Cuba’s black secrets
Cuba's black secrets
Thursday, May 21st 2009
NINETY-SEVEN years ago there was an uprising in Cuba which in the end
left more than 6,000 people dead. Many thousands more fled to the hills,
precipitating a labour shortage. This led to the importation of millions
of immigrants, many of them coming from the West Indian islands.
Among those who joined the army of cane cutters and other classes of
labourers were the parents of Carlos Moore, an Afro-West Indian Cuban
who would grow up to become virtually a man without a country. He was
targeted, pursued, persecuted and victimised and as a
counter-revolutionary for more than three decades. His crime was that he
dared to protest against what he came to realise as the systematic means
by which the Cuban revolution he had adored continued to deny the
existence of racism in his country.
In fact, Moore writes in his moving memoir, Pichon: Race and Revolution
in Castro's Cuba, the regime's crime was compounded by what he says was
its deliberate suppression of Afro-Cuban culture and its refusal to
treat with the issue of race relations in a country in which black skin
meant, and still means, lowest-class citizenship.
To have said otherwise was to court ostracision, punishment, banishment
and death. The book describes in frightening detail how many times he
miraculously escaped death.
May 20 is a Cuban anniversary not many people know about, except that it
is the anniversary of the date of Cuba's independence from Spain. But on
that date in 1912, poorly armed black Cuban men, many accompanied by
their wives, took to the hills protesting social conditions under which
they were living. It was to be referred to later as Cuba's "war against
"A reign of terror was unleashed against innocent men, women and
children, regardless of any association with the rebels. Lynchings took
place all over the island. Within six months 6,000 black lives were
claimed. Blacks fled into the mountains to escape, provoking a labour
shortage and the standstill of sugar mills,'' Moore writes in Pichon,
from a story told to him by a man who would later become one of his
It's a story which remains little known in the country that continues to
ignore its serious social and racial imbalances, Moore claims.
"We live in a republic with all and for all, so the negro has no cause
to set himself apart from his white brother to advance his cause,'' the
Cuban president at the time of the 1912 revolt is reported to have said.
And it is a position which Moore said he came face to face with on
several occasions in the country of his birth, before his departure for
the United States at age 15 in 1957 and after his return home in June,
1961. Two years after Castro gained power.
Much has been made over the years, for example, of Castro's stay at the
Theresa Hotel in Harlem during his visit to the United Nations in
September 1960. He felt he had been treated, Moore writes, "as a negro''
in Manhattan, therefore, he was going to stay with them in Harlem. But
from Moore's viewpoint, this was the first of many con jobs Castro was
to do on his audiences on the question of his race perspective. No one
in the Cuban delegation was black, from a country then with a 40 per
cent black population. He hurriedly sent for Juan Almeida Bosque, a
black army major who had originally been left behind, but who was the
highest ranking black face in the revolutionary apparatus at the time.
Based on a face-to-face encounter with Castro at the Theresa and on the
strength of the prevailing revolutionary consciousness, he decided to
return and work for the revolution. On his first job application
interview, however, he began to notice that "racism was not only alive
and well in Communist Cuba, it was receiving new ideological
legitimacy.'' That "the old paternalistic racism had simply been
repackaged through the use of a Marxist jargon.''
In quick time he would also realise that to ask unwanted questions, to
complain about anything the regime had pronounced upon, was to court
detention and worse. Moore was to discover a pattern in which Afro-Cuban
culture was driven underground. The clubs they had formed as means to
their group sustenance were closed down, turned into instruments of
"There were no longer Blacks in Cuba,'' he was told by an officer during
the job interview which then led to his dispatch to a labour camp.
"Fidel had declared that racism no longer existed. To affirm that there
was racism in Cuba was to call the leader of our revolution a liar. To
attack the commander in chief is to attack the revolution,'' he was told.
He was to pay dearly for this, for 34 years. He would face sustained
character assassination, attempts on his life while in exile and be
called a counter-revolutionary, an enemy of the state, which meant being
seen as a worm and as scum.
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