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Disertación de James Early invitado por ARAAC-Cuba, 10/14

The State of Race in 21st Century Cuban Socialism: Two Opposing Views Outside Cuba, 3/1/10 James Early responds to Carlo Moore's articles on Orlando Zapata, who died by hunger strike.

Cornel West and James Early: Cuban Racism
, Tavis Smiley Radio Show, 12/09  James Early recommends AfroCubaWeb for information on AfroCuban approaches to race, identity, and racism.

Subject: Prominent black Americans condemn Cuba on racism
, 12/1/09

Letter to President Obama, 3/09

The Discourse on Racism in Anti-Castro Publications, 2008-2009

Carlos Moore’s Outcast Vision and Dangerous Deceit, 12/28/08

James Early
formerly Director, Cultural Heritage Policy
Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
Smithsonian Institution

James Early has long been a friend of Cuba.  He was among the folks at the Smithsonian who brought Afrocuba de Matanzas up to Washington for the 1987 Smithsonian Folkways Festival on the Mall, despite direct opposition from Vice President Bush's office, who at one point threatened to fire the Festival management if they proceeded with their plan. Early was responsible for bringing out the CD recording of that concert.

James Early is a member of the Board of Directors of the TransAfrica Forum and of the US-Cuba Cultural Exchange. He serves as Director of Cultural Heritage Policy at the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage at the Smithsonian Institution where he specializes in cultural democracy policy and state-craft and works with Cuban cultural institutions, artists and intellectuals primarily on grassroots cultural heritage.


Reflections on Cuba, Race, and Politics, Soul Magazine, 1999, Manning Marable, editor

James Early leads delegation to Cuba, 1998


The State of Race in 21st Century Cuban Socialism: Two Opposing Views Outside Cuba, 3/1/10
Written in response to Carlos Moore's articles commenting on the death of Orlando Zapata

Carlos Moore has written another  cleverly crafted critique designed to try to re-position himself as some kind of "progressive-reformer" in contrast to the "extremes" of Cuban Right-wingers and Cuban communist. Using empirical examples of racism and discrimination in the Right-Wing Cuban American community and inside socialist Cuba that liberals and leftists all too often avoid and/or unreflectively embrace, Moore exploits the senseless death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo by suggesting that the future of the Cuban Revolution will turn primarily on the issues of race. In doing so, he makes a mockery of the death that should have been prevented by dissidents and by the Cuban government.

Arguments in defense of a sovereign and self-determined Cuba that suggest that Orlando Zapata Tamayo was no towering theorist or advocate about democracy or a wholesome example of citizenship should not be used to obscure that his form and weight of opposition to the Cuban government and to Cuba’s socialist development is not productively addressed with imprisonment that leads to his death by hunger strike. Citing his history of law breaking and alleged associations with counter-revolutionary groups supported by the National Cuban American Foundation should not divert reflection and critique of how the Cuban government miss-handled this particular case. It is not at all clear how or if the Cuban government delineates protesters and dissenters, anti-socialist or not, from treasonous, subversive individuals and organized groups who intend and/or attempt to overthrow the government.

Those who support in principle and practice Cubans inside Cuba negotiating their own future in the context of present internal debates about how to improve the country’s socialist and democratic development should not dismiss the negative impact of this death on efforts by many across the ideological and political spectrum in the U.S. to overturn the blockade, open travel, free the five Cuban political prisoners, and promote normal government relations in which debate and compromise between the two governments and ideological, economic and political systems can be determined in the context of protocols accepted by and promoted in the international community.

Carlos Moore continues to find easy access in liberal, conservative, and even in some progressive spaces. However, his claimed posture of fervor against “US. Neo-colonial interests” demands that he explain why he disrespects and dismisses the “In-the Revolution” critiques and recommendations Cubans are debating about the quality of life in the state of their Socialist Revolution and about its democratic future. People in the U.S. who respect the debates and initiatives of Cuban citizens about the ideological, political, and developmental direction of their country ----and in particular about issues of racial identity, racially equality, and participatory democracy inside Cuba, should relate to those in Cuba who pose the struggle against racism as a “transversal issue” that is a fetter on national development and expansion of equality. That perspective is embedded in the new National Commission Against Racism and Discrimination featured on Cuban television on the Mesa Redonda in January 2010. The Commission is to be organized in all provinces and to engage all political representatives, citizen organizations, and the media.

James Early

Subject: Prominent black Americans condemn Cuba on racism, 12/1/09top

Sent: Tue, Dec 1, 2009
Subject: Prominent black Americans condemn Cuba on racism - Miami Herald

Check this out.....


