Racism in Cuba

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Racism in Cuba refers to racial discrimination against Afro-Cuban or mixed race communities.


The Cuban census reports that 65% of the population is white while foreign figures report an estimate of the number of whites at anywhere from 40 to 45 percent.[1][2][3] The Economist states that, although the population is now mainly mulatto and black, its rulers form "a mainly white gerontocracy".[2]


According to Voyages – The Transatlantic Slave Trade Database,[4] about 900,000 Africans were brought to Cuba as slaves. To compare, some 470,000 Africans were brought to what is now the United States, and 5,500,000 to the much vaster region of what is now Brazil. Slavery in Cuba was abolished in 1886, on a Royal Order by Regent Queen María Cristina of Spain.

According to a study by Marc Q. Sawyer, a scholar of political science and African-American studies, "great progress was made in race relations during the early years of the [socialist] revolution" in Cuba.[5] Reforms such as "extending assistance, services and literacy to the poor", lowering of rents and land reform was beneficial to blacks, since a disproportionate number of them were poor.[6] Besides, pressure was put on labor unions to admit black members, and official segregation was ended, as discrimination in housing was eliminated and private beaches and parks were opened to all regardless of race.[6] However, this was soon followed by a "stagnation" in racial attitudes.[5] More recently, as a free enterprise system in Cuba has emerged, blacks have found themselves at a disadvantage; they have had less opportunities to work in the profitable tourist branch because of the perceived tastes of Europeans, and they have been less able to start their own businesses because they rarely have emigrant relatives in the United States who could send them money.[7] Similarly, in housing, despite improvements, racial difference persists due to various causes, such as inequality in house ownership inherited from before the revolution and black people's "lack of resources and connections".[8] The Cuban blacks interviewed by Sawyer, even when they complained of racism and government policies, expressed their conviction that "things would be worse under the leadership of the Miami exile community or in the United States", and that "the revolution was done ... much" for them. This "provide[s] them with a reason to support the current regime".[9]

Esteban Morales Dominguez has pointed to institutionalized racism in his book "The Challenges of the Racial Problem in Cuba" (Fundación Fernando Ortiz). The book, which was published by Fundación Fernando Ortíz, a Cuban official publishing house, is allegedly banned in Cuba according to New America Media (even though it is featured in Fundación Fernando Ortíz's website as item #29 of their collection La Fuente Viva, and is even called an "official document" by Carlos Moore,[3] which would strongly indicate it is actually available in Cuba). A report from AfroCubaWeb disputes this claim about the ban on the book.[1][10]

A survey[year needed] showed that white Cubans believe that blacks are "less intelligent than whites" (58%) and "devoid of decency" (69%).[3] