CubaBrief: Raúl Castro relinquishing power won’t bring change to Cuba anytime soon. Cuba’s Racial Reckoning, and What It Means for Biden

Amaury Pacheco, artist and leader in the San Isidro Movement, joins campaign #SOSCuba for artists under siege on Twitter.

Amaury Pacheco, artist and leader in the San Isidro Movement, joins campaign #SOSCuba for artists under siege on Twitter.

Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted on Tuesday, April 20th of murdering George Floyd on May 25, 2020. Many have argued that if it had not been for Darnella Frazier, then age 17, who engaged in an act of citizen journalism when she recorded the “video of Derek Chauvin pressing his knee on George Floyd’s neck for nearly 10 minutes,” and later testified at Chauvin’s trial the former police officer would never have been placed on trial, much less convicted. This could not happen in Cuba, but not for the reasons that some progressives believe.

Hansel E. Hernández,age 27, killed by Castro's Revolutionary National Police on June 24th

Hansel E. Hernández,age 27, killed by Castro’s Revolutionary National Police on June 24th

Less than a month later in Cuba, Hansel Ernesto Hernández Galiano, age 27, was shot in the back by police on June 24, 2020. Officials claim that he was stealing pieces and accessories from a bus stop when he was spotted by two Revolutionary National Police (PNR in Spanish). Upon seeing the officers Hansel tried to run away and the officers pursued him nearly two kilometers. They claim that during the pursuit Hansel threw rocks at the police. Police claim they fired two warning shots and a third in his back killing him. Hansel’s body was quickly cremated, and an independent autopsy to verify official claims made impossible.

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This would normally have ended silently with no one being the wiser, but Facebook and the courage of a traumatized family member prevented that outcome. On June 25, a woman posted on Facebook a photo of the dead Black youth who, she said, had been the victim of the national revolutionary police a day earlier.

“I feel deep pain for the murder of my nephew Hansel Ernesto Hernández Galiano committed yesterday morning in La Lima, Guanabacoa (in eastern Havana), by two patrolmen (police),” she wrote. “We, the family members, ask for mercy that this cruel act at the hands of our supposed national security does not go unpunished in any way. Because a police officer, a uniform, does not give the right to murder anyone in such a way. If we know very well that they are trained with personal defense, they must carry spray, tonfas, etc. Why then did they have to resort to their firearm and take a son from a mother, a father, a nephew from their aunt, a brother from their younger sister … Noting that he was NEVER armed, please, justice.”

Independent civil society members mobilized to protest, but were silenced by a crackdown by political police when questions were raised, and the dictatorship organized a “heroes of the blue” social-media campaign to promote its officers.

Castro regime organized “Back the Blue” style campaign called “Heroes of the Blue.”

Castro regime organized “Back the Blue” style campaign called “Heroes of the Blue.”

On June 28, 2020 independent journalist Jorge Enrique Rodríguez was arrested and charged with “Fake news” for his reporting on this police killing of a black youth.  Other journalists in the lead up to the June 30th planned protests were detained or laid siege to in their homes in order to stop them reporting on the killing of Hansel and reporting on reactions to his death. The Committee to Protect Journalists called for Jorge Enrique’s immediate release.

Jorge Enrique Rodríguez detained for reporting on police killing of black youth in June 2020

Jorge Enrique Rodríguez detained for reporting on police killing of black youth in June 2020

Over social media demonstrations were announced for June 30 to protest the killing of Hansel Ernesto Hernández Galiano. The secret police began shutting off internet connections, cell phones and started arbitrarily detaining those who they suspected would take part in the non-violent protests. A number of activists recorded or expressed over social media their intention to take part in the protest action and some were able to message out when they were taken, or had their homes surrounded and laid siege to by state security and were placed under house arrest. Independent civil society members mobilized to protest Hansel’s killing, but were silenced by this crackdown in which over seventy Cubans were successfully targeted and officials “prevented” the non-violent action.

Carlos Moore addressed anti-Black racism in Cuba and was forced into exile

Carlos Moore addressed anti-Black racism in Cuba and was forced into exile

Fidel Castro took power on January 1, 1959, and Cuba scholar Rebecca Bodenheimer in Foreign Policy on September 9, 2020 in the article “Cuba’s Government Needs to Look Within as It Denounces U.S. Racism” reported that “in the space of only three years, Castro announced that racism had been eliminated [in Cuba] due to the class restructuring that had taken place in Cuban society.” These claims by Havana ring hollow when one considers that black Cubans were no longer able to denounce racism. Bodenheimer outlined some of the consequences of the Castro regime’s claim that racism had ended in communist Cuba, and the dictatorship’s dismantlement of black civil society.

