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Imperialist blockade and CIA anti-gay extortion
Behind the 1980 'Mariel boatlift'
Lavender & red, part 95
Published Apr 26, 2007 9:35 PM
Several thousand self-identified homosexual Cubans were among the some 120,000
who left the island over a two-month period in 1980 from the port of Mariel and
sailed to the U.S. The media in the imperialist countries, whose capitalist
classes are hell-bent on re-colonizing Cuba, broadcast an anti-communist
interpretation of what produced that migration at Mariel.
Workers World Party founder Sam Marcy wrote, “The 1970s were the high
point in Cuba’s revolutionary influence, not only in Latin America but in
Africa, Asia and even Europe. Cuba was part of a worldwide surge in the
working-class movement and particularly among oppressed countries. U.S.
imperialism was on the defensive, especially after its historic defeat in
Vietnam and its inability to either crush or tame the Cuban Revolution.”
(Workers World newspaper, Sept. 22, 1994)
Cuban women and men were fighting bravely alongside their African comrades to
defend the people of Angola, Namibia and Ethiopia from colonialism and
U.S. finance capital tried to isolate and destroy the Cuban Revolution.
U.S. banks and corporations commanded Washington not to recognize Cuba’s
right to diplomatic recognition. Captains of the military-industrial complex
ordered their generals and admirals to attack the island using various
weapons—covert and overt—including enforcement of the economic
blockade of the island, which is an illegal act of war. The Pentagon refused to
retreat from the military base it built at Guantánamo—now a site
where the interrogators incorporate anti-gay and anti-trans humiliation, rape
and attempted dehumanization as part of their sadistic torture of Muslim men
And 1980 was the year that Ronald Reagan won the White House
Marcy concluded, “A period began when the most intense economic,
political and diplomatic pressure was exerted on Cuba. In the background was
always the threat of U.S. military intervention, causing the Cuban government
to spend a great deal of its resources on military defense.”
CIA targeted homosexual Cubans
Between 1979 and 1984—before and after Mariel—scholars Lourdes
Arguelles and B. Ruby Rich interviewed Cuban émigrés in the U.S.,
Spain, Mexico and Puerto Rico. The two researchers also interviewed Cubans who
chose to stay on the island and be a part of building a socialist society.
The two summed up their scientific research in a report titled
“Homosexuality, Homophobia, and Revolution: Notes Toward an Understanding
of the Cuban Lesbian and Gay Male Experience.” It was first published in
the summer of 1984 in Signs, A Journal of Women in Culture and Society. (For
more on immigration from Cuba after 1959, see Lavender & Red, part 90,
Arguelles and Rich reveal how U.S. finance capital used its secret police
agency to politically target the same Cuban homosexual/transgender population
it had once exploited for profit.
“The year 1979 was an unsettled one,” Arguelles and Rich wrote.
“Even though living conditions were better than in any previous period
and compared favorably with those in the rest of the Caribbean, there were
serious problems.” They pointed out that the economy suffered under the
heavy weight of the U.S. blockade and suspicious outbreaks of biological
epidemics destroyed harvests of cash crops. This forced Cubans to work harder
and faster and for longer hours in order to raise overall productivity.
The U.S. allowed Cubans who had emigrated in the early years of the revolution
to travel back to the island. Arguelles and Rich noted, “The visits of
‘the American cousins’ increased consumer envy and added to the
effectiveness of counter-revolutionary propaganda.
“Lesbians and gay men were particularly vulnerable,” they
explained. “The CIA targeted the homosexual intelligentsia and worked to
persuade its members to defect, promising generous academic grants and
Arguelles and Rich continued, “The more cost-effective ploy of blackmail
was also used, especially against those gays less willing to leave, in the hope
that political anxiety would force victims into exile. Carlos Alberto Montaner,
a Madrid-based anti-Castro writer, for example, published two full pages
listing names of homosexuals inside Cuba in an attempt to discredit them and to
encourage them to migrate. Such cynical ‘assistance’ in coming out
continues to be a favored weapon against lesbians and gay men who are well
integrated into the revolution.”
