It’s Time to Address Racism in Cuba


HAVANA TIMES, January 7 (IPS) – The persistence of racism in Cuba is disturbing to some of the island’s thinkers, who are calling for a debate on the problem in this country, where equal rights have not guaranteed equal opportunities for all social groups.

A slice of the racial mix that is Cuba, photo by Caridad
A slice of the racial mix that is Cuba, photo by Caridad

The first documentary on racial discrimination in this Caribbean island nation was filmed here in 2008, incorporating opinions from well-known artists and intellectuals that go to the heart of the controversy. “Raza” (Race), by young filmmaker Eric Corvalan, could serve as a starting-point to launch the long-delayed debate.

“So far, racism has only been talked about in academia, among intellectuals. I think there should be an open, public discussion, even in parliament,” the 36-year-old Corvalan told IPS.

“In 50 years (since the revolution), women’s issues and homosexuality have been debated: why hasn’t racism?” asked the filmmaker. “It’s a revolutionary topic that concerns everyone, because there are black women, black homosexuals and black men.”

“I think silence is worse. The longer nothing is said, the more the racism fermenting underground is rotting the entire nation,” singer/songwriter Gerardo Alfonso says in the documentary.

According to Roberto Zurbano, head of the Casa de las Americas publishing house, to carry on “hiding” the issue would lead black people to think that “they belong to another country, and that there are two Cuba’s as there were in the 19th century, a black Cuba and a white one.” Another possible implication is that “the issue could become a political football, outside and inside the country.”

In the debate on race in Cuba, the media have drawn some of the heaviest criticism for allegedly fomenting stereotypes that identify black people and people of mixed ancestry with crime, or with very specific activities like sports and music, while establishing the idea of white “normality.”

“The media must help to create a balanced portrait of black people, which is lacking, so a racist stereotype is constructed by society,” Corvalan said. “Why can’t we make films starring blacks, whether as lawyers, doctors or engineers?”

According to Irene Ester, who holds a degree in audiovisual communications, television will never contribute to demythologizing race as long as it only emphasizes the high proportion of black people in prison, working as prostitutes, or unemployed, instead of the “heroism” and special characteristics of black families.

There is also an absence of models in the education system, especially in the teaching of national history. The first Africans arrived in Cuba in the early 16th century, brought in as slaves by the Spanish colonialists. Slavery was abolished in 1886.

“In primary education, skin color is not mentioned,” academic Esteban Morales says in the film. “If we are still living in a society where white people have the power, and we don’t mention color in education, we are in practice educating children to be white.

“Cuban history as we teach it is a disgrace, because it is predominantly white history, and explaining the role of black people and mulattos in building this society and its culture is not given its due importance,” says Morales, of the University of Havana’s Centre for the Study of the Hemisphere and the United States (CEHSEU).

Blacks and people of mixed-race heritage officially make up 34.9 percent of Cuba’s total population of 11.2 million, according to the latest census, carried out in 2002.

However, most Cuban academics estimate that between 60 and 70 percent of the population is black or “mulatto”

Article 42 of the Cuban constitution states: “Discrimination because of race, skin color, sex, national origin, religious beliefs and any other form of discrimination harmful to human dignity is forbidden and punishable by law.” In May 1961, the government eliminated racial segregation by nationalizing all clubs and associations.

But equality before the law has not succeeded in closing the socioeconomic gaps between different racial groups.

The Cuban cultural journal Temas published studies by the governmental Anthropology Centre in 2006 that showed that on average, the black population has worse housing, receives less money in remittances from abroad and has less access to jobs in emerging economic sectors like tourism, in which blacks represent barely five percent of managers and professionals, than the white population.

“Equal rights does not mean social equality,” Morales says. “We do not have the same social standing, or the same opportunities. This is what has generally happened to non-white and black people in Cuba.”

“If, 50 years after the revolution, there are still visible signs of racism in society, it means that equality of rights hasn’t been sufficient,” says Alfonso.