“However, one of the actions taken by the government to eliminate differences within the population was to outlaw organizations structured around racial identity, including the Black social clubs that had sprung up in the 1930s and 1940s in response to the de facto segregation that had existed before the revolution. Castro essentially prohibited any public discourse on racial difference, and this had a chilling effect on race-based civil rights organizing on the island. Those who spoke out about the anti-Black racism that of course still existed, such as Carlos Moore, were branded as counterrevolutionaries and often detained, sent to reeducation camps, or forced to leave the island in exile.”

Professor Javier Corrales, chair of political science at Amherst College and member of the editorial board of Americas Quarterly, in a podcast analyzed the significance of the just concluded Communist Party Congress that is worth listening to and back in December 2020 wrote an analysis for Americas Quarterly titled “Cuba’s Racial Reckoning, and What It Means for Biden” in light of the previous month’s San Isidro protests and the November 27, 2020 protest outside of the Ministry of Culture that brought into existence the 27N movement. In it Corrales revealed what too many on the hard left believe about racism, that it is tied to capitalism, and since the communists in Cuba got rid of it there is no racism in the island nation. He challenged this myth head on and provided an example of a black Cuban who was fired from his job for addressing racism in Cuba.

“In Cuba, the myth of racial equality was reinforced by the government’s argument that capitalism is the source of racism and education, its antidote. Eliminate capitalism and provide education for all, and you solve racism. Historically, anyone in Cuba challenging this sacrosanct discourse of racial triumph would be summarily dismissed, often quite literally. In 2013, Roberto Zurbano, a literary editor who dared to publish an op-ed in The New York Times entitled “For Blacks in Cuba, the Revolution Hasn’t Begun,” was dismissed from his job. Of course, Zurbano was right. Racism is not tied to one type of economy or addressable with only one type of policy.”

Professor Cristina Lopez-Gottardi Chao writing in the Richmond Times-Dispatch argued that Cuba’s eighth Communist Party Congress was “Cuba’s latest inflection point,” and that this “year’s came at a complicated time for the island nation,” and the challenges it poses for the Biden Administration. She concludes her Op Ed with the observation:

“The Biden administration also faces an important opportunity to put human rights front and center to any future U.S. approach. The degree to which these matters are addressed, in the aftermath of this year’s Communist Party Congress, will have observers both on the island and across the Florida straits listening closely.”

Cuban scholar Roberto Zurbano fired from job for raising issue of racism in Cuba

Cuban scholar Roberto Zurbano fired from job for raising issue of racism in Cuba

Over 200 activists have signed a petition to President Biden calling on U.S. Cuba policy to have a human rights focus. The petition remains open for additional signatures. Professor Carlos Eire exposed the reality of the existing system in Cuba in The Washington Post in his April 20th Oped “Raúl Castro relinquishing power won’t bring change to Cuba anytime” in the following excerpt:

“The reality is that the Communist Party in Cuba, which has had total control of the island for over 60 years, is not about to relax its grip. And since this party is controlled by the Revolutionary Armed Forces, Cuba is really governed by an old-fashioned Latin American military junta. It is an unusual junta, full of former rebels, but it is a junta nonetheless, as olive-green and medal-bedecked and ruthless as any other. All the pious talk one hears from Cuba’s oligarchy about the sacred “revolution” is but a clever smokescreen, spiced up with utopian incense, behind which hide the military men who run the party and the country.”

