The ‘denial, exclusion and repression of Afro-Cubans,’ 58 years after the Revolution


The ‘denial, exclusion and repression of Afro-Cubans,’ 58 years after the Revolution


Black Cubans. (IPS)

Black Cubans. (IPS)

Denial, Exclusion and Repression is the title of the report on the human rights situation faced by the Afro-Cuban population, drafted by the Citizens’ Committee for Racial Integration (CIR). The document was to be presented this month at the home of activist Aida Valdés, but this was impossible because this is “election” season, explained State Security agents to CIR members Juan Antonio Madrazo Luna (National Coordinator) and Marthadela Tamayo.

The report remains unknown to most of the Cuban population, particularly Afro-Cubans, who should be able to assess its content.

What will those who have access to the document read?

“Blacks live in the worst housing, have the hardest and worst-paid jobs, and receive between five and six times less in family remittances in dollars than their white compatriots.”This is not a statement by the CIR, but rather part of the response by Fidel Castro to journalist Ignacio Ramonet in 2006.

Almost five decades after he announced the end of racism in Cuba, the ruler was obliged to recognise that “the Revolution, despite the rights and guarantees achieved for all citizens of any ethnicity and origin, has not had the same success in the struggle to eradicate differences in the social and economic status of the country’s black population.”

Although Denial, Exclusion and Repression recognises the transformations undertaken by the Revolution in the interest of equality, it demonstrates that it was premature to announce the end of racism in 1962.

The report manifests the marginalisation of the Afro-Cuban population in the economic, political and social spheres. The “updating” of the economic model (which does not extend to Cuba’s political model) has provided new opportunities to improve the economy for citizens, but it has also entailed the aggravation of inequalities that leave Afro-Cubans clearly disadvantaged.

“The Afro-Cuban population has been excluded from the main labor mobility scenarios, as shown by several studies carried out by official institutions. These findings contradict the results of the National Population and Housing Census, which alleges that there are no significant differences according to skin color in terms of economic indicators,” said the document.

“The ‘new opportunities’ call for conditions that the Afro-Cuban population does not possess, as most do not have the capital to start entrepreneurial initiatives and to weather the uncertainties and challenges of the economy (…) they do not have movable or immovable property (housing, automobiles) permitting them to engage in the kind of economic activities that the State now allows,” states the CIR.

The official institutions cited are the CITMA, the Cuban Institute of Anthropology, the Center for Demographic Studies at the University of Havana, and the Institute of Genetics.

The CIR analyses the extent to which Afro-Cubans, both men and women, can actually exercise each of the rights contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, of which the Cuban State is a signatory. Many might argue that several of these rights are not enjoyed by any part of the Cuban population, such as the freedom of expression and opinion, the freedom of association and peaceful assembly, and free trade unionism. But one of the merits of the report is that it shows how these restrictions specifically impact Cuba’s Afro-descendant population.

The report is backed up by a database containing 145 cases of human rights violations suffered by Afro-Cubans.

A confrontation with the State?

Although the CIR critically analyses both the human rights situation of the Afro-Cuban population and institutional responses to this reality, it does not seek to confront the State. Its objective is for the State to take into account its analyses and recommendations in order to honor the commitments that Havana has taken on at the international level to eradicate racism and to promote debate on the subject.

More than a confrontation, the State should perceive the opportunity to work with civil society towards the common goal of eliminating racial discrimination in Cuba, aside from any ideological differences that may exist.

The Cuban state claims to be working with civil society organizations to eliminate racism. But the harassment and restrictions experienced by activists before, during and after the drafting of this report, as well as the lack of legal recognition for many organizations, reveal how the government continues to subordinate the racial issue to the Revolution and the aims of socialist society. Historically, this has only contributed to masking the problem and stigmatizing those who address it.

The persistence of racial disparities was recognized by Fidel Castro himself. His brother Raúl Castro, at a press conference in March of 2016, during the visit by US President Barack Obama, admitted that all human rights are not being honored in Cuba. Doesn’t this point to the need for a civil society that ensures respect for them?

All Cubans should have access to the CIR report, particularly those of African origin and the marginalized communities where the CIR worked. And the same may be said of the Havana report for the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The Government should facilitate public access to and discussion of them, with absolute freedom and no fear of reprisals.