Racial discrimination in Cuba

Miguel Arias Sanchez

Cuban kids on vacation. Photo: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES — The subject of racial discrimination in Cuba is a very delicate and thorny issue which has to be approached with a lot of care, so that there isn’t any confusion or people hurt.

On October 10th 1868, Carlos Manuel de Cespedes set his slaves free, as an act of bravery and sheer contempt for all forms of racial discrimination and slavery. It was a great day for Cuba.

Later, over time and with different governments in power, new signs of racial discrimination reappeared in our country. During the Batista era, I remember in Regla there used to be the famous “Baile de las flores” dance which used to take place at the high school. Cubans who are reading this post will be able to remember this now, the dance which black people and their partners couldn’t attend. The Juan Gualberto Gomez society stood a few blocks away, that’s where they used to go to have fun.

At primary school, I remember that a friend of mine was always sad because the other students didn’t hang out with him and hardly even spoke to him… My friend was black.

I have been talking to people who come from Cardenas, Matanzas, and they tell me how black people used to walk down one side of the street, and white people used to walk down the other. They also recall that when a white man got onto a bus, the black man had to get up and give up his seat. Back then this country reached such levels of humiliation.

I have to clarify that when I say “black person”, I’m not being derogatory. Fidel once said in a speech: “somebody spoke about a colleague of color; no sir, you have to call a black man “black”; there is the white race and the black race. It isn’t offensive to say black or white, it’s more humiliating to call him “of color”. What color?”  And he concluded with: “there is only the human race.” I identify myself with this line of thinking.

In Cuba today, the State and its laws prohibit all kinds of discrimination, be that racial, gender-based or employment discrimination; it has been captured in Cuba’s Constitution. However, alarming signs of discrimination can be seen more clearly over the past few years.

In Juventud Rebelde newspaper, a group of children were posing happily in a picture for the April 4th ceremony of the pioneers. The group was made up of two black boys and four white boys. I asked myself: to reflect Cuba’s racial diversity in the photo, wouldn’t it have been better to compensate with three of each race? In soap operas, the majority of actors are white and there is a famous Arts school in Cuba where extremely talented white and black actors graduate. And then what?

Listening to Radio Rebelde, I found out about the case of the taxi driver who made a girl, who was traveling in his taxi, get out while he insulted her. The man was very clear: I don’t want black people in my car. I believe there’s a fine punishment waiting for him, as news about the case spread like wildfire and the authorities had to take action. But, this is how many people on the street actually think. You can pick up on this at private restaurants and other places where food is served. I know a restaurant in Old Havana that only hires young white girls with blonde hair and blue eyes. I don’t know if the owner has some kind of obsession with the color blue.

Personally, I’ve experienced this when people from my own family have tried to make jokes and have a laugh criticizing me because my partner is mixed race. I have had to put them in their place and set them straight, like we say here in Cuba.

It’s a very serious and worrying issue in a system that proclaims itself to be “just”. Both the State and corresponding organizations or bodies need to pay special and systematic attention to this problem because it is growing by the day and if they let it get out of their hands, it could bring serious consequences for all Cuban society in the short or long run.

Miguel Arias

Miguel Arias Sánchez: I was born in Regla in 1949. That’s where I went to elementary and high school. Afterwards I took courses to be a teacher and did that for several years. I did my military service and as soon as I got out I studied formally to be a teacher graduating at the University of Havana. I taught in classrooms for nearly 20 years. I had the opportunity to travel and see another reality. I returned and am currently doing different self-employed activities.



34 thoughts on “Racial discrimination in Cuba

  • So true. I’m a Malaysian who studied in Cuba for 6 years. Neither white nor black, people don’t seem to mind opening up in front of me. Over the years I’ve had several conversations with Cubans about race and discrimination against blacks and mixed race people in this country. While both the black and white people I’ve spoken to deny the presence of institutionalized racism in Cuba, the comments often heard on the streets are sure signs of a stewing problem sure to rear its ugly head sooner or later. From disparaging comments made under their breath about an innocent group of black people across the road, to comments like ‘I’m not racist, but I would never marry a black person. Thats just a step backward.’
    Based on personal observation I’d say the grand majority of professionals are whites. The lack of representation of people of color is a cause for worry.
    For a country which would like to proclaim to provide equal opportunities for all, the mindset of their people definitely need some working on.