The issue of racism remains “taboo, a complicated and thorny” question, as Corvalan was told by some institutions where he showed his documentary, made with support from the non-governmental Martin Luther King Memorial Centre (CMMLK), the Higher Institute of Art (ISA) and Delfin, an independent producer.

“We made a revolution in this country, which is what sets us apart from other nations,” Zurbano said. “It’s a tremendous opportunity that revolutionaries of any color cannot let slip away, in the sense that we can create a strategy, and it can evolve.”

After the documentary’s premiere at the recent Latin American Film Festival in Havana, Corvalan was thanked by black and mixed-race people, some of whom were surprised to see that a white person was interested in racism.

“I don’t think of myself as white or black or mixed-race, I’m just Cuban,” said Corvalan, who has French and Chilean ancestry.

33 thoughts on “It’s Time to Address Racism in Cuba

  • Wow! Thank you! I always wanted to write on my site something like that. Can I use part of your post in my blog too?

  • I have visited Cuba 8 times over the last 10 years, danced a lot of salsa, travelled from Pinar del Rio to Santiago and yes, I do think the Cuba’s black and mulato citizens are discriminated against. However it is difficult for an outsider to judge by how much given the financial difficulties faced by most Cubans. I do recognise that discrimination is not just a financial thing but even as a Spanish speaker it is hard to find out what people really think. Conversations are guarded and as a guest in Cuba I hesitate to push my friends too hard as to their real opinions. But, for example, what I do see when I visit the large tourist hotels is that the reception and front office staff are mainly white but the chambermaids are mainly black or mulata. All of the casas that I have stayed at have been run by white families although there may well be black run casas. My impression is however that even before dealing with racism what Cubans want is a better standard of living. I wish them well.

  • Racism will never be ended by people who do not walk in our shoes

  • Patricia, as long as we think of the cancer of racism as an ailment of persons within society, needing cultural, educational and political treatment, we probably will not cure the malady. Our modern cooperative socialist movement in the U.S. sees racism as an expression of “class-ism.” That is, one expression of something more profound and harder to eradicate.

    If racism is an expression of class-ism–the arrogance and prejudice that comes from the existence of social/economic classes–then it follows that the way to remove the malignant growth is to sever its roots. The roots being classes themselves, indicates the need for diminishing and finally eliminating classes. This is the traditional goal of authentic socialism.

    The question of “how to eliminate racism?” therefore becomes “how to eliminate classes?”

    Marx’s answer was to have the state own the land and means of production. It has not worked.

    Ours is state/ employee cooperative co-ownership, to raise…

  • Orlando August 25th, 2009 5:22 pm :
    What are you smoking? Mulatto what is that ..just another African descendant get real!! get real..fess up are an African..

  • There is racism in Cuba and there are blacks that do not take advantage of the free education. There are also many black parents that content themselves with their kids having a mid level technical degree (e.g. electrician) than a college degree, since they didn’t have any degrees in first place. The white families usually push their kids to bigger dreams.
    I graduated from “La CUJAE” as an engineer, there were only 2 blacks (both females) and perhaps 10 mulattoes out of 110 students in my graduation year, and this was 1988, before any Special Period economic hardships.
    By the way I am a mulatto, but before all I am Cuban.

  • Fearing a repeat of the physical and mentally traumatic Special Period I wrote: A Critical look at the Future of Cuba 12/07. 2/08 & 3/08, A Region At Risk of Famine 4/08, Big Problems demands Big Solutions 9/08, Preventing a Second Special Period 11/08 and others, for which I was accused of being paranoid. Sadly, more pain, suffering, anxiety and deaths are hanging again over Cuba, moreso for the Afro-Cuban community with little or no remittances, few jobs earning hard currency or any foreign black institution, religious groups or governments, providing a lifeline as Chinese, Jewish, Arabic institutions and the Spanish government did for their descendents. Blacks and others caring people living abroad must stop complaining and provide our material support to avoid its moral desintegration. Blacks should apply for land, plow &produce food for their family and their country and once again, occupy their post in the frontline as Maceo, Mariana, Quintin and others did before us.