For those of us in the U.S. and outside of Cuba, the question goes beyond "checking this out" to what do we think and how do we act to compliment the progressives inside of Cuba --citizens and government--who are taking on the issues of the unfinished struggles against racism inside Cuba. The fact of the issue of racial discrimination and disparities is not surprising or questionable, although the causes and nature (systemic or not) are debatable and of consequence to what has been done or not, what is being done, and what is to be done in Cuban civil society and in the Cuban government to overcome this issue of inequality in the context of the current debates and policy actions to confront the errors, limitations, and failures in the context of the strengths of the Revolution. This is not the first, nor will it be the last time that Black leaders outside of Cuba comment and take positions about the unfinished struggles against racism and the Cuban Revolution. Why now--suddenly and most visibly--does this more broadly publicized concern and critique emerge. 

I was contacted in the last few weeks by prominent African Americans asking my opinion and guidance on how to respond to the request from Carlos Moore (in Brazil) to sign on to an open critique about race and discrimination inside of Cuba. The call, petition signing, and open critical letter to Raul Castro is part of newly intensified campaign organized most openly by Carlos Moore and boosted by the prestige profile of Abdias do Nascimento of Brazil, and others enlisted to basically criticize the Cuban Revolution and Castro governments while making no reference, giving no credence to the progressive Afro-Cuban voices and actions inside of Cuba today. Therefore, the upshot of this is to place priority outside of Cuba and to de facto give support to internal anti-revolutionary anti-racist voices and actions inside of Cuba. 

That Afro-Descendants in the U.S. and other countries would have and have historically held different analysis of key life-defining issues like race, racism, and anti-racist policies is not surprising. So, where from here and "checking it out"? Progressive voices and polices among the Cuban government and Cuban citizens, especially Afro-Cubans, are remiss in broader dissemination of the state of race issues, discrimination, causes, errors, ineffective and effective policies, and precision about what are next steps and why to address discrimination. Progressive Cubans inside of Cuba are the best barometer of what is the state of affairs and of what should be done outside Cuba to compliment progressives inside. Where are those voices and why do we not read, hear, see more of them in the context of the relatively large, diverse scale of news we receive on web sites, electronic magazines, visiting scholars and artists, written reflecions, and so on from inside of Cuba? Cubans must be the first line of response and recruitment to compliment their internal struggles for equality of opportunity and conditions for all Cubans. And the various lines of debate among Afro-Cubans about the nature and resolution of the issue in relationship to the ideological, political, and economic nature of the country must be made clearer. Race is not an isolated factor. It is in agreement with the postulation of Esteban Morales--a critical progressive Afro-Cuban activists-voice inside of Cuba---, a "transversal" issue which is key to progress or not on most quality of life fronts inside the Cuban Revolution and to the maturation of the Revolution to next stages of civic, economic, political, economic, and ideological development. 

What about the anti-racist perspectives and actions of we outside of Cuba, especially, although not exclusively, Afro-Descendants? Well, I for one, will communicate with progressives who have signed on to this letter and share my views of what I believe to be a more productive outlook, analysis, and action in progressive support of the struggle against racism inside Cuba. I will also share the recent (September) frank exchanges organized by Cubans when Harry Belafonte, Danny Glover, Saul Landau, and I visited Cuba. The several discussions organized with artists, intellectuals, government and Communist Party officials of the highest order, and with Fidel Castro left no doubt among themselves or among us that an important ideological and political debate about race and discrimination and what is to be done is underway, but in the context of the broader debate and policy formulation among all Cubans about all aspects of improving their revolution. 

In addition, I will, and ask other progressive to, take up this matter in less of a broadside manner with Cuban representatives in the U.S. And to most definitely become familiar with the different lines of debate and policy implementation inside of Cuba, especially the lines of differences among Afro-Cubans, and to then determine not if, how to more progressively and productively enter and to compliment forward motion inside Cuba, including offering productive criticism. 

James Early 

Letter to President Obama, 3/09top

March 3, 2009

President Barack Obama
The White House
Washington, DC

Dear President Obama:

We are artists, arts presenters, arts educators, cultural entrepreneurs and scholars, and cultural heritage and policy professionals from diverse political persuasions. We have been adversely affected by the cultural embargo imposed by the U.S. government against both Cuban and American artists and cultural institutions. We are writing to request that you make concrete changes in U.S. policy towards Cuba that will allow for the uninhibited flow of art, culture, information, ideas and debates, as well as travel by artists, cultural workers and professionals, and arts and cultural aficionados between the two countries. U.S. policies towards Cuba worsened many times over by the previous administration and criticized throughout the world have prevented us from engaging in critical communication and collaboration with our Cuban counterparts, compromising our nation s cherished ideals of freedom of expression and preventing cultural interchange between two societies that share a historic relationship lasting over two centuries.

