Cuba new view on gays won't save it
BY PEDRO ROIG
It's official. More than 300 Cubans, most of them homosexuals, marched
recently against homophobia through the streets of Havana. In a
180-degree turn, Castroism abandons the tired anti-gay bigotry. To Che
Guevara, champion of "social engineering" and "the New Man" this opening
would have been terrible news.
The announcement that the revolution canceled the old practice of
persecuting and punishing homosexuals came from Mariela Castro Espín,
the second daughter of Raúl Castro and Vilma Espín. In a world that
professes respect for individual freedoms, the news was well received.
It was about time! Mariela, like her uncle Fidel, likes the publicity
but she, unlike her pathologically cruel uncle, used her influence to
put an end to those decrepit revolutionary prejudices.
The reality is that what Fidel preached is reduced every day. Nothing is
saved from the sinking. Everything falls apart. What Fidel needs to say
before his expected and very slow death is that he was wrong and that
Marxist socialism is a colossal disaster. I doubt it. That would be
asking too much of the tyrant who dispensed misery and terror in equal
To Fidel, homophobia was a trench, an almost impregnable one, until he
realized that in the 21st century it was a bad advertising reference for
his deteriorated world image.
Now that Mariela's pro-gay march has taken place, Fidel does not want to
be reminded of the project of "social engineering" or any mention of Che
Guevara or his plan to create "the New Man." Let us now erase that page
of history. Because when it comes to erasing pages from history the
Castros are very efficient. Maybe that's one of the few things the
revolution does well.
For thousands of Cuban gays, however, the rectification of the
homophobic error comes half a century too late. As in the case of the
UMAP (Military Units for the Support of Production), where the project
to re-educate homosexuals reached levels of extreme cruelty.
Rectification came late, very late, for Reinaldo Arenas, one of the best
writers of his generation.
In Reinaldo Arenas we can synthesize the tragedy of gays in socialist
Cuba. The novelist did not conceal his sexual orientation. But to Fidel
Castro, Ramiro Valdés and Che Guevara, owners of a pathological
homophobic obsession, the revolution had no tolerance for homosexuals.
Che, the icon of tourists' T-shirts, was certain that an atmosphere of
masculine toughness and discipline would transform gays into heroic
soldiers of his international wars.
Reinaldo Arenas did not want to be — in Che's words — "a cold killing
machine." He was a pacifist, hedonist and writer. In the popular film
Before Night Falls, Javier Bardem stars as Reinaldo Arenas and manages,
with his masterful performance, to reenact the painful experience of the
great writer in the Cuba of the Castros, where his gay rebelliousness
landed him in jail.
When, after terrible abuse, his jailers threw him on the street, Arenas
hid in Lenin Park. Always hidden, he wrote and survived until one happy
day the Mariel boatlift occurred and he escaped from "paradise." In
Cuba, the most ferocious phobia against homosexuals continued unabated.
It took 50 years to recognize the error.
The writer faced prejudice, understood that there is no paradigm for the
future and that rebelliousness demands more risk and valor than
submission. As Arenas would say: In Cuba there is much to change!
Pedro Roig, a lawyer, is senior adviser at the Institute for Cuban and
Cuban-American Studies of the University of Miami.