Raul and Cuba. My Best Friend travels back to his birthplace, Placetas, Cuba, Part II. Homosexuality and Havana

Part II - Homosexuality and Havana.  If you missed Part I, click it!  

This is the second installment of a 3 part interview with my best friend of over 30 years, Raul.  A Cuban born American that travels back to his home town, Placetas, Cuba after 42 years.  To read more, please see Part I of my blog. 

 Early 20th Century Fountain of the Muses at El Tropicana of Havana.
Q: Since you are a gay man and you found out that the cousin you stayed with is too while there, tell me what are the struggles that homosexuals face in Cuba as compared to homosexuals in the USA.  

Santuario de San Lazaro at El Rincon.
San Lazaro patron saint of the sick.
Next to an old lepers' hospital in Havana.
Santa Barbara. 
A: I think overall there is more acceptance here (USA).  I think there is more of an opportunity to normalize. Homosexuality is fairly new as in Cuba it is more progressive like some other countries.  

Q: So, even though they didn't thrown people in jail any longer for being gay and before Raul Castro's  (Fidel's Brother) Daughter, Mariela Castro Espin started actively fighting for LGBT rights in Cuba , it was say, kind of illegal to be publicly gay?   
Locals, School children and El Gran Teatro in the back ground. 

A: Yes, my cousin was fired from his job when they found out he was gay because he was having a relationship with a coworker.  They were turned in by people (government watchdogs) who were with the communist, most likely employees of the hospital where they worked. If you turn people in that were anti-communist, it would elevate your status.  Being gay in Cuba was considered anti-communist, it was illegal and up until the late 1990s, homosexual would be sent to prison.  Both were fired and they moved to Havana where it was more accepted basically, like New York and they were followed by the government.  Not by the same people but for the original Crime" committed in Placetas.  They were both fired again from there new jobs.

Q: Did your cousin's relationship survive?

Local Artist - Mural in Havana.

A: No, because after all of that, the boyfriend went back to his wife, he was married with children and so was my cousin.  My cousin didn't go back to his wife, but he went back to Placetas and fell into a deep depression and he told me he was like comatose for like a month.  That he just laid in bed and didn't do anything.  

Catedral San Cristobal in Havana.
Q: How did it make you feel knowing that you this could have been you. 

The Cuban 5.  The 5 Cuban men convicted
of conspiracy to commit Espionage
 and murder in the US.  
Modern sculpture art up against old Architecure. 
Iglesia San Martin de Porras in Havana.
Iglesia San Francisco de Paula in Havana.
A: I felt sorry for him and a lot of compassion and I was also glad that my parents made the sacrifice to get me out of Cuba because that could have been me. I too would have married a women because I almost did it here.  It was from all the internalization homophobia that I grew up with.

Painting of La Virgen de la Caridad en
 el Hotel San Francisco

Q: And how's is your cousin doing now at the time of your visit? 

A: He is well. He works in the tourism industry in Havana and quite happy with his partner of 8 years. 

Was once the Hilton Hotel of Havana.
Now a Government Owned Building.

Q: You visited Havana and you said it was a totally different world than your home town...describe what the difference is between a large city and a small town?

Raul  shaking hands with a Cute Gigolo.  Ok, not a real Gigolo
Just a cute Hot Dog, Dog that Performs but not Gigolo things.  

A: Well, the difference is Havana has a night life, it seemed like it was alive all the time.  There is tourism, there are places to see, saw a lot of prositutes, male and female.  There is a park that is like Central Park that is know for it's gigolos. In a small town, you have none of this, although I am sure there prostitution, but I sure didn't see it. All over Cuba there is a large percentage of Alcoholism. 

Live show at the Tropicana that Costs about $150. per
Ticket.  This would take a Citizen of Cuba 5 years to save up for. 
Hey, is that a Celia Cruz Impersonator?  No, it is
Amparito Valencia An Entertainer at the Buena Vista Social Club! 
 p.s. You know there is a Celia Cruz Park in Union City...On Bergenline and 32Nd Street.  Oh yes there is!

La Bodeguita Del Medio is a Cuban institution. Its walls are covered with photographs, drawings and graffiti and autographs from patrons such as Nat King Cole,Pablo Neruda, Nicolas Guillen, Grabriel Garcia Marquez and Ernest Hemingway.

Raul at Buena Vista Social Club,,,
Getting down with the Rhythm.

Buena Vista Social Club-Mazacote. 
Q: Since this is a large tourist area, (Havana) and people from all over Europe visit, tell me about the old buildings, have they been refurbished and maintained?

The Hotel Nacional.  

A: Yes, they are being refurbished now.  A lot of Havana is being rebuilt and a lot of the buildings are keeping the facade and modernizing the inside.   

Hotel Lobby
Raul at the Hotel Beach.

The Hotel Nacional

The building where the Restoration Architects
work out of to Restore Havana for Tourism.

Q: Does it appear to be similar to America in Havana, such as American goods, restaurants and clothing stores?
El Capitolio - Capitol Building in Havana- Look Familiar ???

A: It doesn't.  It is like comparing apples to oranges.   

The view from the balcony in Hotel Laguna Azul.
An Apartment Building in Havana not renovated.

A view from Rau'ls Cousins Balcony onto
 a rooftop where Roosters live and are used for fighting.

Another Renovated building in Havana.
A view from Raul's Cousin's Apartment Balcony in Havana 

Havana University and an Old car. 

Q: Can the Cubans visit the tourist areas and do they shop there too?

A: They can not afford it, but at least they are somewhat now allowed.  Before they weren't allowed in the tourist area.  


Raul as a tourist in Havana. 

That concludes Part II -  To read Part III, please click this link.  We talk about salary, the economy, food and rations.   

Thank you for reading and have a Fab Evening!!! ~ Gina (and Raul) 
A Vintage planter that was in Raul's house in Placetas but now resides
 in Havana with a Raul's Mother's cousin. 


  1. Another very interesting report on Cuba from the inside. Great personal stories of then and now and very telling photos! Looking forward to part 3.

    1. Thank you for your comments. I will be sure to share them with Raul. He will be happy to hear that people are reading and responding! ~ Gina

  2. I appreciate this story and am glad to learn about a neighboring country, that differs tremendously from ours. Cuba, a beautiful country that we as US citizens being so close, yet so far removed from us. I wonder what the future holds for her. I would love to be permitted to visit. Maybe, one day soon. Thanks for sharing. Looking forward to next installment!

    1. Thank you for commenting and for your wonderful words. Yes, Cuba is so close and very far removed from us. Speaking for myself (and maybe others that grew up in North Hudson County) I have always had an interest in the people of Cuba. Growing up with Cubans that left their country as little kids or there parents left and they were born here, we always herd the stories but could never travel there. Yes, maybe one day soon as things never remain the same. Thanks again, and I will share your comments with Raul. ~ Gina


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