Race in Cuba

Letter from Abdias Nascimento

Declaration of African-American Support


Reverse images: The acrimonious debate on race in Cuba (12/15/2009)

Laying the Groundwork for another 1912 (12/08/2009)

A Missed Shot on the Wrong Flank (12/09)

Other Commentaries

A new discussion on race in Cuba began in 2009 with a letter from Abdias Nascimento of the Afro-Brazilian Sudies and Research Institute,
criticizing Cuba's treatment of an Afro-Cuban dissident, and was followed by another letter signed by a number of prominent African-Americans (both letters are linked to on the sidebar). It was followed by a response from Cuba (reproduced below) as well as numerous analyses and articles.

In addition, a petition initiated by the Minnesota Cuba Committee, entitled "In Solidarity with the Real Anti-Racist Movement in Cuba"was initiated.

Links to other comments and analyses are on the sidebar. AfroCubaWeb has also compiled a wealth of information on the discussion.


 A Yoruba proverb states: "The lie may run for a year, the truth will catch
 up with it one day". Although the most intolerant political circles and most
 powerful mass media have tried to impose a distorted image of contemporary
 Cuban society on American public opinion for a long time, one way or
 another, in the end, reality leads the way.

 We are sure that's the way it will happen when the arguments refuting those
 deceitful statements about our society contained in a document circulated on
 December 1st in the name of a group of Afro-American intellectuals and
 leaders are considered.

 To say that among us there is a "callous disregard" for black Cubans, that
 they are "den[ied] civil liberties on the basis of race," and to "stop the
 unwarranted and brutal harassment of black citizens in Cuba who are
 defending their civil rights," would seem a delusional farce if the evil
 intention of adding respectable voices from the Afro-American community to
 the anti-Cuban campaign that attempts to undermine our sovereignty and
 identity were not behind those fictions.

 If the Cuba of these times was that racist nation they want to invent, its
 citizens would not have contributed massively to the liberation of the
 African people. More than 350,000 Cuban volunteers fought alongside their
 brothers of Africa against Colonialism. More than 2,000 combatants from the
 Island fell in the lands of that Continent. A personality of undisputed
 worldwide import, 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 the Cuba of today felt such disrespect for the black race, more than
 35,000 African young persons wouldn't have been trained 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 sick with racism would refuse to collaborate in the training of
 medical doctors and other human resources for health at the Schools of
 Medical Sciences founded in Guinea Bissau, Equatorial Guinea, Gambia, and

 It would have turned its back on the health assistance programs that have
 saved thousands of lives in Latin America and the Caribbean, where the
 African Diaspora is significant, and they would have not provided services
 to the more than 20,000 Haitians and English speaking Afro-Caribbeans who
 recovered their eyesight through surgical operations performed in our
 country, free of charge.

 It is very probable that the majority of those who signed the document
 aren't aware that when the City of New Orleans was devastated by Hurricane
 Katrina, dozens of Cuban medical doctors and paramedics volunteered to
 provide help to storm victims in a humanitarian gesture that received no
 response from the American authorities.

 It is probable that those who signed the document also ignore the fact that
 from the earliest days following the popular victory of 1959, the
 institutional and legal bases that sustained a racist society were
 dismantled. In 1959 the Cuban Revolution found a critical situation in the
 majority of the population. Cubans of African descent, who were among the
 victims that suffered most from the Neo-colonial model that existed here,
 immediately benefited from the battle carried out by the Revolution which
 put an end to any form of exclusion, including the fierce racism that
 characterized Cuba during those years.

 Cuba's policy against any form of discrimination and in favor of equality,
 has Constitutional backing, found explicitly in the chapters of the Cuban
 Constitution that refer to the essential political, social and economic
 foundations of the State, and about the rights and obligations and
 guarantees of its citizens.

 These Constitutional Rights, as well as the mechanisms and means to uphold
 them and the restoration of legality before any violation of them, are
 guaranteed by means of very precise complementary legislation. As never
 before in the history of our nation, black and mixed-race Cubans have found
 opportunities for social and personal development in transformative
 processes that have been ongoing for the past half a century.

