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Sundries
...a sweatshop of moxie

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Gay Havana Film Festival

(Welcome Babalublog readers!)

One has to hand it to Dr. Fidel Castro Ruz.

Anyone reading about a very special week-long film festival taking place in Havana, would think:

"There he goes again! The champion of the oppressed and minorities ever to the rescue."

But hold unto your copies of Judy Garland's Greatest Hits for a moment yet.

The truth is not only out there, it's complicated.

Although the Blogdecine site praises this gay rapprochement in Cuba, mentioning that 300 people were present at the debut of Neil Jordan's, Breakfast on Pluto (the story of a transvestite cabaret artiste of the 1960's and 70's, by the director of The End of the Affair and Michael Collins), it seemed they hoped, a little too naïvely, that this heralds the beginning of a new détente with the gay Habanera community.

Unfortunately, this won't be easy, as homosexual activity in Cuba is punishable by imprisonment.

You see, homosexual acts in Cuba are against their Penal Code, consequently it is a tad dangerous to admit to being gay, you might agree.

Curious to know why?

Well, grab a (Dominican) Cohiba cigar, some cafécito, and adjust your guayabera for maximum comfort. I will try to explain the intricacies of post-1959, Gay Cuba relations, below.

But first, an historical detour.

Perhaps many of you have seen the Rupert Everett-narrated documentary on Nazi persecution of gays called Paragraph 175?

Although this penal code is often erroneously credited to the Nazis, it actually dates to the first Wilhemine Empire, having been enacted in 1871.

What Hitler did was to expand the Code, the better to aggressively target homosexuals, who had especially flourished in the Weimar Republic -- sending them eventually to prisons, concentration camps and/or mental institutions, where they were often tortured, as well as just plain exterminated.

This was the fate which befell Hitler's colleague-at-arms, the homosexual Erich Röhm, head of the SA brownshirts, who was famously putsched during the Night of the Long Knives in 1934.

It is safe to say, don't you think, that Hitler was no friend to gays.

But what would you say if I told you, despite the fact that Hollywood has not deemed it important to expose this state-of-affairs, that...

...in the year 2005 anno domini, Year 46 of the Glorious Socialist Revolution...a similar law in Cuba, exists TODAY?

In fact, there is very little difference from Paragraph 175 to Number 62 of the Penal Code of the Cuban Revolutionary Constitution, though it was officially decriminalised in 1979, being overtaken by a vaguely worded law which makes homosexual activity illegal.

Well, if proof is in the pudín, here it is:

SECCIÓN CUARTA CODIGO PENAL N° 62

Escándalo Público

ARTÍCULO 303. Se sanciona con privación de libertad de tres meses a un año o multa de cien a trescientas cuotas al que:

a) importune a otro con requerimientos homosexuales;

[ed. trans.: "Article 303: The State will sanction, with loss of liberty from 3 months to one year, or impose a 300 levied fine, anyone approaching another individual with homosexual needs."]

Maybe you're thinking just about now, so what?

It's nothing different from what many Western countries had on their legal books too, until recently at that.

Or that Cuba, coming as it does from a Hispanic Roman Catholic culture, is machista and puritanical accordingly?

But I must remind you that the old Soviet Union was neither Hispanic nor Roman Catholic, and Stalin ordered homosexuality re-criminalised in 1934, declaring that being gay was just bourgeois decadence, and a telling sign of Capitalist degeneration.

The New Soviet Man was going to be many things, but homosexual, he was most emphatically not.

Following the lead of the Soviet Union, all Communist satellite countries kept the same laws against homosexual deviance extanct, until their own eventual dissolution.

Why, even that showcase of Marxism-Leninism that was East Germany, which had a much less onerous form of Communism precisely because it was the Commumist window to the Western world, didn't abolish Paragaph 175 until 1990...only upon re-unification with West Germany, following the downfall of the Berlin Wall.

So wait. Let me get this straight (pun very much intended).

Communism, that shining beacon against all things old-fashioned, those things based on prejudices, half-truths, false ideologies, including the graven idols of Capitalism.

Communism, that debunker of old wives' tales, religion and the status quo.

Communism, which revamped every facet of society for the greater good of the collective -- from women's rights, marriage laws, abolishing on paper inequality, injustice, lack of compassion and tolerance, especially to minorities.

Communism, the one, the only, the incontrovertible Truth...didn't do squat towards anti-homosexuality?

In fact, much to the contrary, Communists upheld and enforced laws against homosexuals with a severity and zeal only equaled by their Fascist rivals?

All this, as anti-homosexual laws in the West, home to the hated bourgeois world, were coming undone, and laws against hate-crimes towards gays were being enacted right-and-uhhh-left??

Let's leave behind, for a moment, these pressing questions.

First, here's a recap of gay facts in Cuba since 1959, excerpted from The Gay & Lesbian Humanist:

  • Early 1960s - The leftist publication, Lunes de Revolución, whose editor and several prominent writers were known homosexuals, and who backed Castro since before 1959, was closed down.

