The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 73/No. 49      December 21, 2009

Cubans answer slander of
racism against revolution
(feature article)
Below is a response by several prominent Cuban writers and artists to an “open letter” issued November 30 by 60 African American figures charging the Cuban government with practicing racial discrimination. The Cuban writers and artists explain that from its beginning in 1959 the Cuban Revolution has waged a battle to eradicate all forms of discrimination, including based on race. They also note that Cuban writers, artists, and working people are involved in a vigorous ongoing discussion and debate on the contributions of Cubans who are black to the island’s revolutionary struggles—from its independence to today—and how to use their conquest of state power to advance the fight to overcome the final vestiges of racial prejudice.

The translation from the Spanish and the subtitles are by the Militant.


A Yoruba proverb states: “A lie may run for a year, but the truth will catch up with it one day.”

Although the most intolerant political circles and the most powerful mass media have long tried to impose a distorted image of contemporary Cuban society on American public opinion, the reality comes through in the end, in one way or another.

We are sure that will happen when the arguments with which we refute the false statements about our society—contained in a document circulated December 1 on behalf of a group of Afro-American intellectuals and leaders—become known.

To say that among us there is a “callous disregard” for black Cubans, that they are deprived of “civil freedoms on the basis of race,” and to demand that “the unwarranted and brutal harassment of black citizens in Cuba who are defending their civil rights” be ended, would seem like delirious fantasies if there wasn’t, behind those fictions, a malicious intention of adding respectable voices from the Afro-American community to the anti-Cuban campaign that seeks to undermine our sovereignty and identity.

Cuba and Africa
If the Cuba of these times was the racist nation they want to invent, its citizens would not have contributed massively to the liberation of the African peoples. More than 350,000 Cuban volunteers fought against colonialism alongside their brothers and sisters in Africa. More than 2,000 combatants from our island fell on that continent. A figure of undisputed worldwide prominence, Nelson Mandela, has recognized the role of those volunteers in the definitive defeat of the infamous apartheid regime. From Africa we brought back only the remains of our dead.

If Cuba today had such contempt for blacks, more than 35,000 African youth would not have been educated in our schools over the past 40 years, nor would 2,600 young people from some 30 nations of that region be studying right now in our universities.

A people wracked by racism would refuse to collaborate in the training of doctors and other human resources in health care at the medical schools established in Guinea Bissau, Equatorial Guinea, Gambia, and Eritrea.

They would have turned their backs on the health-care programs that have saved thousands of lives in many parts of Latin America and the Caribbean where there is a large African diaspora. They would have ignored the more than 20,000 Haitians and English-speaking Afro-Caribbean people who recovered their eyesight through surgery performed free of charge in our country.

It’s very likely that most of the signers of the document are not aware that when New Orleans was devastated by Hurricane Katrina, dozens of Cuban doctors and paramedics volunteered to provide help to the storm victims, in a humanitarian gesture that received no response from the American authorities.

Mortal blow to racism
On a different subject, perhaps those who signed the document are unaware of how the institutional and legal foundations of a racist society were dismantled from the earliest days following the popular victory of 1959.

In 1959 the Cuban Revolution found the majority of the population in desperate conditions. Cubans of African descent, who had been among the victims suffering the most from the neocolonial model on the island, immediately benefited from the battle waged by the revolutionary government to eradicate all forms of exclusion, including the cruel racism that marked Cuba at that time.

Cuba’s policies against any form of discrimination and in favor of equality have constitutional backing, registered in the chapters of the Cuban Constitution that refer to the essential political, social, and economic foundations of the state, and the rights, obligations, and guarantees of its citizens.

These constitutional rights, together with the mechanisms and means to enforce them and reaffirm the law in face of any violation, are guaranteed through very detailed accompanying legislation.

Blacks and mestizos, as never before in the history of our country, have found opportunities for social and personal development in the course of the transformations carried out over the past half century. These opportunities have been backed by policies and programs that have made possible the rise of what Cuban anthropologist Fernando Ortiz called the unpostponable integration phase of Cuban society.

It’s a process, as we know, that is not exempt from conflicts and contradictions, burdened by inherited social disadvantages as well as prejudices deeply rooted over centuries.