This military-economic elite is centralized around two individuals Professor Eire identifies where “raw power resides in men such as Alejandro Castro Espín and 60-year-old Gen. Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Callejas, ex-husband of Raul’s daughter Deborah. A member of the Castro dynasty by marriage, he is one of the most powerful men in Cuba, totally in charge of the branch of the Revolutionary Armed Forces that runs most of Cuba’s tourist industry. “

They are two white men, that like two others, Fidel and Raul Castro, aspire to continue ruling a racially mixed country with a predominantly white military junta that runs both the political and economic life of Cuba. Regime apologists are trying to distract from the reality of the ongoing succession in Cuba to a new generation of the Castro dynasty. On Saturday participated in a conversation on Al Jazeera English, founded in 2006, is headquartered in the Middle East and is part of an independent news organization launched in 1996 broadcasting to the world, with Professor Philip Brenner of American University, and Ambassador Carlos Alzugaray, former Cuban Ambassador to the European Union on the network’s talk show “Inside Story.” There was an attempt to spin and especially minimize the importance of Alejandro Castro Espín, and to focus on regime talking points over COVID-19 which were challenged.

However the topic of race in Cuba did not emerge in the conversation over succession and the Party Congress. Despite racist attitudes persisting in Cuba and reflected in rates of interracial marriage being lower in Cuba than in Brazil, and glaring economic disparities between black and white Cubans with 95% of Afro-Cubans having the lowest incomes compared to 58% of white Cubans.

On June 18, 2020 The Progessive published an article titled “Foreign Correspondent: Police Lessons From Cuba” by Reese Erlich that claims “Contrary to the image of brutal and repressive communists, police in Cuba offer an instructive example for activists in the United States.” What would applying Cuban policing, and accountability standards in the United States? On the same day, as the piece in The Progressive,  Havana Times published an article by IPS-Cuba titled “Is it legal to Take Photos or Videos of Police in Cuba?

The case of George Floyd became known because his death was recorded by a civilian who witnessed the events as they transpired, and then uploaded the video and shared it with others. Now the question is would it be legal to do that in Cuba? According to Cuban lawyer Humberto Lopez asked last Wednesday June 10th, on an episode of his “Hacemos Cuba” TV show “recording the police officer isn’t illegal or constitute a crime” but “if this image is uploaded onto a digital platform without this person’s consent, then you are using it without their authorization,”would violate the right to privacy of the police officer under Article 48 of the Cuban Constitution. The Cuban attorney added “that if the intent of the publication is to defame police actions (he didn’t say if it mattered if these actions were right or wrong), it is an administrative violation, which is subject to a fine, because it violates Decree-Law 370 passed in 2018, by the Ministry of Information Technologies and Communications.” 

If Reese Erlich of The Progressive had his way and applied Cuban law and police lessons in the United States, Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin would still be on the job. Darnella Frazier, if she did not obtain Officer Chauvin’s permission to share the recording would have had to keep it to herself, and even if she did she would still be at risk of a fine or prison for portraying the police in a negative light through the video. Finally, no one would have seen the video because there is no free press, all mass media are controlled by the government. Other than eyewitnesses, his family, and perhaps those who they could reach on social media, no one would know about George Floyd. Just as the vast majority of Cubans do not know who Hansel Ernesto Hernández Galiano is.

The Washington Post, April 20, 2021

Opinion: Raúl Castro relinquishing power won’t bring change to Cuba anytime soon

Then-Cuban President Fidel Casto, left, and Minister of Armed Forces Raúl Castro participate in a Cuban parliamentary session in Havana on July 11, 2000. (Adalberto Roque/AFP via Getty Images)

Then-Cuban President Fidel Casto, left, and Minister of Armed Forces Raúl Castro participate in a Cuban parliamentary session in Havana on July 11, 2000. (Adalberto Roque/AFP via Getty Images)

Opinion by Carlos Eire

April 20, 2021 at 10:26 a.m. EDT

Carlos Eire is the T.L. Riggs Professor of History and Religious Studies at Yale University.

The surname Castro has been synonymous with Cuba since January 1959, first under Fidel, and then, after 2006, under his younger brother Raúl. Consequently, much is being made of the fact that Raúl Castro is relinquishing all power on the eve of his 90th birthday. It would be a mistake to think that this piece of kabuki theater will bring change to Cuba any time soon.

The reality is that the Communist Party in Cuba, which has had total control of the island for over 60 years, is not about to relax its grip. And since this party is controlled by the Revolutionary Armed Forces, Cuba is really governed by an old-fashioned Latin American military junta. It is an unusual junta, full of former rebels, but it is a junta nonetheless, as olive-green and medal-bedecked and ruthless as any other. All the pious talk one hears from Cuba’s oligarchy about the sacred “revolution” is but a clever smokescreen, spiced up with utopian incense, behind which hide the military men who run the party and the country. The country’s submissive legislature, the National Assembly, always votes unanimously for the directives of the Communist Party. It is purely decorative, a touch of magical realism, like the medals worn by Cuba’s generals.

