What Can Afro-Cubans Expect from the Opposition and Exiles?

A neighborhood in Santiago de Cuba.  Photo: Vivienne Maricevic

The death of African-American George Floyd and the protests of the Black Lives Matter movement have sparked controversy among Cubans on social media.

By Yusimí Rodríguez López (Diario de Cuba)

HAVANA TIMES – The death of African-American George Floyd due to excessive use of force employed by a white police officer, and the ensuing protests by the Black Lives Matter movement and many other people outraged by the incident, have sparked controversy among Cubans on social media.

Some of the comments raise the question as to whether racism, which the island’s government has never demonstrated any real resolution to eliminate in the past 60 years, is just as prevalent among Cuban dissidents and expatriates.

A few days ago Antonio Madrazo told DIARIO DE CUBA that: “for a long time Cubans on the other shore have been indifferent to the African-American political community’s cause, which is the result of racist notions harbored by much of those making up the ‘diaspora’.”

Eliecer Avila, founder of the opposition movement Somos+, and an émigré since 2017, seems to provide evidence supporting Madrazo’s harsh assessment, as Avila suggested, in a debate with a young man named Sandor Valdes, that if the unemployment rate of African-Americans in the last 60 years has always been double that of white Americans (data that was provided by Valdes), it is because they are unwilling to work.

“I thought it was more, because, unfortunately, we don’t have the statistics to compare whites’ willingness to work with that of blacks,” said Ávila. “Based on my experience, as I’ve worked with both of them, I thought it was about eight times higher (the unemployment rate for African Americans compared to that for white Americans).”

Regarding the centuries of slavery, discrimination and segregation that African Americans have suffered, Ávila stated: “If I’ve been waiting a hundred years to be able to work, because I want to work, and you approve the law, I will work tomorrow.”

Opinions are divided on this debate, as well as on Floyd’s death and the protests it generated. Many people have called Avila a racist, but others have expressed agreement with his statements.

Activist Liu Santiesteban called the words of the leader of Somos + “brave” in a post responding to criticism by “artivist” Tania Bruguera’s of Avila’s claims regarding the unemployment of blacks in the United States.

“To say that the race problem in the United States comes down to blacks being lazy –I quote ‘it is their fault that they cannot find work’– is of unprecedented political ignorance, and is the argument of racist whites,” Bruguera had written.

Before going into exile Avila had planned to run for regional delegate, and felt he had a chance of winning. In that democratic future that still seems distant for our country, he could have a very legitimate aspiration to occupy a political position.

But, considering his statements about African Americans, what could the Afro-Cuban community expect from him? Could it expect any commitment to put an end to the racial inequities that Castroism has been unable to overcome? If Eliecer Avila shrugs off the consequences of the centuries of slavery, discrimination and repression that blacks have suffered in the United States, what are his views regarding the effects of the inequalities that black people have suffered, and still suffer, in Cuba?

Racism or ignorance?

The face of influencer Alexander Otaola painted black has also been controversial, the image dates back to the year 2017, when he imitated the reggaeton artist Chocolate, who threatened to sue him.

There has been a recent flood of blackfaces on social media following George Floyd’s death, in many cases posted by people intending to show solidarity. Some, however, have interpreted them as expression of racism.

Although Otaola’s is right when he points out that in Cuba black-painted faces were used in popular theater by actors playing blacks, along with gallegos (Spanish immigrants) and mulatas (mulatto women), it is important to note that this type of theatrical makeup was banned in the United States in the 1960s because it was deemed to promote mockery and spread negative stereotypes of black people.

Otaola’s action shows, at the very least, a dearth of knowledge that is unfortunate in an influencer with so many Cuban followers.

The coordinator of Candidates for Change (CxC), Juan Moreno, meanwhile, recently told DIARIO DE CUBA that the Cuban Police “repress without racial distinction.” Regarding the impact of the government’s measures to tackle the coronavirus pandemic, the dissident said that they “transcended skin color.”

