A Cancer That Eats Away at Cuba

By Alberto N Jones

Neighbors in Central Havana. Photo: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES — On July 3rd, Trabajadores newspaper published, on its cover, the awful and despicable attack that Danay Aguirre Calderin was a victim to. A student in her 6th year of Law at Havana University, she was abused by a racist collective taxi driver of an almendron (old ‘50s car) in Havana, which was picked up on by dozens of national and international blogs which shared this shameful event with millions of people across the globe.

This sickening act was the result of this allegedly white driver, whose details haven’t been made public, getting annoyed because the passenger, Danay Aguilera, asked him to let her get out before the pre-selected place, which led him to shout insults which degrade Black people and to order her to get out of his car immediately, which wasn’t for Black people.

If this inexcusable display of racism and human filth had happened in any other place in the world, it might not have been news or got the attention this act received; but the fact that it took place in Cuba, where Fidel Castro denounced this social scourge in early 1959 and announced its elimination in 1962, forces us to closely analyze the factors, causes and effects of its reappearance.

For decades and up until the 1990s Special Period crisis came around, except for in very rare instances, the Cuban people came to believe this was true or something similar, that this evil which created hate, division and prejudice, had been wiped out in Cuba forever.

Ignoring well-established principles in medicine and the social sciences, Cuban authorities side-stepped the diagnosis and early treatment of this aggressive mental disease and chose to remain silent, pretending like nothing was happening and imagining that this evil nature would disappear all of a sudden in the next generation.

The major deterioration of the economy led the country to introduce the dual-currency system, international tourism, joint corporations and companies. Meanwhile, it encouraged the sale of many basic items in convertible pesos, restricting the population’s ability of doing better for themselves, traveling abroad, owning property, cars and higher-ranking jobs, which spiraled into an intense struggle where Whites monopolized these areas. They marginalized Black people and this emboldened many to openly express their racist sentiments, of only hiring people with “fine features” or putting ads out to hire white people in a blog, without any kind of repercussions.

Tossed aside and without the chance to access to the hard currency by legal means in a hostile environment, where all of the doors were closed to them, many black and mixed families gave in to the face of pain, hunger and poverty, committed crimes, prostituted themselves and lost their values and principles, which many racists and marginalizers who caused this tragedy, transformed into a weapon and battle strategy to justify their actions.

Arbitrary ID checks and the selective arrests of Black people on Obispo street, in Old Havana, Varadero and other tourist spots, have hurt and offended well-known Cuban and foreign Black intellectuals. The issue of forced repatriation of people from the country’s interior to their places of origin and them being insultingly identified as “Palestinians”, has traveled the world and stigmatized the country to such an extent, that Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, the Prime Minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Cuba’s unconditional friend, declared himself to be a “Palestinian” in a public speech he gave in the city of Santiago de Cuba.

Pharmacy. Photo: Juan Suarez

Hundreds of predominantly Black intellectuals, activists and professors began to mobilize and denounce these reproachable acts to different political, legal, police, education and social authorities in the country. Their words fell on deaf ears or they only received mediated responses, which ignored the crime that had been committed, its corrosive and demoralizing power under the guise of maintaining national unity.

Many African, Afro-American and Caribbean visitors who are friends of Cuba, have publicly voiced their alarm and dismay in the face of these racist acts and have demanded they be dealt with, but without success.  Some people continue to fight against this evil, while others have chosen the easy way out and have forgotten about Cuba.

The Cuban government’s official stance is to not touch this red-hot issue or only kind of deal with it with semi-official organizations who tire themselves out with theoretical, scientific, analytical, historic and anthropologic debates, the results and proposals of which are still pending, have been archived or rejected.

Mass media, the legal and education system and Culture, don’t seem to have picked up on these repetitive, undeniable, social polluting acts which affect their own employees and relatives. Meanwhile they insist on promoting a Eurocentric culture with all of its bad habits, obscenities and distortions at the expensive of a rich history, culture and national idiosyncrasy.

That’s why this event has put all of the ugliness, rotting and stench of the complicit silence of many indolent officials on display, who have allowed this to be born, incubated, reproduced and spread across the entire country. They are now trying to mistakenly to convert this specific case into a police case, pressing charges and fining the author of the crime, as if his brain disease could be cured with repression and jail time.

The only proven method to get rid of this serious illness once and for all, a disease which can eat away at the country’s institutions and soul, is to take a hard-liner approach and fight poverty and the marginalization of the weakest, develop mass education about history, civil sciences, culture and anthropology at every level in Cuba’s education system and to strengthen education in the visual arts, radio and television by redeveloping and adjusting its monotonous uncritical programming, so that it empathizes with the audience and involves them in the search for a solution to the country’s social problems.

One of the many lines in Cubans daily lives. Photo: Juan Suarez

The underestimation and prejudice of important officials at the Tourism Ministry and other ministries can clearly be seen, based on their historic sectarian behavior.