    "Many gay authors and journalists were publicly disgraced, refused publication and dismissed from their jobs. Some were reassigned to work as janitors and labourers."


  • 1960s-1970s - Continued targetting and repression of homosexual activity resulted in mass imprisonment of the gay Cuban community.

    "The witch-hunts of homosexuals in Cuba prefigured the oppression of gay Chileans during the Pinochet dictatorship."


  • 1971 - The First National Congress on Education and Culture decried homosexuals as pathological.

    "[They were] "antisocial" and "not to be tolerated" in any job where they might "influence youth". Widespread anti-gay purges followed in schools, universities, theatres and the media. Gay professors, dancers, actors and editors ended up sweeping roads and digging graves."


  • 1973 - Noted Cuban novelist, Reinaldo Arenas of Before Night Falls fame, was arrested, having been falsely charged with sexual assault. His novel, Hallucinations, was banned and had to be smuggled for printing outside of Cuba. He later tried to escape prison by floating in an inner tube to the US, but was captured, and sent to El Morro prison, where he was brutalised and raped repeatedly by anti-homosexual guards.


  • 1979 - Homosexuality is officially decriminalised, but not because of a sudden pang of conscience by Cuban authorities.

    "They halted mass detentions and reduced prison sentences largely because they were shamed by international protests."


  • 1980 - The Cuban boatlift known as Mariel began, allowing Fidel Castro to purge his gaols of homosexual "escoria" (scum), as they were known. Some men actually claimed to be gay, simply to be allowed to leave the island, since only those who had someone pick them up from Mariel Harbour, could leave. The boatlift included the aforementioned Reinaldo Arenas, who continued to speak out against Castro's repression of gays, to thundering US media and intellectual establishment silence.


  • Late-1980s, early 1990s - Mass detention of Cubans infected with the AIDS virus, HIV. They were put into what amounted to hospital concentration camps, hidden from Cuban society, who were kept in the dark about these dying people. Many dissidents infected themselves with the AIDS virus in PROTEST over the treatment of some of their disappearing friends and colleagues. These included many artists, especially roqueros, hard rock musicians.


  • 1992 - Fidel Castro, unelected President of Cuba, finally declared that homosexuality was a...

    "Natural human tendency that must simply be respected". He has, however, never apologised or expressed remorse for his past homophobia and persecution."


  • One would imagine that this is the last of homosexuality as officially denounced by Communist authorities, yes?

    Well, no.

    In fact, in 1997, during a raid on Havana's most well-known, but illicit gay bar, El Periquiton (The Big Parrot, "perico" being an euphemism for male homosexuals) was closed down by police.

    This incident may not seem overly important to you, but actually, since it involved several visiting VIPs to the island, it did cause a bit of a stir.

    Who were these visitors, who until their summary arrest, were touting the amazing health care and educational advantages of Cuba?

    None other than Pedro Almodovar, Spain's most celebrated modern director; Bibi Anderson, (remember the film, Breakfast on Pluto, above?), Spain's most famous transsexual, cabaret artiste, and Almodovar muse; as well as France's outrageous bad-boy of fashion, Jean-Paul Gaultier.

    They, but not the 500 other gay, bisexual, and transgendered detainees, were released the next day, and left Cuba by Iberia as quickly as their legs could take them from this so-called alternative paradise.

    Ah, but the story doesn't end here.

  • 1994 - The Cuban Association of Gays and Lesbians is formed on this heels of this official, attitudinal glasnost.


  • 1997 - The Cuban Association of Gays and Lesbians is suspended. All its members are arrested.


  • Not only are no magazines or newspapers for gays allowed in Cuba, but clubs for gays are strictly clandestine as can be imagined.

    They are known as the Diez Pesos (10 Bucks), since that's what they cost to enter, caveat emptor!

    So --

    My blogpost started with good news: the first ever week-long gay film festival was celebrated on Cuban soil.

    29 years after the first such in San Francisco.

    19 years after the one in London started.

    Even Istanbul has a gay film festival, now.

    Only in the year 2005 has the Cuban government allowed 300 very carefully selected people to watch a film about an Irish transvestite.

    If it were because of religious reasons, one could maybe understand. But religion has been marginalised and ridiculed in Cuba.

    If it were because of social reasons, one could maybe understand. But Cuba promotes itself as arbiter of the most equitable and humane system in the world.

    If it were because of legal reasons, one could maybe understand. But homosexuality is decriminalised!

    But in point of fact, this paragon of a nation, this darling of progressives the world over, shows an untenable hypocrisy and double-speak on the topic of homosexuality.

    I repeat, to those who may think that Western countries drag their feet about gays too, that according to Communists they are the alternative, the better, and more advanced societies.

    What kind of alternative is it, when you just offer the same, indeed far worse according to present-day standards, modes of legal, societal and institutional prohibitions against homosexuality?

