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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 imperialism.

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 boys.

And 1980 was the year that Ronald Reagan won the White House administration.

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, workers.org.)

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 publishing contracts.”

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 Cubans.

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 million.

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 detention centers.

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 country.”

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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