Fw: Latest SeeingRed
research at SPAMneravt.com
Tue Feb 13 13:04:39 MST 2001
The new issue of SeeingRed should be posted by the time you get this.
Fatter than ever (I know, we were trying for shorter and more frequent
-- next time, we hope).
There are several outstanding features, including an interview with Raúl
Castro, Martin McGuiness' Bloody Sunday memorial lecture, and our own Roger
Collin's story of John Lennon and the IRA.
But the number one feature (our exclusive) is Jon Hillson's sweeping
review of the history of sexual politics in Cuba, both progress and errors
made (and why). This well- and widely-researched piece came about because of
the new movie Before Night Falls.
Clothed in progressive humanism and made by liberals, Before Night Falls
is probably the poisonous movie ever aimed against the Cuban Revolution.
well-made, and has already garned numerous international awards; it is
likely to figure in the Oscars. Friends of Cuba --or just opponents of the
U.S. blockade-- need to see and counter this movie.
I'm pasting Jon's (far briefer) review of the film here and attaching it
in MSWord (as always, you'll get a far better copy downloading it than
reading the AOL mangler's version below). Probably a couple of million will
see this movie, so people are encouraged to circulate Jon's response as
widely as possible.
Finally, the new issue's being posted on the fly -- articles are getting
added as we go along. Come visit and then re-visit.
all the best,
for <A HREF="http://www.SeeingRed.com">SeeingRed</A>
Alert on Before Night Falls
Old Trash in New Buckets
by Jon Hillson
BEFORE NIGHT FALLS. Starring Javier Bardem, Olivier MartÌnez, Andrea di
Stefano, Johnny Depp, and Michael Wincott. Directed by Julian Schnabel.
on the memoir by Reinaldo Arenas. Grandview Pictures, Fine Line Films 2000.
Those who defend the Cuban revolution should be prepared to answer slanders
aimed at it contained in the new film Before Night Falls. The movie, still
limited release in Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco, has been widely
praised by critics across the country. It has garnered numerous awards,
particularly for Javier Bardem, who plays the self-exiled Cuban poet and
novelist Reinaldo Arenas.
In a phrase which captures the essence of the typical review, Newsweek's
David Ansen raved that the movie is "lyrical, sensual and shattering --a
devastating indictment of the Castro regime." This should alert activists as
to what is coming.
The purpose of this review is to sketch the political function of the film.
[an extensive essay I wrote on Before Night Falls, entitled "The sexual
politics of Reinaldo Arenas: fact, fiction, and the real record of the Cuban
revolution" appears in this issue of SeeingRed. It responds in detail to a
series of lies and half-truths, as well as broader questions posed in the
film, using extensive Cuban primary source and other supporting
Before Night Falls is the autobiography of Reinaldo Arenas, completed just
before his death in New York City in 1990, 10 years after he left Cuba
the Mariel departures. It was published in 1993 in English.
Arenas, a prize-winning poet of the younger generation in Cuba, came of age
during the revolution, which he defended up until 1968. This is one of many
facts he expunges from Before Night Falls, in an effort to seamlessly
his reinvented life to the confection of defiant opponent --and escaped
victim-- of the "Castro dictatorship."
A gifted, talented writer lifted up and encouraged by the revolution, Arenas
became embittered by abuses carried out under its banner. This set him on a
lifelong trajectory that ended in the United States. Ravaged by AIDS,
penniless, evicted from one apartment to another, lacking insurance, he
Cuba not immune to reality
Arenas made use of policies and practices --subsequently and widely regarded
as errors, mistakes, and wrongs by the Cuban leadership-- once carried out
the name of the revolution, to press his charges against the government.