One year ago, we requested policy changes from the Bush Administration so that respectful, critical dialogue and principled exchange could take place between the peoples of Cuba and the U.S. and our respective governments. Our petition fell on deaf ears. As citizens, artists, scholars, educators and cultural workers from all artistic practices and from advocacy and service organizations in the arts, we now call upon your Administration to:

1. open a respectful dialogue with the government and people of Cuba in accord with established protocols supported by the community of nations;

2. end the travel ban that prevents U.S. citizens from visiting Cuba, and allow for Cuban artists and scholars to visit the United States, thus eliminating the censorship of art and ideas, and 

3. initiate, by working with the U.S. Congress, a process that can result in the development of normal, respectful bilateral relations between our countries. The artistic and cultural communities in the U.S. and in Cuba are catalysts of imagination and creativity. We are committed to serve as bridges for our fellow citizens. Now, we need our government to take leadership and re-open the pathways of exchange.

We look forward to working with you to advance the interests of the U.S. and of Cuba.


Bernard Rubenstein, Conductor, Copland/Gershwin New Music Group, Santa Fe, NM
Isabel Soffer, World Music Institute, New York, NY
Rob Gibson, Executive & Artistic Director, Savannah Music Festival, Savannah, GA
Ann Rosenthal, Executive Director, MultiArts Projects & Productions, New York, NY
James Early, Artists and Intellectuals in Defense of Humanity, Washington, DC
Bill Martínez, Martínez & Associates, San Francisco, CA
Louis Head, US-Cuba Cultural Exchange, Albuquerque, NM
Jose Griego, Ph.D., President, Northern New Mexico College, Espanola, NM
Erica D. Zielinski, General Manager, Lincoln Center Festival, New York, NY
Mike Kappus, President, The Rosebud Agency, San Francisco, CAderson, US-Cuba Cultural Exchange, Washington, DC

Carlos Moore’s Outcast Vision and Dangerous Deceit, 12/28/08
But what about racism in Cuba – through what optics and context of change should we view and engage it?top

(Thanks very kindly to Luci Murphy in Washington, DC who forwarded these most important comments on Carlos Moore to the internet on Grupo Afro Descendiente e-mail list. As I've previously mencioned, Moore and others are part of a recent trend to claim that Obama's election is some kind of threat to Cuba because Obama is Black and because, supposedly, this means that Cuban government can no longer say that the United States is racist. As I've mentioned more than once before, Cuba DOES continue to have racial problems, but they are both nothing compared to the racial problem which are widespread in the United States. Their origins and nature are quite different and it's extraordinarly disingenuous to try to conflate them as the group of people such as Carlos Moore, the Miami Herald, and others, all of whom have a long history of hostility toward the revolutionary government in Cuba, have been trying to do.)


Carlos Moore’s Outcast Vision and Dangerous Deceit, 12/28/08
But what about racism in Cuba – through what optics and context of change should we view and engage it?
By James Early of Transafrica
A response to “Obama Effect Highlights Racism in Cuba

December 28, 2008

Carlos Moore has re-emerged with his usual ripe political opportunism in the form of highly selective and often misleading analysis of race, racism, and of anti-racist achievements in Cuba. His mischief is compounded by misinformation about the status of the unfinished agenda and the growing engagement between Cuban citizens and the Cuban government about remaining obstacles to full achievement of social equity in race relations in Cuba.

This time Moore’s tour of the U.S. to promote his new book Pichón: Race and Revolution in Castro's Cuba and to ply his racialist prescriptions to overcome racism in Cuba comes at a transformative juncture of change in the Americas. Among the social equity topics in the change process under regional integration in Latin America and the Caribbean is a significant discourse, although not fully satisfactory in practice, about racism and discrimination. This includes the one initiated by Cubans inside Cuba, a dialogue that is debating why there is an unfinished agenda, the stakes for the country, and policy steps to eradicate racism.

Of course claims touted by Louis E.V. Nevaer that the “Obama Effect Highlights Racism in Cuba” – more on this later – is an unsubstantiated stretch about positive reverberations of Barack Obama’s election in Cuba. Nevaer and Moore’s anti-Cuba, or better labeled anti-Castro, bias obscures the fact that the Obama election spur to racial discourses in the Americas is but the most recent presidential election stimulus, after the election of Evo Morales in Bolivia, about racism and social justice in the Americas. Nevertheless, Moore and Nevaer’s tendentious critique about race in Cuba affords an opportunity to focus U.S. public attention on a subject that many in Cuba and the U.S. are reticent to fully engage.