Raúl Castro is stepping down from the throne, so to speak, but he will keep casting a long shadow as long as he can. Moreover, plenty of generals and colonels remain, ranging in age from their 50s to 80s. A top member of that exclusive circle is Raúl’s son, Col. Alejandro Castro Espín, who is only 55 and runs the country’s dreaded secret police. Official posts outside of the armed forces have a cosmetic sheen to them. The prime example is President Miguel Díaz-Canel.

Although Díaz-Canel has just been appointed first secretary of the Communist Party, he has yet to prove that he is anything but a figurehead. Real, raw power resides in men such as Alejandro Castro Espín and 60-year-old Gen. Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Callejas, ex-husband of Raul’s daughter Deborah. A member of the Castro dynasty by marriage, he is one of the most powerful men in Cuba, totally in charge of the branch of the Revolutionary Armed Forces that runs most of Cuba’s tourist industry. Since tourism is the country’s main source of income, his clout is considerable. The two brothers-in-law are purported to be engaged in a fierce struggle behind the scenes for the throne vacated by Raúl.

Castro’s departure has been in the works for at least three years, and the Communist Party prepared for it by drafting a new constitution in 2019. Crafted to ensure that no changes can ever be made to Cuba’s communist system, its preamble states: “We, Cuban Citizens … started the construction of socialism and, under the direction of the Communist Party, continue said construction with the objective of building a communist society.” It also says “the people” are resolutely “committed to Cuba never returning to capitalism.” Many articles outlaw dissent, such as No. 4: “The socialist system that this Constitution supports is irrevocable. Citizens have the right to combat through any means, including armed combat … against any that intends to topple the political, social, and economic order established by this Constitution.” Article 9 reeks of Prussian rigor: “All are obligated to strictly adhere to socialist law.” Article 229 seeks to drive a nail in the coffin of hope: “In no case will the pronouncements be reformed regarding the irrevocability of the socialism system established in Article 4.”

Such absolutist phrases are to be expected from a totalitarian regime, but the question cannot quite be erased: What will happen next? Is it possible that among the younger Cuban communists a Gorbachev lurks, itching to move forward with some tropical perestroika? Is it possible that the junta could be overthrown, somehow, in traditional Latin fashion? Theoretically, one must suppose, anything is possible.

The natives are restless, for sure, trapped in a nightmare scenario. The pandemic is raging and has all but killed Cuba’s tourist industry. The flow of free oil from Venezuela has become a trickle. The economy is in a nosedive; food is in short supply, and waiting in line has become an exhausting daily routine. Dissidents seem to be growing bolder, despite brutal repression. Daring young artists have staged protests, too, despite arrests and physical attacks on them from the minister of culture himself.

So, theoretically, yes, change is possible. But as any good historian or insurance actuary will tell you, theoretical possibilities fall into the realm of faith rather than reason, and it is safest not to expect miracles. Given all that has been set into place in Cuba, change is not likely any time soon, so the safest bet is to be highly skeptical.

Being Cuban, I must admit, my skepticism might be healthy. But it is tinged by equal measures of anger and despair.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/04/20/raul-castro-leave-power-cuba-wont-bring-change/

Richmond Times-Dispatch, April 20, 2021

Communist crossroad

Cristina Lopez-Gottardi Chao column: Cuba’s latest inflection point

On Monday, Raul Castro (right) raised the hand of Miguel Diaz-Canel after Diaz-Canel was elected First Secretary of the Communist Party at the closing session of Cuban Communist Party’s 8th Congress at the Convention Palace in Havana .Associated Pre…

On Monday, Raul Castro (right) raised the hand of Miguel Diaz-Canel after Diaz-Canel was elected First Secretary of the Communist Party at the closing session of Cuban Communist Party’s 8th Congress at the Convention Palace in Havana .Associated Press.

By Cristina Lopez-Gottardi Chao

This week marked the close of Cuba’s eighth Communist Party Congress, held every five years to announce important political and policy shifts. And this year’s came at a complicated time for the island nation.

Domestically, Raul Castro — who now is 89 years old — announced his retirement from his position as head of the Politburo, leaving the island then fully in the hands of the current Cuban President, Miguel Diaz-Canel.

