The Cuban Revolution Began in 1959

Esteban Morales*

Esteban Morales

HAVANA TIMES — Under a title devoid of historical accuracy and objectivity, Roberto Zurbano (the director of Cuba’s Casa de las Americas publishing house) is trying to characterize the situation of blacks in Cuba today. As a critical evaluator of the subject, I share some of his assertions, but not in such absolute terms, much less with the lack of objectivity with which these are formulated or his conclusions in a recent The New York Times article.

Claiming that “For Blacks in Cuba, the Revolution Hasn’t Begun,” his argument doesn’t hold up, not even within the complex reality of Cuba today. Truly at the crossroads, the country is trying to find its own economically sustainable model so as not to repeat undergoing the degrees of economic dependence to which it was subject during three periods in less than a century (under Spain, the United States and lastly the USSR). During the final period (1960-1991), which was the most beneficial for the island, time was too short to definitively overcome the realities of a developing country.

Therefore, any explanation of what’s taking place today in Cuba with respect to blacks necessarily involves a deeper understanding of those periods of dependency, when poverty on the island was also massively white, though wealth was never black. This situation was something that dragged on for several centuries until the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959.

It was then that the poor population in Cuba benefited from a social policy — an extraordinarily humanitarian one — that fought against and still fights against poverty and inequality to the very edge of egalitarianism.

Within the social reality generated by that policy, blacks and “mestizos” also benefited greatly. As a result, we now have a significant number of black physicians, scientists, intellectuals and skilled workers – a situation that we owe to this social policy that profoundly marked Cuban society during the 30 years after 1959.

There’s no denying that mistakes were made. One of them — perhaps the most significant — was to not consider “skin color” as a variable of social differentiation.

It wasn’t taken into account that because of their different historical starting point, blacks (in addition to being poorer) had suffered firstly for their enslavement and secondly from the disadvantages involved in their having had to endure racism and racial discrimination.

This meant they always stood in a position of disadvantage relative to whites, even though the latter were also poor in the main. Our society hadn’t been designed for whites, blacks and mestizos to be equal.

During the years of revolution — despite how humanitarian and radical its efforts could have been — it wasn’t possible to completely erase that ballast of colonial slavery. This is the explanation for many of the inequalities and social difficulties that continue to weigh upon us and that the revolution that started in 1959 has tried to solve.

Everyone involved in this process would like progress to be made more rapidly, but the subject is difficult and its treatment has been complicated by the accumulation of years of delay.

Unlike what happened in 1962, when it was suggested that racism and racial discrimination had been overcome, and especially since post 80s crises that shook the Cuban economy, a debate on the subject has been continually growing.

The economic crisis served to show us that it had been idealistic to believe that the race problem had been solved or was being solved. This failed to correspond to reality.

In fact, the very economic measures taken to deal with the economic situation brought to the surface differences and inequalities. Despite the progress, these had still existed, though they had remained hidden, lurking in the shadows for a more opportune moment to reemerge.

Thus began a new period of the struggle against racism and discrimination. It was Fidel Castro himself who raised this in speeches at educational conferences, before UNEAC and during his speech in a church in New York’s Harlem neighborhood. The “maximum leader” was aware that what he had insisted on in his speeches in March 1959 had still not been achieved.

With this, it was the leader of the revolution who reopened the issue and initiated a new debate, but with more understanding of the failures in social policy that had resulted in the inability to eliminate racism and racial discrimination.

New studies were initiated, experiences were analyzed, and like never since 1959 there appeared critical writings about this subject that began to permeate the intellectual world.

Several commissions on the topic were created at different levels within the PCC, UNEAC, the National Library, and community projects, etc. Likewise, there emerged several centers of debate, scientific conferences, film productions and academic courses.

Any explanation of what’s taking place today in Cuba with respect to blacks necessarily involves a deeper understanding of those periods of dependency, when poverty on the island was also massively white, though wealth was never black.

Within UNEAC there exists a national commission that addresses the issue of race from a cultural vantage point. It takes the debate to the country’s provinces and has twice promoted discussion in the Education Commission of the National Assembly of People’s Power.

The government doesn’t hinder those discussions and forms of action; on the contrary, it supports and promotes them. Actually, far from maintaining the subject hidden, this is increasingly the subject of discussion in various fields of intellectual, community and even political work, proceeding gradually to become a debate in all of Cuban society.

From UNEAC, a broad coordination process has been deployed to introduce the subject in schools and universities, as well as to improve these statistics and to more accurately count the numbers of blacks and mestizos in different sectors and to quantify their economic situation.

It also works to increase awareness of the presence of black leaders and patriots in our history through everything from monuments to commemorative days and their proper treatment in textbooks, for which it works actively in reshaping the presentation of our national history in our educational system.

Given the above, we can say that we have moved to a point where the issue of race is being dealt with at all levels.

Everyone involved in this process would like progress to be made more rapidly, but the subject is difficult and its treatment has been complicated by the accumulation of years of delay. Nonetheless, all necessary steps are being taken and the practical commitment to collaborate and participate in addressing this challenge is greater – all with the awareness that this is a problem affecting us all.

None of the governments prior to 1959 did anything for the poor in general or for blacks in particular. Instead, the previous authorities ruled the country for the benefit of a few, with all the machinery and tools of a neocolonial administration that maintained racism and racial discrimination, corruption and poverty, displaying the model of exploitation and control that the US had designed for the island

Someone would have to be extraordinarily ignorant of history to think that a change in the political leadership in Cuba will benefit blacks. A thought like that can only come — as the title of the article states — from someone who thinks that “for blacks, the Cuban revolution hasn’t started yet.”