Despite serious debates and widespread organizing among Afro-Descendants in the Americas about what change means for them and their countries, Carlos Moore and Louis E.V. Nevaer, citing some significant data researched and published in Cuba, make a subjective analysis and draw faulty conclusions as they skirt and therefore undervalue the scope, scale, impetus and synergy among civil society organizations inside Cuba and elsewhere advancing the promise of change sweeping the hemisphere. In doing so they delink civil society actions from the diverse ideological and political leadership in the Caribbean and Latin America (Evo Morales, Lula da Silva, Hugo Chavez, and Raul Castro among others) implementing policy changes as a result of intensified dialogue, debate and give and take between citizens and their governments.

Latching on to the “Obama Effect”, Moore and Nevaer close their minds and try to turn reader’s eyes away from the more fundamental regional dynamics of Latin American and Caribbean integration and the pivotal participatory democracy discourses and practices20useful to identify, analyze, and evaluate the long and diverse country-specific and regionally connected struggles against racism. Juxtaposing Cuba to the U.S. does not provide realistic context or rational historical measures with which to more accurately evaluate the status and policy approaches of citizens and government to yet unfinished agendas to defeat racism in Cuba, Latin America or in the U.S. And with respect to post-1959 history, evolution, and status of racial dynamics in Cuba, Moore and Nevaer seem to be trapped in a time-bubble and an anti-socialist feud qualifying the matter as they do on the socialist revolutionary leadership persona and decision making of now retired President Fidel Castro.

Cuban national debates and compromises and evaluation of internal progress on racial discrimination and other policy issues and Cuban-determined solutions to Cuban social problems and national development opportunities are maligned and dismissed by Moore and Nevaer. Rather than inform readers at least about the current generally positive trend of policy debates and new directions within the Cub an government and between Cuban citizens and the government about the media, race, sexuality, healthcare, and renewal and commemoration of ethnic and culture-specific histories and institutions, among other policy matters directed to rectification and revitalization of Cuban socialism, Moore and Nevaer retreat from debating the topic of race in Cuba in real-time developments and broader national development strategies. They arrogantly prescribe generalizations about affirmative action, revival of independent social and cultural institutions, and ‘effective power sharing between the island’s two dominant (racial) groups’. Sounds like a recommendation for the institution of a decidedly conscious systemic racially divided country.

In general and on issues of race in particular Americans are still too uninformed about current developments in Cuba. Cuban and U.S. sympathizers and solidarity activists who are justly concerned about racism anywhere in the world, Cuba included, must become better acquainted with how Cubans inside of Cuba have proposed and are acting upon some of the civic recommendations Moore masquerades about.

Not only do Carlos Moore and Louis E.V. Nevaer misrepresent the primary reason for Cubans speaking out about racism and discrimination inside of Cuba today. They clearly disregard and thus disrespect the obvious cause of the new racial discourse inside of Cuba: Cuban citizens capable and desirous of individual and group uplift and of contributions to national and regional development in the Caribbean and Latin America exercising their own agency in regards to national understanding and policy making with respect to race. In an attempt to distort what is really happening regarding increased discourse and policy making about race in Cuba they make the groundless claim that one of the more recent in-depth book length critiques and policy discourses Desafios de la Problematica Racial en Cuba (Challenges of the Racial Problematic in Cuba) about racism and the advances and the limits of racial progress in Cuba was “banned by the government.” The author of the book is Esteban Morales Dominguez, a prominent Afro-Cuban scholar. With little effort those who read Spanish can find on Cuban websites and in numerous Cuban publications essays and interviews by and with Cuba nationals about the topic of race, discrimination, and racial progress and challenges in Cuba today and compare insider perspectives with external evaluations.

I was in Cuba late January/early February 2008, a few days after the launch of Esteban Morales Dominguez’s book, and I spoke extensively with him at his home and when I formally addressed 30 plus members of the Union of Writers and Artists (UNEAC) about the anti-racist struggles in Latin America in the context of national and regional struggles against neoliberalism and the search for alternatives including 21st Century socialism. I made several references to Esteban’s book, and I had substantial exchanges about racial concepts and policies in Cuba and Latin America during the UNEAC meeting with the Cuban Vice Minister of Culture in attendance.

When in early December of this year, almost a year after my last visit to Cuba, I received an e-mail copy of the article “Obama Effect Highlights Racism in Cuba”, I immediately e-mailed a copy to Esteban Morales with a request that he respond specifically to accusations about his book made by Nevaer (read below) in support of Carlos Moore.

He wrote the following e-mail response to me on December 16 which I have translated:


Dear James.

My book was published in January of this year and it was distributed without any difficulty with a formal presentation organized by the Fernando Ortiz Foundation (introduced by Fernando Martinez*). Also seven articles have been published on the subject in the following magazines: Catauro No. 6, Temas, Caminos (Martin Luther King Center, Havana), and two articles in the Jiribilla, one in Alma Mater (periodical of university students) in the October edition. One additional article is now in publication, the subject of which is “Cuba: Skin Color and Statistics”. Also, I just participated in a documentary entitled “Race”, which has been shown in several theaters and promoted on television.

