Cuba’s Colorless Yellow Pages

The ETECSA Yellow Pages

HAVANA TIMES — Of the Cuban companies currently at the forefront of the country’s transition to State capitalism, ETECSA (the island’s phone company) is among the most unpopular. Officially baptized as the Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba S.A. (“Cuban Telecommunications Company, LTD.), people jokingly refer to it as Estamos Tratando de Establecer Comunicaciones Sin Apuro (“We’re Attempting to Re-Establish Communications Unhurriedly).

ETECSA’s widespread unpopularity is not unwarranted. The company has earned it by imposing monopoly prices on the population, violating the privacy of users and making Internet access on the island slower or more expensive (we ought not forget that General Ramiro Valdes, the former Minister for Communications and one of the bigwigs of Cuba’s governing elite, considers the internet a “weapon of mass destruction.”)

With the money it takes in every year, ETECSA prints a guide that’s as pretty as a picture. Cuba’s Yellow Pages include a list with the more important public phones, advice for bureaucratic procedures and ads for products and services offered by State companies and the successfully self-employed.

Whoever wants to have an idea of how the country’s different racial, economic and cultural strata will be distributed after the transition towards Cuba’s “prosperous and sustainable socialism” need only open the guide and look at the photos printed on its pages.

Nearly everyone that appears in these (even workers) have the aura of a satisfied middle-class that works or lives in air-conditioned quarters, wears expensive clothes and has no doubts about its sexual orientation. The daily agony and stress of having to make ends meet, the sweat of hard labor (to say nothing of poverty and decadence) are nowhere to be found in ETECSA’s immaculate guide. What strikes me the most, however, is the “depigmentation” of its pages.

After a quick first glance, it seemed to me that the number of white people in the photos was far too large in comparison to the number of dark-skinned ones. To dispel all doubts, I counted the number of people belonging to different race groups. Here is what I found:

Discarding ambiguous cases, the result was that, of a total of 163 individuals whose photos appear in the Yellow Pages, 150 are white, 11 are mixed race and 2 are black.

Expressed as percentages, whites represent a little over 92 percent of the total, while people of mixed race and black people account for less than 8 %.

Are these racial ratios similar to those we find in Cuba as a country?

The 2012 census revealed that white people account for 65 % of the population, while people of mixed race and black people account for less than 27 and 10 %, respectively.

Skin Color % according to the 2012 census % in the Yellow Pages
White 64,1 92
Black 9,3 1
Mixed 26,6 7

As far as children were concerned, ETECSA’s selection process was far more rigorous. Of the ten minors that appear in the guide (not counting teenagers), all ten are white.

I don’t believe there is a macabre plot or a conspiracy behind this, but the sum total of petty, unprogrammed and even unconscious racism yields an official phone guide that is unquestionably racist.

If we add the conservative and male chauvinist gender bias and the typical world view of the prosperous, consumerist middle-class, we can conclude that Cuba’s Yellow Pages constitute a typical class instrument. Through this and other official publications, Cuba’s nouveaux riches (born of the fusion of the more prosperous State and private companies) propagate their imaginary and ideology to those below, an imaginary that makes clear what requirements (in terms of gender, age, skin color and values) one will need to meet in order to enjoy a good slice of the pie.

1: When I say “white” and “black”, I mean what is understood in Cuba with these terms.
2: Many people believe that Cuba’s mixed race and black population is far larger than what the census reported.

Erasmo Calzadilla

Erasmo Calzadilla: I find it difficult to introduce myself in public. I've tried many times but it doesn’t flow. I’m more less how I appear in my posts, add some unpresentable qualities and stir; that should do for a first approach. If you want to dig a little deeper, ask me for an appointment and wait for a reply.

6 thoughts on “Cuba’s Colorless Yellow Pages

  • Question number 6 in the 2012 Census in Cuba was:
    What is the colour of your skin?
    This creates a deliberate racial discrimination. As the white mainly Spanish with later some French sector has always been in power, a person with some not very obvious colour will list themselves as white. Black people who may know that they had a white great-grandparent but are black will place themselves in the mulato sector and only those who are deep black or have pride will list themselves as black,
    .This typically cynical manipulation by the Castro socialist regime enables them to minimize the numbers of black people appointed to positions in administration, management or authority – just look around!
    Other relevant questions include what colour are the Asiatic people and in particular:
    Cuba is the most racist country I know – and I have visited over thirty. Try walking down the street in Havana with your partner or wife if you are of different colours – we are and we have been stopped repeatedly by the State Police.

  • I stand corrected…it is Cecilia Valdes…several versions available on YouTube, including a film version of the novel, and a film version of Gonzalo Roig’s zarzuela (of the latter, the mid-1960’s version with Alina Sanchez as Cecilia is by far the best; she has a self-confidence which I imagine the “real” Cecilia Valdes must have had. Alina’s later performance, on Miami tv, is a sad shadow of her earlier performance (like comparing Ilse Werner’s lilting ballads from the 1940’s, vs her later lip-sinc perfomances on German tv in the 1990’s). Incidentally, my post some months ago referred you to a (“lost”) documentary about Antonio Maria Romeu; my mistake again; the 1960’s documentary was also about Conzalo Roig. It is a gem.

  • I believe you mean “Cecilia Valdes”, based on the book of the ams name by Cirilo Villaverde. I can’t recommend the novel strongly enough, it is foundational to Cuban literature. The vivid depiction of the multi-faceted economicl & racial streams of Cuban society is fascinating.

  • Some interesting background on the corporate ownership of ETECSA:

    27% of the company was owned by Telecom Italia, until they sold their interest to Rafin SA in January 2011 for $706 million. The remainder is owned by the Ministry of Information and Communication. The services provided by ETECSA includes telephone, internet and wireless services. The company provides services to the public of Cuba, as well as the millions of tourists who vacation in the Republic of Cuba.

    Rafin SA is a privately owned family business, named after the two brothers who own it: Raul & Fidel Investments.

  • Most Afro-Americans depicted in U.S. films, TV programs and commercials, and the print media are what in Cuba are classified as mulattos; in the U.S. they are classfied, without differentiation, as blacks. Generally, we don’t use the term mulatto or, to use a Southern term, high yellows (high yellers/high yallers). This predeliction to use only light-skinned blacks reflects our own racism in the U.S.

  • Erasmo Calzadilla, I would be interested in comparing the 2014 edition of the Las Paginas Amarillas with my 2006 version. Mine has very few photos which is normal for phone books, and most of those few are in ads for beer or phone services. Also, most don’t have people or very small crowd scenes, so I would like to see how the directory for Ciudad de La Habana has changed if it has.

    Unless they have proportinately added a lot of photos, I think a better example of photo discrimination might be a survey of Cuban periodicals and web sites.

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