  • Long before four devastating hurricanes ravished Cuba in the year 2008, I was concerned with the slow economical development pace of Cuba , as I contrasted that with large imports coming in from China, Brazil, Russia, Korea, Venezuela and others, knowing they all had a due date, in which payments must be fulfilled or risk default. Although I am not a specialist in any of these related fields, but having seen the traumatic effect that the Special Period had on the physical and mental health of the entire nation, I knew, that everything anyone did to avoid a repetition of this horrendous experience, should be welcome. Writing papers expressing my fears or offering unsolicited ideas, was personally comforting, although my inner feelings was filled with anxiety, knowing that nothing would happen or if it did, it could be only when our country’s survivabllity was on the line. Cuba cannot fail itself and the developing world, totally dependent on our solidarity.

  • I’m often amazed, when I’m in Cuba, when I’m “pa’ la calle,” or look out my window or look at my group of Cuban friends — the majority appear to be of African descent (Negro, Moreno, Mulato, Jabao). Yet when I watch Cuban TV, I almost never see any African-descended newscasters or actors (unless it’s a telenovela and they are playing the role of a slave during the colonial era) — only Black athletes or musicians. If you just watched Cuban TV, you’d have the mistaken idea that the vast majority of Cubans are white. It’s soooo imbalanced, it almost appears to be the effect of deliberate effort. What’s wrong with this picture? Why would 21st century Cubans in mass media wish to portray their nation in this way? ALL Cubans are…

  • He hated Jews. He raged and raged about Jews. He was equally racist. I wouldn’t even repeat in a public place the things he said about African-Americans. He had crazy ideas that there was no Holocaust. He mixed some of the worst ideologies you can imagine into one stew. he ran with the big dogs and in Alabama, the battle is not new.
    von Brunn’s mentor was John Crommelin. Crommelin was a U.S. Rear Admiral, one-time candidate for Alabama Senator and Governor, and also a white supremacist. Go figure.. Stil people it is up to those of us who travel with Mr and mrs stem this sickness

    Peace and love

  • 88 year old James Von Brunn is the shooter at the Holocaust Museum and today i recieved his profile which was online and once i read and tagged it i saw that he had also had ties with the state of Alabama one of the US worst states as it relates to racism and the battle African Americans bled and died to live in from the 19th century. I once had an internship with the SPLC in Alabama and this is what i know.While the name James Wenneker von Brunn may be new to most people reading and watching the news, it’s ringing a bell with some in Montgomery. The Southern Poverty Law Center has been keeping a close eye on him over the years.

  • Reason for my respnse..This is mans inhumaity to man, the fact that the US has an African American pres does not, cannot not, and will not ever provide for a change in mans heart. In retrospect, having Barak Obama, as President has served only to allow for the deepest and less tolerant of mans aspirations to shine through. In the US, there are hundreds if not thousands of groups and people who are willing to do anything to assure that thier own race remains pure? To be sure, these groups are set up to destroy all that they percieve is out to dissolve or waterdown thier genes. To be sure, these groups are recruiting our children in both rural and innercity communities and now like no other time we all must defeat them.

  • Coupled with yesterdays brutal crime, less that a few weeks ago an African american soldier brutally and no less savagely murdered two soldiers at an army station in Arkansas, last Sunday in the midwest a Doctor who performs abortions was also callously murdered while in church fter his capture told the media that more of the same was about to happen?
    One may ask why i bring this up..Well were discussong racism right? Yet the US pres flies around the world teaching about tolerance, yet has had little to say to the people about either of these sad occurrences?

  • Once again i visit this issue because yesterday while walking around in Washington DC, i saw a crowd of police officers near the Holocaust Musuem, and because i have always known of a police presence in this city especially now, i thought nothing of it.
    However, within ten minutes it was dejavu all over again. A white devout anti human supremacist.being had entered the Musuem and savagely murdered an African American security guard who was simply doing his job
    To say that i was shocked would be to lie, because violence as it relates to racism has been upgraded to its highest level since 2001, yet the feds have yet to call this terrorism?