So, I have not had any difficulty in publishing nor in promoting the subject. Also, I have a second book that is already accepted for publication by the Institute of the Book and promoted by the Juan Marinello Center. My book (Challenges of the Racial Problematic in Cuba) was accepted for publication in Venezuela.

So, those that say that my book has been banned should be well informed, because they are mistaken and dis-informed. If they want, they can request how to get my articles electronically. Challenges of the Racial Problematic is sold out because there were only funds to publish 1000 copies, but it has been circulated widely, and people loan it to others, etc.

In addition, no one has interfered with me about the book.

I hope that this information is useful to you.

Un abrazo,

Esteban Morales


*Fernando Martínez Heredia, a noted Marxist author and essayist and winner of the 2006 National Social Sciences Award


In exposing Carlos Moore’s disingenuous analysis of race and racism in Cuba and his whacky but dangerous call for dividing the Cuban nation into separate races, people who are seriously committed to defeating racism suffered by the 150 million Afro-Descendants in this hemisphere should avoid wrapping themselves smug solidarity with Cuba or other Left-Progressive governments and social movements. Positive reception of the “Obama Effect” in regards to racial aspirations and struggles in the Americas should not be blithely dismissed.

A U.S. president with dramatically fresh and hopeful ideas of change in contrast to exploitative, law breaking, war making politics of George Bush and cautious Clinton-era liberalism has been voted in as a representative of U.S citizen’s disgust, fears, and critiques, but not outright rejection of Neo-Conservative and Centrist-Liberal politics and polices at home and abroad. Barack Obama is the vessel in which a majority of U.S. citizens have deposited their hopes for change from recent past Republican and Democratic presidential leadership.

And, President-Elect Barack Obama is Black! And we as a nation – most of us across the ideological and political spectrum – and around the world are in high spirits about what progress his election represents in the yet unfinished struggle to overcome the legacies of U.S. and global racism.

Indeed the election of Barack Obama to the presidency of the U.S. is herald around the world and embraced by peoples and political leaders of all ideological stripes. Obama’s call for restorative change in the declining delivery of rights and material wellbeing in U.S. domestic politics and in restraints to its imperial foreign policies which have violated the protocols by which the majority of nations negotiate interest and differences reflects the hopes and aspirations of many across the world.

In this wider policy context Obama’s election is also an important optic for amplification of unfinished struggles against racism in the U.S. and around the world. In the case of Cuba, my friends and acquaintances, ordinary citizens, artists and intellectuals, and political officials including some in the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party, have over the last year welcomed the possibility of racial progress in the U.S. that the election of a Black president would represent. Presidents Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, Lula da Silva of Brazil and other leaders and citizens in Africa and in Europe have expressed the significance of a Black American rising to the presidency of the United States.

In a recently published interview Ricardo Alarcon, President of the Cuban National Assembly acknowledges the positive racial effects of Obama inside of the U.S., while offering a more sobering analysis of the “Obama Effect“ with respect to Cuba:

“I saw the images and recognized many friends in tears, people who were part of the New Left of another era. They felt a special kind of emotion in gathering there, not the kind one feels when one is beaten but rather in celebration of the election of a black man as President, who has promised to change the country. I am not naïve, I know that we cannot expect much change with respect to U.S. policy towards Cuba, but I understand their sense of hope.

To Carlos Moore, his supporters, and to his critics, I genuinely urge that we become more diligent in pursuit of information and evaluation about progress, or lack thereof in defeating racism in Cuba, the Caribbean, Latin American, and in the U.S.

Honest debate among us can lead to improved solidarity with progressive Afro-Descendants and their nations in the Caribbean and Latin America in pursuit of racial progress in the context of national self-determined development. And, our ability to make productive critiques and contributions about world affairs, including civil society organizations and government policies to overcome racism will be enhance d through informed, honest debate and ethical compromise with Afro-Descendants and their governments in the Caribbean and Latin America.

In regards to matters of race and policies inside of Cuba and throughout the Caribbean and Latin America, we must locate our critical concerns and our solidarity activism in the context of the integration process in Latin American and the Caribbean (CARICOM countries included). Despite many differences in their ideological outlooks and political and economic practices they find common ground against imposed neoliberal policies. And those of us outside of the region can best be informed and responsibly active by engaging the collaborative and plural searches in the region for socio-economic and cultural and political alternatives apparent in a growing wave of participatory democracy notably inclusive of a pronounced maturation among racial and ethnic civil society movements among the 150 million Afro-Descendants throughout the hemisphere and among millions of Indigenous peoples.

