Fidel Castro admits persecution of gays in 1960s was 'unjust'

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 yesterday in a Mexican newspaper.

The former Cuban president told La Jornada the persecution of gays, who were rounded up at the time as supposed counter-revolutionaries and placed in forced labour 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, it's me. I'm not going to place the blame on others."

Mr Castro, 84, said he was busy in those days fending off threats from the US, 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. I found myself immersed, principally, in the crisis of October [Cuban missile crisis], in the war, in policy questions."

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

Tuesday's story was the second based on a recent five-hour interview with Mr Castro, who has reappeared in public after four years of seclusion following surgery for an undisclosed intestinal illness. On Monday, the paper quoted Mr Castro as saying his illness nearly killed him, but that he has mostly recovered and is trying to stop a nuclear war he believes imminent.

Mr Castro, who remains head of Cuba's ruling Communist Party, has warned for months that nuclear war will break out if the US and Israel try to enforce international nuclear sanctions against Iran. Cuban media reported on Tuesday that he went to the National Aquarium to watch a dolphin show with a US-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.

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