Why Latin America’s Homophobic Leaders Should Stop Their Gay Bashing

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Ariana Cubillos / AP

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro at a swearing-in ceremony in Caracas on April 22, 2013

We tend to think of mean-spirited homophobia as the political purview of right-wing conservatives. But Nicolás Maduro showed us that, in Venezuela at least, it can be one of socialism’s ugly undercurrents too. Maduro narrowly won Venezuela’s special presidential election on April 14, and though the votes are supposed to be recounted, he was sworn in last Friday to succeed his boss and demigod, socialist President Hugo Chávez, who died last month of cancer. Given the retromachismo that still pervades his oil-rich South American nation, Maduro may have eked out his victory with the help of some old-fashioned gay bashing: he made a point in his campaign of suggesting to voters that his centrist and unmarried opponent, Henrique Capriles, is a homosexual. “I do have a wife!” Maduro, who also called Capriles “a little princess,” roared at one rally. “I like women!”

Maduro has since said he’s not a homophobe. Whatever the case, his unabashed willingness to peddle that kind of bigotry on the trail, just as Chávez did last year during his own re-election campaign against Capriles, betrayed the reality that Chavista politics aren’t just bare-knuckled; they too often descend into knuckle dragging. Yet such atavism is hardly confined to Venezuelan leftists. On Sunday, just a week after Venezuela’s contest, Paraguay elected as its new President a millionaire conservative, Horacio Cartes, who railed against gay marriage during his campaign as something “monkeys swinging from trees” do.

(PHOTOS: In Caracas, Tensions Simmer Over Venezuelan Election)

Cartes later apologized, albeit after he made sure he’d won the election. But his remarks, sadly, are a reminder that homophobia still plays in Paraguay — and Peru and Patagonia and Panama and the Petén and too many other pockets of Latin America, a continent where politicians can still rely on gay slurs to yield gainful results in ways rarely seen elsewhere in the world today.

Sure, most developed countries aren’t exactly beacons themselves when it comes to one of the central civil rights issues of the 21st century. France’s National Assembly voted to legalize gay marriage this week, making it the 14th country worldwide and the ninth in Europe to do so, but the move nonetheless set off street riots in Paris. Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court is only this year taking up the question of same-sex matrimony — a fact that makes Latin American nations like Argentina, which legalized gay marriage in 2010, and Uruguay, which did so earlier this month, look positively first world by comparison.

But too many Latin American pols seem not to have gotten the memo that the world, including their own region, is beginning to spin in precisely that new, more humane direction regarding the discussion and treatment of homosexuals. Even in the U.S. these days, gay bashing almost always provokes political penalties, not prizes. Yet in Latin America, Argentine Roman Catholic Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, can still demonize homosexuals — calling gay marriage a “dire anthropological throwback,” a “scheme to destroy God’s plan” and the “work of the devil” — and remain one of the region’s most revered prelates. (Shortly before Bergoglio went on his bigoted rant in 2010, leftist Bolivian President Evo Morales suggested that eating chicken could cause men to become bald and homosexual because too many fowl are injected with female hormones.) In Colombia, marriage equality is fighting an uphill battle in Congress thanks in part to conservative Senators like Edgar Espíndola, who recently likened gay marriage to “bestiality … necrophilia or pedophilia.”

(MORE: America’s Coming-Out Election: How Gay Issues Became Mainstream)

That kind of rhetoric, and now the remarks of newly elected Presidents Maduro and Cartes, don’t exactly enhance the image of modernization that Latin America — which accounts for less than 3% of the world’s research and development compared with the more than 30% that Asia represents — wants to project as countries like Brazil and Chile edge closer to development. It only compounds, for example, the region’s backward reputation when it comes to other gender issues like women’s reproductive health: thanks to Latin America’s draconian birth-control and abortion restrictions, it suffers maternal mortality rates that can be 20 times higher than Western Europe’s. And while it might be expected of more conservative pols like Cartes, the homophobic hot air makes self-proclaimed 21st century “revolutionaries” like Maduro and Morales sound more than a little 19th century. (This is hardly a new hypocrisy: communist Cuban dictator Fidel Castro was for most of his half-century-long rule a notorious homophobe.)

