The Race Problem in Today’s Cuba

Pedro Campos

The problem of racism was, and is, essentially a problem of power. Photo: Elio Delgado
The problem of racism was, and is, essentially a problem of power. Photo: Elio Delgado

HAVANA TIMES, Nov. 23 – I’ve had the opportunity to participate in several forums dealing with the problem of racism in Cuba.  The most recent one was on November 18 at the Sacred Trinidad Episcopal Cathedral at the invitation of the Oscar A. Romaro Reflection and Solidarity Group.  In it, a panel of experts made up of Gisela Arandia, Maria Ileana Faguada and Luis Carlos Marrero approached the problem from a historical angle and in its relation to the Catholic and Protestant churches.

Later, several invitees contributed assessments and data on the issue, which added to the depth, breath and multidimensional treatment of the issue.  Not only was the phenomenon and its causes outlined, but also its eventual solutions.

The following is a summary of the three concrete points I referenced in my brief address as an invitee:

1.- The problem of racism was, and is, essentially a problem of power. This is especially in the sense of power being an element in the capacity for decision-making and action. Those who hold the power to discriminate against someone are those who can do so.  In this manner, the existence of hierarchy and the concentration of power condition the possibility for the existence of discrimination.

Dispersed power, distributed power and -especially- distributed and socialized economic and political power would eliminate the conditions that facilitate racial discrimination (as well as other social problems).

2.- Racism had, and has, an economic base.  Its origin in Cuba is in the horrendous history of slavery.  Likewise, of those who participated and died in the wars for independence, there was a proportion of nine blacks for every white casualty.  Moreover, the white minority came mainly from those classes that held economic power and were slave-owners, whereas the blacks were slaves.

Playing Chess in Havana.  Photo: Elio Delgado
Playing Chess in Havana. Photo: Elio Delgado

Independence brought about the elimination of classical slavery, but it didn’t eliminate the exploitation of blacks.  Rather, it opened the way for the full development of wage slavery under which most blacks later found themselves.  Also, with independence, whites continued belonging to the economically more powerful classes for the most part, and those who had been hacienda-owning slave holders then became landowners who exploited sharecroppers, tenant farmers and agricultural workers, while those who were the owners of sugar mills and other industries exploited wage labor.

The 1959 Cuban Revolution brought us the overthrow of tyranny, new hope for freedom; the nationalization of properties owned by imperialists, landowners and the national bourgeoisie; a cultural revolution, a socialist system and equal possibilities for the development for all Cubans.

But the nationalization of the land and industries remained under statism, and the socialization of ownership did not advance; this was because all property, power and decisions were concentrated in the State and its bureaucratic apparatus.  Meanwhile wage labor -the new slavery- continued being the predominant form of the organization of production.

The maintaining of wage labor and property concentrated under the State reproduced the old bureaucratic, hierarchical and discriminatory structures of capitalism, only in a different form.

It was believed that eliminating the formal problems of racial discrimination and providing the possibility for the equal development of all would be sufficient to facilitate the equal access of blacks and whites to education, government positions, and political and managerial leadership, thus eliminating racial differences – but without changing the system of labor force exploitation.

But those who previously were paid a wage -the great black majority in the main, and a white minority- continued being paid a wage.  Into the State apparatus entered mainly comrades who came from classes that had had greater access to formal education and education in general, where logically whites prevailed given their socio-historic advantages.

The objective material conditions will remain for discrimination to continue as long as the statist wage system basically remains in its hierarchical form; while social division exists between those who manage and those who work; while property, land, factories, production centers and service centers are not truly distributed equally between all Cubans; while the means of production -the real power- is not directly in hands of the people, of the workers in each locale, in each municipality; and while the people are not the ones who democratically decide how production is managed and how profits are distributed.

This is for the simple reason that there will continue to exist a bureaucratic power with the capacity for independent decision-making, a power that is distant from the people and the workers, distant from the black majority.  And discrimination (please recall) is exercised by those who hold power.

3.- Problems of inequality cannot be solved with “equalitarian” political positions.  When social and economic differences already exist, it’s necessary to develop differentiated policies, “unequal” ones, to be able to resolve those differences.  And those policies would favor blacks.  Blacks, by virtue of first being the descendents of slaves and later wage slaves for the most part, have always been at a disadvantage.

The majority live in neighborhoods that are the most run-down and least endowed with the modern conditions of life, their housing is of lower quality; historically they have had less access to universities, to scientific and technical professions; they owned the least property and today -like almost everyone, black and white wage workers as a whole- we continue to not own anything concretely, to not have anything that guarantees us a future beyond our labor power, which can be an employed, or not, depending on the bureaucrat on duty.  What’s more, that same labor power is paid for according to what the bureaucracy deems fit.

