perhaps more importantly, machismo. An idolization of masculinity, machismo celebrates the strong, virile man. This man flexed his social muscle, while more effeminate men were made to lurk in the shadows – or face the consequences. Like the island’s fifties-era cars, machismo still rules Cuba’s roads, says Leonardo Chacon, a Cuban AIDS activist who moved to Miami last year: “Being gay is a signal of weakness. In our tradition, someone who is gay, we call ‘no man.’” And that “no man” has never been as politically valuable as communism’s so-called “New Man.”

By:           Andrew Belonksy
On:           Sep 9, 2008
Tagged: , , , , , ,

  • 16 Comments
    • John
      John

      I think the accusation that a government allows more freedom because it wants to “survive” is a bit of a misnomer. Since survival is what every government – democratic or otherwise – aspires to. No incumbent in America goes into an election campaign with “please replace me.” So, why wouldn’t it be the same with authoritarian regimes?

      I think Raul Castro realizes that the revolution is pretty much dead. Even Cuba’s closest “communist” allies are becoming ever more capitalist in orientation. Look at what’s happening in China, Vietnam, and the tri-partite alliance (ANC, SACP, COSATU) in South Africa.

      To maintain his grip on power, Raul has to espouse more liberal policies than Fidel did. Because that’s what smart politicians do. As long as gays and lesbians in Cuba are getting something useful out of it, what exactly is the point of expressing disdain at the sinister motivations behind it? Other than to do the bidding of the U.S. State Department, that is. And toady upto the right-wing Cuban American vote in Miami.

      Sep 9, 2008 at 3:48 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • dizzyspins
      dizzyspins

      Sorry folks, but Cuba’s so-called growing acceptance of gays is nothing more than PR spin. America is grappling with gay rights, so Cuba can embarrass us by looking so forward-thinking and downright European. Mariela Castro called for civil unions–is anything being done on that, or is it just empty rhetoric, from the DAUGHTER of the president. Imagine if Jenna Bush was in charge of the Department of Health–would we think she’d do anything but what the president and his cronies dictated?

      If gays are being treated better in Cuba, Im thrilled. But i dont really see any evidence of it, except some government approved sound bites.

      How can gays be free in a country where no one is free? As awful as George Bush is, he’ll be gone in five months. Fidel Castro ruled Cuba for 50 years, before turning the reins over to his brother.

      Sep 9, 2008 at 4:12 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Darth Paul
      Darth Paul

      Excellent article.

      Unfortunately, when the revolution officially fails, traditionalism in all it’s ugly (and now, repressed) forms will exploit the highly defective assumptions of queerness- that we’re a bunch of transgendered pedophiles working for the devil, peddling drugs, and spreading disease. You can count on the Catholic church to push that to the extreme, much like the Orthodox church has in Russia and the former Soviet satellites.

      We should be sending queer missionaries to educate now, but I don’t see that happening. We’re far too busy braying about gay marriage, Madonna’s brother, and Project Runway.

      Sep 9, 2008 at 4:23 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • RyanInSacto
      RyanInSacto

      @John: Very insightful points.

      Sep 9, 2008 at 4:26 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • andrew
      andrew

      On the contrary, Darth Paul, I think gays will have large part in potential political collapse. That’s explained in the conclusion, which will be posted tomorrow.
      x
      AB

      Sep 9, 2008 at 4:27 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • CHURCHILL-Y
      CHURCHILL-Y

      If you’re counting on the exile community forget it! Just take a look at those in Miami they are not as vicious as say the Apes down in Jamaica but they still hate Gay people. Their favorite word used to demean or insinuate something as lowly or trash is MARICON which roughly equates to being an effeminate man. They might hate Castro and the commies but they embrace alot of the views (including homophobia) that form part of that ideology.

      Sep 9, 2008 at 7:30 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Mr C
      Mr C

      My Goodness Churchill-Y

      Another hateful statement quote

      Just take a look at those in Miami they are not as vicious as say the Apes down in Jamaica

      unquote

      And your hypocritical ass said this on the Elisabeth blog

      If you found his comment as repulsive as I did then good for you.

      Well idiot we find you just as repulsive!

      Girl, Why don’t you take your hate to a Black person face to face. For Real For Real talk is so cheap even through a computer, This Bitch needs her ass whooped seriously

      Sep 10, 2008 at 8:12 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • tallskin
      tallskin

      I am amazed that the usual suspects are not our in force on here extolling the virtues of the wonderful workers’ paradise : CUBA. Fucking homophobic shithole, like Jamaica.