Which could be why another prominent South American leftist, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa, made such an earnest apology (more convincing than Maduro’s or Cartes’ mea culpas, at least) for calling a critic not one but two slang words for “faggot” during his recent re-election campaign. (He won another term in February.) Last month a judge slapped one of Correa’s election opponents, evangelical preacher Nelson Zavala, with a $3,000 fine and a year’s suspension from political activity for making his own homophobic remarks during the campaign. We can and should debate whether a country’s electoral code ought to be criminalizing speech that way, but an equally important question is why Correa, if he really is so contrite, didn’t face the same sanctions.

The answer of course lies in another of Latin America’s big modernization challenges: impunity. But that’s another topic for another day. For now, we can take Ecuador’s lower threshold for political gay bashing as an encouraging sign, as are recent measures like the antidiscrimination law that was finally enacted last year in morally ultraconservative Chile. One of these days the language that Latin American politicians use regarding homosexuals will catch up with the laws they’re starting to enact. Just as in the U.S., the laws concerning homosexuality may finally be catching up with our more humane discourse about it.

59 comments
DrYogeshSharma1
DrYogeshSharma1

The agony of a Brahman

My countrymen, I served honestly and to the best of my ability. But their numbers out numbered me. Their votes were well caste-ed… Their votes flew like the stinking autumn leaves, and blinded the vision of all like the bright sun in the desert. My intellect fell around me…The sun ascend pale on us in the morning, and at night it lost in the gloomy clouds, and appeared as an emissary of devastation. That was the last sun that shone on this Brahman…He is now a slave to the quota man… He has done nothing immoral for which a Brahman ought to be disgraced and cursed. He has served his country, society and people, against abusive quota men, who perforate the system, year after year, to cheat the people and seize away their fundamental rights.

You know the cause of our knowledge and intellect. It is known to all my country men. They ought to be ashamed of this. Brahmans are not deceitful. The quota men speak badly of the Brahman and look at him maliciously. But the Brahman does not tell lies. Brahmans do not steal.

A Brahman, who is as bad as the quota men, could not live in this great nation; he would be put to death, eaten up by meat eater vultures. The quota men are bad masters; they have the benefit of false acts, and covenant in false actions; they grin in the face of the poor Brahman to cheat them; they vibrate them by the hand to gain their confidence, to make them drunk, to con them, and ruin their lives and family. We prayed them to leave us alone, but they curved themselves among us, like the snake. They poisoned us by their slap lightly. We are not safe and secure. We are in danger. We are becoming like them, hypocrite and liars, double-crossing slothful murmur, all talkers and no workers.

The quota men do not scalp the head like brute Moguls but they do worse-they poison the system and mind…Farewell, my nation! My People-Farewell to a Brahman- Wronged by the Constitutional Apartheid. 

spot60spot
spot60spot

@TIME @TIMEWorld It happens in bedrooms everyday all around the world, legislation is not going to stop it. Learn to live with it.

Osamase
Osamase

@TIME Writing intimidating articles and calling people names wouldn't change their views about GAYs. The choice of like and dislike makes us

AltmannScott
AltmannScott

@TIME @TIMEWorld I'm not gay, but homosexuality exists in nature. Leaders are ignorant not to realize and accept this. U.S alsotrailing here

SobrevivienteDF
SobrevivienteDF

@TIME @TIMEWorld So, based in this article "If you are not with the gay community, then you are against them?" Not very tolerant tone.

GaxiolaLopez
GaxiolaLopez

@TIME The composition of the population are most, the increase in labor force is hight, in higher education reach almost 50% in some counts.

kreal
kreal

@TIME @TIMEWorld reason number one if they don't you will bomb them for not being obedient slaves who wanna decrease their population

thompsonjoey5
thompsonjoey5

what does "development" mean? and furthermore, "modernization"? those are two, extremely loaded terms that do not represent real world issues. Machismo is a much more complex term than explained in the article. Gays, of course as a gay man, should be allowed full rights in every part of the world, yet this article offers a perspective of Western influence which continues to plague Latin America's formation. 