Dozens of fairs, seminaries, conferences, articles in the press, announcements on the radio and TV to promote destination Cuba have been carried out in Europe, Asia and South America. However no serious efforts have been taken to penetrate the huge market of 50 million Afro-American people with a GDP of over 960 billion dollars, which far exceeds the income of many countries where Cuba is actively promoted. Not even loyal Afro-American friends of Cuba have been encouraged to promote it as a destination.

Studies undertaken by Afro-Americans who have visited our country, reveal a marked preference and ethnic compatibility with the country’s East, where such help and development is precisely needed to stabilize the population and to reverse the serious migration phenomenon to Havana and abroad.

It’s in our hands to expand and straighten out our country’s socio-economic development, to eliminate racial friction that is present and to prevent the recreation of the foundations that gave way to a 1912* in Cuba.


*The 1912 War in Cuba or Negro Rebellion was an armed uprising carried out by the Partido Independiente de Color, in their efforts to demand social and political equality for the Black people in early 20th century Cuba. It began on May 20th 1912 and was brutally brought to an end with the deaths of over 3000 Black and creole men, in contrast to government losses which were only 12.

3 thoughts on “A Cancer That Eats Away at Cuba

  • The only circumstances where Cuba and the Castro regime recognize the black population is when their athletic and sporting abilities bring attention and subsequent credit to Cuba. Examination of Cuba’s astonishing Olympic and World Championships achievements demonstrates that by far the majority of those achievements have been by blacks.
    You are on the mark drspocks. Take a good look at photographs of the political heirarchy – that Spanish inheritance of differenciating between the whites and the blacks is self-evident. The comment I previously made about the ‘Offical’ figures provided by the Castro regime that less than 10% of Cubans are black is an obvious distortion.
    In our city one can observe the different standards of living between whites and blacks. It is blurred at the edges, but clearly discernable. The whites are obviously receiving much higher levels of remittances from the much maligned USA and elsewhere.

  • In 1978 I was on an Afro-American delegation to Cuba and asked our hosts about the presence of racism. They quickly parroted the government position that the “revolution had abolished racism” and therefore it no longer exited in Cuba. However, as we moved around the city it was clear that a nation that had numerous social hierarchies based on color for over 400 years had not made them all suddenly disappear by government decree.

    This cursory responses was hard for us to understand. We struggled against our government over its failure to take steps to undo 300 years of racism in the US, yet our fiends in Cuba proclaimed that there was no need for any activity on their part because the revolution had changed everything.

    Every official appointment we went to was hosted by Cubans who were light skinned. Our daily review of Granmma showed only light skinned Cubans and the same was true when we saw government photos where officials were featured. However, when we went to a restaurant there were blacks in the kitchen. When we saw road work or other heavy labor we saw more black faces and when I visited a prison black inmates were well represented.

    Counting black faces is obviously not an accurate way of studying the impact of racism on any society. But we were reduced to doing that because our hosts insisted that the problem of race was in our American perception, not in the structure of Cuban society. Counting black faces was our obviously very crude way of trying to understand why that structure seemed to have color lines.

    We asked whether Cuba might profit from some form of affirmative action or similar official policy for inclusion of darker Cubans. But again we were told that we were suggesting solutions for a problem that didn’t exist.

    I am mindful not to see the world exclusively through my American eyes. But i am also aware that my own experience as an African-American and my studies and work to combat racism has given me some insight that is valuable an is not totally limited to my American upbringing.

    But I was very disappointed in our inability to have serious dialogue with our Cuban friends from the perspective of those who supported the revolution, but also saw some of its flaws or blind spots.

    The effects of racism never disappear by declaration and it doesn’t surprise me that the incident in the cab that Alberto Jones writes about occurred. The psychological dimensions of race always seek some material expression and sometimes it can be as simple as asserting authority over others because of their race in something as trivial as a cab ride.

    I only hope that this incident spurs the kind of debate and conversation that we were unable to have thirty years ago. Much in Cuba has changed since then, yet some things remain the same.

  • As a black now US resident, Dr. Jones is qualified to speak of racism. He knows that although it is even more evident in the USA, it is still a substantial problem in Cuba and that Fidel Castro’s pronouncements of 1959 and 1962 were but political waffle.
    The State Police in Cuba acting under the policies of their MININT boss, General Alejandro Castro Espin, actively practice racism.
    One cannot however hold the Communist Party of Cuba responsible for the historic racism in Cuba. Cuba was the last country to abandon slavery (in 1886), but replaced it by importing indentured Chinese ‘coolies”. Cuban governments dominated by Spanish decendants, financially encouraged white Catholic settlers from in particular Galicia in Spain, to prevent the number of blacks from exceeding the number of whites. It’s all a matter of record.
    Even today, the current Cuban government statistics are that blacks form less than 10% of the population. Believe that if you like!

Comments are closed.