(*) Read Esteban Morales’s blog in Spanish.

4 thoughts on “The Cuban Revolution Began in 1959

  • Err..uh…well, I guess that’s right…on paper. In reality, racial politics is alive and well. Check the voting record of African-Americans who voted for Barack Obama. You may not want to admit it but all other things equal, black folks in Cuba, if given the choice in a real and democratic election, will most likely vote for black candidates when possible.

  • Just because people are black doesn’t always mean they’ll vote black. Internalized racism also exists in Cuba.

  • Reading the New York Times article regarding Roberto Zurbano I recognize that the New York Times found in a great part, and created for the most part that translation what it considers willy nilly “racism in Cuba”. I see it as a simplistic naive fraud perpetuated by a corrupt an almost all white staff of college educated products of what is commonly referred to as the failed American educational system where 31% and the people believe in extraterrestrial aliens, nor has the most rudimental of how the system really works, nor what the law really means. nor that the president is born in American as it is illegal for him to become president otherwise. I see Roberto Zurbano as naive and corrupted fo the intellectual argues he made were the most vaguest of notions which would be laughed at if he were an American in the United States, and certainly dismissed by most conservatives as “communist nonsense” as they claim Obama to be a “socialist” while Obama gave trillions to the robber criminals who masqueraded as bankers.and financiers.

    A New York Times that I critically attack what it fabricates, manipulates, contrives by by propaganda intelligence experts on its staff. The western media has never been free from the influences of its military intelligence connected officers, as ex-military officers, retain their status as military officers whether they are retired, change jobs or not. It has not been my job to investigate the New York Times to ascertain how many members of its staff are ex-military or ex-intelligence but I can reassure you there are some and many more who work in that capacity as if they were contract agents that work for groups like the CIA for short periods of time. Where all of America’s intelligence agents do not work for the FBI in Quantico, Virginia, nor the National Security Agency headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland, nor the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in Langley, Virginia, nor in the newly conceived intelligence operations of the DOD (Dept. of Defense Plans New Spy Service –…/defense-department-plans-new-spy-servi…ShareApr 23, 2012)

    ), nor in the intelligence section of the Dept of State, but often hidden in plan sight such as Condoleezza Rice who worked for Stanford University California, gets fees for lecturing and belongs to the quasi-private-public Council on Foreign Relations.:

    In any case the staff of the New York Times, fabricated these issues to create problems where problems should not exist as the problem is not Cuba, socialism, the Cuban people, socialist change, etc but capitalism and the jealousies created by the unequal development and accumulation of capital in what is referred to as the private sector. Where many in America dream about illicit monies of illegal drugs sales because there are so few opportunities to earn money through employment by consistent and worthwhile means, where you may have a job but might need 3 jobs to pay your bills, and where today you have a job and tomorrow you need a new job because without cause you were dismissed by abusive employers for merely exercising your rights under the law in what is discrimination because you may get sick, become pregnant, or need to go to court because you landlord wish to evict you so they can increases their profits.

    Democracy is a word that in that in the USA of North America is severely abused because North Americans often have no idea what it really would mean to be living as in democracy (“demo” Greek for people and cracy from the Greek Kratos meaning state, or peoples state) as this is a police state where organized opposition is not tolerated nor allowed.

    So generally the obscene pretenses of standards of democracy that is heard from los Estados Unidos is just that cynical obscene vulgar pretense that are at best fraudulent, as part of a fraudulent form of government is taunted and ridiculed for his race while his administration come to be known as the most reactionary though he caters to the rich in a betrayal of his stated principles much like the “Emperor Jones” played by Paul Robeson that I am surprised is not more often mentioned in his regard.

    These days as The Republicans have grow more and more reactionary I do not support Republicans, and rarely Democrats for they are as reactionary on many of the issues for which American needs a second revolution for based on the law in America there is no form of any real justice that an ordinary working person can afford, nor which most blacks are afforded that is not given and then can be taken away from them at a moments notice.

    My friend John Lennon won his immigration case to stay in the USA but then he had 25 full time attornies employed as he was rich, and after he won they murdered him maybe because he won. See Edda Wells and read how she discovered how the racists used lynching murders to prevent commercial competition. Democracy? Private sector? Jealousy because one working class family had one chicken a week and another two because they worked in the black market?

    First to eliminate racism I would arrest all the American bankers and nationalize the banks and unlike President Obama I would have not given them trillions of dollars, instead I would arrest all of them as the criminals thy are, and depending on their cases punish them. I lived near Bernie Madoff he was a pillar of the community who used that position to rob it. That is the freedom of democracy under capitalism the right to steal from the poor to give to the rich. In health care which is not health care because competent doctors can be paid but not found.


  • Surprisingly, I generally agree with Sr. Morales reasoned rebuttal to the equally valid NYT article of last week. However, Sr. Morales underestimates the power that real democracy would bring to Cuba. Based on a traditional one man, one vote principal racial politics alone would dramatically change the color of the faces seen in leadership of the country. According to the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami, the Cuban population ranges between 33% and 62% black. As Cubans became more accustomed to seeing mulattos and blacks in power, the social resistance to racial progress would diminish. For example, the changes taking place in post-apartheid South Africa are a result of racial politics driving social changes. Like much of Fidel’s high-mnded speeches, his declarations regarding race relations have been poorly reflected on the streets of Cuba. Like his pronouncements regarding poverty, nuclear weapon proliferation and LGBT rights, his words and his actions differ greatly.

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