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|
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.