Homosexuals in Fidel's Paradise

by Servando Gonzalez

Copyright © 1999. All rights reserved.

As an author has observed, Fidel Castro has long assigned the United States the same universal malevolence which Hitler arrogated to the Jews. However, not having many Americans at hand, Castro displaced his hatred toward other social groups, among them the homosexuals. This brings to mind a joke that became popular in Cuba in the early sixties. People used to ask, "Why is Fidel persecuting homosexuals?" The right answer was, "Because there are not enough Jews in Cuba."

Poet Armando Valladares, who spent long years in prison in Cuba, believes that "there have been few examples of repression of homosexuals in history as virulent as in Cuba." Also, author Duncan Green, author of a book on Latin America, writes that Cuba is particularly repressive toward homosexuals, and "imposes a maximum 20 years sentence for public expression of homosexuality." The anti-homosexual nature of the Castro regime has been documented to a great detail by authors Allen Young and Dennis Altman.

Even Castro-friendly Herbert Matthews, who visited Cuba several times and moved freely among senior officers of the Castro government, once commented that "There seems to be an unusually strong emotional aversion to homosexuals in Cubawhich Castro shares." As it happened most of the times, Matthews' perceptions were very close to the truth. In 1963 Castro approved Operation P, so called because of a big, black "P" (for prostitutes, pimps, pederasts) painted on the uniform of the inmates. Operation P was a massive dragnet of homosexuals which began with a nation-wide census of them.

Operation P was the first step in the creation of the UMAPs (Military Units to Help Production), an euphemism for concentration camps for homosexuals and other "deviates." Some of the "deviations" were it to be a member of the Jehovah Witness, wearing blue jeans, listening to The Beatles' records, or wearing the hair "too long." UMAP inmates were under a regime of hard labor and subject to verbal and physical abuse, including homosexual attacks from their jailers.

In his short novel Arturo, la estrella más brillante (Arthur, the Brightest Star) (Barcelona: Montesinos, 1984), Reinaldo Arenas exposed in stark detail the mental and physical torture suffered by Cuban homosexuals interned at the UMAPs. The merciless persecution of homosexuals in Cuba has also been documented in Conducta impropia (Conduct Unbecoming), a film by Néstor Almendros and Orlando Jiménez Leal, who has been shown in many parts of the world, except Cuba. An interesting detail is that the gates of the UMAPs displayed the sign "El trabajo libera" (Work will make you free). The Nazi counterpart, displayed at the gates of many concentration camps, was "Arbeit Mach Frei," (Work will make you free.).

In the hands of the Castro government, Operation P and the UMAPs became an excellent tool to destroy all political opposition. Apparently, Castro's definition of "deviate," was every opponent to his government. So, the government security and police forces began "outing" not only true closet homosexuals, but accusing government opponents of being homosexuals and sending them to the UMAPs. By the way, the "outing" technique was not new. It was used before by the Nazis in Germany.

Operation P apparently went too far, and it ultimately irritated the population. Generally, Cubans had no objections to making fun of effeminate homosexuals, but not to imprison or harass them. The popular condemnation of Operation P was so strong, that some senior government officials called for a meeting to discuss the issue with Fidel and President Dorticós. During the meeting, which took place at the Presidential palace, some people, including some senior old-line Communists, raised objections about the harsh treatment of homosexuals. The main supporter of Operation P was Raúl Castro. He bragged about the success of the operation, while his entourage, formed by Ramiro Valdés, Isidoro Malmierca, Manuel Piñeiro and José Abrahantes, laughed heartily.

By mid-1965 the battle against the Cuban homosexuals intensified as the Castro government unleashed a fierce campaign against them. More and more homosexuals were forcefully drafted into the UMAPs. Intellectuals were especially persecuted, and there was a severepurge at the University of Havana. It brought a protest from the Union of Cuban Writers and Artists (UNEAC), which had strong repercussions abroad. The international repercussions to the protest lead to the eventual dissolution of the UMAPs in 1967, but it did not end the harassment and ill-treatment of homosexuals. In typical Castro fashion, the attacks on homosexuals is now disguised as AIDS treatment and control.

