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{Disarmed} A Long Way from Mariel - In text

  • Subject: [cg] {Disarmed} A Long Way from Mariel - In text
  • From: Adam36055@aol.com
  • Date: Mon, 31 Jul 2006 22:55:45 EDT

The Miami Herald on Gay Marielito Cuban Exiles
Posted on Sat, Apr. 23, 2005

A Long Way from Mariel
Invited to leave by the goverment, gays and lesbians -- and a few pretenders
-- took the opportunity to start new lives

The first time the Cuban government detained Elio Poblador, he was 15 and
accused of being close to someone involved in a clandestine sex party. The
drafted him two years later. He served a few months until the Castro regime
jailed him for pederasty -- as it defined homosexual acts.

For two years, Poblador went from one prison to another, suffering
humiliation and physical abuse. Eventually, the regime sent him to a special
farm for
''queers,'' where he would be ''re-educated.'' He wasn't allowed to study at a
university, so he did whatever jobs he could get in Cuba.
''To be gay was a crime in Cuba, because it was contrary to what Fidel
[Castro] wanted to do with the New Man. We were a social burden,'' said
now 55 and living in Miami. ``Stigmatized like that, I wanted to kill myself.
wanted to go away forever.''
To escape the repressive regime, Poblador and thousands of other gay men and
lesbians -- plus some heterosexuals who lied about their orientation in order
to be expelled from the country -- left Cuba on the 1980 Mariel boatlift. Some
would later perish of AIDS, a malady that had yet to be identified when they
first reached a country where they felt free to be themselves. Many others
made new lives for themselves, living openly as gay men and women.
''This has been a leap into the open,'' said Miguel Correa, a writer who left
Cuba during the boatlift and has just published a book titled The Fury of
Human Discourse (PurePlay Press). ``Despite AIDS and other adverse
we have succeeded here by living openly the way we are.''
The Mariel exodus offered a golden opportunity for these men and women to
leave behind official contempt and social alienation.
From the early stages of the massive exodus, the regime described homosexuals
as part of the ''scum'' that needed to be discarded so the socialist society
could be purified. To flaunt homosexuality -- or to fake it -- before the
authorities was a sure way to obtain an exit permit.
Four years after Poblador arrived in Miami, he founded a clothing factory,
which he later lost to Hurricane Andrew. He now works in an office for a
multinational company and drives a limo.
After arriving in South Florida, some gay men and lesbians faced a double
dose of discrimination, as marielitos -- the name given to the 125,000 Cubans
left in that exodus -- and as homosexuals.
''To gays, that was a double stigma, a double discrimination,'' said Emilio
Bejel, a professor at the University of California at Davis and author of Gay
Cuba Nation (University of Chicago Press, 2001). ``That made it all that much
harder for them to adapt.''
For many, the stigma remains. Several gay Mariel refugees declined to speak
to The Herald.
One of those who put a face on the gay Mariel refugee was writer Reinaldo
Arenas, whose autobiography, Before Night Falls, was made into a successful
movie. When he entered the last phase of AIDS in 1990, he committed suicide,
leaving a note that blamed Castro for his death.
Cuba's discrimination against homosexuals was useful to some people who
weren't gay and who couldn't get an exit permit.
''Many heterosexual bachelors identified themselves as homosexuals because
that facilitated their relatively swift departure from Cuba,'' said Uva de
Aragsn, associate director of Florida International University's Institute for
Cuban Research.
Hugo Cancio, a Cuban-American businessman in Miami, remembers his mother
telling him that the only way he could leave on the boatlift was by passing
himself off as gay. He was 16, and just a few months earlier he had been
from school for making jokes about Castro.
''I had no future in Cuba,'' said Cancio, 41, a movie and television
Nervously, he pretended before a military review panel that he was gay. An
officer who recognized him -- Cancio was the grandson of a lieutenant colonel
who had been an army doctor -- said: ``I didn't know that the family of my
distinguished friend, Dr. Morza, included faggots. Let him go away!''
Being gay in Castro's Cuba in the 1960s and 1970s was very difficult, says
Jorge. Now 50 and the owner of a store on Calle Ocho, he asked that his
not be published.
One breezy evening, Jorge, then 23, was walking to the Coppelia ice cream
shop in Havana -- a popular meeting place for gays -- when a policeman asked
his identification papers. Without warning, the policeman rubbed Jorge's face
with a white handkerchief, removing some of the young man's makeup. He
immediately ''began pummeling me,'' Jorge recalls.
It wasn't the first time Jorge had been humiliated by the Revolutionary
National Police. He had been arrested twice, once for wearing sandals on his
way to
the beach and later for wearing bright orange slacks.
He was sentenced to six months in prison for refusing to work as an alligator
catcher or a road builder, jobs usually assigned to people who appeared gay
or disagreed with the regime.
Although the roots of prejudice toward gays preceded Fidel Castro, his
revolution increased the discrimination.
In Ernesto ''Che'' Guevara's plan to create a ''new socialist man,'' there
was no room for homosexuals, a stance buttressed by traditional Cuban
In 1965, the government created the Military Units for the Support of
Production, which were hard-labor camps for ''misguided youths,'' including a
number of gays.
''I believe the revolution institutionalized many of the prejudices against
gays that existed for a long time in Cuba but had not been criminalized,''
Bejel said.
Starting in the 1990s, the gay community in Cuba began to experience greater
tolerance and social recognition.
Just the same, gay Mariel refugees like Poblador and Correa don't care to
turn back the clock, nor do they want to return to Cuba.
''I don't find any obstacles to my fulfillment as an individual,'' says
Correa, the writer, who lives in New Jersey. ``I feel I live on another
where my sexual conduct does not conflict with the moral values of the people
around me. And that's freedom.''
Herald staff writers Wilfredo Cancio-Isla and Steve Rothaus contributed to
this report.

) 2005 MiamiHerald.com and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.

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