AMERICA'S LEFT AND THE DOUBLE STANDARD OVER GAYS IN CUBA
by Agustin Blazquez with the collaboration of Jaums Sutton
The Hollywood and liberal elites in places such as New York and Washington have championed the rights of gays and want to ban groups such as the Boy Scouts, but when it comes to monsters such as Fidel Castro, they are silent.
I witnessed this liberal hypocrisy in October 1984, during the only showing of the late Oscar-winning cinematographer Nestor Almendros' documentary "Improper Conduct" at the Washington Blade’s Gay and Lesbian Film Festival in Washington, D.C.
While the film accurately portrayed Castro's brutal treatment of gays, outside the theater a group of gay and lesbian members of the Workers World Party bitterly protested the film.
It was a paradox to me, knowing the systematic state repression that gays and lesbians have been receiving in Cuba since 1959.
But it is a paradox we have witnessed time and again with liberal activists from Jane Fonda to Barbra Streisand arguing for closer relations with Cuba and railing against states such as Colorado for unfairly treating gay people.
I was so shocked by the protest by the Workers party outside the theater, and the outrageous reaction of these seemingly ignorant fanatics of the realities of gays in Cuba, that I felt compelled to write an answer in the Washington Blade newspaper to the diatribe of two women against the film in the issue of Oct. 19, 1984.
I wrote, "I remember these two women distributing propaganda pamphlets at the entrance of the Biograph the evening 'Improper Conduct' opened the festival, as well as their hysterical reaction during the film and when it was over. Thanks to people and organizations [Workers World Party] like these, the truth about Cuba has been kept from the American people and the world, thereby directly contributing to the oppression and hell-like existence under which the Cuban people have been condemned to live, under the totalitarian dictatorship of Fidel Castro.
"Obviously the Workers World Party is not advocating human rights for the gay people of Cuba. Their reactionary attitude is as detrimental to Cuban gays as the oppressive government there.
"Yes, gay life after the Cuban revolution (1959) has been a horrible nightmare of repression, persecution, massive raids, incarceration, concentration camps and death. Gay people in Cuba today do not live, just barely survive. This I know because of family and friends still living there. Now, this kind of organization (Workers World Party) is bleeding because after 25 years of success keeping the world ignorant about this kind of communist brutality happening on their island 'paradise,' these truths are coming out of the closet.
"This valiant documentary, contrary to the Workers World Party's assessment, really helps in the struggle to give the forgotten gay people and others in Cuba some rights, or if not, at least an offer of our solidarity, showing that people who love and appreciate human rights, care for them."
Seventeen years later, in 2001, with the recent release of "Before Night Falls," a brilliant film by artist/filmmaker Julian Schnabel, based on the life of the late Cuban exiled gay writer Reinaldo Arenas, there is a second chance to take a peek at the reality of gay survival in Castroland. This film, wonderfully acted by Spanish actor Javier Bardem, who is nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of Arenas, accurately displays the tortured and traumatic existence of Arenas.
Because of what Reinaldo Arenas the writer had to say about reality in Cuba, he was disregarded in the U.S. by the intellectual and academic community – very much dominated by the pro-Castro left. His books were virtually ignored, and in many instances left-leaning groups disrupted his lectures. The U.S. gay groups, dominated by the pro-Castro left, also rejected Arenas' work. He was forced to live a life in the U.S. of abject poverty. Three years after his suicide in early December 1990, his autobiography, "Before Night Falls," was published in the U.S.
Now, some of these groups of misinformed American gays and lesbians – used by the pro-Castro left – are desperately putting together an effort to discredit and bury this film about his life, because it goes against what they choose to believe about Castro’s Cuba. Not much has changed in their beliefs even after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the demise – temporary, perhaps? – of communism. These groups still insist that Castro is the one who brought redemption and acceptance to gay life in Cuba. This notion is not only baseless but preposterous.
This year, 26-year-old Owen Huerta Delgado, a gay Cuban, is desperately seeking political asylum in Spain. Owen, like Reinaldo, refused to be silenced about the Castro regime's abuse of gays. He had been jailed in sordid dungeons in Varadero Beach and in Havana. He was tortured and beaten by Castro's henchmen. He was apprehended with other gays in massive raids usually conducted after midnight. He tells of indiscriminate daily violence, insults and beatings. For him and other gay people around him, Cuba is a jail where gays are treated as beasts without rights.
His only crime is that he is openly gay and has organized a support group to help other persecuted gays and to distribute condoms and AIDS medicines donated by foreign gay tourists.
As a typical reaction of Castro against their outcasts, Owen says that government accuses the gays of propagating the disease and keeps AIDS victims in isolated clinics and without medication so they will die sooner.
After Owen began helping other gays in need, his situation with the Cuban authorities became worse. Finally, he was able to leave Cuba legally.
Owen says – as echoed by other Cuban gays – that with the film "Strawberry and Chocolate" Castro’s regime wanted to give the impression to the international community that the government was becoming more tolerant of gays in Cuba, but that in reality the repression continues while teaching hatred and intolerance against gays, beginning in elementary schools.
The nightmare for gays and lesbians in Cuba – despite the well-orchestrated Castro propaganda, which includes tours of gay life in his "paradise" – is hardly over.
Unfortunately, many naïve gays and lesbians, as well as members of the U.S. media, fall prey to these deceptive tours and they return praising the open gay life on the island. I marvel at their "observations." It reminds me of the many American tourists and reporters who visited Hitler's Germany and failed to see the horrible reality of the Nazis.
I often ask those naïve people, do you speak Spanish? Did you ever live in Cuba as a common Cuban citizen? Do you have family and friends living in Cuba? Do you know the real Cuban history – not Castro’s version? And the answer invariably is "no." And then I ask them, what qualifications do you have to have an opinion of the realities in my very own country?
However, a glimpse at the realities can be found in "Before Night Falls" and the documentary "Improper Conduct," available on video.
If the gays and lesbians of America want to help their Cuban counterparts and put an end to their misery as well as to help themselves avoid falling into similar predicaments by being easy prey of a deceptive political system, they should learn more about the realities of their brothers and sisters trapped in Cuba. Advancing the truth about them will set them free.
Agustin Blazquez is a Washington-based documentary film producer and director, including the films "Covering Cuba," "Cuba: The Pearl of the Antilles" and "Covering Cuba 2: The Next Generation."