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Robert Steinback
Miami Herald

An African American, Robert Steinback has covered issues of race & identity in Cuba for the Miami Herald. He is moderating the Present in the Diaspora panel of the Conference on Afro-Cubans in Cuban Society: Past, Present and Future in September '99. He moderated a similar panel in Miami in November '98, where he got good marks for conducting an even handed discussion.

CONFRONTING CUBA'S FUTURE HEALING RACIAL RIFTS IS KEY, BLACK PANELIST SAYS

Tuesday, November 3, 1998

by ROBERT STEINBACK, Miami Herald Columnist

It takes extraordinary courage for a black man to address a mostly white Cuban audience in Miami and criticize the Pope, Cuban patriot Jose Marti and Fidel Castro in the same presentation.

It takes an extraordinary message for that man to draw enthusiastic applause.

Carlos Moore, associate professor at the University of the West Indies in Trinidad, is accustomed to challenging audiences with his incisive, unfiltered analyses of race, culture and Cuban heritage.

He isn't used to the appreciation he received Saturday at a seminar entitled The Views of the Afro-Cuban Community.

``That's the first time that happened,'' he told me Monday, almost disbelieving. ``First time. First time ever. Usually I get hostility, complete and unrelenting hostility, the most primitive racial hostility.''

Moore was one of five panelists - all black, three Cuban - who addressed the seminar, part of a controversial weekend conference put forth by the Center for International Policy.

Miami and U.S. Cuba Policy: A New Look drew the ire of Miami's Cuban American National Foundation, in part because of the center's willingness to explore the possibilities of dialogue with the Castro regime. Internecine Cuban tensions simmered during at least one of the center's other seminars.

But not this one.

Moore, along with author Enrique Patterson, Alberto Jones, executive director of the Caribbean-American Children Foundation, Florida International University psychology professor Marvin Dunn, and Winston Hale, head of the Caribbean Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Miami, told the audience of 125 that the future of Cuba and the Cuban-American community depends on confronting Cuban racial schisms that have been subordinated and denied for generations.

It continues today, Moore said - although the reception he received Saturday may offer a ray of hope that white Cubans are beginning to understand the need to share power with black Cubans, rather than trying to subsume them into a Cuban paradigm constructed entirely by whites.

``It's amazing how much a white Cuban in Miami resembles a white Cuban in Cuba,'' Moore said Monday, reiterating points he raised at Saturday's seminar. ``When it comes to politics, they differ. But when it comes to race, they have the same reflex: either to deny or downgrade its importance.

``The problem is to recognize that there are two different cultures in Cuba going in two different directions, and one is trying to pull the other in its direction.''

Given that Cuba is more than 58 percent black, the denial of a distinct black culture all but guarantees eventual conflict.

``The blacks are going to wreck Cuban society before allowing a betrayal of their human rights,'' Moore said.

Yet it has become something of a Cuban tradition - continued, ironically, both by revered Cuban nationalist Jose Marti a century ago, and Castro today - to do so, Moore said.

Black Cubans on the island perceive white Cubans in Miami as making no effort to share power with black Americans, Moore said. That has been their ``litmus test'' of whether white Cuban Miami was continuing its customary practice of denying black Cuban culture.

The denial continued this year, Moore said, when Pope John Paul II visited Cuba. The Pope met with Jewish and Protestant leaders, but refused to meet with priests of Cuba's five main Afro-Cuban religions, even though millions of black Cubans practice them, Moore said.

That deeply disappointed the island's black majority, Moore said.

Moore described Cuba as the world's only biracial society that has experienced feudalism, colonialism, slavery, capitalism, socialism, communism and neo-colonialism.

``And in all of those systems, the same people had power, and the same people didn't have power. Blacks in Cuba have gone through every [system] that they were told would make things better for them. But they are all systems devised and imposed by the West. A new social dispensation has to be worked out from our own cultural experience.''

Marti's nationalism, which spoke of only one Cuban culture, continued the practice of denying the distinctness of black Cuban culture.

White Cubans ``iconize Marti, then hide behind Marti to dominate blacks,'' Moore said. ``Marti gave them the bible for the domination of blacks. He said there is only one race in Cuba, and that's Cuban, and any black who tries to talk about black and white was a racist.

``Castro imposed the Marti philosophy on Cuba - that there is neither black nor white in Cuba. If you talk about race you are an enemy of the state.''

The applause the all-black panel received from a mixed, but predominantly white Hispanic audience Saturday gives Moore hope for positive change. Younger Cubans seem more sensitive to issues of race, while the domination of the Cuban debate by old-line exile groups - which have virtually no black Cuban members among their leadership - is weakening.

``Cuba is a big laboratory that will tell us where the world is going in the 21st Century,'' Moore said.

If that's true, then let's hope they get it right.

As quoted on Canfnet.org:

Pude admirar en Jorge Mas Canosa la pureza de su amor por Cuba y su misión de liberarla.
Robert Steinback, The Miami Herald, Miami, Florida


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