Cuba, despite its promotion and projection as an egalitarian nation, which is the ethos of Communism, has failed miserably and has actually never solved the issue of race relations.
Throughout the history of Cuba (including the Cuban Revolution of 1959), the communist island and its institutions have falsely impressed the world and perpetuated the big lie of a Cuban homogenous society – a society in which Whites, Mulattoes and Afro-Cubans live and enjoy life at equal economic and social levels. This is absolutely far from the truth. One only has to visit Cuba to see the harsh treatment and marginalization of its black population.
One can also experience the discrimination and prejudice by White Cubans who dominate the Miami geographical and financial space of South Florida against their fellow citizens of a darker hue. In blunt language, Cubans are the most racist people in the Caribbean and perhaps Latin America, next to Argentina. Not even the people of the Dominican Republic come close to the racism that is practiced in the Caribbean like Cuba. Cuba’s racism is a shared experience of many.
The reality of Cuba is that before the revolution of 1959 and after the revolution it is and has remained the most racist Country in the Caribbean and outside of Argentina, Brazil, Peru and Ecuador in Latin America. Well, at least Brazil has shown changes in its attitude towards its Afro population while for Cuba, the continued embargo has meant the worst social and economic situation for Black Cubans.
Socialism and communism had never addressed racial and cultural relationships neither in Russia the cradle of communism and never in Cuba a country whose identity is shaped by elements of West African culture, retention practices, for example, its danzon, son, salsa, mambo and rumba. Communism in particular lacked the willpower, capacity and ability to deal with ethnicities and their culture in all the countries that went Communist since the Russian revolution. Cuban Communism in this regard and its dealing with its black population is no exception.
Let us look at how Cuba has treated its black population. Truth be told, Cuba as an Independent country started out bad with its ugly racism reinforced and propelled by American racist policy.
The War of Independence (1895-1898) from Spain was fought for three years by all races in Cuba but the brunt of the fighting was by black and mulatto Cubans. When guns run low and whites panicked, it was the bravery of the black guerilla fighters under Afro and Mulatto leader Antonio Maceo that prevailed against the Spanish colonizers. Slavery was abolished in 1886, nearly 50 years after its abolishment in the English-speaking colonies. Independence was granted to Cuba by Spain in 1898. The black population actively involved in the liberation of Cuba comprised black people who were slaves but also elements of black people who had migrated from Haiti and Jamaica.
Gaining independence Cuba was ungrateful to the efforts of black guerilla fighters and soldiers in the Independence Army, insurgents and fighters in the war of independence. Cuba influenced by the USA and its anti-black policy would not give the black population real independence. Like Jim Crow in the USA, Cuba at the onset of Independence had no intention of making black Cubans become involved in the running of the country; neither did the Cuban power hierarchy intended to provide peace, prosperity and the rewards of a free society as promised by the War heroes Jose Marti and Antonio Maceo. The government had no desire for black Cubans to access the social and economic resources needed for growth and development.
The disenfranchisement and prejudice were intense and Afro Cubans decided to form their own political party to lobby and improve the interest of all Black Cubans. The Independent Party of Colour (Partido de Independiente de Color ) was established which sought to correct the injustices of the republic. However Cuban President Jose Miguel Gomez and the white Cuban establishment decided they would no longer have a black party seeking to represent the interest of Cuban black people.
President Gomez in 1912 launched the largest onslaught against black citizens in the Caribbean which resulted in the massacre of hundreds of thousands of Black Cubans. The massacre included beheading and barbarian treatment of the black population. The heads of many black persons were kicked about like football and placed on sticks especially in the racist provinces and in Eastern Cuba as objects of warning that blacks should retain their place of subservience in the recently independent Cuba, despite the achievement of Independence from Spain by black blood. With such atrocities and anti- black practices by White and Mulatto Cubans in the most achieving century on earth, the grounds of hardened prejudice, victimization and discrimination were planted by white and mulatto Cuba.
Afro Cubans since Independence continued to find themselves at the social and economic bottom of Cuban Society throughout the 20th century. While the Cuban Revolution of 1959 provided many social and educational programs such as free medical care, tertiary education, housing (debatable) and food, the national institutions remain stoutly racist.
To date, after 50 years of the revolution, Cuba has yet to see black people with prominent roles in Cuban Society. There are few Black Cuban broadcasters and they have only been in those jobs since 2018 when President Raul Castro pleaded to those with power. Castro himself said it was not easy getting the few news broadcasters now on the air hired. (Source: New York Times, April 22, 2018)
Under Castro’s rulers, Afro-Cubans’ presence in the party hierarchy was limited. Only since the new non-Castro President took power in 2018 has there been a serious resolve to place Afro-Cuban people in the upper echelon of the ruling class. Since President Miguel-Diaz Canal took power, three of the six vice presidents of the ruling Council of State are black, including the first vice president, and three are also women.
The Cuban Tourism and Hospitality Industry is one area where prejudice and discrimination against the Cuban black population resonate. Afro-Cubans are excluded from this sector because of their dark appearance. The hotels’ front desks are predominantly occupied by white Cubans. No black Cubans are in Customer Service. Hardly any black persons if any are employed in the hotels that served foreign tourists. The Cuban Human Resource sector has not emerged from its 1950’s racist practices and believes that Afro- Cubans are not worthy, irrespective of their education to work and represent Cuba in the hospitality sector.
It is a despicable practice by Cuba and as black people worldwide we should abhor it. It reminds one of the days of colonialism when white expatriates and colonial rulers enjoyed the best economic positions in the countries they govern. The Cuban government and party apparatus have turned a blind eye toward these inhumane practices. The only time you see black faces in the hotels are those serving as security guards. As tourism boomed in the second decade of the 21st century, there was this inverse relationship resulting in more inequality between whites and blacks.
Lastly, the Afro- Cubans have less access to financial remittances than white Cubans whose relatives have fled over the years to Miami, Florida. With less financial resources they are treated shabbily in acquiring scarce goods and services in Cuba. White Cubans have access to everything firstly on the black market and parallel markets. Worst, black Cubans do not have the ability to benefit from remittances or from goods coming from the USA as most black families remained in Cuba during the revolution, while white Cubans fled to South Florida.
The fine arts and cultural industry have excluded Afro-Cuban artistes. Despite the creativity and talents of Afro Cubans, the institutions of power have kept out the Afro artistes. Take for example, the National Ballet Company of Cuba. This dance company has for decades excluded Afro Cubans. Even Rumba, the dance with African retentions, has been reviled by white Cubans for decades. Afro Cubans knowing the prejudice have thus created their own dance company to allow their people to perform. The Afro-Cubans are great survivors and will not let racist practices and agenda, together with discrimination, deny them their rightful share of the Cuban Society.
We must understand that Communism has not solved human behavior especially racism and prejudice. The Afro-Cuban population is at the mercy of racism but they have triumphed before and will triumph again. We in the diaspora need to be open about and knowledgeable that prejudice and discriminalisation is not just a practice of the developed West but also of Post- Colonial societies in Latin America and the Caribbean.