Cuba: The Shades of Racism

Veronica Vega

An offering. Photo:

HAVANA TIMES — I thank Yasser Farres Delgado for having taken the trouble to read and reply to my post Where’s our common sense?

The simple fact of debating about this regrettable reality is a way of pulling ourselves out of the apathy we suffer.

However, I would like to clarify that my post aims to demonstrate, not the superiority or inferiority of any ethnic group, but unconscientious practices that are becoming more and more common. It is important to point out that, at least in Cuba, the Yoruba religion is practiced by people of all races, social standing and educational levels (even though, owing to the money that certain rituals require, it has increasingly become, as I mentioned in my post, a status symbol).

As for the history that Yasser remits us to, it does not have an impact on Cuba’s contemporary sociopolitical context, a context that would require a study in its own right, as would, of course, the degradation of which these repugnant spectacles are part.

The Babalawo (Yoruba priest) I interviewed for Havana Times himself criticized the loss of values caught sight of in practitioners of the religion, which go from placing offerings in places frequented by children, to incidents such as a priest profaning the sacred ties to a goddaughter by having sex with her, or the lack of scruples shown by those who favor people with high incomes.

As for the official restrictions this religion encounters in Cuba, they are no worse than those faced by oriental traditions such as yoga, for, with the exception of Hatha, which has been linked to a public health program, or Kriya Yoga, founded by Paramahansa Yogananda before 1959, these are condemned to operating in secrecy and to slowly dying out. It makes no difference that they aim at human betterment. They have been waiting for the approval of a Religious Bill that will afford them the freedom to congregate for years.

The Yoruba religion has an official place of worship and its rituals are promoted for tourism purposes. I don’t believe that one requires any official support to be charitable, or to serve as an example, if not of spirituality, at least of ethical conduct. In Cuba, there is no official support for many causes that deserve it and many operate through alternative networks, like those devoted to the protection of stray animals, the production and promotion of underground art and independent journalism.

I really don’t know whether the number of people who become initiated into the Yoruba religion and express themselves arrogantly and disrespectfully are the majority or not, which is why I made a point of saying that it was an impression from “daily experience.” It is a personal impression that has regrettably only been reinforced.

My question still stands: is it fair and permissible for a religion to leave behind such waste, not only for practitioners to find, but for the immense majority of citizens to come upon? And, as for the aggravating factor of this newly-imported plague that endangers the entire country (a detail Yasser does not even care to mention), even if it had some kind of epistemological justification, must we simply accept it?

I agree that ecumenicalism is needed for the practice of democracy, but the right to one’s personal creed ends precisely when it begins to encroach upon a public space that has not been willingly granted one. I used to collect seashells on the coast of Alamar and the beach in Cojimar for my craft work. There came a time when I had to dig for them among feathers, bones and other animal remains, while holding my breath. I once saw a bag that evidently contained the corpse of a quadruped, drenched in blood, under a swarm of flies. Children can no longer play or swim at these beaches that no one cares to look after. A friend of mine told me he stopped going to the Havana Forest because of the number of dead turtles one finds there. It is a terrible and depressing sight.

I used to meet up with friends at the park at H and 21st Streets in Vedado. The last few times, we had to leave there in a rush because of the stench emanating from animal sacrifices left next to the trees. The issue of garbage dumpsites and open sewers must also be addressed, but I dare say the cause of these problems is the not the same and neither is the solution.

Imposing the results of a religious ritual (and a pernicious one at that) on others is in no way defensible – it is the first sign of the absence of ecumenicalism and democracy.

I am not only a vegetarian. I also believe that no practice that involves killing or subjecting living beings to pain can contribute to the awakening of the human spirit and that, on the contrary, it leads to its inevitable degradation. I don’t have to bear witness to any sacrifice.

Despite this, as I made clear in my post, “I’ve never imposed my disapproval on any santero, given that their beliefs and rituals are not my concern.”

Racism involves any form of disrespect and subjugation. Is condemning helpless animals to death for a personal aspiration, without even using the quickest and least painful method, not a brutal expression of colonialism and racism? These are beings that trust and depend on us for survival.

Compassion is merely one of the first steps on the ladder for anyone aspiring to a spiritual life, and in most of the millennia-old traditions we know of, in any culture, the only sacrifice that is demanded is that of the ego. There is no need to sacrifice anything outside of us, let alone a defenseless creature. No individual, social or ecological benefit is derived from cruelty. This is an undeniable truth.

Jose Marti once said that “an irreligious people will inevitably die out, for nothing among them will nourish virtue (…)” At this stage, attributing the decadence of a society to what happened centuries ago is a cop-out which is both questionable and futile.

According to such a premise, Cuba is irremediably condemned to moral and material misery, not only because of the “genocide and epistemocide” perpetrated against African slaves, but also against its native inhabitants, who were peaceful aboriginals.

We have had a long time to process the wounds of history. If the priority of any community is, if not virtue, at least prosperity, then the solution will never come from causing the suffering of animals – the cost of which, as we’re already seeing, is to move backwards as a society.

4 thoughts on “Cuba: The Shades of Racism

  • Animal sacrifice is no worse than the consumption of meat for food, provided it is for spiritual purposes.
    Animals willingly sacrifice themselves in such circumstances.
    The trouble is, all too often, people use it to feed their egos.
    This is damaging, not only to the environment, but to the individual as well.

  • “It seems to me that when people feel desperate, they resort to religion to help them when no help is available.”

    So very true! People without hope or real power to better their own lives will turn to superstition to provide them with an illusion of control over the forces which dictate their lives.

  • Get rid of the Castros and their dreadful regime and let Cubans begin to help themselves.

  • It seems to me that when people feel desperate, they resort to religion to help them when no help is available. I remember the religious chanting over loudspeakers in a little town on Lago de Atitlan, Guatemala. It was very unpleasant to listen to, but I guessed that desperation led people to need this type of comforting. I think we need to address the true desperation and not condemn the religions so strongly. Work on the root of the problem and the religion is not needed. We are living in very desperate times, and this is especially true in Cuba. People are screaming out for help, and we do nothing.

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