In this momentous context of change we should not be surprised that Carlos Moore and other narrow-minded ideologues will attempt once again to enlist the naïve, the willingly unknowing, and the stubbornly reactionary to try to co-opt and to over and under dramatize what is a genuine “Obama Effect”. Hard conservatives and many liberals will debunk the larger American hemispheric movements for change. Narrow Black Nationalists will tend to skew change towards a racialist and market-driven ideology in the name of fighting racism. And many leftists and progressive Black nationalists will champion indigenous rights and their struggles against racism, but lightly, if not studiously avoid the struggles and achievements of Afro Descendants against racism in Latin America.

But none of those visions of a more democratic and racially equitable hemisphere are in sync with the new moment of changes among progressive citizen movements and strategies of progressive political leaders for new democracy in Latin America and the Caribbean, including the internal renovation of Cuban democracy underway in new discourses and policies among Cuban citizens and their political representatives.

DEBATE AND RESPONSE BEYOND CARLOS MOORE Many U.S. liberal and progressives, and Cubans too, all too quickly either avoid or deny that racial issues exist in Cuba and quickly assume a defensive posture often in very offensive tones while casually reciting like a catechism “the primacy of class over race; or by responding with the perplexing but evasive question-like statement: But don’t Cubans have State power? And the Cuban government despite repeated petitions by many whom claim to be ideological and political comrades listens patiently but responds sparingly to requests to say more in detail about the Revolution’s accomplishments, failings, and continued challenges in the struggle to defeat racism and its negative consequences to Afro-Cubans, Mestizos, and to the Cuban society and nation at large.

So, at this point in time of great hope and anticipation of change throughout the Americas, racism against Afro-Descendants and indigenous peoples wherever and however it exist must be placed squarely on the agenda and the faulty optics of gloom and doom or rosy progress must be corrected with facts, sound analysis, and clear cut policies.


‘Obama Effect’ Highlights Racism in Cubatop
by Louis E.V. Nevaer
New America Media, News Analysis
Dec 15, 2008

Editor's [ie New America Media] Note: Barack Obama's victory has made Cubans more willing to speak out against the institutional racism that exists half a century after Fidel Castro established a "color blind" egalitarian society.

MERIDA, Mexico – As Cuba prepares to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power, U.S. President–elect Barack Obama’s victory is raising disturbing questions about the institutional racism in the so-called egalitarian society, where racism is said to have disappeared along with capitalism.

In Cuba, signs in windows have begun to appear that read, “Si se puede, coño” or “Yes we can, damn it.”

“Cuba, I am inclined to believe, is nervous about the impact that a black president in the White House could have upon its own black20population,” writes Carlos Moore, a black Cuban of Jamaican ancestry and author of “Pichón: Race and Revolution in Castro's Cuba,”>/>; in the Miami Herald.

Since the first days of the revolution, Fidel has been aware of the racism that permeated Cuban society. “In the daily life of defense, loyalty, brotherhood, and shrewdness,” Fidel wrote in January 1959, “there has always been a Negro standing beside every white man.”

Castro envisioned a “color-blind” society, an aspiration that dated back to the 19th century liberator Jose Martí who fought to end the vestiges of slavery as part of severing ties with Spain. But there was paradox in Castro’s declarations: Castro, the son of European immigrants from Galicia, Spain, was a white man who had overthrown the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, a light-skinned mulatto born to parents who were both of mixed race.

In the decades that followed, Castro’s vision of giving Cuban blacks equal opportunities was thwarted by the realities of race outside the island nation: Soviet and East European allies preferred white Cubans, and these were granted scholarships to study for advanced degrees throughout behind the Iron Curtain. The growing disparities between white Cubans and black Cubans remained a lingering problem throughout the 1970s and 1980s.

It was the official policy of the government to deny the existence of racism, arguing that Communist “egalitarianism” made discrimination based on race “an impossibility,” simply because it was incompatible with a socialist state. This was a polite fiction. As Alejandro De La Fuente wrote in his authoritative book, “A Nation for All: Race, Inequality, and Politics in Twentieth-Century Cuba,” (The University of North Carolina Press, 2000) the color of one’s skin determines the life one leads in Communist Cuba.

“(A) strong correlation between race, the regional distribution of the population, and the quality of the housing stock persisted through the 1980s,” De La Fuente wrote.

“A traditional geography of race and poverty had not been dismantled, largely because of the government’s failure to provide adequate housing to the entire population. No neighborhood was racially exclusive—this was true, for the most part, in pre-Revolutionary Cuba also—but in the most dilapidated areas of the big cities, the proportion of blacks and mulattos was greater than that of whites.”