 These opportunities are conveyed through policies and programs that made
 possible the initiation of what Cuban Anthropologist Don Fernando Ortiz
 called the non-deferrable integration phase of Cuban society. It is a
 process, we know, that is not exempt from conflicts and contradictions on
 which inherited social disadvantages and deeply-rooted prejudices play an
 important role.

 Six years ago, Fidel Castro, in a dialog that took place in Havana with
 Cuban and foreign pedagogues, commented how "even in societies like Cuba,
 that arose from a radical social revolution where the people had reached
 full and total legal equality and a level of revolutionary education that
 interred the subjective component of discrimination, it does exist in
 another form," He described it as objective discrimination, a phenomenon
 associated with poverty and a historical monopoly on knowledge.

 Whoever observes daily life anywhere in the country will be able to see how
 a sustained effort is underway to bring an end to the factors that provide
 the conditions for that situation through new programs oriented towards
 eliminating any social disadvantage.

 Afro-American intellectuals must know how their Cuban colleagues have dealt
 with these topics and promote actions from the prominent position they hold
 in civil society.

 Some of the programs to which we have made previous references came into
 being as a result of the debates that took place in 1998 during the VI
 Congress of the Cuban Association of Writers and Artists (UNEAC), in an open
 and sincere dialog with the State's highest 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 President and founder,
 a black poet, Nicolas Guillen, one of the most important poets in the
 Spanish language during the 20th century, an active fighter against racial
 discrimination, and personal friend of Langston Hughes and Paul Robeson.

 Within UNEAC, an organization that never turned its back on these problems,
 a permanent Committee has been created to fight against any remains of
 discrimination and racial prejudices from a cultural perspective.

 In a racist country it would be inconceivable to found and operate
 institutions like the House of Africa, the Fernando Ortiz Foundation, the
 House of the Caribbean of Santiago de Cuba, the Center of Caribbean Studies
 of the House of the Americas, and the National Institute of Anthropology,
 which, among others, conducts in-depth research into the African legacy in
 our culture and interracial relations in our country.

 Likewise, artistic organizations and entities such as the National Folklore
 Group, the Camagüey Folkloric Ballet, and the Oriente Folkloric Group would
 not have received support and the most widespread social recognition.

 The Museum of the Slave Route would not have existed. The first of its kind
 in Latin America and the Caribbean, The Museum is one of the first results
 of Cuba's commitment to the UNESCO-sponsored program to vindicate the
 contribution 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 celebration of
 the 100th Anniversary of the founding of the Party of Black Independents
 would have been nothing but a rhetorical gesture. The celebration was based
 on recovering the historical memory of that stage of struggle by and
 aspirations of the Cuban people for their rights and liberation from all
 forms of domination.

 Genuine bearers of traditional musical culture much appreciated by the
 American public like "Los Muñequitos de Matanzas," "Yoruba Andabo" and
 "Clave y Guaguanco," would be working as parking lot attendants, shoe
 shiners and domestic labor were their extraordinary values not 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, the Nigerian Nobel Prize Laureate
 Wole Soyinka declared: "It is difficult to find any other place in the
 Western Hemisphere where the quest to learn about African writers transcends
 the interest of the academic institutions, as I have seen here."

 Cuban artists and intellectuals are thankful for the solidarity, the
 comprehension and respect many Afro-American personalities have shown
 towards the Cuban reality during a half century. We have never asked them to
 share our political ideas, nor have we put conditions on the dialog, or any
 type of support or backing. From a most basic sense of ethics, we respect
 their points of view.

 Perhaps it would be opportune for those who signed the declaration about
 which we are commenting to listen, without prejudice, to this criteria. We
 are sure that by doing so, as the Yoruba saying proclaims: "the truth will
 have its day."

 La Habana, December 3, 2009

 Nancy Morejon, Poet and Essayist
 Miguel Barnet, Poet and Anthropologist
 Esteban Morales, Politologist and Essayist
 Eduardo Roca (Choco), Artist
 Heriberto Feraudy, Historian and Essayist
 Rogelio Martinez Fure, Africanist
 Pedro de la Hoz, Journalist and Essayist
 Fernando Martinez Heredia, Sociologist and Essayist
 Omara Portuondo, artist