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I recently read this article on Huffington Post about Ernesto Che Guevara and was wondering how much it was true?

The main source I've found comes from a Frenchman named Regis Debray who met Che Guevara and Fidel Castro. I also found this article in the Independent written in 2005 by Alvaro Vargas Llosa.

Note that Regis Debray is considered to be a controversial actor of that period and that he is also the main source about that link existing between Ernesto Che Guevara and those camps.

Do any other sources confirm that Guevara sent homosexuals to concentration camps? Specifically: Did Guevara have a link with UMAP? What reliable sources prove that he was aware of them or created them or directed them?

EDIT: While it is really hard to contest the existence of the Military Units to Aid Production, my question focus on the link existing between Che Guevara and those camps. What reliable sources exist that prove he created or directed those ?

EDIT 2: I found also that reddit post which sound serious but doesn't provide any sources.

EDIT 3: I found that other reddit post stating that Che Guevara wasn't anymore in Cuba or was dead when UMAP were raging.

EDIT 4: What I'm searching for is a primary source as defined by this Wikipedia Article

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    You've found two separate articles stating that Che Guevara did in fact do this; is there any reason you seemingly disbelieve both? What kind of evidence would you be willing to accept? – F1Krazy Oct 13 '18 at 12:45
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    Given that USSR put gays in jail in large numbers, and Fidel modeled Cuba heavily on USSR.... why the sudden skepticism? – user4012 Oct 13 '18 at 13:16
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it sounds more like a question for History.SE (even though it is too old to migrate). – isakbob Sep 4 '19 at 17:38
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    This question, its title in particular, is rather weirdly formulated. Che Guevara was probably not in a position to himself send people to camps as he was not a judge, legislator etc. But was he part of a system that did? The answer to that is yes by most accounts... So a better question would be how much involvement did he have. – SX welcomes ageist gossip Sep 22 '19 at 12:41
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    Even the acerbic article you link to doesn't say he sent anyone personally. It says "Che Guevara also helped establish the first Cuban concentration camp in Guanahacabibes in 1960." To which homosexuals (and other undesirables) were sent. So I think you've twisted that into an odd question. If your question really is "What reliable sources exist that prove he created or directed those [UMP camps]?" then make that your title. – SX welcomes ageist gossip Sep 22 '19 at 13:02
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+150

This is a pretty badly framed question, particularly in its title, but if the question centers on Che's role in the camp[s]...

No legitimate arguments can be made to defend Che's principal role in setting up Cuba's first labor camp in the Guanahacabibes region in western Cuba in 1960-1961, to confine people who had committed no crime punishable by law, revolutionary or otherwise. Che defended that initiative with his usual frankness:

[We] only send to Guanahacabibes those doubtful cases where we are not sure people should go to jail. I believe that people who should go to jail should go to jail anyway. Whether long-standing militants or whatever, they should go to jail. We send to Guanahacabibes those people who should not go to jail, people who have committed crimes against revolutionary morals, to a greater or lesser degree, along with simultaneous sanctions like being deprived of their posts, and in other cases not those sanctions, but rather to be reeducated through labor. It is hard labor, not brute labor, rather the working conditions are harsh but they are not brutal...(p.178)

Clearly, Che Guevara played a key role in inaugurating a tradition of arbitrary administrative, non-judicial detentions, later used in the UMAP camps for the confinement of dissidents and social "deviants": homosexuals, Jehovahs Witnesses, practitioners of secret Afro-Cuban religions such as Abakua, and non-political rebels. In the 80s and 90s this non-judicial, forced confinement was also applied to AIDS victims.

-- "The Resurrection of Che Guevara" by Samuel Farber, 1998

Even ignoring Farber's commentary, it's pretty clear from Che's own writing that putting homosexuals in that camp is not inconceivable.

A much less stark view of Guanahacabibes is given in Helen Yaffe's 2014 PhD Thesis:

Moral incentives were institutionalised in MININD through Socialist Emulation and Voluntary Labour. [...] San Miguel de los Banos was a form of moral award, a recuperation hotel for worn out workers, while Guanahacabibes, a rehabilitation centre, took the form of a moral disincentive.

[...]