These included the work camps set up by the government to compel
"delinquents," many of them homosexual, to fulfill military
Military Units to Aid Production (UMAP), which lasted from 1965-67;
repressive policies aimed at certain intellectuals, artists, and writers in
the late 1960s and early 70s; and formal discrimination against gays during
Such practices flowed from a powerful combination of factors: the cultural
legacy of Cuba's dependent capitalist economic and social relations,
sometimes narrowly referred to as machismo; the heritage of Spanish
colonialism; and the impact of Catholic Church sexual dogma. To this was
added then-standing Soviet wisdom that homosexuality --declared legal in the
earliest days of the 1917 Russian revolution, but criminalized in 1934 by
Stalin regime-- was perverse, a form of "moral degeneration" and "bourgeois
The extent and depth of events based on this reactionary construct that take
place in Cuba are first exaggerated by Arenas, then exploited in the memoir.
Worse still, criticism and opposition to such measures --which led to their
correction-- have no place in the book. Instead, Before Night Falls is
consumed with hatred for the socialist revolution, the undeniable
accomplishments of which are never mentioned.
The director of the movie version, New York art figure Julian Schnable, goes
Arenas a step further. He deliberately grafts outrageous lies, slanders, and
falsifications to the half-truths, distortions, and fabrications that define
Against the revolution
Two points are especially worth noting. Arenas claimed that he and his
of gay men fought repression against homosexuals by "having sex." In the
book, he boasts of some 5,000 encounters by the time he was 25 (1968). This
assertion, and all that it implies, is left out of the film. Irrespective of
how accurate Arenas' claim is, it has nothing to do with opposition to
repression, real or imagined. But such a belief informed his life.
profile of Arenas, however, is one of rural innocent who becomes a liberated
flirt and a writer above politics.
Arenas' own words, and the record of his deeds, prove the opposite. His last
years in Cuba were marked by tirades against the revolution and
with foreign governments to enable his polemics to be published abroad. In
the United States, he engaged in campaigns denouncing the "Castro
dictatorship" --one of many intellectual and literary figures wilting under
Washington's pressure on Havana and looking for a return to the rewarding
arms of official culture.
Arenas collaborated with Néstor Almendros on the 1984 "documentary" Improper
Conduct, whose interviewees claim, among other things, that Cuba's policies
towards gays were akin to Nazi atrocities on Jews in Auschwitz. He spoke
widely against the revolution --challenged, to his great consternation, by
its defenders at many meetings. He dedicated his novella The Brightest Star
to a friend whose failed attempt at an armed hijacking of a Cuban passenger
jet resulted in arrest, trial, conviction, and execution. His "farewell"
letter called for continued struggle in Cuba to overthrow the Cuba
government, and blamed his miserable personal fate on Fidel Castro --an
accusation erased from a reproduction of the note on the Before Night Falls
Schnabel's deceptive and sanitized version of Arenas serves the larger
purpose of the film. He describes it as a work "against totalitarianism in
any country." Of course, the country in question is Cuba, the vehicle to
attack is denial of gay rights, and the film is geared to a
progressive-minded audience. Its cast includes Johnny Depp and Sean Penn.
Reed and Laurie Anderson contribute music. And leading man Javier Bardem is
the son of members of the Spanish Communist Party.
As well, the acting and cinematography of the film show talent and capacity.
This is not a "right-wing" movie aimed at the dwindling audience of
gusanos. Indeed, Arenas publicly declared Miami's Cuban exile milieu a
"caricature" of Cuban "machismo." Life in Little Havana for him was
"purgatory" compared to the "hell" that was Cuba. His brief stay in Miami,
and his view of it, are omitted from the film.
The film dovetails with Washington's cynical and unrelenting campaign
Cuba's supposed violation of human rights. Because of the real U.S. record
mistreatment of and discrimination against homosexuals --which creates the
context for thug and police violence against gay men and lesbians-- the main
responsibility for scoring points against Cuba on this question have long
been assumed by "volunteers." These include immigrant Cuban writers and
others, plus self-proclaimed rightward-moving liberals and former radicals
seeking to "set the record straight." Together, they provide an
service to the empire's long-standing anti-Cuba operation, whose big lie
machine is permanently on.
