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Why Black Cuba is Suffering

TransAfrica Forum

TransAfrica's January visit to Cuba

TransAfrica Cuba Report

"The Cuba Report," TransAfrica Forum
"Why Black Cuba Is Suffering," Randall Robinson

Randall Robinson's article in Essence magazine,  "Why Black Cuba is Suffering," serves to introduce TransAfrica's Cuba Report and is a part of TransAfrica's media campaign on Cuba.  This Cuba Report is having its impact on the Cuba debate in the US.  It can be used by community groups, churches, and activists to raise consciousness around the issue.

"Tragically, the impact of the US embargo has affected most acutely Afro-Cubans, women, children, and the poor." - Cuba Report

"African Americans have a promise of home in Cuba that they never dreamed of a country that recognizes the blood and sweat of the black folks that built it.  Cuba at least accepts that there is history beyond Europe; that Africa has also been a partner in raising the new world." - Walter Mosley, Cuba Report

As someone who travels all over the United States talking to young people about their future, it was moving to visit the high school in Havana . . . to see all those young, bright, eager faces and to hear them say confidently what they want to become . . .  The black girl wanted to become a doctor, the other a nuclear physicist, the third also a doctor...  I compare those responses, their visions of themselves to what I hear in inner city schools . . . - Danny Glover, Cuba Report

For the TransAfrica's Cuba report, visit http://transafricaforum.org/reports/cuba_0102_0699.shtml

"Why Black Cuba Is Suffering" by Randall Robinson, Essence, 7/99

'Why is our country - alone in the world, against the judgment of the entire family of nations - crucifying this largely Black country of 11 million people with a cruel embargo?' - Randall Robinson, President, TransAfrica Forum.

The child sat on a thinly padded gurney pushed back against one wall of the poorly lit treatment room. She was 4 years old, small for her age and gaunt. I don't recall that the AfroCuban physician who discussed her case with us gave her name.

We spoke in English, and the child offered no indication that she understood any of what was being said by either the physician or the Black Americans standing in a small crowd before her. TransAfrica Forum's delegation to Cuba had been drawn from a broad variety of disciplines-education, medicine, organized labor, human-rights advocacy, journalism and the arts. We went there last January to gauge the human cost of our country's sanctions to the Cuban people-particularly the cost to the AfroCubans who comprise more than half of that nation's population.

"She was born with a hole in an interior heart wall," the doctor explained about the little girl. "She suffers, as a result, from pulmonary hypertension. We can repair the hole in the heart wall, but her lungs must be replaced-or she will die." U.S. relations with Cuba made it unlikely that this child would receive the operation that could save her life.

Since Fidel Castro's army overthrew General Fulgencio Batista in 1959, the United States has shown unrelenting economic and diplomatic hostility to Cuba, manifested in, among other measures, a suffocating trade embargo as stringent as that imposed on North Korea and Iraq. Virtually nothing passes between the small island nation and its powerful neighbor 90 miles to the north.

Havana's William Soler Pediatric Hospital displayed the bitter consequences of Washington's animus: antiquated diagnostic equipment; shortages of antibiotics, plasma, surgical instruments, catheters; surgical gloves intended for a single use washed and reused, rewashed and used again. American sanctions also deny Cuban health-care providers access to nearly all the new worldclass drugs available in a global market dominated by American producers.

During a three-hour meeting, we asked President Fidel Castro about the minor reforms President Clinton had made in the sanctions policy. "Long ago," he answered, "we sent Washington a list of medicines we wanted to buy. We have not received so much as a single aspirin."

Yet somehow Cuba has survived with its programs for universal health care and education intact, an infant-mortality rate as low as America's (and half that of Washington, D.C.), a life expectancy as long as that of U.S. citizens and a literacy rate that is the highest in Latin America. The government has even managed to increase health spending by shifting funds from defense, culture, arts and administration.

Food from the United States is also embargoed, and it is much more expensive and difficult to obtain elsewhere. Between 1989 and 1993, the daily intake of calories in Cuba fell by a third, and the most vulnerable sectors of society have been the hardest hit. So why is our country-alone in the world, against the judgment of the entire family of nations-crucifying this largely Black country of 11 million people with a cruel embargo?

Clearly, the answer is not simply that Cuba is communist.

The Eisenhower Administration became hostile to the Castro government even before it had reason to believe Castro was a communist. Besides, China is a communist country, and the United States not only declines to punish it for its communism or its deplorable human-rights record, but our government even grants China most-favored-nation status.

While Cuba, too, has a one-party system and suppresses dissent, it still has a better record with respect to human rights than many Latin American governments the United States has steadfastly supported, Guatemala, Argentina and Chile among them - including Batista's Cuban regime, during which police and soldiers tortured and killed thousands of its opponents.

The world has increasingly come to see the U.S. embargo against Cuba as a violation of the United Nations Charter. Our delegation unanimously agreed that the embargo is inhumane and should be lifted forthwith. For what human right can be more basic than the right of access to food and medicine? To deny such essentials to people who bear Americans no malice is to cover us all in shame.

Randall Robinson is president of TransAfrica Forum and author of Defending the Spirit: A Black Life in America (Dutton). For the delegation's Cuba report, visit http://transafricaforum.org/reports/cuba_0102_0699.shtml

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