Photos show Fidel Castro visiting with US journalist; he calls jailing gays 'great injustice'

HAVANA (AP) — Cuba on Tuesday released pictures of Fidel Castro with an American magazine correspondent and a Washington-based policy expert, while a Mexican newspaper published an interview in which the gray-bearded revolutionary expressed regret for past persecution of homosexuals.

The images show Cuba's 84-year-old former leader with Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic and Julia E. Sweig from the Council on Foreign Relations during a visit Monday to the Havana aquarium — Castro's second trip there during a media blitz that has seen him making near daily appearances.

Goldberg is a national correspondent for the magazine who has written on the Middle East and Iran. State media reported that he and Sweig interviewed Castro, but gave no indication of what was said.

For months, Castro has warned of nuclear war that would pit Washington and Israel against Iran and would also involve an attack on North Korea. He even said he expected fighting to begin earlier this summer, but has since said those doomsday predictions may have been somewhat premature.

The Council on Foreign Relations is a nonpartisan think tank with offices in New York and Washington, and Sweig is a longtime scholar on the U.S.-Cuba relationship.

Also Tuesday, Mexico's left-leaning daily La Jornada published an interview in which Castro said Cuban authorities had been wrong to send gays and lesbians to work camps in the early years of his government.

"Those were moments of great injustice, great injustice!" the paper quoted Castro as saying.

In the 1960s and early 1970s, Cuban officials fired homosexuals from state jobs, imprisoned them or sent them to work camps. Castro told La Jornada, "Yes, we did it, us," but also said, "I am trying to limit my responsibility in all this because, of course, I personally do not hold those kinds of prejudices."

Still, when pressed if the Communist Party or some other entity was behind what occurred Castro said, "No, if any person was responsible, it's me."

He said he had been too busy coping with events such as the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis to stop what occurred. "We had so many and such terrible problems, problems of life or death, that we didn't pay it enough attention."

Government media campaigns now discourage homophobia and the state has even paid for a few sex-change operations for transsexuals.

Also, Fidel's niece Mariela, the daughter of President Raul Castro, is today the country's leading gay rights advocate.

Castro's comments to La Jornada elaborated on past acknowledgments of his government's mistreatment of gays.

"I'd like to think that discrimination against homosexuals is a problem that is being overcome," he said during interviews with French journalist Ignacio Ramonet between 2003 and 2005. "Old prejudices and narrow-mindedness will increasingly be things of the past."

Cuba's ex-president underwent emergency intestinal surgery in July 2006 and disappeared from public view for four years, recuperating from an undisclosed illness in a secret location. But he has been popping up everywhere of late.

He even took in the dolphin show at the aquarium on July 15.

Also accompanying Castro at the aquarium were leaders of Cuba's Jewish community.

Alan P. Gross, a 60-year-old native of Potomac, Maryland, was working for a firm contracted by the U.S. Agency for International Development when he was arrested Dec. 3 in Havana and sent to the high-security Villa Marista prison.

Cuba says Gross was distributing illegal satellite phones, but he apparently has not yet been charged with a crime, nearly nine months after his arrest.

Gross' family says he was distributing communications equipment to the island's Jewish community for humanitarian reasons.