April 4th, 2010
The Cuban government accused of Racism in “Acting on our Conscience.”
Historically, anti-Cuba groups based in Florida and Europe, have systematically accused the Cuban government of being racist; the serious allegations of Dr. Carlos Moore, which have been profusely disseminated through predominantly black countries and communities for the past 25 years, and the spurious document that was circulated and signed by tens of prominent Afro-Americans, Caribbean and Afro-Latin America intellectuals, should constitute the perfect alchemy to detonate a social explosion that would sweep the Cuban government out of office and replace it with one in the image and semblance of the government of the United States of America.
The tragic, painful and irreparable loss of Orlando Tamayo Zapata through his decision to starve himself to death, has unleashed an unprecedented wave of denunciations around the world, with which some are hoping to encourage other dissidents in Cuba, not those living abroad, to imitate and repeat this tragedy, as if, our culture were Sunni, Shiite or Taliban.
Without pretending to minimize, question or denigrate this fatal decision that saddens, stains and shames our country, I would point out that a similar reaction did not occur when approximately ten political prisoners in northern Ireland took a similar action in the 80‘s, nor did one occur after the massacres in Sharpville, Ruanda and Soweto, the beatings of thousands of blacks in Alabama, Mississippi or Tennessee during the Civil Rights movement, the thousands of lynching across the United States or the daily police brutality against the Afro-American community.
This tactic, geared to promote racial divisions in Cuba, had its antecedent in 1910 with the campaign against the Independent Party of Color and re-appeared shortly after the attack on the Moncada Garrison in Santiago de Cuba on July 26, 1953, when the spokesperson of the regime spread rumors suggesting that this action was motivated by racial prejudices of white attackers from western Cuba against president Fulgencio Batista, a mulato.
The first images appearing in the press reinforced this fallacy since all prisoners as well as the dead were white. It was not until the court appearance of the attacker’s months later that the first images of non-whites became public.
Soon after, secondary schools, high schools, technical and teachers school and university students in the province of Oriente were involved in a intense national debate about ways to confront Batista‘s government. Once again, the regime apologists made great efforts to demonstrate there was no constitutional crisis, rather, it was a deliberate intent of white Cuba to retake over the government.
Paradoxically, this tactic had little resonance among students in Guantanamo , Santiago de Cuba and other communities with large Afro-Cuban population. The pictures of the insurgents as they exited the Model Prison on the Isle of Pines, others, after the landing of the Granma in Las Coloradas in 1956, contacts with Willy, Cauce, Zuniga, Temistocles, Newton, Richard, Thompson, and Manfugas became a resounding denial of this falsehood.
Among the first measures introduced by the victorious Revolution in January of 1959 was the des-institutionalization of racism. All recreational associations based upon racial principles were disbanded and turned into social circles, all private schools were nationalized, incorporated to the national education system and registration was dependent on the student’s home address. Beaches, jobs, clubs and neighborhoods were integrated without racial distinctions.
The Land and Urban reform laws were enacted; the electric and telephone bills were reduced and all prescription medications were slashed by 50%, benefiting the poor, of which Afro-Cubans were an absolute majority.
The literacy campaign, Follow-Up, the Battle for the Sixth Grade , the training of Primary Teachers, the opening of Technical Schools , the Education Leveling Program and the University Scholarships enabled tens of thousands of poor students to join different educational programs.
At the same time, hundreds of middle and higher education students from Latin America, Africa, Asia and the Caribbean received scholarships in Cuba , which allowed these graduates to occupy important positions in their countries, benefiting their people.
These drastic measures in favor of the marginalized, the interventions and confiscations of properties of the dominant class turned them into enemies of the Revolution who coined the pejorative term of SOLOVANNICHE to their beaches and other recreational centers, which once it was unscrambled meant SOLO VAN NICHE or WHERE ONLY NIGGERS GO, where they never put their feet again, as they abandoned the country and joined numerous counterrevolutionary groups.
Thousands of Afro-Cubans were employed for the first time in administrative jobs and office settings in the electric and telephone companies, garment stores, inter-provincial bus lines and even local lines such as route 30 in Havana, coffee shops and restaurants in Vedado, Miramar and Centro Havana neighborhoods and access to medical centers such as Sagrado Corazon, Clinica de Miramar, Marfan, Hijas de Galicia, La Covadonga and others.
Hosting the Tri Continental Conference and the founding of OSPAAAL in Havana in 1966 became a source of national pride and an unmistakable symbol of Cuba ’s commitment to the Third World, turning Cuba into a compelling stop for all leaders and heads of state of developing countries.
Cuba’s unconditional support of the liberation movements in Algeria, Angola, Congo and Ethiopia in Africa, the massive support it provided to the people of Viet Nam and to national liberation groups in Venezuela, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Chile and others defined the position of the Cuban government in the world.
Over and over, Cuba did not hesitate to place its national security at risk, by offering safe haven to tens of Afro-Americans, Africans, Latin-Americans and other revolutionaries, persecuted by their governments.