  • Now lets be open and honest and accept that this blatant, in your face, maniacal frenzied attempts to deny AfroCubans our rightful share stems from an inbred belief (of some) Supremacy . This psychotic and unbalanced belief has proven only to keep those who subsribe to this diabolically nutty belief, to remain stuck on stupid and more ignorant than an illiterate. Any real Cuban, accepts that the blood of AfroCubans has kept Cuba alive and that Cuba cannot survive without us.

  • Well once again the subject has continued and rightfully so. i have long disagreed with the” WERE JUST CUBAN” issue because it is not TRUTH. If that were the truth tell me why AfroCubans suffer more than others, why do AfroCubans get stopped more than others.. ie walking while Cuban WWC/ like driving while black in the US DWB? in fact as Alberto has said above..had it not been for the blood sweat and tears of those who WWB >Nothing visible or invisible in Cuba could have happened without the sweat, tears, blood or the lives of Blacks, and this unpayable death remain shamefully ignored and is used openly by those wishing us ill

  • Blacks in Cuba have demonstrated to be, the most loyal, patriotic and selfless citizens, who bore the brunt of the casualties during the war of independence, were brutally segregated after the pseudo-indpendence in 1902, stood up for their rights and more than 3000 were massacred in Oriente in 1912. Segregated until 1959, they joined in drove and became the strongest and most trusted supporter of the Revolution. Tragically, the Special Period in 1989 brought out remants of racism in Cubans of Hispanic ancestry, which most believed had been erradicated. Yet, 20 years after, nothing can explain, excuse or rationalize, why there have not been a frontal attack by all levels of government on this scourge that threatens to devour our nation.

  • An unprecedented development of Blacks in Cuba during the first 40 years of the Revolution, lead many leaders naively to believe, that the brutal, intractable racism, segregation and lack of opportunities for Blacks was something of the past. Following Jose Marti axiom of more than White, more than Mulato. more than Blacks just say Cuban, have lead most in leadership to refuse to discuss openly this extremely corrosive, metastising, necrotising, deranged social failure, which constitutes today, the greatest threat to our nation.
    Nothing visible or invisible in Cuba could have happened without the sweat, tears, blood or the lives of Blacks, and this unpayable death remain shamefully ignored and is used openly by those wishing us ill.

  • gframe all we have to do is look at cubans and if you care who is black and or otehr you will never know? Its no wonder you cannot tell?

  • Hello people:

    I am an AfroCuban who has lived in the US for a very long time and have been afforded thwe oppotunity to return with org that prtovide humaitarian aid to Cubans..All of therm. However, as we all know RACISM is blatant in Cuba and esp in Havana, and to prove this i walked the streets in Cuba in Havana and get funny looks from the policia and asked for my ID.When they approach and they find out that i speak am American as well and speek spanish the attitude changes and there is no end to the Perdona me’s.
    They told me that they thought this or that but when i walk out with my Euro friends or canadian friends there are no issues?
    I am a prof for goodness sake! have several letters after my name but that does not matter all that matters is that i am black in a country where more than 60% of the inhabitants are black?
    When i was a child it was not as bad, however i believe that the issue of ending racism is in the hearts of people and not GOV and we can discuss this until we are blue in the face..Nothing will change until we change the way we see others?

  • Captx, that is always the assumption right Blacks have no interest in civil service? Any data on that? No, just an assumption that they have no interest. Riiiiiight. Typical response. Athletes don’t play forever and how often will they go to the Olympics?

  • j.moreno, your comment is ridiculous. sounds more like yosvany is saying that blacks don’t have any interest in some crappy civil service position.

  • @yosvany, so are you saying that mulatas and Blacks are only good for entertainment while others are good for running the country?

