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Cuba: Race & Identity in the News

AfroCubaWeb's Race & Identity in Cuba


History, race must be factored 
into Cuban equation
Granma, Cuba, 5/15/03

MIAMI — Cuba is just 90 miles off the southern tip of Florida. But the distance between this country and the one that Fidel Castro has ruled for the past 43 years can be best measured in terms of warped history, not miles.

When President Bush came to Miami on Monday to take part in the celebration of what organizers called the 100th anniversary of Cuba's independence from Spain, virtually no one challenged this misread of history — or its impact on the troubled relations between these two countries.

Back in 1902, it was the United States, not Spain that dominated life in Cuba. Spain's colonial control of the Caribbean island had been effectively ended three years earlier by the Spanish American War. By 1899, American imperialism had replaced Spanish colonialism as the controlling force in Cuba.

The U.S. occupation ended in 1902, but not before Congress imposed two concessions on the new Cuban government. It was forced to grant Washington the right to intervene in Cuban affairs and to cede control of Guantanamo Bay to the U.S. military. Franklin Roosevelt voided the intervention agreement in 1934, but the American occupation of Guantanamo Bay continues today.

So ironically, the Cuban-American celebration of a century of Cuban independence also marks 100 years of uninterrupted control of a valuable piece of the Cuban nation by the United States.

Even more remarkable, Bush — who is hardly a student of history — parrots the call of Florida's Cuban exile leaders for "a return of democracy" to Cuba, a country that has been ruled by dictators, despots, Mafia front men and communists for nearly all of the past century. Shortly after Fulgencio Batista, Castro's predecessor, seized control of Cuba in a military coup in 1952 his picture appeared on the cover of Time magazine with a caption that called him the man who "got by democracy's sentries."

Many of the people who fled Cuba when Castro came to power in 1959 were the beneficiaries of Batista's bloody rule. Largely white, they were the middle class of his dictatorship and benefited greatly from a class structure that afforded Afro Cubans few rights and relegated them to the lowest rungs of Cuban society.

Unfortunately, Bush doesn't know this bit of history. He is instead imbued with the belief that the revolution Castro led ousted a democratic government. Bush's warped sense of Cuban history — and his desire to help his brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, win re-election in November — blinds him to the truth.

By calling for a return of democracy to Cuba, the president courts the Cuban-American voters his brothers is depending on to help him win a second term.

But his pandering is shortsighted. There is little chance the political stalemate that has defined U.S.-Cuban relations for more than four decades will end soon if the leaders of this country don't understand the history of our relationship with Cuba and the true nature of the democracy struggle on that island.

Most people in Cuba are of African descent. Most Cuban Americans are not. Long after Castro passes from the scene, the struggle between these two groups will continue to undermine U.S.-Cuban relations if they are not taken into account by those who truly want to end the current impasse.

While Cuban exile leaders pine for a return to their ancestral home, many people of African descent in Cuba say they will never let that happen. Understanding this rift is as important in resolving the political standoff between the United States and Cuba as is the ideological tug-of-war between the communist state and this country's demands for Castro to undertake democratic reforms.

For George W. Bush and the Cuban Americans he panders to, Fidel Castro is the roadblock to normal relations between Cuba and the United States. But just across the Florida straits, millions of Cubans of African descent have a far better understanding of the events that unfolded over the past century.


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