Taken Out of the Closet, But No One Asks Forgiveness / Reinaldo Cosano
Posted on July 28, 2013
By Reinaldo Cosano. Havana, Cuba
Posted in the blog of Wendy Iriepa and Ignacio Estrada
The veil covering violent homophobic repression is slowly being drawn
back, but the gulity aren't asking for public pardon.
It is hard to specify just how the virus of homophobic repression was
incubated, sharp-eyed with the machismo of the days of guerrilla groups
in the Sierra Maestra, whose magnitude never had precedent in Cuba,
converted into official policy aggravated by principal governing
figures, that spiritually mutilated or ended many lives.
Raúl Martínez González (Ciego de Ávila, 1927 – Havana, 1995),
internationally renowned famous Cuban painter, designer, sign painter
and photographer, homosexual, puts forth in his Memoirs:
"It was 1965. The attacks and reprisals against homosexuals began. The
UMAP was created, supposedly a rehabilitation center. Its creation was
justified according to already old ideologies, but totally believing in
the "New Man." This was before the Congress of Culture in 1971 that
ratified the official [repressive] policy given the fact of the
existence of homosexuals in the country [...] I believed naively that
this new rehabilitation camp wouldn't affect me, because of my personal
characteristics, the values that I had as a painter and professor at ENA
[National School of Art] and the Department of Architecture of the
University of Havana.
"I quickly discovered that the methods employed to recruit candidates
and take them as far as Camagüey, where the camps were located, were
totally reprehensible, an abuse into which the Committees for the
Defense of the Revolution fell, charged with providing names and
pointing out all those who they thought had – in their way – an improper
sexual conduct, or who simply lived a life apart from the rest of the
"Many must have cooperated out of belief that the Revolution acted with
good intentions. Others, with bad intentions, took the opportunity to
"toss out [denounce] everyone who was bothersome and caused problems." (1)
Massive repression against real or imagined dissidents of the
Revolution, whose punishments grew worse from 1965 when the raids
intensified against intellectual artists, the religious, the
disaffected, homosexuals, the underclass and "big babies" — an
expression of hate towards generally Catholic youths, children of people
of confiscated wealth — interned in work camps cutting sugarcane by hand
in Camagüey province, which recalls the Nazi pogroms against Jews,
prisoners of war, the politically disaffected, Jehovah's Witnesses and
homosexuals, condemned to concentration camps with the maxim at the
entrance "Work sets you free," concealing veneer of genocide.
Coincidentally the Military Production Aid Units (UMAP) emerge in Cuba
appealing to work as a means of sexual and political reeducation.
Official strategy of obligatory imprisonment, forced work, isolation of
dozens of thousands of Cubans in subhuman conditions. An epoch of terror
for men between 16 and 50 years of age, the age of military
conscription. Bodily self-harm and suicide among the recruits were
frequent escape routes from the UMAP.
Alicia Alonso, Prima Ballerina Assoluta, director of the National Ballet
of Cuba, protegée of leader Fidel Castro, asked her protector on more
than a few occasions to rescue homosexual members of the Ballet from the
fate of the UMAP when they were caught in police raids.
The witch hunt showed no mercy to the Intelligentsia — not just
homosexuals — for dissenting from the Castro orthodoxy: intellectuals,
writers, artists, journalists. Of course, also plain citizens.
Repression that calls to mind the concentration camps and murders of the
Maoist Khmer Rouge.
The then-seminarian Catholics Jaime Ortega Alamino, current Cardinal of
Cuba, and Troadio Hernández, later priest, for example, were forced
guests of the UMAP — the same as other parishioners, Jehovah's
Witnesses, Evangelical Band of Gideon and other Christian denominations
— on the inhospitable solitary plains of Camagüey, isolated from the
rest of the planet. One means of punishing and dismembering religion on
the premises of the declared Marxist atheism of the Revolution.
The poet José Mario Rodríguez, accused of being "dissolute and
liberaloid" (sic), and other writers of the pro-government El Puente
Publisher went to stay at the UMAP. While many writers and artists were
besieged, imprisoned, although not precisely in the UMAP camps. Among
them, the poet Herberto Padilla, Lorenzo Fuentes, Reinaldo Arenas,
Manuel Ballagas, Roberto Luque Escalona, Fernando Velázquez, Víctor
Sierpa, Nancy Estrada, Lina de Feria, María Elena Cruz Varela, Manuel
Díaz Martínez, Raúl Rivero, Bernardo Marqués, Manuel Granados and
Nevertheless, the repressive waterwheel against the intelligentsia
doesn't stop. It has never stopped in half a century of "revolution".