The two researchers added, “The visits also provided a context in which
Cuban lesbians and gay men could hear of the more open and affluent gay
lifestyles available in the United States as a benefit of consumer capitalism.
Other common reasons for wanting to emigrate included the lack of career
mobility in a still under-developed economy and, for men, a traditional desire
for the adventure of travel that had to focus on emigration since the United
States and other capitalist nations deny tourist visas to Cubans. For some
Cuban gays (especially for the men), emigration also provided wider sexual
parameters than they felt could ever be possible in Cuba.”
Exception to a rotten rule
U.S. imperialism demonstrated how its laws either kneel to its overall
capitalist class objectives, or are forced to bend.
After the Cuban Revolution shut down U.S. finance capital’s burgeoning
sex and casino industries that had exploited mass numbers of homosexuals, U.S.
immigration authorities unofficially lifted the part of the Immigration and
Naturalization Act of 1952 that had been used to bar and deport those it
labeled “sexually deviant”—but only for homosexual
The Cold War Florida Legislative Investigation Committee made no mention of the
influx of homosexual male Cubans into the state in its report on its own
anti-gay witch hunt in 1964. The McCarthy-style state witch hunt tried to break
up unity in the struggle against white-supremacist apartheid in the U.S. Deep
South. (Lavender & Red, part 55, workers.org)
Washington lured Cubans to risk their lives at sea by creating an exception to
immigration rules and quotas that barred legal migration to the U.S. Any Cuban
who arrived on U.S. soil was promised admission, with perks.
Cuban President Fidel Castro challenged Washington’s immigration
manipulation and hypocrisy by opening the port at Mariel from April 21 to Sept.
28 in 1980, allowing any Cubans who wanted to leave to go to the U.S. Some
120,000 Cubans left, out of the country’s total population of 11
Even the estimates of how many homosexual Cubans left from Mariel in 1980
demonstrate political manipulation by the U.S. government.
Reporting for the publication Paris Match, Nina Sutton cited a
“nonofficial State Department source” as saying at least 10,000
Cuban homosexuals had emigrated at Mariel. However, Julia Preston stated in the
New York Village Voice dated Dec. 10-16, 1980, that “As many as 3,000 gay
Cubans passed through refugee camps this summer. Now about 350 are left, almost
all men, the others having been sponsored out mainly to gay communities
throughout the country.”
Gay Cubans were not welcomed into the homosexual-hating, right-wing-dominated
Cuban émigré enclaves and anti-communist organizations.
Under state duress
At U.S. borders, all individual immigrants face tremendous pressure under
interrogation from border police, immigration judges and officials and in
Researchers Lourdes Arguelles and B. Ruby Rich explained in 1984 that
“Cuban ‘refugee’ testimony and subsequent conversations with
the newly arrived Cubans, for example, becomes the main source for evaluation
of Cuban gay life, despite knowledge of the pressures on émigrés to
testify to political persecution in their country of origin in order to attain
the legal and economic advantages of refugee status in their new
Arguelles and Rich stated, “The success of this interpretation has served
anti-Cuban interests, most notably the American state, rather well. First,
credibility of the story has neutralized badly needed support for the Cuban
revolution among its natural allies (North American progressive lobbies) and
legitimated the presence in traditionally liberal circles of some of the more
reactionary elements within the Cuban émigré population.”
Reinaldo Arenas left Mariel for the U.S. in 1980. Imperialist movie and banking
capital—without which no star-studded, big budget movie is filmed or
distributed—brought Arenas’ memoir depicting life in Cuba as a
“police state” for homosexuals to the screen. Leonardo
Hechavarría and Marcel Hatch, in their October 2001 article “Gays in
Cuba, from the Hollywood School of Falsification,” categorically
concluded, “We know of no Cuban, for or against their government, who
finds the movie credible. Neither do smart gay activists.” (For more
about the movie, also see Lavender & Red, part 93.)
Next: ‘Many more chose to stay.’
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