Though a family succession would have been expected, Diaz-Canel nevertheless is likely to continue the decadeslong party line. As such, this is a symbolic if not significant shift that will mark the end of the Castro brothers’ 62-year political and ideological reign over Cuba.

The Congress also came at a time of worsening economic conditions and mounting internal pressure. In 2020, Cuba’s economy experienced significant contraction, declining an estimated 11%, according to government sources.

Though much of the contraction was due to pandemic-related declines in Cuba’s tourist sector and to the loss of Venezuelan economic support, there also has been a continued government reluctance to fully open the economy to private business.

In 2010, Raul Castro announced the need for changes to the Cuban economy that would strengthen socialism, not replace it. These reforms were intended to include shrinking of state payrolls in tandem with liberalization of the private sector.

And while some adjustments were made with the “legalization” of numerous economic activities, Cuba’s socialist government cautiously and unevenly has moved over the past decade, thus stifling the economy’s potential growth.

Also internally, a steady dissident sector led by the San Isidro Movement is exhibiting a boldness not seen in some time.

Though largely composed of artists and musicians, there appears to be a renewed and broad sense of shared frustration among Cuban citizens regarding both their economic desperation, and their yearning for political and civil liberties. How the Cuban government manages this opposition will be an important indication of their willingness to address the current crisis.

In terms of U.S. policy going forward, talk of a return to an Obama-era opening appears to be on pause for now — and for good reason. The San Isidro movement has brought to light the state’s continued repressive hold on society and the regime’s long-held reluctance to loosen its grip.

While many hoped that former President Barack Obama’s détente would lead to greater freedoms for civil society, in reality little in U.S. policy at the time demanded it, and so President Joe Biden is right to take note and chart it more cautiously.

The Biden administration also likely is motivated by a continued political reality: the Cuban American vote in Florida. According to a recent survey of this voting cohort, 66% indicated they do not favor a return to Obama’s re-engagement policies, likely due to rising human rights concerns.

This is up a meaningful 17% from a similar survey of Cuban American voters in 2015. Thus, there both is a political imperative and a moral imperative that human rights be central to any approach Biden pursues.

For the time being, there are indications that Biden will move forward with greater flexibility regarding remittances and more expansive travel allowances. The administration also faces a decision regarding Cuba’s status as a state sponsor of terrorism, a designation Obama removed and former President Donald Trump reinstated during his last month in office.

What is not yet clear is whether the Biden administration also might approach Cuba as part of a broader, coordinated strategy toward a handful of troubled Latin American democracies — a hallmark of the Trump presidency in the region.

In particular, the Trump administration collectively referred to Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua as the “troika of tyranny” and in 2019, it announced a series of related sanctions against them. Presently, there is little to indicate that Biden will do the same, but with more pressing domestic matters to address at the moment, only time will tell.

Cuba is at an inflection point both internally and in regard to U.S. policy going forward. As Raul Castro steps down as leader of Cuba’s Communist Party, Diaz-Canel faces several critical choices. In particular, he will need to address the island’s worsening economic crisis and whether he’ll move to truly open the economy as announced a decade ago.

He also will need to manage and hopefully meaningfully respond to growing citizen frustrations and the challenge posed by the San Isidro dissident movement.

The Biden administration also faces an important opportunity to put human rights front and center to any future U.S. approach. The degree to which these matters are addressed, in the aftermath of this year’s Communist Party Congress, will have observers both on the island and across the Florida straits listening closely.

Cristina Lopez-Gottardi Chao, Ph.D., is an assistant professor and research director for public and policy programs at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center.

https://richmond.com/opinion/columnists/cristina-lopez-gottardi-chao-column-cuba-s-latest-inflection-point/article_eafb7821-43c1-5b67-bc71-59c2b9125172.html

From the Archives

Americas Quarterly, December 15, 2020

Cuba’s Racial Reckoning, and What It Means for Biden

By Javier Corrales | December 15, 2020

Recent protests have challenged longstanding taboos, with unpredictable consequences for the regime.