Six years ago Fidel Castro, in a discussion in Havana with Cuban and foreign educators, commented how “even in societies like Cuba that arose from a radical social revolution where the people achieved full and complete legal equality and a level of revolutionary education that demolished the subjective component of discrimination, it still exists in a different form.” He described it as objective discrimination, a phenomenon associated with poverty and with a historical monopoly on access to learning.

Anyone who observes daily life anywhere in the country can see that an enormous effort is under way to overcome completely the factors causing that situation, through new programs aimed at eliminating any social disadvantages.

Afro-Cuban artists, intellectuals
The Afro-American intellectuals need to know how their Cuban colleagues have dealt with these questions and how they promote actions from the prominent positions they hold in civil society.

Some of the previously mentioned programs came about as a result of the discussions that took place in 1998 during the Sixth Congress of the Cuban Union of Writers and Artists (UNEAC), in an open and frank dialogue with the highest state authorities and then-president Fidel Castro.

It should be remembered that UNEAC, which brings together the vanguard of Cuba’s intellectual and artistic movement, had as its founding president a black poet, Nicolás Guillén, one of the most outstanding poets of the Spanish language in the 20th century, an active fighter against racial discrimination, and personal friend of Langston Hughes and Paul Robeson.

Within UNEAC, an organization that was never oblivious to these problems, a permanent committee has been established to fight, from a cultural standpoint, against any vestige of discrimination and racial prejudice.

In a racist country it would be inconceivable to create and operate institutions such Africa House, the Fernando Ortiz Foundation, the Caribbean House in Santiago de Cuba, the Center for Caribbean Studies at Casa de las Américas, and the National Institute of Anthropology, which, along with others, conducts in-depth research on African heritage in our culture and on interracial relations in our country.

Likewise, artistic groups and entities such as the National Folkloric Dance Ensemble, the CamagŁey Folkloric Ballet, and the Folkloric Dance Ensemble of Oriente would not have received the support and broad social recognition they have.

Nor would the Slave Route Museum exist. The first of its kind in Latin America and the Caribbean, this museum is one of the principal results of Cuba’s commitment to the UNESCO-sponsored program to give recognition to the contributions made by Africans forcibly removed from their lands of origin and brought to these lands where they helped forge new identities.

If racial hatred was a predominant trend in our society, the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Independent Party of Color would have been nothing but a rhetorical gesture. The commemoration was part of recovering the historical memory of that stage in the struggles and aspirations of the Cuban people for their rights and their liberation from all forms of domination.

Genuine bearers of traditional musical culture much appreciated by American audiences, such as Los Muñequitos de Matanzas, Yoruba Andabo, and Clave y Guaguancó, would have to be working as poorly paid laborers on the docks, as parking lot attendants, shoe shiners, and domestic employees, had their extraordinary values not been recognized.

A racist society would not have committed itself so deeply to translating and publishing hundreds of literary works by African and Afro-Caribbean authors.

On one of his visits to Cuba, Nigerian Nobel Prize laureate Wole Soyinka stated, “It is difficult to find another place in the Western Hemisphere where eagerness to learn about African writers goes beyond the interest among academic institutions, as I have seen here.”

Cuban artists and intellectuals are grateful for the solidarity, understanding, and respect that many Afro-American figures have shown toward the Cuban reality over the past half-century.

We have never asked them to share our political ideas, nor have we demanded that dialogue be contingent on support of any kind. We respect their points of view out of an elementary sense of ethics.

Perhaps it would be appropriate for the signers of the declaration we are commenting on to listen without prejudice to these views. We are certain that in doing so, as the Yoruba saying proclaims, “truth will have its day.”

Havana, Cuba
December 2, 2009

Nancy Morejón, poet and essayist
Miguel Barnet, poet and anthropologist
Esteban Morales, political scientist and essayist
Eduardo Roca (Choco), artist
Heriberto Feraudy, historian and essayist
Rogelio Martínez Furé, Africanist
Pedro de la Hoz, journalist and essayist
Fernando Martínez Heredia, sociologist and essayist
Omara Portuondo, artist
Related articles:
Health group withdraws from anti-Cuba letter
Afro-Cubans defended anticolonial fighters  
Front page (for this issue) | Home | Text-version home