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    February 19, 2008

    Adios, Dictator

    Posted by: Kevin

    Castrogone_2We interrupt this vibrant, democratic election for a special news bulletin from a very different world.  One of the oldest reigning tyrants on Earth is finally leaving office, one who was not - I repeat, not - a friend of freedom and equality under the law, not for anyone, including gay people.

    There have been occasional attempts by contrarians or left-wing activists to make facetious arguments that Cuba might be a better place to be gay than the United States (yeah, and the GOP is nearly perfect on gay issues, menstruation is a blessing and childbirth is painless).  But the overwhelming evidence has always shown that life under the communist regime of Fidel Castro was always miserable for gay people.

    PinkNews.co.uk - not exactly a mouthpiece for western imperialism, pronounced today as a "new day for gay Cubans":

    Prime Minister Gordon Brown said:

    "We can only hope that a new path will open up after this withdrawal and that there will be more democracy in that country."

    Sexual diversity was seen by Fidel Castro as a corrupt consequence of capitalism.

    Cuban poet Jose Mario, an important artistic figure in the country, suffered in Cuban labour camps as Castro's regime 're-educated' homosexuals.

    Gays were incarcerated in Military Units to Aid Production (UMAPs) between 1965 and 1968.

    Castro believed that hard work would rid the men of their "counter-revolutionary tendencies."

    At the entrance of the camp there was a sign which said "work shall make you men", similar to the motto of the Nazi concentration camps, "work shall set you free."

    And the basis for their reporting is from the wide evidence available, for example, here, here, here, here, here, and here.  More in-depth treatment of the horrors of gay life under communism in Cuba was captured quite dramatically in two brilliant films: Fresa y Chocolate, the 1994 drama by reknown Cuban filmmaker Tomas Gutierrez Alea; and Julian Schnabel's Oscar-nominated Before Night Falls (2000), which detailed the agonizing life of gay Cuban poet Reinaldo Arenas, based on his autobiography.

    There has not been a single believable tome, study, film or book that has come out in the half-century of Castro's dictatorship that credibly challenged the fundamental evidence underlining the fact that gay life under a dictatorship like Castro's is an experience that ranges from brief spates of hedonistic, secret joy, to dull agony and generalized daily anxiety, to outright terror -- with no hope or possibility of civic redress.

    To me, the particularly cruel aspect of life under a regime which has the power and discretion to invade and control all aspects of a person's life is that it strips away what many of us (rightly) call our inherent human right to freedom, to assemble, to dissent and to redress the wrongs done to us by government.  And the story of gay life under Castro's brand of dictatorship -- one which blindly glorifies the leader out of a sick sense of loyalty above common sense -- is another case study on the inherent link between free and open democracy and the achieving of gay equality under the law and in society.

    For Latin American gays, Castro's exit comes at a particularly critical moment in the debate over how to achieve equality in the wide range of emerging countries around the region.  With full democracy still a very new concept for all the major countries like Brazil (1985), Argentina (1983), Chile (1989) and Mexico (2000), there are not the layers of active civil society institutions that a vibrant democracy depends on to ensure the voices of minorities and dispossessed have a chance to be meaningfully heard.  The rising generations who were reared in some form of open, democratic society are only now coming of age -- and there is a battle for their hearts and minds between those who value building an independent civil society and those who follow the manipulative deceits of leaders like Castro and Venezuela's Hugo Chávez.

    In Brazil, the activist class is very small, and most of them came of age during the military dictatorship.  So they naturally see Castro as a hero, since his was the only voice of dissent against their own awful existence that got through to them.  That's how awful things have been overall.  In Argentina, there is still this chip-on-the-shoulder attitude about how "los generales" bankrupted what was one of the 10 richest countries of the world at the start of the 20th Century, and the manipulative voices of populist Peronism has convinced many of them that a "free society" is one where the central government takes care of everything for you, much like Homer Simpson's winning campaign slogan as Springfield's sanitation chief, "The Garbageman Can!", which so ruined the town that it had to pack up and move.  (The result for Argentines has been similar, without the move option.) 

    Even legal advances in many Latin American countries in the legislatures, including constitutional measures on gay rights, don't translate into meaningful change like they do in a developed democracy - because without highly-developed civil society institutions, implementation throughout society doesn't happen.  Without that added layer of civic participation and pressure, it's all worth less than the paper it's written on.  Americans and Europeans tend to forget this.

    So, yes, there have been stirrings by this or that political figure in Cuba about advancing some rights for gays (on paper) very lately, but only since Fidel landed in his hospital bed.  It is indeed significant that a member of the powerful communist politburo has gone public with support for recognition of same-sex couples, as has Mariela Castro, the daughter of the likely new dictator, Raúl Castro (gotta love that dynastic quality of all  these 'progressives' everywhere!  So trusting with the public, so selfless in their actions).

    But with how awful gay life has been in Cuba, and how long it takes for freedom and equality to be realized in a struggling democracy not to mention a communist dictatorship in turmoil, we should not expect things to change overnight on that Caribbean island.  It will take a long, long time for life to really improve for everyone including gays, thanks to the vain, self-aggrandizing fist of a man who stopped at nothing to gain and then hold onto power for the mere sake of glorifying himself.

    Good riddance, Fidel Castro.  And let's give the Cuban people what they need and deserve to have real freedom, real equality and real happiness as who they are, whatever they are.




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    1. North Dallas Thirty on Feb 19, 2008 2:37:44 PM:

      Mariela Castro making rhetoric for same-sex marriage is a bit like Lenin's speeches demanding free child care for all.

      That is, merely putting gilding on the iron cage.

    1. Geena The Transgirl on Feb 19, 2008 5:54:07 PM:

      It was always an eye-opening experience to meet a gay Cuban. They would have a deep emotional conflict between their love for Cuban culture and family life, with the deep pain of being forced to leave it behind.
      Makes one realize the beauty of Cuban people that was smothered under Castro's regime.

    1. Strict Scrutiny on Feb 20, 2008 12:58:52 AM:

      It's incredibly ironic that the Castro government, which has been so reviled by the U.S. for its lack of freedoms, is now considering civil unions for its gay citizens. And then add to that the fact that HIV+ cubans get the anti-retroviral drug cocktails for free, along with free medical care.

      So let's see...we have a Latin American dictator supporting civil unions and free HIV cocktail meds ... and what do we have? Oh yeah, an anti-marriage amendment and virginity pledges. Oh, and you only get meds if you have insurance.

      I'm not making excuses for the mistreatment of gay people in the past, but can anyone explain to me why Castro has figured this out, while many in our country haven't?

    1. North Dallas Thirty on Feb 20, 2008 3:15:20 AM:

      I know another place, Strict Scrutiny, where healthcare was free to all, child care was free to all, and everyone was guaranteed a job with lifetime security.

      It was called the Soviet Union.

      Feel free to move to "progressive" Cuba. In fact, why not start a movement of gays and lesbians to escape to this tropical promised land that you seem to think is superior to the United States, where everything that is obviously most important to gays and lesbians is provided.

    1. Kevin on Feb 20, 2008 7:37:28 AM:

      Castro did not "figure this out." There were no statements about recognizing same-sex couples (no term like civil unions has been uttered by anyone in power yet) until after Castro was on his back in a hospital bed. The effort was voiced by Raul Castro's daughter first - someone not in power - and then acknowledged by one member of the Politburo (which was significant), but that acknowledgment gave no details. All sweet words from one corner of the regime. To say this is some dramatic turn of events for Cuba is like saying one Republican governor signing a gay rights bill means a revolution has happened in the GOP on gay issues. That's happened many times -- would you draw that conclusion?

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