“Equality” for those in an unequal position is not fair – it is not equality.  Those in an unequal position, blacks in this case, must be treated differentially.  It’s necessary that they be provided with greater opportunities of all types (housing, education, employment and access to individual and collective property) if we really want to eliminate the conditions that foster discrimination.

It is necessary to design plans and policies specifically directed at improving the conditions of life of blacks.  And this is not an instance of “giving” them anything, but of providing them access to that which they historically won through their participation in national wars and in the formation of the Cuban nationality.

Cuba must not, it cannot, forget that it owes a great historical debt to blacks.  They were the ones who paid -overwhelmingly so- with their lives, blood, sweat and tears in contributing to our independence.

19 thoughts on “The Race Problem in Today’s Cuba

  • This commentary should have greater distribution. Racism in the US defies comprehension: Consider a ‘Black’ President lecturing Black Citizens about their irresponsible behavior. Then the Black President defends a Black Professor at Harvard. See? Equality in action.

    It will take a real Revolution here to dismantle that system. Affirmative Action only gave White men something more to whine about! Integrated neighborhoods and schools are a figment of the Media: if they do exist, as they do here in Hawaii, first, starve the Public Schools, then build more gated-communities. Ship manufacturing off-shore, and destroy the Unions. It’s is a dog-eat-dog world on our streets.

    Cuba’s advantage: A fairly level society economically. Embracing Capitalism will put an end to that!
    Strive for Solidarity, and insist on working together for equality, rather then as individuals, . Remember, A Black President can be a mirage…

  • The deficiencies of socialism are both inevitable and unacceptable. In every society there is a gap between ideals and practice. If there weren’t, it would show a lack of imagination! The unfulfilled ideals are a motive force for struggle to make them real.The gap cannot be denied or justified by past achievements, but also may not be used to denounce the revolution. For those of us living outside of Cuba I suggest the following guidelines:
    1. The starting point is 100% solidarity with the Cuban revolution. This does not imply acceptance of everything that happens there or agreement with all its decisions, but rather commitment to improve the process.
    2. Criticism has to be based on knowledge– of the historical origins of the problems, the context of their persistence, the conditions for their solution.
    3. Criticism cannot be our main activity. Our main responsibility is to help the process and stop the efforts to destroy it.
    4. It is their revolution but also belongs to all…

  • Alberto, right back at you. Thanks.

    It occurs to me that, if a few sincere companeros could just consult together at length, all puzzles might be solved, and all problems might be swept away pronto. But, alas . . .

  • Thanks Grady for your always warm and supportive words. We also enjoy very much your timely imput. Please keep it up. Gracias. Alberto

  • It seems that both race and class are intertwined in this lack of equality, especially equality of opportunity. Here in the States, affirmative action (giving preferential treatment to Blacks to make up for past economic and social injustices) often sowed resentments in the white working and lower-middle classes, and these resentments were used by the ruling class to sow division and dissention amongst those who should have been naturally allied with each other. As Pedro Campo says, it is all about power, or the lack thereof; the economic, educational and social disenfranchisement of those far from the centers of power and status. Hence, any genuine effort to overcome racism should also seek to overcome the injuries of class, too. Of course, many of those who are victimized by racism are simultaneouly the victims of the class system, too.

  • dy,

    Thanks very much for your very appreciated encouraging words now and a couple of weeks ago. Was dealing with family medical issues. We enjoy and look forward to read more of your profound analysis. Alberto

  • My apologies. articles are being posted. Sorry.

  • Can readers of this sight expect an answer, when submissions have been made, they are posted pending moderation and suddenly dissappear into space, without leaving any trace. Please respond. Thanks.

  • Denouncing and confronting the festering racial injustice in Cuba is a thorny reality, since many may construe this as an act of ingratitude, because it is the present Cuban government who have done more in the past 50 years towards the development of blacks in Cuba than during the previous 500 years and much more for blacks everywhere, than the sum of all other countries. Still, Revolution means precisely that, willingness to change everything that must be changed. We were educated, thought to think critically and search for solutions. We call on our country to muster the courage, face this tragedy head on and continue its evolution towards a better world. Our critique should never be part of those melanin containg bodies that have sold their intellect, soul and pen to the highest bidder to try to weaken, corrode or derail this process that made Namibia, Zimbabwe, SA, possible. Dismantiling this monster is far easier than everything else the Revolution have done. Fear Not!