  • This thread is kind of boring for a local Cuban like me (I´m 30% black, 30% white, 30% arab, 10% asian) since in Cuba the political power makes little difference in the standard of living. A middle rank chief here is supposed to have an assigned car and some gasoline, but he has to fill a form with a detailed driving route every time he gets in the car 🙂 He´s supposed to carry hitchhikers at every streetlight. If you are really important for the government then after 20 years of service you get an apartment for your family and in case you divorce (your wife gets the house) and the salary difference is only 20% over the average and still insufficient to make ends meet. Like everywhere else money determines your social status, and many black artists are 10 times richer than our ministers 🙂 Also our mulatas are the strongest women in the Olympics so we are very proud men 🙂

  • Racial discrimination

    GOD had created us in same shapes and figures. Skin color of each person had changed from one to another . as a result of a global location were individuals such as African dominant color is black and far east Asian people mostly their color is yellow , Europe mostly blond and the middle east were taking mixed color from all other nations because they Are located in the center of earth .I am afraid the future new generation color might be changed to new color due to the global worming and effect of earth greenhouse

  • Like no other country in the world, Cuba’s indisputable moral authority in defence of the subjugated, marginalized and poor of the world, its ideal geographical position, an array of highly trained professionals and technicians in every field of knowledge, confers upon this nation a unique responsibility to confront and correct the world collective shame, for its monstrous 350 years involvement or tolerance of slavery.

    Although an holocaust of this magnitude cannot be erased or ignored, a serious effort to express our remorse, can significantly reverse widespread human prejudice against its victims. To achieve this highly commendable project, the following steps are necessary.

    – Exert massive international pressure on the US, for the immediate return intact, environmental impact clean-up of highly toxic dumps at Guantanamo Bay.

    – Transform this sprawling 45 square miles illegaly occupied territory into the world largest technical and higher education center for at least, 100,000 students per year, from every underdeveloped country in the world.

    – Create the largest healthcare facility in the world, for a minimum of 20,000 patients from around the world, suffering from catastrophic, poorly treatable transmissible diseases and rehabilitative services.

    – Create the largest tropical medicine research center, environmental health and renewable energy training center in the world.

    – Create a world class generic pharmaceutical laboratory, for the production of low-cost medicines for the poorest regions in the world.

    Funding for construction, operation, tuition, research etc., shall be provided by a levy determined and imposed by internationally recognized institutiones, on countries, industries, business community or organizations, who participated in or benefitted from slave trade and the riches it generated.

    An institution of this nature would lift out of ignorance and poverty, thousands of youngsters from around the world, reduce prejudice and develop a more harmonious, recrimination-free society.

  • For Cuban detrators, its supporters and the wellbeing of our nation alike, there is no way we can ignore the nefarious and corrosive effect, that festering racism in Cuba have had on the psychic of its people, how it have diminished Cuba’s enormous contribution to the wellbeing of millions of blacks around the world and how naively Cuba have handed its enemy in a silver platter a golden weapon for their demagoguery.

    One undeniable and irrefutable fact should be made absolutely clear from the outset and that is, that there is no country in the world, that can attempt to emulate the enormous contributions in health, education, culture, sports, military support and the ultimate price that hundreds of Cubans have paid on behalf of the independence of millions of sons and daughters of Africa, rippiing them from the grip of racism, apartheid, colonialism, hopelessness.

    Millions of people around the world are acutely aware of this incredible human feat, yet at the same time, Cuba have allowed its most powerful detractors, armed with modern mass communication weapons, tens of mercenary intellectuals willing to sell their soul to the richest master, have failed miserably to confront vigorously this monstrous desecration of the suffering, blood and lives of those who made this examplary human principles a reality.

    Tragically, the masterminds, planners and executioners of these concerted campaign against the poor, ignored, abused are no others, than their former victimizers, who for most of the past 500 years, have siphoned every drop of blood, natural resources, health, culture, from those for whom they now pretend to shed pharisaical tears and coerce bogus condemnation from submissive institutions.

    Much, much work needs to be done immediately to correct overdue lingering shortcomings that have plagued the Afro-Cuban community, keeping them from their rightful social development. Much to the dismay of those hoping to overthrow the Cuban government, they have waited and wondered, why with all of their suffering, lack of equality and the constant incitement from abroad for them to rise up against their government and do the dirty job our Afrikaners have proven to be intellectually and genetically unfit to do for themselves, the majority of the Afro-Cuban community have been willing to wait and trust in a system, a policy that have done so much for our brothers around the world.

