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Afro-Cubans fight for equality under Castro regime

Afro-Cubans fight for equality under Castro regime
By Harold Meyerson, Wednesday, June 19, 1:39

“More than half a century ago, Fidel decreed the elimination of racism,”
said Leonardo Calvo Cárdenas. But “this just made the problem deeper and
more complex.”

Calvo Cárdenas is an Afro-Cuban — a group that makes up roughly half of
Cuba’s population but that is greatly under-represented in its political
leadership, media and nascent business class. Calvo Cárdenas hasn’t
always been on the outside looking in. “I was the director of the Lenin
Museum,” he told me during a visit to Washington this month.

But Calvo Cárdenas’s days in the Lenin stacks came to an abrupt end in
1991, when he and his friend Manuel Cuesta Morúa, a historian at
Havana’s Casa de Africa Museum, lost their jobs after publicly
criticizing the Castro regime’s lack of democracy. The two went on to
form a democratic socialist organization that the regime routinely
harasses but, atypically, hasn’t stamped out.

“We were the first alternative political movement that publicly opposed
the U.S. embargo,” said Cuesta Morúa, who accompanied Calvo Cárdenas on
his visit. “That makes it more difficult for the Cuban government to
give us the kind of treatment that other dissidents have gotten.”

In 2008, the two joined other activists to form the Citizens Committee
for Racial Integration — an organization whose very name is an
indictment of their beleaguered workers’ paradise. “The Afro-Cuban
population is stagnant, at the bottom of the social pyramid,” Juan
Antonio Madrazo Luna, the committee’s national coordinator, said during
the recent trip. As in virtually every other nation in the Western
hemisphere, Calvo Cárdenas added, “Cuba has traditionally had a racially
stratified workforce. And despite the egalitarian rhetoric of the
government, African descendants remain excluded from the most promising
jobs.”

None of the committee representatives accused the Castros of harboring
racial bias. The problem that the Castros and the Communist Party have
with the committee is that an independent movement for racial equality
is a living, breathing refutation of the idea that, after more than 50
years in power, communism has delivered equality. Another problem for
the party is that any independent movement is inherently not under its
control. For Afro-Cubans, the road to equality is blocked by the party’s
suppression of civil society.

In recent years, Cuba’s economic travails have made the nation’s racial
rifts more visible. Still, “the government hasn’t waged a public
anti-racism campaign,” Madrazo said, as doing so would have required
acknowledging the persistence of racism under Cuban communism. So the
Afro-Cuban activists formed the committee themselves. The group promotes
not only racial equality but also has a gay and lesbian chapter and
presents annual awards to human rights advocates and champions of pluralism.

In a more repressive period, of course, the committee’s leaders would be
languishing in jail and its activities would be conducted underground,
if at all. Today, the Communists are encouraging a modest wave of
small-scale entrepreneurialism, though a movement to a more
market-oriented economy is no guarantee of democratization, as the
examples of the Soviet Union in the 1920s and China today make
abundantly clear. Nonetheless, a little political space not occupied by
the party has opened up in Cuba, and the committee is one of a handful
of groups that, not without risk, seek to expand it.

“When we hold public forums at the community level, we’re often
arrested,” said Cuesta Morúa. “But then they let us go. The tactics of
repression have changed. Long prison sentences didn’t weaken the human
rights movement; they strengthened it.”

The committee leaders entertain no illusions that the regime’s fall and
the institution of a democratic government would in themselves eliminate
Cuba’s racial stratification. “The existence of multiple political
parties guarantees the democratization of the state,” said Cuesta Morúa.
“It doesn’t guarantee the democratization of society.”

Nevertheless , the committee leaders are emphatic that Cuba can’t become
more egalitarian until it becomes radically more democratic. Cuesta
Morúa marveled that there are still some in the American left who
marched with Martin Luther King Jr. or identify with him today yet
support a Cuban regime that would never permit a similar march in its
own country.

“We have a message for the American left, especially the African
American left,” he said. “There are forgotten Cubans, invisible Cubans,
many of them Afro-Cubans, many of them not. They do not live in the
utopia that some Americans still imagine. They live in Cuba.”

Source: “Harold Meyerson: Afro-Cubans fight for equality under Castro
regime – The Washington Post” –
http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/harold-meyerson-afro-cubans-fight-for-equality-under-castro-regime/2013/06/18/9da4397c-d828-11e2-a9f2-42ee3912ae0e_story.html

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