    Reply
    • Well Marlene Raphael when you say that the “grand majority of professionals are white” in Cuba, you deal with totals not percentages. You may not be aware that the Castro regime ‘official figures’ are that only 9.9% of Cubans are black. If that is correct, then the question becomes one of whether 9,9% or more of the professionals are black.
      I have detailed knowledge of education in our community. The percentage pof black teachers far exceeds 9.9%, including two holding Doctorates in Education and half a dozen with Maestria degrees. many of the Licentiates are also black. I am related to at least fifteen black professionals including, medical, educational and law degrees. One of our friends who operated twice on Hugo Chavez in Cuba, is also black.
      I have to concur with you about the sad state of racism in Cuba. It is a falsehood to consider that the Castro regime has not been party to racism.
      You are correct in saying that “Equality for all” is not applicable in Cuba. A perfect example being that only members of the PCC run for political office. The other over 90% have no say.

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      • You understand very little about Cuban democracy, which is alive and well. It is simply NOT true “that only members of the PCC run for political office”. That is a Yankee smear, not based in reality. You out Trump Trump!

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        • Where is your claimed democracy in a one Party State CErmle? Can you provide the name of a single member of the Poder Popular who is not a member of the PCC? You speak of reality, prove it!

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  • This is a problem in almost every nation in the world. The government can only do that much when mandating a law against discrimination. It is up to the people themselves to improve race relations with each other, an issue that we are now facing in the United States. Hatred and bigotry is a learned behavior that can best be countered by education and social exposure.

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    • The fact that racism occurs “in almost every nation in the world”, is no excuse Hans Frankfort for those practising it – including the Castro regime in Cuba.
      As has become customary in Havana Times, there is the inevitable introduction of the US position although why it is particularly relevent is unexplained.
      Getting back to Cuba, you refer to the need for “education and social exposure”. As Cuba is a communist dictatorship with the rgime itself practicing racism, how would you suggest countering it’s authority? Before responding, remember that criticism of the regime by Cubans is a crime resulting in jail.
      There is also a question of degree, racism varies greatly and as is being discussed here, is very active in Cuba. Probably the worst racist of the twentieth century was Idi Amin of Uganda who fortunately died recently.

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      • I am referring to human behavior that isn’t any different to other members in the animal kingdom, Carlyle. We are a species that are territorial, possessive and greedy whether we live in a democracy or in a dictatorship. Although I was making a general statement, I wasn’t referring to Cuba specifically. Regardless of ideology, Cuba is also run by humans with all its faults including the receiving end. However, we do have the gift of reason and intelligence that should be used wisely to overcome our weaknesses through education and social exposure. I lived in Africa for eight years, and I found just as much prejudice and racism there like anywhere in the world. The poorly educated and low information people, and we have a share of them in the USA, are the most racist and narrow minded. Idi Amin only had a third grade education and he tried to kill off the ones who were more educated than he was! He may think that he got away with this, but he is still accountable for his actions to his Maker.

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        • You are still missing my point Hans. Although Cubans have the gift of reason and intelligence, they are denied the right to express their view by law.
          Havana Times is about Cuba where racism is practiced by the regime itself. Hence my question of how you would counter it?
          It is generally agreed that the educational standards in Cuba are fairly high, even although the defined purpose in the Constitution is communist indoctrination (Article 45).
          I have comparitively little direct knowledge of Africa, having visited only seven countries there just as many who contribute to these pages have limited knowledge of the reality of Cuba having only visited as tourists, but their views are interesting and living in the capitalist world they are able to express them.
          I understand that analysis of the US Presidential election of 2016, shows that the poorly educated and low information sector voted for Donald J. Trump(f) who appears to reflect the “most racist and narrow minded” to whom you refer.
          There was at one time, a common expression that: “Ignorance is bliss” which could account for President Trump(f)’s constant ‘tweets’.

