In an uncharacteristic show of contrition, Fidel Castro apologized this week for his regime's treatment of gays in Cuba. "If someone is responsible, it's me," Castro told journalist Carmen Lida Saade about his country's campaign to "re-educate" the country's gay population in the 1960s. Well into the 1980s, gays in Cuba were sent off to labor camps and thought to be counter revolutionary "agents of imperialism."
Castro's remarks were published in an exclusive two-part interview with the Mexican newspaper La Jornada this week. Castro said the codified discrimination was clearly his fault.
"Yes, there were moments of great injustice - great injustice," Castro acknowledged about the 1960s. And then, by way of a justification for the policies, he said that he was also dealing with death threats and the turmoil of the revolution at the time: "We had so many terrible problems, problems of life or death, you know, you do not pay enough attention."
When pressed though, Castro relented, and reminded the reporter that he had many close gay friends. "I am trying to narrow my responsibility in all of this, because of course personally I have no such prejudice," he said.
These days the country is mulling the possibility of legalizing civil unions, and started offering subsidized sex reassignment surgeries in 2008. But for all the praise of modern Cuba, The Miami Herald's Kyle Munzenrieder pointed out that in the course of his rule, Castro's often referred to gays using the anti-gay slur "maricones," and once said: "Homosexuals should not be allowed in positions where they are able to exert influence upon young people."
Today, Castro's niece Mariela Castro is the country's most vocal gay rights advocate. Cuba decriminalized homosexuality in the 1990s.