Castro's response to the AIDS crisis in Cuba was mandatory nation-wide testing with forced incarceration for anyone who tested positive for the HIV virus. A special police force sporting purple berets was created both to guard the concentration camps/sanatoria and to capture the ones who attempt escaping or refuse to be interned in the camps. Many Cubans have witnessed how AIDS patients who have escape from the sanatoria are chased like mad dogs, captured, and sent back to the camps.

American gay ideologues contend that mandatory AIDS testing is a form of discrimination against gays that is akin to the discrimination suffered by segregated blacks in the American South. But, though American gays are aware of mandatory AIDS testing in Cuba, criticism against the Castro government in the American gay press is almost nonexistent.

Dr. Jorge Pérez, a Cuban physician and AIDS specialist, now in exile in Spain, told a terrible story to Madrid's newspaper ABC (July 3, 1997. According to Dr. Pérez, in the 1980s the Cuban
government aired ads on tv portraying the AIDS sanatoria as five star hotels, with air conditioned, color tv, swimming pools, and excellent food. The goal of the ads was to get volunteers for Nazi-like experiments on AIDS vaccines and treatment which, if successful, would mean plenty of hard currency for the Castro government. The response was overwhelming, and the volunteers were interned in a center near Santiago de las Vegas, in the Havana province, where they were inoculated with the AIDS virus. According to Dr. Pérez, the strain used was particularly strong, and ninety percent of the patients who volunteered died in a few years.

In a letter dated 14 September, 1992, which was smuggled out of a Cuban prison by a group of political prisoners and published on the Net, it was reported that a number of prisoners infected with AIDS rioted on 19 August, demanding better food and medical attention. Two months earlier a prisoner with AIDS sent to this area had his food ration cut in half and the diet recommended by doctors withdrawn. He died three weeks after. Prison guards attacked the rioters using rubber batons, wooden sticks, and other blunt instruments, and a large group of them suffered severe injuries. Several of the prisoners suffering from AIDS were transferred to the maximum security area of the prison.

Castro has a long tradition of imprisoning homosexuals and transsexuals as "undesirables." Imprisonment is often based on mere suspicion or rumor. A few years ago it was reported that some young people in Cuba are purposely injecting themselves with HIV infected blood so they be sent to the camps and avoid forced labor and police harassment. The fact has been exposed in a recent film titled Bitter Sugar. Some Castro-friendly authors have claimed that the UMAPs were just a short-lived and rapidly corrected deviation in the course of the Castroist revolution. But a relatively recent incident shows that this is not the case.

In September, 1997, profiting from the recently acquired sense of relative freedom which began with Cuba's opening to tourism, a group of Cuban and foreign homosexuals were having a party at a discotheque known as El Periquitón, in Havana's La Ceiba district. Just after midnight the place was the focus of a police operation comprising more than 60 agents and 30 squad cars. The police cordoned the place and arrested more than 500 homosexuals, gays, lesbians, and prostitutes and sent them to jail. Among the detainees were Jean Paul Gautier, a famous French modist, the Spanish film director Pedro Almodóvar and transsexual Bibi Anderson.

Next day the group of foreign homosexuals were allowed to leave the country in a hurry. Nothing was reported about the Cuban ones. According to the Cuban Penal Code, open manifestation of homosexuality is a crime punishable with up to a year in prison. Transvestites and effeminate homosexuals are commonly arrested, charged with public scandal and sanctioned to three months in prison and/or a 500 pesos fine.

After the incident, the International Lesbian and Gay Association sent a bland letter of complaint to the Castro government, but no answer was given. Though widely reported in Europe, the incident passed almost unmentioned by the American media. Of course, mentions of violationsof homosexuals rights by the Castro government are not politically correct.