      And Mr C, is a gay man not allowed to express his disgust for homophobic cunts in places like jamaica? The words the apes on jamaica use to describe us and our lovers makes the word “ape” seem mild in comparison. I would suggest you take a wee troll to Youtube and do a search for anti gay ragga music or Beenyman etc etc, and then you’ll see what the apes in jamaica and indeed the fucking blacks all over the world say about us.

      And, what a silly damned thing to say about churchill Y having to go face to face with some neanderthal and confront its homophobia. Yeah, right!!! I personally experience enough homophobia from the blacks here in london, thanks. No need for that extra special face to face intimacy. I prefer to use my brains and fight them back that way, using the police and law where I can, organising campaigns against them – cos that confuses ‘em.

      Sep 10, 2008 at 8:55 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Mr C
      Mr C

      TALLSKIN,Is your Mother a neanderthal?

      Personally you and him can kiss my ass.

      It’s very strange I don’t ever here any Blacks that come to Queerty to talk about the Blacks who have been KILLED by Whites due to Homophobia and there have been many if you haven’t bothered to research.

      OK queen so take the racist trash and you defending him somewhere else.
      Because you’re IGNORANT, RACIST and a BRITISH TROLL.

      And yeah I said that!

      And if you ever visit the states let me know I’ll say it GLADLY in person NO FEAR HERE.
      You’re just a hateful fag who just want to use Blacks as your whipping doll when HOMOPHOBIA is shared by all races.

      But I guess you’re too ignorant to see that also?

      You need to use your brains and realize that HOMOPHOBIA comes from all races even your WHITE BRITS!

      But I guess you’re too ignorant to know that also?

      Sep 10, 2008 at 11:26 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • PearlsBeforeSwine
      PearlsBeforeSwine

      One view is that there is a nexus between capitalism/free markets and democracy/freedoms/tolerance. In the US, 92% of the Fortune 500 companies have gay/lesbian nondiscrimination policies in effect. They haven’t adopted these policies out of the goodness of their hearts but because it is good business. Companies are competing with each other for the best talent, and a company that does not have a nondiscrimination policy will be at a disadvantage in recruiting.

      The notion is that liberal democracy beats state controlled governments. This is a fundamental tenent of the US. For example, yesterday there was a discussion on Queerty on whether PFOX should be allowed to have materials in public libraries. Of course they should. The liberal democratic principals that give them a voice are the same liberal democratic principals that give gay and lesbian people a place in society. It is normally the right wing that tries to block the free expression of ideas by censorship and book banning.

      Cuba since the revolution certainly has not been a liberal democracy. Their one party government and persecution of dissidents shows that. What is sad is that US policies have played into their hands. The US has kept the Castro government in power for over 50 years by maintaining it’s blockade of trade with them and as such they have never had to compete. Democracy/capitalism is a better system than one party rule/communism.

      It has been suggested that Elian Gonzalez cost Al Gore the election. Virtually everyone who was not Cuban or extreme right wing in the US (and the world) was shocked about a child being kidnapped from it’s father and being held in Miami. But not the Cuban community who hate Castro with a fervor. So when the Clinton administration cooperated in the child’s return to his father the Cuban community responded by withholding their support of Al Gore who went on to lose Florida by a slim margin. So we continue our counterproductive economic blockade of Cuba, the failed Castro regime stays in power, and the Cuban community can continue to had Castro.

      Sep 10, 2008 at 12:31 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • M Shane
      M Shane

      I fail to see the significance of examining the origins of Communist Cuban homophobia since they are about as ordinary as that of any society set on the ideal of reproducing new members. Likewise, there is no comparison with the ugly opressiveness of the U.S. supported Batista (capitalist) government. It was another disgrace in our history in So. and Central America of displacing democracyies and free societies with brutal Corporatist Dictatorships., which murdered and tortured unselectively. Certaintly gay people were among the first of those decimated.

      I think that the significance of the high level of freedom of education , healthcare and new freedoms for gay people need to be considered in relation to their treatment in the American supported Batista regime, with the communist takover as a step in the improvement of their condition. It’s interesting that Allan Ginsberg was welcome in Cuba as was Jean Genet , famous gay writers. Ginberg remarked that Che was ” cute”.

      Lets see the issue in it’s entire perspective.

      Sep 10, 2008 at 1:53 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • seitan-on-a-stick
      seitan-on-a-stick

      Churchill-y and Tallskin are the same British blogger! One lives in Mass and the other pretends to still be in his council flat back in Mary-old England! It’s so Whatever Happened to Baby Church!

      I also want to point out some other reasons that Al Gore had the election stolen in 2000:

      Jews were tricked into voting for Pat Buchanan with faulty alignment of voting stock cards (was it Palm Beach?)

