Breaking the Silence on Racism in Cuba
Breaking the Silence on Racism in Cuba
Ivet González interviews documentary-maker GLORIA ROLANDO
HAVANA, May 17, 2012 (IPS) – Gloria Rolando has been revealing hidden
chapters of Cuban history since the 2010 premiere of the first part of
her documentary series "1912: Breaking the Silence," about the virtually
unknown story about the only legal political party to promote racial
equality in this country.
The documentary-maker defends the legacy of the Independent Party of
Colour (Partido Independiente de Color), which was active from 1908 to
1912, and is a recurring focus of debates among activists for
non-discrimination in Cuba.
The second part of the series, produced independently, is being shown in
community and institutional locales, and will hit Havana movie theatres
A century after the slaughter of the main leaders of the Independent
Party of Colour, and as the International Decade for People of African
Descent gets underway, Rolando, who also heads the autonomous
video-makers' group Imágenes del Caribe (Images of the Caribbean),
talked with IPS about the need for teaching another side of history, and
the importance of the family in achieving racial equality.
The Independent Party of Colour
Led by two veterans of the third war for independence, Evaristo Estenoz
and Pedro Ivonet, the Independent Party of Colour was created to fight
against racism in the nascent Republic.
On May 20, 1912, the party's top leaders organised an armed protest
against a decree that prohibited the party from running candidates in
the elections. The protest ended in the massacre of more than 3,000
black and mixed-race people and the imprisonment of survivors by the
Q: What has been the main contribution of "1912: Breaking the Silence"
(1912: Voces para un silencio)?
A: This series is aimed at all Cubans, because it addresses a complex
chapter of our history, involving both blacks and whites. The film helps
us to understand a troubled period, which is studied in school in a very
When the ambassadors in Cuba from member countries of the CARICOM
(Caribbean Community) saw the film, they were fascinated. They had come
here without knowing about this fundamental chapter of Cuban history,
which is also part of the development of the Caribbean.
That was a time of generalised repression. A person was treated with
prejudice simply for being black or mixed-race. For that reason, the
events of 1912 were silenced: people knew that they could face problems
for telling the truth. That is how the version that endured until now
was a distorted one, and many historians do not talk about the events as
they actually happened.
Q: What has been the impact on the Cuban public?
A: The first reaction is lack of knowledge: that has been the hook for
getting people to continue to watch the film. When the first part
premiered, people became hooked. I was able to identify that effect in
places where it was shown, such as Havana's main movie theatres.
Generally speaking, nobody knows about the history of the Independent
Party of Colour, or about the massacre of many of its members. I am
basing my work on that. We (the production crew) want people to learn
about the facts and then evaluate that part of national history and its
consequences for the present.
Q: At what point in the public debate over non-discrimination in Cuba
did your series come out?
A: These questions are the focus of a lot of movement these days: there
are different types of publications and there is a visible debate.
Hopefully the polemic will expand beyond academic circles. At least,
that's been the case in the capital, which is the environment I know best.
The issue became a boomerang in the 1990s, but now we are beginning to
address it in a theoretical and scientific way, so that people can
understand that it is not an emotional issue.
It is essential for all of this information to be made available in the
public education system. My goal is not just to make the documentary and
show it, but also for the recovery of the memory of the Independent
Party of Col
Part Two of "1912"
The first part of "1912: Breaking the Silence" was broadcast on "Mesa
Redonda" (Cuba's nightly political talk show), and was shown in the
country's main movie theatres in 2010.
The second part has been shown in places such as Havana's Casa de las
Américas cultural centre and La Ceiba community centre. Rolando is now
working on the third part of the project.
lour to be incorporated in teaching.
My greatest hope, once the third part is done and the project can be
presented as a whole, is for it to be shown on the programme "Pasaje a
lo desconocido" (Journey into the Unknown, a Cuban television programme
that airs on Sundays and features documentaries), which has a large
That way, it will no longer be an issue that is unknown to the Cuban
population and that stirs up controversy. I also hope for it to be seen
in community spaces, and it is being passed around informally so that
people will use it, learn and tell others.
Q: Do the conditions exist in Cuban society today for recognising that
racism persists here? And if so, why?
A: Cuban society is many-sided and very complex. Life in Havana is
totally different than life in Holguín (700 km east of the capital), for
example. In some of the provinces where we worked to make the series,
people commented to us that they didn't have those problems.
In fact, Cuba is different in the central and eastern regions. There is
the Haitian presence that came with a huge wave of immigration in the
early 20th century. In Guantánamo, where a large part of the population
is black, it might be that they don't feel the need for this debate as
intensely as in the capital or in the western part of the island in general.
However, racial discrimination is also related to economic status,
housing, the neighbourhood, food and structures for organising
activities that certain population groups experience.
To try to eliminate it requires very complex actions. It's not enough to
have free education and health services for all. Services for families
and a return to family values play a fundamental role.
Q: What proposals have you identified for contributing to greater racial
equality in Cuba?
A: There needs to be a television programme devoted to the Cuban family.
The diversity of families needs to be shown — the ones that live in
Baracoa (in eastern Cuba) or in Miramar (a residential neighbourhood in
Havana) – to see how different people live their lives.
It could invite, for example, a sociologist who has researched the
Havana neighbourhood of Pogolotti, or historians and other specialists
who address the real problems faced by Cubans.
It could focus on a plan of action to ensure that many black girls and
boys reach university. The doors are open to them, but few of them make
it there. To make that possible, housing conditions and family history
are two of the decisive factors.