The epic military battle that Cuba fought for over a decade in the southern cone of Africa, in which 300,000 Cuban soldiers took part shoulder to shoulder alongside their African brothers, resulted in the consolidation of Angola’s independence, the destruction of Apartheid and contributed to the independence of Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa and the heroic liberation of Nelson Mandela and his brothers in arms. This effort is without any doubt the greatest honor that has been conferred upon descendents of Africa around the world, freeing the lands from where their forefathers were ripped away in chains many centuries ago.
And yet, providing tens of thousands of physicians, nurses and other healthcare workers to millions of patients and saving thousands of people from a certain death in every corner of the globe is without any doubt the pinnacle of everything that Cuba has done on behalf of the forgotten.
All of the above and more was done with an unprecedented generosity in the annals of human history, in which Cuba did not conditioned its support to the state of bilateral relations with any country, never accepted payment, and never extracted raw material from any of these countries.
The cumulative contribution that Cuba has provided to the dispossessed, abused and ignored in general and to blacks in particular around the world demonstrates conclusively, without a nanogram of doubt, and refutes categorically every wretched attempt by confessed enemies, salaried or opportunists of any stripe, to lodge this repulsive racist epithet on Cuba as part of a broad international campaign directed, orchestrated and financed by proven racists Cuban-Americans, colonialists governments, ex-slave traders and xenophobic European, lead by the United States.
Can we compare Cuba ’s 50 year record with any similar period of the governments of Spain , Holland , France , Belgium or England during the XVI-XX centuries or that of the United States , Germany , Japan and others during the XX-XXI century?
Relying excessively on this colossal record, the Cuban government has made serious mistakes in the administration of its national resources in social, labor, salary, health, housing and education policies. The population have been subjected to severe and unjustifiable material shortages for decades, various basic aspirations of the population have been restricted, and numerous national infrastructure developments have been mismanaged or misconceived. There has been a heightened sense of disenfranchisement of the population through imposed regulations. Most mechanisms of complaints or remedy by the citizenry have become a collective catharsis center, promoting cynicism and official corruption.
A crucial factor in the perpetuation of these ills is the lack of a critical mass media denouncing wrongdoings, an effective investigative journalism policing our day-to-day activities and an overtly triumphal news reporting that masks deficiencies and creates a fictional reality.
Cuba is guilty of negligence and an unforgivable delay in confronting and addressing the chronic injustices and social inequalities that have plagued, demoralized and literally decimated the Afro-Cuban community, especially since the advent of the Special Period during which they were excluded intentionally from all access to hard currency in a dollar-governed economy; forcing many into prostitution, crime and demoralization.
Cuba cannot explain convincingly to its people that the government was not aware that citizens from the eastern provinces were called Palestinian by their fellow citizens in Havana, shamefully detained on Obispo street, Central Park or Varadero beach and returned to their place of residence, just as it happened in Pretoria, Cape City or Windhoek, before these same Afro-Cubans freed their African brothers from such an infamy with their blood or their lives.
How can we explain to ourselves without racial overtones, the scandalous and disproportionate index of Afro-Cubans incarcerated in Cuba, whose etiology lies with the tragic resurgence of racism, segregation and catastrophic management regulations in many enterprises, that targeted and excluded an ample sector of society from areas with access to convertible currency, without this crime being denounced by academics, research centers, mass media or subjected to judicial corrective measures?
How can anyone rationalize dispassionately that Santiago de Cuba with a predominantly black population is no longer the second city in importance in the country, which until a recent political shuffle, had become a frustrated, hopeless city with severe unemployment, high migratory mentality among youngsters, limited socio-cultural development and is relegated to a lesser importance than Holguin, Cienfuegos or Old Havana?
Can anyone reasonably explain why the British West Indian Welfare Center, an NGO that was founded in Guantanamo in 1946 to preserve, foster and develop the history and culture of approximately 500,000 emigrants and descendents from every English Speaking Caribbean islands living in Cuba, occupies today a crumbling, leaky building, where researchers of Black history, diplomats and personalities from around the world visit to glean through its historical documents at risk of vanishing, as it was denied a suitable, vacant building by the Department of Justice of the Province of Guantanamo, where its membership had hoped to build a facility to satisfy their needs and historical importance, while the same Department of Justice of the Province of Havana, provided the Asturian Association, with less than 1000 descendents in Cuba, a posh building on Central Park Blvd., across from the Old Capitol building in Havana that houses the Nardo’s Restaurant?
What special rules prompted the Justice Department in Havana to provide the tiny Jewish community with every bit of construction material to refurbish their synagogues and to own/operate the beautiful hotel Raquel?
What preconceived notion leads the Cuban Ministry of Tourism to promote heavily and organize trade fairs in south America, Europe, Asia and Australia, as it blatantly ignore the purchasing power and geographical proximity of millions of Afro-Americans and Caribbean potential tourists, who would readily feel at home in Santiago de Cuba, Guantanamo and other areas in Cuba, with whom they hold a strong ethnic, historical and family bonds?
How can we be surprised by rising racism in Cuba, knowing that the Ministry of Education curriculum has omitted or intentionally evaded important historical contributions of Africans and their descendents in the development of the Cuban nation, has shelved films and other cultural events depicting blacks in positive, historical accomplishments, while innumerable films, soap operas and plays made in Cuba or imported, tends to present black people in servility, dependency or unlawful activities, in contrast with the Gentleman, Lady or Mistress attributes conferred upon other ethic groups?
Can we plausibly explain how the ICAIC (Cuban Institute of Arts and Cinematography Industry) has the time and funds to honor the memory of Yarine, a vulgar pimp turned into a popular fable, but has not had the time, funds or interest to pay homage to the lives of Bartolome Maso, Jesus Menendez, Carlota, Jose Maceo or Juan Gualberto Gomez?
How can anyone convincingly convey to our children that after half a century of solidarity with the world, Cuba has been unable to replicate among Afro-Cuban youths, tens of General Antonio Maceo, Aponte, Brindis de Salas, Mariana Grajales, Nicolas Guillen or Regino Boti, originated in the abject social conditions of colonialism and the pseudo-republic?
Complicating even more this horrible scenario is the fact that no predominantly black country, social, humanitarian or religious institution in the world, has been able to extend a helping hand to a captive Afro-Cuban community, reluctant to migrate, dreaming about an elusive better tomorrow, while the crude rigors of the blockade and the severe internal restrictions that strangle all non-governmental economic activity are eroding societal ethics, shattering their moral values and placing millions on the verge of social collapse?
Other ethnic groups in Cuba, have widely used migratory possibilities and have controlled the best jobs with access to convertible money, while they occupy the best residential areas, undertake foreign travels, job promotion and have also received substantial monetary support from the countries of origin of their ancestors, as is the case of Spain, Israel, China and some Arab countries, widening Cuba’s class divisions.
In our intent of creating a country with all and for the betterment of all in the XIX century as was postulated by Jose Marti, Afro-Cubans joined massively, constituted the bulk of the Army of Independence and suffered most of its casualties. Our sacrifices were infringed upon by the humiliating military intervention of the United States in 1898, emasculating our country’s social aspirations, re-introducing segregation and racism, prohibiting black immigration from the Caribbean as they introduced 100,000 men, women and children in western Cuba from the Canary Islands to “bleach“ the country. They were given funds and farmlands while all of the country resources were distributed among the interventionists and those who were defeated on the battlefield.
Afro-Cubans received nothing material, were prohibited to rise above the rank of lieutenant in the army even though some had led victorious armies during the war of independence. They were barred from the police force and were confined to menial, jobs or unemployment.
Betrayed, frustrated and without any other option, blacks founded the Independent Party of Color in order to demand justice, equity and their brutally violated rights, following the established political norms.
The answer to this noble action was the monstrous massacre of over 6000 members of the party and others, whose only crime was being black or mulato, in Santiago de Cuba , Songo, La Maya, San Luis and Guantanamo .
And today, nearly 100 years after that horrific crime, a magnificent monument on Presidents Avenue and 27th Street in Havana honors the memory of General Jose Miguel Gomez, the intellectual author of this human turkey shoot, while there has been no time or political will to erect a simple cross at the site of the crime, in honor of its victims.
Cuba is like other countries whose development, life style and everything that is visible and invisible was created with the work, sweat, blood and the lives of millions of Africans and their descendents, who were forced to do the worst jobs from sunrise to sundown for free for more than 350 years. Cuba cannot ignore or presume it has addressed this un-payable debt with millions of its children.
To not recognize this infamy, to not begin to apply elementary corrective measures to address this un-erasable blot in our history, has impeded and will continue to impede our country to achieve the seat of honor it deserve among the community of nations in the world, as paid hypocrites are now trying to use.
No other position could correspond with a martyrized Cuba during the Ladder Conspiracy, the cruel execution of the 7 medical students, the Baragua Protest, the explosion of La Coubre, the Missile Crisis and the heroism of the battle of Cuito-Cuanavale, to tolerate our country to continue to drag or to hide this secret that stains us all alike.
None of the countries that enriched themselves with the blood of our ancestors is like Cuba . In Cuba there is an ongoing Revolution, with the character, moral fortitude and ethical principles that are a pre-requisite to identify these ills, evaluate them factually and introduce the corrective, un-deferrable measures our society demands.
Only Cuba has the moral authority to confront and motivate others to assume together or separately, this collective debt with humanity.
For the good of all, part III the final chapter, will include some honest thoughts, simple mechanisms, that if they were deemed worthy of implementing, even on an experimental basis, we hope may shed some options, clues and directions, that may help us heal this immoral scar and begin to create the nation we deserve and with which, we have dreamt for over 500 years.