The Rehabilitation Centre at Uvero Quemado, in Pinar del Rio province in the east of Cuba, was on the Guanahacabibes peninsula, the name by which the Centre became known. There are two important characteristics about the Centre. First, only EC directors and other ministry management personnel were sent there, not administrators of production units, nor the production workers. Second, going to the camp was optional; those who did not accept the reprimand could reject it by leaving MININD. Given the voluntary nature of the camp, and its political education function, Guanahacabibes is assessed as one of the policies formulated within the BFS which aimed to raise consciousness. It was a kind of moral disincentive. The roots of Guanahacabibes lay in the hard labour camp set up by the Department of Education of the Rebel Army on Cayo Largo in 1959 for soldiers under reprimand. Guevara was involved with Cayo Largo in his capacity as head of training for the Rebel Army. Cayo Largo is a sandy, mosquito-plagued island of 32 kilometres long, a maximum of 800 metres wide and three metres above sea level. 200-300 members of the Rebel Army were sent there instead of to prison for undisciplined behaviour or pretty crimes. They worked on construction. Cayo Largo was not considered safe for civilian projects because of the threat of military attack; it is close to the Playa Giron where the Bay of Pigs invasion took place in April 1961.

After the Department of Industrialisation was set up, Guevara sent Jorge Ruiz, a leading member of the 26 July Movement and an architect, to assess the camp. [...] Ruiz’s recommended that the camp at Cayo Largo be closed down and that inmates either be given licence to return to the armed forces, sent to goal to finish sentences for crimes committed, sent to school, or just released. Cayo Largo was gradually transformed from a punishment centre into fishing centre and tourist resort, which it remains today. However, during this process, Ruiz said that Guevara got so annoyed with the people in charge there that he wiped his hands of the issue. Meanwhile, he sent Ruiz to find an alternative venue for a rehabilitation camp for MININD which would have an educational function. Ruiz chose the Guanahacabibes peninsular. [...]

There was no legislation to send people to Guanahacabibes, it was an initiative introduced by Guevara, which some of the Revolution’s leadership did not approve. Guanahacabibes was for those who had committed administrative errors. Those accused of criminal activity were sent to a normal criminal court. Initially, Guevara himself determined the punishment for administrative failings, such as adjusting inventories, carrying out unauthorised investments, ignoring MININD’s regulations and other miscalculations which jeopardised production and planning. Then the Administrative Disciplinary Commission (CODIAD) was set up. As Head of Supervision, Juan Borroto was involved in the Commission. He said: ‘When Che created the CODIAD he told us that he had made a mistake at the beginning by taking unilateral decisions and he preferred they were made by the CODIAD.’ The Commission’s most severe punishment for administrative errors was to recommend someone be sent to Guanahacabibes for between one month and one year.

When a companero was sent to Guanahacabibes they made the journey alone. This involved several buses, trucks and a long walk; a journey of 350 kilometres which took 5 to 6 hours. All of which reinforced the voluntary nature of the reprimand.

Yaffe then quotes pretty much the same material from Che as Farber (see first quote), which Che apparently said in January 1962.

So clearly there are fairly different interpretations on the nature of the Guanahacabibes camp even in fairly contemporary works. But it does seem from the more detailed account that it was "prison lite" for nomenclaturists. It's not inconceivable that some were sent there for homosexuality, but most were apparently for other issues (having made administrative errors etc.)

There is a bit more to be said about Che and homosexuality, from the angle of Che's (pretty deep apparently) interest in psychology. Due to this interest, Che set up various commissions that used psychological testing both on prisoners and on personnel. Yaffe retells an account by Angel Arcos Bergnes who made a personal intervention to Che for the latter to overlook a psychological test predicting that a friend of Arcos, who was a candidate for an EC director job, was a "repressed homosexual". Two months later, the candidate was spotted performing a homosexual act in a cinema. This apparently reinforced Che's trust in psychological testing. Alas nothing is said about what happened to the candidate (Arcos's friend) in the aftermath; nor is his name given. But the fact they were looking/testing for "repressed homosexuals" in order to [at least] not hire them [at this stage] does probably foretell the more drastic measures later taken against homosexuals (UMAP camps, etc.)

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This related question on skeptics.SE might answer the question: Did Fidel Castro put gay people into concentration camps?.

Cuba operated forced labor camps for those that did not want to, or were not allowed to serve their military service. This included gay people. Conditions in these camps were described as bad (10-12 hours of work, spoiled food, etc). People were interned for at least 6 months, but did get to visit their families.

It is important to note that these were forced labor camps, not death camps meant to exterminate gay people, as the comparison with Auschwitz in the Huffington Post might suggest.

