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Cuba, which once had concentration camps for gays, votes for same-sex marriage

Next Sunday (25), Cubans will go to the polls to decide whether to approve or reject a new Family Code, which, between other points, it would authorize same-sex marriage and the adoption of children by couples with this profile.

It is an issue that touches an open wound in the history of Cuba, where the communist dictatorship promoted a persecution of the LGBT+ community in the decade of 1960.

“We never believe that a homosexual can embody the conditions and requirements of conduct that allow us to consider him a true revolutionary. A deviation of this nature clashes with our conception of what a communist militant should be”, declared dictator Fidel Castro at the time.

A documentary released in France in 1984, called “Improper Conduct”, showed life in the forced labor camps where homosexuals were taken in Cuba – working from dawn to dusk on tobacco and sugarcane plantations, areas delimited by electrified fences, offenses, torture and aggression by the guards and an infamous inscription on the entrance gates: “Work will make them men”, a reference to the “Arbeit macht frei” (“Work sets you free”) from the Nazi concentration camps.

However, homosexuals were not the only ones sent to these prisons, called Military Production Aid Units (Umaps) and where hippies, Christians, prostitutes, drug addicts, farmers who refused the collectivization policies of the Castro dictatorship and political dissidents.

According to According to reports gathered in a survey published in 2013 by the University of Delaware, in the United States, there was little food and in order not to starve, inmates were often forced to eat cats, chickens and snakes that they captured while they worked in the fields.

Even working all day in the hot sun, the inmates of one of the Umaps received only three glasses of water a day and ended up drinking contaminated water that they found accumulated in the fields. Living conditions were so bad that suicides became frequent.

Héctor Santiago, a former Umaps inmate, reported that the “re-education” of homosexual prisoners involved, in addition to forced labor, medical experiments to “cure” homosexuality.

“They would give an insulin shock and an electric shock while showing pictures of naked men and then, while giving us food, giving us cigars, showing movies of heterosexual sex. They thought that this would make us heterosexual”, said the ex-prisoner.

“Sometimes they left us without food and water for three days and then they showed pictures of naked men, and then they gave us food. while showing pictures of women. If you were not diabetic, they would inject you with insulin, it would give you a shock, you would urinate, defecate and vomit… Electric shock… you would lose your memory and two or three days later you would not know who you were, you were catatonic and couldn’t speak”, reported Santiago.

The writer Reinaldo Arenas (1943-1990), who was gay and managed to leave Cuba (he died in exile in the United States), collaborated in the production of the French documentary and told about his own experience in the camps and the ostracism he was relegated to after regaining his freedom.

“When writers from abroad asked about me, the authorities said that there was no writer named Reinaldo Arenas. I became an Orwellian character, a non-person”, he recalled.

Fidel’s niece became an LGBT+ activist

The camps, where they were taken about 25 thousand people, worked between November 1968 and July 1968. Homosexuality was only decriminalized in Cuba in 1979.

In 2010, six years before he died, Fidel Castro called the persecution of the LGBT+ community in the early years of the communist dictatorship “a great injustice” and claimed that at the time he did not pay attention to the matter because he was preoccupied with other issues, such as “the United States’ attempts” to assassinate him.

“Running away from the CIA, which bought so many traitors, sometimes among the Cuban people themselves, was not an easy thing. But anyway, if you have to take responsibility, I will. I will not blame others,” said the dictator.

Ironically, a niece of Fidel, Mariela Castro (daughter of former dictator Raúl Castro), is now one of the leaders of the movement for LGBT+ rights in Cuba.

Criticized by evangelical churches and the local Catholic Church (which argued in a statement that “the introduction into our legislation of content of the so-called ‘gender ideology’, which supports many of the proposals , does not benefit the Cuban family”), the proposed new Code of Families is evidently supported by Cuban activists, who nevertheless criticize the communist dictatorship for submitting same-sex marriage and adoption by these couples to a referendum.

Activist Daniel Triana told the independent website Cubanet that, in a country “where for 63 years there is no democratic tradition of any kind and where political decisions are vertical”, the LGBT+ community is being used to pay political dividends to the Castro dictatorship (the so-called pi nkwashing) and selling the image that there is democracy in Cuba.

“There is a very visible attempt to erase the historical memory of dark decades of the LGBT+ community in Cuba. A wound that is still open”, criticized Triana.

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