The Race Problem in Today’s Cuba
The Race Problem in Today's Cuba
November 24, 2009
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
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
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
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.
The Race Problem in Today's Cuba – Havana Times.org (24 November 2009)