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  • The disgraceful reappearance of racism in Cuba which most simplistically though eradicated in the early 60’s, is a new and brutal battle that must be battled by people of every color, to make our country what Jose Marti enunciated as More than White, More than Black, More than Mulato, say Cuban.

    A virulent racism tied to inequality, margination and abuse of the weakest in our society, is forcefully denounced and defiantly opposed by thousands of educated and intellectual blacks, who lead the torch in this moral battle, before it becomes an antagonist reaction, that may lead the country back to the dark and horrendous experience of 1912, when the pseudo republic and the puppet government of Jose Miguel Gomez, allowed the murder with impunity of over 3000 black members of the Independent Party of Color in Oriente.

    Fortunately, even with our lingering problems, blacks are far better prepared today in Cuba to denounce, confront and defeat this malady. The past 50 years of the Revolution has allowed us to advance, make more progress, and become more educated than during the previous 500 years.

    We accept all honest, decent person who is free of every possible prejudice that is willing to join with us, defeat this monstrosity and create the country that Jose Marti dreamt for all Cubans and for which Maceo, Mariana and Quintin Banderas gave their lives.

    Cuba will and must never become Baltimore, Ferguson or the bitter divisions we are experiencing today across a country, that Congress, the Senate, Statehouses and all past presidents were unwilling to confront.

    I truly hope, that members of the Cuban government, those in denial and those who are quick to accuse anyone who denounce this fetid, deranged social backwardness in Cuba, may learn from United States tragic race-relations, recognize the heavy price it may have to pay and muster the courage to confront head on, this seven head monster that will devour Cuba if left unchecked.

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  • We have all gone off at a tangent Nemi and ignored the question you asked which is difficult to answer.
    Like many other countries, Cuba has a wide area of choice. Do you seek easy access to the arts, to the beach, to daily walking in a National Park, to being accepted as a member of a local smaller community and absorbing that culture of ‘la familia’, or a combination of them? Remember that for transportation you will be dependent upon a bicycle and ‘taxi particular’. You will not be able to jump into your own car.
    There are some who subscribe here in Havana Times, who know Cuba well. I include Terry, Moses, Nick and myself. Although we have differing political views, each of us obviously knows Cuba from prolonged experience. to aid your research. There are others who were born in Cuba and have personal memories – but sadly many are bitter. I recommend that you purchase the Lonely Planet guide book on Cuba, because it reasonably well describes each area and the assets of that area.
    Although there are many here who will suggest I am ‘tub-thumping’ my own book of ‘Cuba Lifting the Veil’ does provide detail of medical and educational services – which uniforms are worn by school students, factual historical and political background and describes what makes Cuba so different and intriguing in the 21st century. You can always ignore my expressed political views.
    So as one whose home is in Cuba although not a Cuban citizen, I urge you to consider and list your priorities and to then ask specific questions using Havana Times as a resource.

    Reply
  • Racial discrimination and racism takes many forms. There are many studies of its manifestation throughout Latin America and each country is different. So the real question is what is Cuba doing to reduce racism in its cultural and social forms?

    I’m sure there are many laws that prohibit discrimination, but are they effective? having conversations like the one Señor Sanchez began is a very important step, but does this happen in schools, at work sites and other social venues? If not then it needs to.

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    • The short answer to the question you pose drspocks about what the Castro regime is doing to reduce racism is NOTHING!

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      • Mr MacD, I have decided to retire from Havana Times to enjoy my bountiful lifestyle as a paranoid schizophrenic on benefits with intelligence and perhaps study some more Islam.
        As Tony Blair would say, Cuba is not the place to induce swing voters, little Englanders, and rural middle class, to vote Corbyn.
        Is there anyone more hated than a religious maniac like him?
        I’m sure you can see that such votes are indeed needed to maintain the benefits that so many working class Britons enjoy.
        This is why Turkish Ottomans considered him a saint.
        Before I leave I have two questions, one where is Fidel hiding, and two why was I stopped by police in Havana when I was studying there all those years ago?
        The reference to standing rock is more like Jesus’ tomb than a real act of solidarity!
        I like so many Afro-Americans consider Trump the saviour of the U.S., stop interfering in Britain and start doing business. I remain a Tory. Thank you.

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        • Well thanks for the good news George. I wish you luck! Goodbye!

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      • There is far less racism in Cuba than anything in North America. You are out of touch.

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        • There is much more racism in Cuba than in Canada. The racism of the US does not in any way make the racism of Cuba acceptable. Did you read the article?

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  • i wish Hans that I could respond expressing some hope that life will improve for Cubans when Raul Castro is dead. But the Communist Party of Cuba holds all the cards in the pack, and Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez is no joker – have you seen any pictures of him smiling? You are correct, they are ideologists.
    The only hope and one which I have previously expressed, is that there is a power struggle between two groups. One – the political heirs of Diaz-Canel, Bruno Rodriguez and Marino Murillo, and the other the economic and control power group of General Alberto Rodriguez Callejas, Raul’s Son-in-Law who controls GAESA and through it over 80% of Cuba’s economy and General Alejandro Castro Espin, Raul’s son, who controls Cuba’s security services – both internal and exterrnal, through MININT.
    Communism inevitably and demonstrably always descends into dictatorship. In dictatorship only one person can hold the ultimate power, and more than one of the group I have described hungers for that power. When Raul is dead, that energy could lead to strife! Incidentally to my knowledge Raul has never committed to giving up being Head of the Military when he ‘retires’ as President.

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    • You have been out of touch for too long, my friend. I’ve seen Diaz-Canel smile many times. He is a solid family man with a good sense of humour, totally decided to the People of Cuba. You are really off the wall on this one.

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      • Have you seen any photographs of Diaz-Canel smiling – please reproduce! By indicating that you have seen Diaz-Canel smile, was this during your seven day visit?

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        • Check out Wikipedia Miguel Diaz-Canel. What a wonderful smile! Carlyle, you really need to get out more.

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          • The difference between nyou and I CErmle is that I get out and about in Cuba. You don’t even visit regularly, preferring to sit in capitalist comfort.

  • Racism was declared constitutionally wrong in Cuba very shortly after the Triumph of The Revolution.
    Some will recall that it was considered a big step forward during that era. Obviously the southern part of the USA still had an apartheid system in operation at that time (A minority in that part of the USA would clearly like to return to that type of system).
    Despite the fact that racism was declared wrong in Cuba over half a century ago, it most certainly has not been wiped out.
    It is one thing to declare racism as wrong, but it takes a whole lot longer for an entire population to normalise their viewpoint.
    The Cuban Government does to some extent, seem to pretend this ongoing problem does not exist.
    On the other hand one could say that it is a societal issue that is discussed and debated regularly in Cuba.
    It’s very easy to pin all blame on the Cuban Government or on the type of system, but racism does not restrict itself to countries with specific governmental systems.
    Often it is the case that the more reactionary and right wing a capitalist government is, the more racism is a top down phenomena. Right Wing Governments frequently use racist and anti immigration stances to entice certain factions to support them.
    Or in other words a sudden switch to some form of unbridled capitalism (the magic wand theory which is favoured by certain contributors here) would seem most unlikely to get rid of this societal problem.

    Reply
    • Oh Nick, you assert that the more “right wing a capitalist government is, the more racism is a top down phenomena”. So as in Cuba the racism is applied in the streets of Havana by the State Police controlled by General Alejandro Castro Espin, just how ‘right wing” is the Castro regime?
      I recall telling my wife that when visiting the UK in 2012 (Cameron right wing government) we would not be harassed by the Police and similarly during her numerous visits to Canada (Harper right wing government), she doubted my view. However, she has yet to meet a policeman outside Cuba (Communist dictatorship) where the police have stopped us repeatedly on the streets of Havana.
      In Cuba, it is the Castro regime itself which is practising racism through the MININT goons.