This was considered slander against socialism. Castro shot back, and Cuban authorities offered statistical analysis to bolster their view, which revealed the lengths to which Havana was prepared to deceive others even as it deceived itself. Of Cuba’s population of 11.2 million people in 2002, officials declared, 65 percent were white, 10 percent were black, and 25 percent were mulatto. This racial breakdown matched exactly the breakdown of members of Cuba’s parliament: 65 percent white and 35 percent people of color.

The implication was as obvious as it was ridiculous: Cuba had achieved “perfect” racial representation between the people and their representatives. Europeans scoffed at such claims. In fact, most independent census reports of the Cuban nation puts the number of “whites” at anywhere from 20 to 35 percent; everyone else is black or mulatto.

The European Union recently dispatched anthropologists to study racism in Cuba. Their findings were shocking: Not only was racism alive and well in the workers’ paradise, but it was systemic and institutional. Blacks were systematically excluded from positions that involved coming in contact with foreign tourists (where they could earn tips in hard currencies), they were relegated to poor housing, complained of the longest waits for healthcare, were excluded from managerial positions, received the lowest remittances from relatives abroad, and were five times more likely to be imprisoned.

The report, “Race and Inequality in Cuba Today,” by Rodrigo Espina and Pablo Rodriguez Ruiz, published in the anthropological journal TEMAS in 2006, infuriated Cuban officials.

But the findings were irrefutable, and they reflected an acceleration of racism in the 1990s.

The collapse of the Soviet Union only exacerbated the problem, particularly as Cuba now competed with Cancun and San Juan for European vacationers. As Democracy Now!>/>; reported in 2000, Cu ban officials continued to exclude blacks from tourist-related industries.

When Maria Carrion of Democracy Now! interviewed a black Cuban identified only as Victor, he told her that the only jobs black Cubans have access to are in construction and cleaning. Blacks are randomly stopped on the street by police, he said, and are unable to denounce racism in Cuba for fear of going to prison for being anti-Communist.

This is why Cubans are dizzy with excitement at Obama’s victory. “I still feel my heart skip a beat,” Victor Fowler, a black Cuban, told Spain’s El Pais newspaper last month. “I listen to Barack Obama … I look at my skin, I look at my children’s skin, I cry and I smile.”

Obama’s ascendancy has emboldened Cuban blacks in their criticism of the racism in Cuba. “The bottom line is that racism is Cuba's most intractable problem,” Carlos Moore wrote in the Miami Herald. “Only an arrangement implying effective power sharing between the island's two dominant groups can prepare the ground for a reversal of Cuba's socio-racial conundrum. This would call for an entirely new institutional framework that includes the reinvigoration of civil society, the implementation of robust racial affirmative action policies in all spheres, the revival of independent cultural and social institutions, an independent media and free press and the existence of autonomous political movements, associations and parties.” In other words, when it comes to racial progress, blacks in Cuba complain that their nation resembles the United States circa 1963, the year before the Civil Rights Act was passed.

This was precisely the point that Esteban Morales Dominguez, an economist, political scientist and essayist made last year in his book, “The Challenges of the Racial Problem in Cuba” (Fundación Fernando Ortiz, 2007), which was promptly banned by authorities. [Actually, not true]

Yet there is rising anger among Cuban blacks who view Obama’s victory as a sharp reminder of the racism that still exists in Cuba. In a country where few dare to post messages in public view that are not in support of the government, signs in windows have begun to appear that are startling: “Si se puede, coño” or “Yes we can,” with a Cuban twist – “Damn it.”

Addendum Author Bio
Louis E. V. Nevaer is one of the nation's leading authorities on Hispanics in the United States. He has authored more than 10 books on economic and business management, including the critically acclaimed The Rise of the Hispanic Market in the United States, Nafta's Second Decade, and The Dot-Com Debacle. He is director of Hispanic Economics, which analyzes Hispanic consumer behavior. A contributor to Pacific News Service and New America Media, his op-ed pieces appear in newspapers throughout the nation. He divides his time between New York and México.


For some context to this story, see The Discourse on Racism in Anti-Castro Publications, 2008-2009

For materials on recent Cuban interest in race & identity in Cuba, see:

The 1912 Massacre and the Independents of Color

Cuba: Race & Identity  


By James Early
Member, Johns Hopkins University's Cuba Exchange Advisory Board
Expert on Cuban Culture at the Smithsonian's Center for Folklife Programs and Cultural Studies

In the last few years the role of race in the Cuban Revolution has steadily emerged as a topic of public conversation among increasing numbers of Cubans on the Island. In the past forty years, occasional pronouncements from Fidel Castro have been the exception to the usual casual dismissal of the issue among many Cubans and the measured roundabout discourse of intellectuals and polemical encounters between visiting solidarity activists and their official host organizations.