In recent days, the multiple award-winning writer Ángel Santiesteban (2)
was sentenced to five years in prison for the supposed crime of
housebreaking and offense causing injury, a common crime whipped up as a
screen to punish a writer or journalist whose criticisms, even within
the revolutionary framework, annoy the regime.
Meme Solís, composer, singer and director of his musical ensemble, was
condemned by homophobic rulers to ostracism on the island for being
homosexual in his moment of greatest artistic glory, his personal and
recorded appearances completely cut from radio, TV, and cabarets because
his sexual deviation displeased the ruling class. He had to wait out
eighteen years of censure and human suffering beyond his control until
they would grant him the kindness of a permit to leave the country.
Now the Havana regime, intending to take him out of the closet, to make
amends, to pardon his defect, invited him lately to visit his country to
take part in a luxury gala titled after of one of his greatest hit
musicals, Another Dawn, years after his exile and and another fifteen
years of imprisonment in the closet, his music banned, making him nearly
unknown to the latest generations of Cubans. An invitation expressing no
public nor private apology for condemnation to ostracism, being shut in
the closet, frustrated.
But that most outstanding musician did not fall into the trap of the
insulting ransom and declared, in the Nuevo Herald of Miami, that "it is
one thing for my music to be played there and another for me to go. I do
not wish to offend anyone but I don't think that this is the time to go.
The reasons are obvious. I have been through too much there to want to
The painter Raúl Martínez goes on to say: "Many friends — homosexuals or
not — were sent to the camps. As were well-known figures of the Nueva
Trova, budding writers, dramatists. A wave of fear was loosed among us
to learn that the police, especially in the [busy ice cream shop]
Coppelia, were making raids or taking prisoner anyone who stood out for
their clothing or [feminine] gestures. I was afraid to be mistaken. I
remember the fear with which I drank coffee at the bus stop, looking
from side to side, ready to flee if anything happened. When I had to
stand right there, after leaving the Radiocentro [theater] or the Habana
Libre [hotel], I prayed that the bus would come as soon as possible." (1)
Once Mariela Castro Espín, director of the National Center of Sexual
Orientation (CENESEX), daughter of the current ruler, was questioned
about the responsibility of her uncle Fidel Castro for the existence of
the UMAP. She astutely stated (or at least so they have her believe)
that Fidel Castro — always well informed — had no responsibility at all
because at that time he was too occupied with other matters of government.
Raúl Martínez, just like so many other distinguished homosexual people
of letters and the arts: the poet and storyteller Lezama Lima (Havana,
1910-1976); Virgilio Piñera (Cárdenas, 1912 – Havana, 1979),
storyteller, poet and dramatist; Antón Arrufat (Santiago de Cuba, 1935),
writer, dramatist, they were as oysters shut in their shells,
persecuted, rounded up, marginalized only for not singing praises to the
regime, for not bowing their heads, for staying in Cuba, for not
accepting emigration, condemned to live poorly, hidden in the closet
from which now, dead or alive, one by one, in turns, the dictatorship
goes craftily taking them out, promptly rehabilitated with rounded dates
of birth or death.
A suspect fence-mending for political convenience in an attempt to
change the repressive image of the regime, to tidy it up with a few
strokes of the pen. Paradoxically "resuscitated" by the same regime
which punished them, but without offering a public or private apology to
them, their families and friends for so many crimes against honorable
people. Hereditary crimes against the Nation.
(1) Martínez González, Raúl. Confesiones (de) Raúl Martínez, Yo Publio.
P.394. Instituto Cubano del Libro, Editorial Letras Cubanas, Artecubano
Ediciones, Palacio del Segundo Cabo, O' Reilly, 4, esquina a Empedrado,
La Habana Vieja, Cuba.
(2) Ángel Santiesteban. Autor of the blog The Children Nobody Wanted.
Prizes: Sueño de un día de verano (Dream of a summer's day), UNEAC
Prize, 1995; Los hijos que nadie quiso (The children nobody wanted),
Alejo Carpentier Prize, 2001; Dichosos los que lloran (Happy are those
who mourn), Casa de las Américas Prize, 2006.
Translated by Russell Conner
8 July 2013
Source: "Taken Out of the Closet, But No One Asks Forgiveness / Reinaldo
Cosano | Translating Cuba" -