      Reply
      • I’m afraid that this is one of your ‘scattergun’ style comments which includes the usual factual inaccuracies:
        Has Alejandro Castro Espin been promoted?
        He may well make a General at some point, but is he not currently still a Colonel?
        I hope you enjoyed your visit to the UK in 2012 but Cameron did not head up a particularly right wing government. He headed a coalition between Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties.
        If you had visited a year earlier you may have witnessed the riots that swept the country triggered by the cops killing a mixed race guy and their subsequent appalling treatment of his bereaved family. I could go into great detail regarding the history of endemic racism within the British Police Force which would include a list of killings and several cases of collusion with far right groups. However this forum is not really the place for a long critique of British Police. Thankfully things are far better than they used to be, but if you ask black people in the UK if the cops are racist, you will still be answered in the affirmative.
        When I refer to top down racism from right wing capitalist governments which use racist and anti immigrant stances to achieve the support of the populist and far right, I refer regimes such as those in Hungary or Poland.
        Israel is a specific case but it would be another example of an very right wing capitalist government that employs similar tactics.
        The most obvious example of this phenomena at the moment would be the trump-led government in the USA which was referred to extensively in a recent thread.
        There is an inevitable overlap between right wing capitalism and the far right.
        Always has been; always will be.
        Are you suggesting that the Cuban Government via MININT is specifically targeting you and your wife in Havana due to top-down racism? Really??
        Mr MacD, I have much experience of Cops on the streets of Havana, most of whom are actually from the provinces.
        There are certainly issues with racial stereotyping and racial profiling. There are also issues with low level corruption and harassment in order to squeeze out some sneaky CUC from whoever they can.
        These are certainly not phenomena specific to Cuba or Cuban Cops.
        I think that the article actually refers to general societal issues and I would definitely agree that these issues are a problem.
        But as I say, I doubt that these issues would be resolved by the implementation of any of your ‘magic wand’ style changes.

        Reply
        • Catch up Nick! General Alejandro Castro Espin.
          I don’t know how you reach your nonsensical view that MININT “is specifically targeting” my wife and I. The MININT goons practice racism is general, we are merely amongst the thousands who suffer it.
          Finally, I can assure you that the description I gave of discussion with my wife was accurate. In well over six months in Canada she has not even met a police officer, nor did she in the UK. We are the same two people who have been repeatedly harassed by the State Police in Cuba.
          By your remark that you “have much experience of Cops on the streets of Havana”, perhaps you could explain the circumstances.
          Also with regard to many of those “Cops” being from the provinces, you are perhaps not aware of the MININT policy of staffing areas with people from other areas?

          Reply
          • OK Mr MacD, so you want to go with ‘General’?
            Maybe I do need to catch up. Maybe the entirety of the Internet needs to catch up.
            So when was he promoted then?

            I note that you appear to backtrack somewhat. You did strongly imply that you and your better half were being targeted in some way.
            So the harassment was not initiated by the Colonel/General after all?

            I also note that your comment doesn’t really address the other points I made other than in the usual ‘these commies are real bad dudes’ kind of way.
            But are you, in all seriousness, actually trying to convince the people reading your comments that Cuban cops are more racist than non Cuban cops? Really??

            I have spent a slice of my life in Havana and am very well aware of what the cops are like there. They mainly just wanna have a beer or a shot or two of rum and chit-chat about baseball like everyone else.
            That’s how I always figure it out anyway.

          • Firstly I have not and did not imply that my wife and I were specifically targeted, son don’t try to put words in my mouth Nick Bearne.
            What sticks in your thraw is that you don’t even begin to understand the reality of racism, but depend upon others. A white tourist with CUC’s in his pocket will obviously be accepted by the MININT goons in Havana. We can all guess who paid for the “beer and a shot or two of rum” and it wasn’t those goons, was it Nick?
            My honesty in speaking of personal experiences which my wife and I have had is factual. I have even named the hotel from which we were evicted. But I guess the people who administer the racial policy – and with whom you choose to imbibe, found a suitable ally.
            You like Donald J. Trump(f) choose to support those pursuing racism. “There are good people on each side.”

