Fidel Castro takes blame for 1960s gay persecution

Tue Aug 31, 2010 2:56pm EDT
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HAVANA (Reuters) - Fidel Castro took the blame for a wave of homophobia launched by his revolutionary government in the 1960s, but said it happened because he was distracted by other problems, in an interview published on Tuesday in a Mexican newspaper.

The former Cuban president told La Jornada the persecution of gays, who were rounded up at the time as supposed counterrevolutionaries and placed in forced labor camps, was a "great injustice" that arose from the island's history of discrimination against homosexuals.

He said he was not prejudiced against gays, but "if anyone is responsible (for the persecution), it's me."

"I'm not going to place the blame on others," he said.

Castro, 84, said he was busy in those days fending off threats from the United States, including attempts on his life, and trying to maintain the revolution that put him in power in 1959.

"We had so many and such terrible problems, problems of life or death," Castro said.

"In those moments I was not able to deal with that matter (of homosexuals). I found myself immersed, principally, in the Crisis of October (Cuban Missile Crisis), in the war, in policy questions," he said.

Official persecution of gays continued into the 1970s before homosexual acts were decriminalized in 1979. Today, Cuba's medical service provides free sex-change operations.

Tuesday's story was the second from La Jornada based on a recent five-hour interview with Castro, who has reappeared in public after four years of seclusion following surgery for an undisclosed intestinal illness.   Continued...

<p>Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro speaks at Havana's Jose Marti airport after the arrival of Cuban medical contingent "Moto Mendez" from Bolivia, August 17, 2010. REUTERS/Roberto Chile/Cubadebate/Handout</p>