CameronRobert
CameronRobert

Hopefully Maduro and Cartes will be assassinated so two more bigots will be sent to hell where they belong.

mary.waterton
mary.waterton

"Homophobic bigot" today.

"Pedophobic bigot" tomorrow.

All done in the name of "equality". 

lavici
lavici

@TimPadgett2 in Vzla we have much more to worry about than gay righta. Masuro is a moron. But he is an election swiper &fidel castro's boy.

Paul92401740
Paul92401740

Not that it's a pass but South America will catch up in time. Look at Francis and whats happening right now regarding the Church’s position on gay marriage. Francis has been unusually restrained with the hate speech of late…could it be the PR people realising upsetting a lot of people wont keep the coffers full?http://www.newstiller.com/society/648-the-pope-s-position-on-equality-a-brand-new-brand Hopefully their is a growin realisation that homophobia is unacceptable 

Luis
Luis

Has Maudro not seen his Village People mustache in the mirror (not that there's anything wrong with that)? 

comex10
comex10

1 King 14- 24 There were even male shrine prostitutes in the land; the people engaged in all the detestable practices of the nations the Lord had driven out before the Israelites.

Palerider1957
Palerider1957

Why is it "gay bashiong" to say homosexuality is wrong? What, people can't have a difference of opinion? Why is it homophobic to disagree with militant homosexuals, but it isn't "Christianaphobic" to bash Christians for their stand on this issue? Or any issue?
Personally, I think Time and the writers of this article, along with all the rest of you intolerant, bigoted HYPOCRITES need to mind your own business. They are SOVEREIGN COUNTRIES, and can do as they wish. Homosexuals need to "keep it in the bedroom" where it belongs and leave the rest of the NORMAL world alone!

jaydbadass21
jaydbadass21

@TIME @TIMEWorld Why should they stop in the first place..there aint no coochie sweeter than latin coochie so we dont want no gays down here

skclaros
skclaros

@AltmannScott cierto, existe en la naturaleza, pero con cero rol adaptativo para las especies.

arvay
arvay

@comex10  

 The primitive god of genocide.  Eventually, educated people will wipe this nonsense off the face of the earth.

bawgs
bawgs

@Palerider1957 Well for one, you choose to be Christian, you don't choose to be gay. And really, YOU are calling others intolerant, bigoted hypocrites while claiming to be a Christian? Get over the hate and get a grip. My guess is that any homosexuals you've ever met do keep their business in the bedroom and yet you still feel the need to publicly bash them on internet chat rooms... maybe you should take your own advice and leave the rest of the normal world alone.

comex10
comex10

Revelation 22:11 Let the one who does wrong continue to do wrong; let the vile person continue to be vile; let the one who does right continue to do right; and let the holy person continue to be holy.”

JoseErnestoDiazSegura
JoseErnestoDiazSegura

@bawgs @Palerider1957 Homosexuality is learned behavior, like every other behavior. Granted, there are some people who had a homosexual tendency since very early age, but that's different from saying that you don't choose what you are. You can't compare the fight for supposed "gay-rights" with the fight for civil liberties. That's a fallacy, but remember, you can repeat a lie long enough for it to become truth. Remember Joseph Goebbels Hitler's Propaganda Minister... “It would not be impossible to prove with sufficient repetition and a psychological understanding of the people concerned that a square is in fact a circle. They are mere words, and words can be molded until they clothe ideas and disguise.”

skclaros
skclaros

@AltmannScott ecológicamente sólo consume y agota recursos. Demográficamente sólo disminuye la población

skclaros
skclaros

@AltmannScott que exista en la naturaleza (baja frec.) no significa nada. Hablando evolutivamente no sirve, cero fitness y...

comex10
comex10

Proverts 26:11 As a dog returns to its vomit, so fools repeat their folly.

arvay
arvay

@comex10 

 Yea verily, and let the slow-witted and uneducated perish from the earth. Let the Bible and Koran thumpers go mad as the world vomits out their poisonous nonsense, and enjoy life while  these frustrated and envious losers waste away like the appendix of the human race they are.

 That was an evolutionary idea, genius.