Protesters gather at Cuba's culture ministry on Nov. 27 YAMIL LAGE/AFP via Getty Images

Protesters gather at Cuba’s culture ministry on Nov. 27 YAMIL LAGE/AFP via Getty Images

At the end of November, a group of approximately 500 Cubans staged a small protest outside the Ministry of Culture. This group, now called the N27, demanded the end to the permanent harassment directed toward a young social movement of mostly Afro-Cuban artists and musicians called the San Isidro Movement.

Like the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States, the N27 protest was sparked by police brutality against Afro-Cubans. The focal incident was the arrest of rapper Denis Solís, one of San Isidro’s members. The incident was caught on a cell phone video which went viral on social media, prompting an outpouring of public dismay – and strong support for Solís and his defenders. Some backing came from the usual suspects, well-known dissident figures. But it also appears to have caught the imagination of newcomers: Artists, intellectuals, and even clergy members who have traditionally been partial to the Cuban regime. 

Also like Black Lives Matter, the Cuban protest experienced an expansion of its demands. What began as a modest call for more respect for the movement’s autonomy and the liberation of Solís has now become a protest against the entire Cuban system. Meanwhile, the timing – just as a new U.S. president is about to take office – raises questions about how Washington should respond, if at all.

It’s important to understand the magnitude of what the movement is attempting to accomplish. They are challenging three of Cuba’s largest historical norms.

The first norm is the ban on group protests. In Cuba, it is never OK to protest in groups. An individual can protest solo at a party-sponsored event, at a meeting of a committee for the defense of the revolution, or even in the workplace. You can complain about corruption, bureaucracy, shoddy public services and management decisions. What you cannot do is organize a group on behalf of your demand. More than freedom of expression, the Cuban government goes after freedom of association. The moment two or more people join in protest, security forces act swiftly, decisively and often brutally. The result is that associational life in Cuba remains incipient, small and vulnerable, which is quite an exception in a region recognized worldwide as having some of the most powerful social movements in the world.

The second norm that the N27 movement is defying is the ban on complaints about the system, or more specifically, about Cuba’s system of discipline. The Cuban regime, like most mature dictatorships, has updated its system of discipline to the information age. The killings, firing squads, mass indoctrination and long-term imprisonment of its initial decades have been replaced or supplemented with public forms of character assassination, open threats to family members, careful monitoring of media posts, control of job opportunities, and short-term detentions. The N27 movement is calling for an end to this system of discipline.

The size of the protest may be micro, but its demands are now anything but. By defying these norms, the N27 could very well be going too far.  After all, the ban on associations and the over-reliance on discipline are the only things keeping this ancient regime alive.

Meanwhile, the N27 movement is also taking on a third and final norm: It is mounting an attack on the system by placing the issue of racial justice front and center. 

It is shocking that Cuba, a country with such a long and well-documented history of racism, has been so nonchalant about racial injustice. The Cuban Revolution, like many other Latin American regimes of the 20th century, embraced the mythology of racial equality. The thinking went: It is the Americans who are racists and segregationists; we in contrast embrace our mixed heritage. In Cuba, the myth of racial equality was reinforced by the government’s argument that capitalism is the source of racism and education, its antidote. Eliminate capitalism and provide education for all, and you solve racism. 

Historically, anyone in Cuba challenging this sacrosanct discourse of racial triumph would be summarily dismissed, often quite literally. In 2013, Roberto Zurbano, a literary editor who dared to publish an op-ed in The New York Times entitled “For Blacks in Cuba, the Revolution Hasn’t Begun,” was dismissed from his job.

Of course, Zurbano was right. Racism is not tied to one type of economy or addressable with only one type of policy. And yet, Cuba has refused to move beyond this facile approach to racism. For years, the country’s leadership remained very white. It was almost as if they were saying: “Racial representation: Who needs it?”

Although things have changed a bit at the level of representation in recent years, the changes remain minor. Yes, more Black officials are now part of the leadership, but Black Cubans continue to be excluded from the new economic model, as Zurbano argued. Most jobs in the foreign sector go to white Cubans (los “presentables”, some call them). Most opportunities to migrate, and thus, to get remittances, go to white Cubans. Consequently, racism has remained disproportionately indecent. 

The current protest in Cuba is certainly not the first, nor the largest, nor the most daring ever to take place in post-Soviet Cuba. In the early 2000s, the Varela project, an effort calling for democratic reforms, collected more than 11,000 signatures before its leaders were repressed or killed. Since 2003, the Ladies in White, a group of mothers, wives, and female relatives of political prisoners, have been staging marches across Cuba. They too have been arrested or harassed by government-sponsored mobs.