    Now, without delay is the time for Cuba to unleash a massive Equal Opportunity corrective measure, that may once and for all, remove every vestige of slavery and prejudice left in some of its non-black citizens. Transforming Cuba into the country in the world with the largest, most developed, highly educated blacks, fulfilling every field of human knowledge, is not only easy to be achieved, this would level the playing field, open shut doors, uproot racism from its root and create the first real, indisputable Color Blind Nation in the World, enabling us to proclaim “Free Territory of Racism in the World”!!!

  • Racism does exist in Cuba . I have been traveling to Cuba every year since 1989 and I have seen a lot of change yet there are some things have not. I have rarely, if ever seen the Police ask a white Cuban for their Carné (i.d.) but when it comes to Blacks they are constantly being asked almost to the point of harassment. When ever their is a double standard in any society then there will be resentment . I truly believe that the Black population resent how they are perceived and stereotyped and this could only be born from being in a racist society.

  • Cuba could and should do much more to address this problem.
    Recognizing that it HAS a problem would be a good place to
    start, and there are people here in Cuba who do that, such
    as the historian Esteban Morales Dominguez. Here’s his
    latest comment, a short excerpt from his recently-published,
    but hard to find book. I do have a copy, published by the
    Fernando Ortiz Foundation. in TEMAS Number 56, which
    is a journal of analysis and discussion published here in

    Walter Lippmann

  • The problem as I see it is the following: The Black population in Cuba is trapped between a rock and a hard place. The revolution claimed to be the liberator of black people. If the black population addresses these real concerns, they would be seen as ungrateful and selfish. By claiming that the revolution gave freedom to the blacks, it took away their right to call their own shots as far as the race problem is concerned. It is like the man who freed a woman of her abuser and become her new husband, speaking for her and reminding her in every infraction he committed that she was in a worse position in the past. It is like black people in America have to be grateful for injustice because George Washington gave them freedom. The blacks in Cuba don’t even know that there attempted in the past to voice these very same concerns, and they were annihilated (1912). On the other hand, Maceo failed to get rid of of the Spaniards with the “Sanjon’s Pact.” He was betrayed. Black Maceo, excuse me “Mulato” Maceo, the son of a (Venezueian and an Afro-Cuban) was the hero, the fighter, the important force for the freedom of all Cubans (Blacks, Whites, Mulatoes, Pardoes, Mestizos, Jabaos, etc).
    In the history books they don’t teach of the killing of 1912. Not even a word of that! Why? Well, there are no problems with race in Cuba. In fact, this chapter of the Cuban constitution you mentioned has been erased, EL PROBLEMA ESTA RESUELTO! (Problem Solved). The revolutions in Cuba are not being made for blacks but at the expenses of black, as far as I am concern! unless you prove me wrong, unless you bring reals solutions that address these probrems. In Cuba are more than 20 racial definition. Is is a country where blacks can become whites: Black married whites. Their kids are no longer black but, Mulatoes. This Mulatoes married a light skin mulatoe and their kids are white and so on..) It is not like the U.S where a drop of black blood makes you blacks, is the other way around a drop of white makes you whaterver but, black.
    Sometimes I am very suspicious of the Cuba’s racial census data.

    And now that the problem is been identified, what are they going to do about it?

  • I’m pleased to see your new site and I think it is great that you are airing subjects that have long been taboo. I have friends who are Asian who have visited Cuba and spoke of this. I have also spoken to black Caribbeans who studied in Cuba and spoke privately of this but wouldn’t go on record about their experiences.
    It really is time that Cuba addressed this issue if they seriously want to take the moral high ground with the US and Europe about what an enlightened nation it is.

  • Yeah how many cubans have died in foreign conflicts over the past 50 years? and what % have been bi-cultural or of African decent, Che and Fidel are truly heroes but what about those black cubans who gave their lives not just for the revolution bt in foreign wars. how many top political officials are of African decent ? Cuba is a beautiful place but you will notice it if y ou cant dance or sing as a black person then hey!!!!! so the Europeans are benevolently holding on to power here as well.

  • Racism in Cuba? How can you tell? Most cubans are mixed.

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