Now confident to go beyond the previous confines of private, often whispered conversations, Cubans from various walks of life are increasingly voicing individual opinions and starting projects about racial identity, discrimination, and proposed remedies.  The changing awareness and concern about new articulations of racial consciousness and related criticisms of discrimination has prompted the Cuban government to support research and discussions about the touchy subject as it manifests as a pervasive aspect in the private lives of Cuban citizens.

Last month Fidel Castro, in an extended discussion with the Union of Artists and Writers, once again addressed the topic of Cuban identity, touching upon issues of race in the context of globalization. The issue of race was given special attention in the proceedings of the Fifth Cuban Communist Party Congress (October, 1997):  "in the present we must continue the consolidation of the fair policy of promoting blacks and women, especially as cadres, in the same way that has been occurring with youth, with out being mechanical.  This is a policy that guarantees the moral authority of the Party before our people. The Party must insist in the application of that policy in all spheres of society."

Some Party members indicated that affirmative emphasis on race caused disquiet among some in the ranks. Others suggest that Fidel Castro is a lone progressive voice who periodically raises the issue of racial advancement among more conservative leadership.   Whatever the environment of receptivity on matters of race within the inner circle of Cuban governmental leadership, or the motives in support or against affirmative approaches, there can be little doubt that Cuban society, has at least for the moment, entered into a period of more open dialogue and debate about matters of race.

A documentary film is being produced by an Afro-Cuban film maker on the 1912 massacre of three-thousand Afro-Cubans resulting from the formation of a Black political party then deemed illegal by the government. Critiques are increasingly made about the lack of wholesome black images in present day Cuban media.  Teatro Negro has been formed and is writing and presenting plays about racial identity and discrimination. Afro-Cubans are increasingly quoted in the foreign press about race and racism in Cuba.  Clinton Adlum formerly of the Cuban diplomatic corp, now attached to a program at the University of Havana, where he does research on comparative race relations in the United States and Cuba was quoted in the Dallas Morning News (9/17/98):  "There is no official racism here anymore. But there is still a culture of racism. The mistake was to think that just by having everyone integrated, racism would fade away."   Similar perspectives from Afro-Cubans, locating ongoing problems of racism in the context of racial progress during the last forty years, are appearing in the foreign press.

The breakthrough on broader public and government initiated discussions of race and discrimination inside Cuba is also reflected in the spate of recent public discussions and news articles in the United States.  While African-Americans have frequently explored and debated issues of race and racism in Cuba since the 1959 Revolution  (see The Dallas Morning News article by Tracey Eaton on the January, 1999 visit to Cuba by an African-American delegation organized by Randall Robinson, President of the Washington-based TransAfrica Forum),  recent public forums are distinguished by participation of Cubans who live in the United States or other countries. Many of these Cubans who now find themselves immersed in the topic of race for the first time have previously either hedged on the subject, or denied the existence of racism in pre-59 Cuba.  Most notable among the Cuban voices now attracting public attention are the self-identified Afro-Cubans living outside Cuba whose opinions and writings on the subject have until lately found little publicly expressed and sustained interests among fellow Cubans in the U.S. of whatever racial identity.

In November, 1998, the Center for International Policy sponsored a seminar "Miami and U.S. Cuba Policy: A New Look" with a panel on "The Views of the Afro-Cuban Community" which featured among other panelists the outspoken, in some quarters controversial, Afro-Cuban Carlos Moore. The discussion and debate by the all black panel in front of an all white audience generated a number of follow up news articles which vigorously engaged the subject with various interpretations of Jose Marti's views about Cuban racial identity and references to theories of sincretism and conflicting interpretations of Cuban national history, all summoned to bolster one or another construct about racial identity,racism, and social policy.

Why has this discussion come to the fore at this stage in the Revolution?  Despite much racial progress since 1959, the Special Period  (a crisis on many fronts, including economics and social morality) has revealed the yet unbridged fissures around racial identity and racism in today's Cuba.  Americans concerned with normalization of relations and socially just national development in Cuba should pay close attention to these debates about identity and racism, and examine their roles and the impact of policies and projects they support for the improvement of U.S.-Cuba relations and social stability, progress, and justice in Cuba.

posted with permission from the author

Early leads delegation to Cubatop

James Early led a Smithsonian delegation to Cuba to identify colleagues and collegial institutions with whom future projects might be developed in the arts and humanities. The delegation also included the director of special programs at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the president of the Levine School of Music in Washington, D.C., and a journalist for Jazz Times.

- from the SMITHSONIAN Talk Story
Center for Folklife Programs and Cultural Studies,  SPRING 1998 · NUMBER 13

Links to James Early postings on the web

Culture and Community-Building: South Africa Exchange
by James Early

by James Early

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