  • The greatest paradox in confronting racial injustice in Cuba, is that this is placed on the desk of the Cuban government, who ironically have done more in the past 50 years for the Afro-Cuban community than in the past 500 years. That’s why it is a Revolutionary government , meaning changing everything that must, not matter how intractable. The same applies for Blacks around the world, in which Cuba have done more than all other governments combined. Therefore, it must be crystal clear to everyone, that our critique is not part of some melanin-tinged bodies, who have sold their intellect, souls and principles to the highest bidder, bent on destroying our country. Our struggle is in search of perfection, new heights, never to subvert, corrode, or weaken past and present achievements. Suffice to reflect on Namibia, Zimbabwe, SA, Angola, Haiti etc., to remind us of our non-negotiable, inconditional support of what Cuba does for its people and others around the world.

  • Much is being written these days about the Cuban financial troubles, food shortages and much more. They exists. Much less, except for these honorable exceptions and a few others, are willing to deal with the burning issue governing the future of our nation. Tragically, many in position to open an honest, profound, corrective, healing discussion, have chosen to pretend it is a non-issue, brush it under the rug and hope it will go away, IT WONT and we will all end up LOOSERS!! Blacks have invested too many years of tears, blood, segregation and abuse in our country, to continue to be at the mercy of our tormentors. It happened in 1912, it must be denounced officially, as the only way for it to happen NEVER AGAIN. No argument, can ever explain the existence of a majestic monument on G & 27 Street honoring President Jose Miguel Gomez crimes, while no one have seen it fit to erect a cross for the victims murdered in Songo-La Maya. Cuba cannot succumb for not dealing with its past

  • Marxist socialist and yada yada the answers as to the reason for racism still lies in White people believing that they are supreme,,,The Victims do not see respond to, or feel anything other than hate dislike snd white animosity..So Resistance is the answer Committment to the post rev ideals and continued support of Fidel Castro Ruz. and the sovereugnbty of my country..After all it is ours..Cubans

    PS Everyone in Matanza has the same dominoe sets

  • Give us a chance. The next time someone goes to the arts and crafts fair in Old Havana maybe they can report back if they are seen. Circles

  • And because Cuba owes its very survival to Africans we must not allow the Miami mafia or white Cubans who simply see the 3 B’s (beaches booty and booze) to turn our nation back to the pre Fidel days..Living in the US is not all that it is chalked up to be..and i for one will never forget the struggle that myself and many others like myself have had to suffer as African Cubans..The situation in Cuba is trickle down amerikkkn racism, supported by a young pres who has yet to know struggle..Go figure..A man who aligns himself with the likes of Yoani Sanchez..who is a big headed and arrogant as her sipporters A woman who eats as much as she wants and rather than submit herself to struggle chooses to marry aman who has a media position and the power to get her blogs out…A user?
    Its the embargo Pres Obama..Its republican dixicrats and northen scalawags democrats who have thier feet on Cuba and its people.Its the greedy, the leeches (businessmen) and the Cuban people who can barely hang…

  • Suffice that, as far as the race issue is concerned i am an authority after living in the belly of the beast for more than 35 yrs (amerikka) and having visited Cuba as both a tourist on the sly and a homie in reality.
    When i was sent from Cuba to the US as a teen after the rev..i never felt so lonely or confused about what amerikka was experiencing during the 70’s but i knew that i wanted to struggle right along with the African amerikkkn as i navigated my educ macation and society as a whole.
    i spoke spanish and eng with an accent and because i had long wavy, nappy hair and some non african features i was looked upon as non African?
    i was approached in later yrs as a woman who whites believed was desperate and in need of rescue by the WHITE KNIGHTs” however, i was not the only beautiful Afro cuban woman approached as such, until i began to find my political voice.
    Once i learned the real story i knew that Euro/amer supremacy was at the root..And in Cuba its the same thing?

  • This article makes our modern cooperative socialist movement in the US want to stand up and applaud Pedro Campos. Whenever he speaks we all learn and learn and learn. His paragraph above bears repeating:

    “The objective material conditions will remain for discrimination to continue as long as the statist wage system basically remains in its hierarchical form; while social division exists between those who manage and those who work; while property, land, factories, production centers and service centers are not truly distributed equally between all Cubans; while the means of production -the real power- is not directly in hands of the people, of the workers in each locale, in each municipality; and while the people are not the ones who democratically decide how production is managed and how profits are distributed.”

    Our main difference of opinion might be that we say the “statist” wage system is inherent in Marxism, while he still believes it is but a deviation.

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