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  • To be more precise, I think my question is about the link existing between these camps and the "Che" himself, I will edit my question. – snoob dogg Oct 13 '18 at 14:58
  • I d'like to point the fact that even it has been upvoted, it doesn't answer to my question – snoob dogg Oct 16 '18 at 9:13
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    I'm not asking if it's true that Cuba operated labor camps where gay poeple were sent. I'm asking if Ernersto Che Guevara is directly linked to those camp and what reliable sources prove it, you don't answer my question and the links you provide don't answer my question too. – snoob dogg Oct 26 '18 at 10:29
  • Before suggesting that labor camps were not death camps, it would help to see statistics on how many people survived them. In Gulag Archipelago, Solzhenitsyn estimated that the death rates in the Soviet labor camps were approximately as high as the replacement rates. – grovkin Sep 24 '19 at 9:22
  • @grovkin death camps were camps that had the specific purpose to exterminate people. By design, the survival rate was close to 0. According to wikipedia, of ~35k people in UMAPs, 72 died and 180 committed suicide. In gulags it is estimated that ~1.7 million of 18 million people died. Conditions in UMAPs were horrible, but imho it's not helpful to exaggerate what they were by comparing them to Nazi death camps. – tim Sep 24 '19 at 9:47
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While I can't affirm that Ernesto "Che" Guevara sent people to concentration camps, he was responsible for the creation of a forced-labor camp on the peninsula Guanahacabibes. Homosexuals were one group of people sent there. It seems that Guevara's opinion of homosexuals wasn't very favorable.

The following is based on a Spanish article from ABC Historia, which is firmly right-wing. Nevertheless, it seems to be a well-researched article (What I read on El País and other politically left media doesn't appear to contradict anything.):

"Che" Guevara wanted to promote a "hombre nuevo" (new man): «a vigorous worker, valiant, hard-working, patriotic, selfless, heterosexual, monogamous and austere.» In his eyes homosexuals were "sexual perverts" and "sick".

Fidel Castro is quoted with: "We have never believed that a homosexual could represent the conditions and behavioral requirements which would allow us to consider them a real revolutionary, a real communist. A deviation of this kind is contrary to the concept which we have about what constitutes a communist militant."

However, according to one cited source their dislike of homosexuals was only directed towards those who "refused their masculine nature" and were somewhat effeminate.

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Che was charged with the managment of La Cabaña Fortress prison from January to June of 1959, where supporters and critics alike said he had no qualms about the use of the death penalty, especially on those who were a "threat to the revolution" and it was next to impossible to sway him. While anti-homosexual laws existed pre-Revolution, gays were still able to get work prior to the Revolution and Prostitution was legal in Cuba at the time. The revolution was supported by some homosexuals at the time, but once Castro's government came into rule, they were quickly ousted from roles in journalism and could not find much in the way of work. Gay men in particular fled persecution from as early as 1959 and many worked with the CIA in the Bay of Pigs, which escalated fears of Counterrevolutionaries, which included among other groups, homosexuals. Guevara was with the Cuban Army at this time and was an instramental figure in repelling the Bay of Pigs invasion and negotiating the deployment of Nuclear Missiles to Cuba by the USSR (who also viewed homosexuality negatively) (sources: Wikipedia articles on Che Guevara and LGBT Rights in Cuba).

Given Guevara's favoring of execution for anti-revolutionaries, censorship towards even pro-revolution punishment, general attitudes towards homosexuality, especially gay men in both Cuban society and Latin American society at large (including Guevara's native Argentina), propaganda in Cuba associating homosexuality with counterrevolutionary movements, the fact that in the 1960s, one did not have to be actually homosexual to be accused of being gay (so long as your fashion sense was "gay" i.e. Men with long hair, wearing tight pants, having effeminate look and mannerisms, were gay) and his role as a leading figure in post-revolution Cuban Government, it's not a stretch to say that Guevara was no friend to gay men. To what extent that was because they were counterrevolutionary or just gay, I cannot say. Guevara believed in Castro's regime and defended it vigorously. Guevara was in favor of capital punishment without any suspicion of counterrevolutionary ideas and gays were stereotyped with counterrevolutionary ideas.

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Yes, he did:

Jorge Castañeda: The Life and Death of Che Guevara (1997):

[...] They could now proceed to harden their domestic positions, in a crackdown which Che supported and, to some extent, inspired. It was he who set up Cuba's first "labor camp" in those months, in Guanahacabibes. He spent a few days there, establishing one of the most heinous precedents of the Cuban Revolution: the confinement of dissidents, homosexuals, and, later, AIDS victims.

The source seems quite trustworthy. From the inside flap:

Drawing on archival materials from three continents and on interviews with Guevara's family and associates, Castaneda follows Che from his childhood in the Argentine middle class through the years of pilgrimage that turned him into a committed revolutionary.

Another source (perhaps less reliable, as mentioned in the comment):
Nicolás Márquez: Che Guevara’s Own Words Shatter His Myth (PANAM POST, 2015):

Che created a concentration camp on the Guanahacabibes peninsula to punish homosexuals [...]

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