      Fox president, Roger Ailes (the original “Karl Rove”) called it for “Bush” after every other network called it for “Gore” and the media fell into place like a House of Cards (with de-regulation business before congress!)

      Florida Secretary-Of-State Katherine Harris (who had an affair with Bush before Condi did) reigned over the tabulations of counting the Chads with the help of (former) General Shwartzkopf and the maurading Schiavo-loving Republican thugs!

      The Supreme Court (SCOTUS) selected George W Bush as King (by not allowing the count of every Florida vote.) Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg “Disagreed” with the ruling but not “Respectfully.”

      I think the Miami Cuban community love the kick-back bribery from the Republican Party more than they hate Castro (but younger generations are changing that slowly.)

      The only victim in the Elian Gonzalez kidnapping was Attorney General Janet Reno who cried with anguish unlike AG’s John Ashcroft who lost a campaign to a dead guy or Alberto Gonzales who drafted the torture memo for Abu Ghraib.

      When in Havana, order the Chocolate and Strawberry ice-cream and you’ll have a Gay Meeting in Cuba!

      Sep 10, 2008 at 2:13 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • CHURCHILL-Y
      CHURCHILL-Y

      Your baby Church is here Mr. “Let’s pray her next child has Down’s Syndrome!” Seitan.

      “Churchill-y and Tallskin are the same British blogger! One lives in Mass and the other pretends to still be in his council flat back in Mary-old England!”

      Is this your knew attempt at silencing us non-self loathers and commies like you and Perdue?
      And also hun, I know it must be one of your wet dreams to think that I’m in MA but as I have told you a many times I reside and vote on one of those battle ground states that your ilk now wishes would secede from the union. You know the ones populated by hillbillies, like you and your comrades love to call people like me. But who am I to stop you from your deranged dreaming go ahead, on the 4th I’ll be thinking of you when I cast my vote in my home state. I must admit though I do find British guys sexxy (*giggles*) as you can see from my screename in a huge fan. I mean their accents just scream hot sex to me! Would love to be intimate with one someday. I need a cold shower now.

      Tallskin you’re my English knight in shining armour in cyberspace(kisses). You know this creep that goes by the name of Mr c never finds anything wrong with the homophobic behavior of blacks and if you had any doubts now you shouldn’t. Any self respecting Gay man would never defend the murderous homophobic Jamaicans. But since they’re black people like the above mentioned life form are more than happy to do so. Race trumps Sexual orientation when it comes to them as does those in our community who hold communist views like Bill Perdue. They’ll decry homophobia in capitalist Western societies but when confronted with the much worst and oppressive reality that Gay people face in Cuba, Russia, China and other communist influenced Nations you won’t hear a peep from them.

      Sep 10, 2008 at 3:15 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Mr C
      Mr C

      There goes this faggot ass idiot Churchill-Y lying on me.

      You said:

      Mr c never finds anything wrong with the homophobic behavior of blacks and if you had any doubts now you shouldn’t

      You’ll never find a post where I have ever said that or condone anyone with this type of behavior. Okay Queen save the lying for your Mother she had you not I

      I’ve always said HOMOPHOBIA is wrong no matter who says it. But you have the KKK Sheet up your ass so bad. Your dumb ass to stupid to remember anything decent what people say.
      Question for you: Why you never had nothing to say about when 3 whites were responsible for the death of Michael Sandy a Black Gay Man.

      Oh I forgot you’re racist so that was okay with you. You’re a poor excuse for a Non-descriptive bastard from KKGay Funny Farm

      DUMB ASS MAN UP OR SHUT THE FUCK UP!

      Sep 11, 2008 at 12:21 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • greg
      greg

      Why does the article seemingly accept Castro’s explanation that the camps in Cuba were anything other than concentration camps? And to anyone who wants to try to negate the brutality of Cuban homphobia by comparing the Batista regime, do a bit of reading in cultural histories: Batista’s Cuba was a corrupt regime, but its gay scene flourished – even thought the motives were largely financial: that is, the same bar payoffs to police for non-interference that were the mark of US cities that had gay scenes.
      Castro’s Cuba was a neo-Stalinist regime of the first order. its liberalization has little to do with reform, and everything to do with the bankrupt state’s inability to persecute. As in other failed totalitarian states, Cuba is nothing but a vicious dog with its teeth knocked out.

      Sep 11, 2008 at 6:02 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • M Shane
      M Shane

      Batista was a murderous right wing totalitarian dictator! Cuba was never by any means a”neo-Stalinist” state.Generally people have been haoppy with what they have: heath care, education: better than the U.S. The only unhappy people generally have been the capitalist vampires who Batista did the work of. This is just common right wing propaganda. The country has been far supperior in all ways.

      Sep 11, 2008 at 2:35 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·

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