    But perhaps, who knows, if and when Raul Castro, Fidel's younger brother, takes over there will be a greater tolerance towards gay activities...

    ...because he's hardly likely to imprison himself.

    Suggested Followup Reading

    Cuba Libre? Guess Again
    Sodomylaws.org Cuba section
    El Nuevo Herald Article on Gay Mariel Exiles

    6 Comments:

    • But in point of fact, this paragon of a nation, this darling of progressives the world over, shows an untenable hypocrisy and double-speak on the topic of homosexuality.

      Loved this comment because it encapsules castro's Cuba so well. That untenable hypocracy regarding the life of gays that you so aptly describe in your post, is also the case in the areas of health care, education, human rights, etc where the double-speak has fooled castro supporters in Hollywood and the MSM since before 1959!

      The main "logros de la revolucion" are really an illusion that excellent propaganda tools made possible. To see real Cuban success after 1959 one has to go to Miami and other places where Cubans are able to create free of castro's chains.

      By Blogger Jose Aguirre, at Thu Sep 22, 09:20:00 am GMT-4  

    • Loved this comment because it encapsules castro's Cuba so well.

      That's ALL Communism has done in its 20th century incarnations -- it's about hypocrisy using double-speak.

      It's a Potemkin Village of lies.

      As people have rebutted to me, but all governments lie -- disregarding the grandiose moral relativism in that phrase, my only point in this piece is that Communism offers itself to the world as an alternative, a better alternative...the BEST alternative.

      It's not.

      It's not even the same-old, same-old.

      It's worse.

      That untenable hypocracy regarding the life of gays that you so aptly describe in your post, is also the case in the areas of health care, education, human rights, etc where the double-speak has fooled castro supporters in Hollywood and the MSM since before 1959!

      That's exactly right.

      OTOH, not that I liked the idea of a Batista either, because his corruption, and lack of responsible government is what allows people like Castro to come into power -- vide, Venezuela, and almost all of South America past and present.

      However, Allan Garcia of Peru is not worse than a Castro.

      Alberto Fujimori of Peru is not worse than a Castro.

      Eduardo de La Rua of Argentina is not worse than a Castro.

      Fernando Collor de Mello of Brazil is not worse than a Castro.

      Communist dictators embody all the worst aspects of these corrupt and oft-nefarious men above.

      But on top of that, they give you totalitarianism.

      The main "logros de la revolucion" are really an illusion that excellent propaganda tools made possible. To see real Cuban success after 1959 one has to go to Miami and other places where Cubans are able to create free of castro's chains.

      Even Union City? ;)

      I jest! The worst slum of the US today, which UC is certainly not, is better than the best Miramar house in Havana.

      Cheers,
      Victoria

      By Blogger vbspurs, at Thu Sep 22, 03:57:00 pm GMT-4  

    • Fujimori, de la Rua, Garcia y Collor de Melo son ninos de teta comparados a fidel castro, el sumo hijodeputa!

      By Blogger Jose Aguirre, at Thu Sep 22, 04:55:00 pm GMT-4  

    • You know the funny thing about this post today?

      It's that I have spent a good two sporadic hours on Althouse's blog, which featured a reference to the Roman Catholic Church investigating the presence of homosexuals in seminaries.

      I had to defend my Church's action in this, which one person (who is gay) took exception to.

      But not because of the gayness, but because of the "about timeness" of RC Church action on the matter -- gay, straight, paedophile, or whatever.

      All the while I was bandying back-and-forth with the guy, who was oft-unhinged in his vitriol towards the Vatican, I kept hugging to my heart the knowledge that I posted this piece today in my blog.

      Goes to show, there are people who are not saints, but they are not cranks who can only see one side of the matter at all times. :)

      Cheers,
      Victoria

      By Blogger vbspurs, at Fri Sep 23, 12:20:00 am GMT-4  

    • Being able to see a complex issue from various sides is intellectually stimulating and can lead to personal growth. The issues confronting the Catholic Church in the area of pedophile priests and related "cover ups" are very damaging and need to be confronted aggressively by the Church.
      I grew up Catholic, and personally I think that allowing priests to marry and allowing women to become priests would be positive steps for the church.

      By Blogger Jose Aguirre, at Fri Sep 23, 12:47:00 am GMT-4  

    • Being able to see a complex issue from various sides is intellectually stimulating and can lead to personal growth. The issues confronting the Catholic Church in the area of pedophile priests and related "cover ups" are very damaging and need to be confronted aggressively by the Church.

      Wow, your best written commentary yet, Jose! :)

      I grew up Catholic, and personally I think that allowing priests to marry and allowing women to become priests would be positive steps for the church.

      I don't, but certainly, I concede that it is a difficult issue which might require many changes not only from the Vatican, but for Catholics around the world themselves.

      We'll see. :)

      Cheers,
      Victoria

      By Blogger vbspurs, at Fri Sep 23, 02:54:00 am GMT-4  

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