Cuba has made enormous strides forward in the field of gay rights since the
1960s and 1970s.
By 1997, ten times more residents of Los Angeles County --a population
slightly smaller than Cuba's-- had been diagnosed with HIV/AIDS than those
the revolutionary island. Health care in Cuba for people with HIV --from
outpatient to residential and hospice service-- is free and voluntary.
State-sponsored education utilizes the skills of people with HIV to speak in
Cuban schools about safe sex and HIV prevention.
The political polarization that feeds the kind anti-gay violence where
homosexuals like Matthew Shepard were tortured and beaten to death in 1998
hooligans in Wyoming does not exist in Cuba. Anti-sodomy statues like those
promulgated in Nicaragua in the early 1990s, or used to depose and jail a
Malaysian political leader last year, and or that high courts and august
judges have upheld in the United States, don't exist in Cuba law.
Death squads that "cleanse" Brazilian and Colombian cities of queers and
other supposed social filth, or related acts of antigay violence, are
in Cuba. Public locations where gays congregate are not subject to police
Popular Cuban rap artists do not sing about killing women and faggots. Cuban
gays and lesbians both maintain custody of their biological children and
adopt. The position of the country's National Center on Sex Education is
homosexuality is a normal form of human behavior, and has been so since the
early 1990s. Books arguing for such a perspective were published as early as
These advances could only grow out of the titanic progress and achievements
made by Cuban working people, particularly its female component, in the
to emancipate Cuban women. From their incorporation into the workforce and
higher education --forging the entitlement of economic independence-- to the
legalization of abortion, the promotion of free birth control, easy access
divorce, the availability of daycare, massive female involvement in the
forces and national defense, Cuban women have accomplished in 40 years what
the female sex in the Third World and most "developed" countries have yet to
conquer. Thus, expressions of violence against women such as rape and
physical abuse --based on millennia of oppression-- have qualitatively
declined and are dramatically lower than in elsewhere in the world. This is
reflects both concrete gains and the heightened consciousness and
revolutionary attitudes jointly held by women and men.
Revolution within the revolution
This sweeping freedom in human relations, coupled with the revolutionary
solidarity at the heart of Cuban communism, has helped create the new values
--and new women and men who embody them-- that were central goals since the
struggle opened in the Sierra Maestra mountains nearly half a century ago.
And this in turn has fostered efforts to develop impartial, scientific
attitudes on sexual matters, including orientation and preference. Aspects
this evolution and progress can be seen in the 1994 documentary Gay Cuba,
made by U.S. filmmaker Sonja de Vries in collaboration with Cuban
None of this could have been possible without the rectification process,
which began in 1986 under the leadership of Fidel Castro and the Cuban
Communist Party. Its aim was "not simply to rectify errors committed in the
last 10 years," Castro reiterated, "or errors committed throughout the
history of the revolution. Rectification is finding the way to resolve
that are hundreds of years old."
While addressing strategic errors of economic planning that evolved because
of emulating Soviet methods, this political mobilization spurred inquiry and
debate over a broad range of issues and created an atmosphere in which fewer
and fewer subjects were off-limits. And now, more than a decade after the
collapse of the USSR, the political environment established by the
rectification process sustains greater debate and discussion than at any
Learning the truth about the trials and errors the Cuban revolution went
ugh to reach its current political level --and the sources of such false
starts-- is decisive in describing and defending what's been achieved so far
in a society committed to socialism. Such an objective, historical approach
is the most effective response to Before Night Falls, soon to be playing in
theater near you.
29 January 2001
Jon Hillson is a Los Angeles airline worker and a long-time Cuba solidarity
©Copyright 2001 Jon Hillson and SeeingRed. Non-profit reprint rights freely
granted as long as the url <www.SeeingRed.com> is given.
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