What is new about the N27 movement is its attempt to call out the system by also calling out the system’s racism. Like a sister movement also hoping to break in, the autonomous LGBT movement in Cuba, the N27 faces the obvious challenge of all contemporary identity politics movements: To build a cross-class societal coalition in a nation where majorities are complacent about this form of inequity. Gaining international support is also, of course, a challenge.

President-elect Joe Biden’s administration, which comes into office better informed than its predecessor about the importance of identity politics, racial justice and sexuality demands, ought to be prepared to handle this new chapter in Cuba’s history. 

The choice should not be the stale debate between redoubling or removing U.S. sanctions. Biden needs to abandon the fruitless binary that has characterized the last decade of U.S. foreign policy toward Cuba. President Donald Trump’s policy of “maximum pressure” produced two undesirable goals: entrenchment of both the leadership and the humanitarian crisis. And former President Barack Obama’s policy of concessions toward Cuba without a quid pro quo produced an easy pass for Cuba’s repressors. These binary approaches didn’t work. 

Biden faces the opportunity to turn economic sanctions into negotiating tools. These tools need to be calibrated in response to changes by Cuban authorities, something Obama was unwilling to do. Biden also faces an opportunity to create a stronger international coalition of leftists to bring pressure on the Cuban regime, something Trump had no moral authority (or desire) to organize.

Biden could very well deliver. He seems to have enough experience with realpolitik to transform, rather than end, the sanctions regime. He also has the international credentials to build a coalition of the left, rather than just the right, to support his efforts.

Corrales is a professor of political science at Amherst College and member of the editorial board of Americas Quarterly.

Tags: Biden, Black Lives Matter, N27, San Isidro, Social movementsAny opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect those of Americas Quarterly or its publishers.

https://americasquarterly.org/article/cubas-racial-reckoning-and-what-it-means-for-biden/

Reuters, June 30, 2020 

Cuba prevents protest over police killing of Black man

HAVANA (Reuters) – A raft of Cuban dissidents, artists and journalists said on Tuesday that state security agents had staked out their homes to prevent them from attending planned protests over the killing by police of a young Black man.

At least 40 dissident activists were also detained by police, according to exiled rights group Cubalex, with some later released.

Those included performance artist Tania Bruguera in Havana and the leader of Cuba’s most active opposition group, Jose Daniel Ferrer, who had been under house arrest in the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba.

Cuba does not usually comment on the detention of dissidents, which would give them more publicity. The government did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

No would-be protesters appeared able to make it to the site of what was supposed to be the main demonstration in Havana which was full of security forces. Some said state telecoms monopoly ETECSA had cut their mobile internet service overnight.

Protests against the state are rare in a country where public spaces are tightly controlled and Communist authorities are quick to crack down on dissent.

The calls for protests on Tuesday were triggered by news last week that police had shot and killed a 27-year-old unarmed Black man, Hansel Hernandez.

A woman who identified herself as his aunt denounced the killing on social media and called for justice, grabbing attention amid protests against police violence and racism in the United States.

For three days, authorities did not comment. But on Saturday, Cuba’s Interior Ministry issued a statement saying police had been chasing Hernandez, who had done jail time previously for other crimes.

Hernandez, who had committed an act of vandalism, started throwing stones at police as they chased him and hit one officer in the shoulder, throwing him to the ground, the statement said.

The officer shot Hernandez after firing off two warning shots, the statement said, adding that he acted in self defense and without the intent of killing him.

The Interior Ministry said it lamented his death.

Critics have denounced the government for not holding police to account by launching an investigation, especially given how quick officials have been to condemn U.S. police brutality, with extensive coverage in state media of the Black Lives Matter protests.

They also accuse the government more broadly of allowing police brutality and failing to adequately address racism in Cuba.

Cuba’s government prides itself on having improved the lives of Black Cubans by officially eliminating racial segregation after its 1959 revolution and providing universal access to education and healthcare.

But anti-racism activists say that by acting as if the issue of racism were resolved and suppressing debate over it, the government has prevented the steps needed to fully eradicate it.

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-cuba-racism-protests/cuba-prevents-protest-over-police-killing-of-black-man-idUSKBN2413R5