His statements, however, clash with the Country Report recently presented by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), which points to the disadvantages black and mestizo Cubans face in terms of access to drinking water and housing, since, relative to other groups, “there are more than twice as many people of African descent living under severely overcrowded conditions; that is, where there are more than five people per bedroom on average.”

Rather than dismiss as racists our fellow compatriots, exiles and activists, who share a desire for democracy for Cuba, we should inquire with the different opposition parties and organizations as to whether they are aware of racial inequalities in Cuba, and whether the eradication of racism forms part of their plans to move the country forward into a future without dictatorship.

What is happening in the United States –a democratic nation, though not a perfect one, where a black man won the presidential elections, twice– demonstrates the importance of thoroughly eradicating any form of discrimination. Even if is the pro Castro-Chavez left that is behind the acts of vandalism into which some protests after Floyd’s death degenerated, as some media have reported, in such a scenario they would be exploiting the racial tensions that still persist in that country.

6 thoughts on “What Can Afro-Cubans Expect from the Opposition and Exiles?

  • And Mr Avila is not even White Cuban. He is obviously a mulatico from oriente. The comments from the Cuban exile that I had read are disgusting. But we all know how racist the Cuban society always has been.
    Today the Cuban population is between mix race and blacks almost a majority and in the Cuban high elite is only one black man Estaban Lazo.

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  • Thank you for this article I follow all the Youtubers from outside the island to inside. And I feel the same first they are coming from the extreme right view which can’t speak ill of lord Trump. Even Alex Otaola was subdued about the supreme court winning for the LGBT community that he is a part of. Even Liu Santiesteban had the crazy idea that Trump has not done anything against the LGBT community which is so crazy and beyond ignorant. In comments, I called her the Celia Sánchez of Fidel to Trump because she never talks bad about him. Even Antonio Rodilles talks the same about the plight of afro-Americans. I ask what has the Cuban exiles done to reach out to Black Lives Matters or other groups like NAACP? nothing, and the communists have played the champs of race equality which we all know is a lie.

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  • I have commented here at HT many times about my personal experiences with overt and institutional racism in Cuba. In Cuba, as an African American who for whatever reason is often mistaken for an Afro-Cuban, I have first-hand experience with racism in Cuba. To be clear, racism in the US is far worse. But Cuba has a long way to go in addressing the scourge of racism in the country. Side note: I am always surprised when “white” Cubans fly their racists colors. Genetically, there are very, very few Cubans who don’t have some African or Indian blood in their veins. The incidence of light eyes and/or fair skin is little evidence of their lack Afro-Cuban genetics. Nonetheless, I have white Cuban acquaintances who could walk into a room of KKK idiots and blend right in. To my face I have been told that because I am a Yuma ” …that I am not as bad” as Afro-Cubans on the island. Uuufff!! Cuban racism, like racism in general, is totally illogical.

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  • As one in a mixed race marriage with our home in Cuba, I experience the racism to which Moses Patterson refers – it is undeniable.

    But whereas I the white skinned partner, feel anger and disgust when we experience racist incidents, for those of colour, there is the addition of pain and weariness.

    I deeply admire the demonstrated abilities of coloured people to adjust their displayed reactions as for them, racism is normality, but live in hope that eventually the common humanity of all will be recognized.

    The world is a poorer place for denying so many people of colour full opportunity to develop and demonstrate their talents and abilities. The crime is that it has been deliberate policy.

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  • Mr:McDuff what race is your wife? Because Cuban it’s not a race. I’m AfroCuban and I’m telling ypu growing up I. Havana in the 1950’s 1960’s just in my block were from ChineseCuban to PolishCuban in a working class neighborhood, those families left in the middle of the 1960’s but I left Cuba in 1980 and I remember although Havana and Santiago de Cuba were the cities with more blacks and Mulato’s Havana majority population was white. Back in the 1970’s if you go to pinar del Río almost everyone were blond with green or blue eyes. I notice now that every time I see Pictures of Cuba’s they look ethnically different that what I remember. A real melting pot.

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  • Totally Afro Cubana Olgasintamales. No melting pot.

    Reply

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