Fidel Castro takes blame for 1960s gay persecution

HAVANA Tue Aug 31, 2010 2:56pm EDT

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

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.

Credit: Reuters/Roberto Chile/Cubadebate/Handout

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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.

NUCLEAR WAR

On Monday, the Mexico-City based newspaper quoted Castro as saying his illness nearly killed him, but that he has mostly recovered and is trying to stop a nuclear war he believes to be imminent.

Castro, who resigned the presidency in 2008 but remains head of Cuba's ruling Communist Party, has warned for months that nuclear war will break out if the United States and Israel try to enforce international nuclear sanctions against Iran.

Cuban media reported on Tuesday that he went to the National Aquarium in Havana to watch a dolphin show with U.S.-based writer Jeffrey Goldberg, Julia Sweig of the Council on Foreign Relations think tank in Washington and Adela Dworin, leader of Cuba's Jewish community.

The purpose of the visit was not disclosed, but the reports said Goldberg, a national correspondent for The Atlantic magazine who has written on the Middle East and Iran, had interviewed Castro.

Sweig is a well-known expert on Cuba and has written several books about the island.

The reports did not say whether Dworin had discussed with Castro the case of Alan Gross, a U.S. contractor jailed in Havana since December on suspicion of spying.

The U.S. has said he was in Cuba providing Internet access for Cuba's Jewish community. Cuba says Gross is under investigation, but no charges have been filed.

(Reporting by Nelson Acosta; editing by Todd Eastham)

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