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
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
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,
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
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.