          • I’m afraid that you appear to be incorrect on various counts Mr MacD.
            There is nothing in these comments of yours that ‘sticks in my thraw’. as you put it.
            I have at times pointed out inaccuracies but have not questioned your honesty. I think that you honestly believe that you are standing up for liberty and freedom in the great battle between good and evil and all that kind of stuff.
            What I have questioned are these assertions of yours:
            a. When was Alejandro Castro Espin promoted to General?
            (The only reference to him being a General rather than a Colonel seems to come from yourself).
            And perhaps more relevantly:
            b. Are you really suggesting that cops in Cuba are more racist than cops elsewhere??
            You like to generalise rather than address the actual issues being discussed and your comments tend to be long on bluster and short on substance.
            You often seem to start with conclusions and then try to scrape together some random facts (and some random non-facts) to back up these conclusions.
            I could quite easily make a cheap slur and say that this is a trump-like trait of yours but I’m not going to be so puerile.

          • As this article is specifically about racism Nick, let me answer your question regarding the State Police in Cuba compared with others.
            Yes, they are as I have illustrated more racist than others.
            Go and buy more beer and rum for your amigos in the State Police.

          • Well I’m going to have to disagree with this assertion about the Police in Cuba.
            As I said, there are certainly issues with racial stereotyping and racial profiling by Cuban Police and indeed other issues relating to low level corruption etc.
            I have seen a varied selection of events that attest to these falabilities.
            But are Cuban Police inherently more racist than elsewhere?
            No. Not at all.
            But I think we are going to have to agree to disagree on this one Mr MacD.
            As regards discussing life’s ups and downs over a beer with an off duty cop?
            Well I’ve done so in various parts of the world including as I now recall, several times in a bar I used to frequent in Canada. I find that it’s always interesting to listen to a different point of view.

          • Nick. You are not the one to have experienced the racism practiced by the State Police in Cuba being a single white tourist with money in your pocket.
            Your last sentence explains why I read your posts. but obviously you do not accept the content of the article discussed which is: “Racial discrimination in Cuba”. My comments are factual, they are reality. You just don’t like to admit their truth. Racism Nick is not the perogative of the political right or left but those who oppose it usually do so through recognition of it.
            So you don’t believe my account, because if you did, you would express concern rather than reminiscing about good times with Cop amigoes!

          • You are posting more comments than I can keep up with and I think we have gone out of sync. As I say I don’t doubt any of your account relating to your personal experiences. Don’t doubt it at all.
            My comments clearly relate to the article and I do most definitely agree that racism is still an issue in Cuba. Curiously the article does not actually specifically refer to policing although it does refer to the ‘blue eyed blondes’ favoured as employees by the new generation of private businesses.
            You do like to make presumptions Mr MacD. My ‘status’ during much of my time spent in Cuba has been as ‘resident’ not ‘tourist’. I am, generally speaking, not ‘single’.
            I have also mentioned that I have had experiences/run-ins with Cuban Cops. I have indeed had Cops in Havana trying to intimidate me (and sometimes also the person/people I am with) on more than one occasion. I have usually taken this to be an attempt to squeeze out bit of extra CUC.
            I have never paid a cop in Cuba to leave me alone (but I have had to this in other parts of the world). In Cuba I have always managed to figure out different tactics.
            And I have shared a beer or a bottle of rum socially with a great many Cubans who are employed in all lines of work including policing. I always find it interesting to get as many insights as possible.
            My point is not that Cuban Cops are in any way politically correct ‘angels’.
            As I keep saying, there are issues with racial stereotyping/profiling.
            However, I most certainly would not say that they are inherently more racist than cops elsewhere. But as I say, I think we need to agree to disagree on this.

    • I’m Black and remember in 1950!s when I was a child my parents frustration looking for an apt where blacks were admitted even when my both parents had good jobs. The top of ppl that came with Castro from the Sierra Maestra were 90%whites and from the bourgeoisie if you do not believe check the background of every single one and you’ll see. Back then blacks, can not work in banks or even in department stores. Some Mulatos were lucky, the top government Castro junta always has been White. Exception are Lazo, and Almejeira. Castro a racist himself the first thing he did is was to give the houses that white upper class abandoned to black ppl in order to scare the others white neighbors and destabilize the neighborhood some of the black families later were move to apts when the middle and working class went to exile, the excuse were that the revolution needs the mansions for better service for the “ppl”. Racism always has been a problem in Cuba from colonial time to the present days blame the Castro’s dictatorship is unfair but the fact they denial that it exist and claims it been eradicated. Says were they stand for.

      Reply

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