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Afro-Cuban author who complained of racism demoted

Posted on Friday, 04.05.13

Afro-Cuban author who complained of racism demoted

By Juan O. Tamayo

jtamayo@ElNuevoHerald.com

A black Cuban author, Roberto Zurbano, whose scathing criticism of

racism on the island was published in The New York Times last month, has

been demoted from his top job at the government-controlled Casa de las

Americas book publishers.

"To question the extent of racial progress was tantamount to a

counterrevolutionary act," the dreadlocked Zurbano wrote. "This made it

almost impossible to point out the obvious: racism is alive and well."

Zurbano's case reflects the growing black-rights movement in Cuba, where

35 percent of its 11 million people are black or mestizo, at a time when

its activists are complaining that Raúl Castro's open-market economic

reforms favor whites unfairly.

Maria Ileana Faguaga Iglesia, a Havana academic who specializes in black

studies, said she was not surprised by Zurbano's demotion — "it would

have been news if he was NOT fired," she said — because Castro's reforms

don't extend to politics.

"This ratifies for me their lack of understanding and tolerance for

diversity, for the range of all the problems that Cuba faces in all

areas, racial, social, political and economic," she told El Nuevo Herald

by phone from Havana.

Faguaga said Zurbano, an acquaintance and neighbor in his early 50s,

battled often at Casa de las Americas to publish more books on black

issues and especially the works of Frantz Fanon, a black,

Martinique-born Marxist and revolutionary.

Zurbano announced he had been "relieved" of his job as an editor and

publisher, selecting books to be published, and transferred to a lesser

job during a meeting of the Cuba chapter of the Regional Coordination of

Afro-descendants in Latin America and the Caribbean (ARAAC), according

to a post Friday in the blog Havana Times.

The post included a statement from ARAAC which did not mention him but

said it "resolutely supports the free expression of ideas by all its

activists" and opposes any "repressive or obstructive measures against

any participants in such polemics."

ARAAC member Esteban Morales confirmed Zurbano, who also writes poetry

and essays, had been demoted by Casa de las Americans but said he was

not at the meeting and did not know whether the reassignment was linked

to the New York Times column.

Zurbano "of course has the right to give his opinion," Morales said.

Casa de las Americas in any case has the right to reassign or dismiss

any of its employees, he told El Nuevo Herald by phone from Havana.

"He's not been kicked out of Casa. Casa has simply removed him from that

job," he added.

Morales, a well-known Havana economist, was himself kicked out of the

Communist Party in 2010 after penning an Internet column in which he

complained about Cuba's burgeoning corruption. He was reinstated in 2011.

Zurbano's 982-word column for the New York Times on March 23 argued that

while the island still has a strong social safety net, Castro's market

reforms are providing better opportunities to the already better-off

white Cubans.

Whites have better homes that they can turn into restaurants or bed &

breakfasts, he wrote. Cash remittances arrive from the mostly white

exile community. And blacks are still "woefully underrepresented" in

tourism, the island's most profitable sector.

Cuba now has two realities, he added, one "of white Cubans, who have

leveraged their resources to enter the new market-driven economy … The

other reality is that of the black plurality, which witnessed the demise

of the socialist utopia from the island's least comfortable quarters."

Although Castro has brought more blacks into the legislative National

Assembly of People's Power, Zurbano noted, "much remains to be done to

address the structural inequality and racial prejudice that continue to

exclude Afro-Cubans."

"Racism in Cuba has been concealed and reinforced in part because it

isn't talked about. The government hasn't allowed racial prejudice to be

debated or confronted politically or culturally, often pretending

instead as though it didn't exist," the column added.

A key first step would be to get an accurate count of Afro-Cubans,

Zurbano argued, because the number of blacks on the streets belies

census figures showing that 65 percent of the island's population is

white. Cubans mark their own race in the Census.

Faguaga said the ARAAC statement defending Zurbano's right to express

his opinions was itself surprising because members of the group tend to

be "officials and semi-officials" of the ruling system who regularly toe

the government line.

She attended one of its founding meetings in 2011 but was not invited to

a follow up session last year because she was too independent, she said.

One of its documents from the 2012 gathering noted that among the

group's goals was to increase coordination in the "fight against racism

and capitalism" and to consider "the advances made by the Cuban

revolution in different political and social areas."

http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/04/05/v-fullstory/3325773/afro-cuban-author-who-complained.html

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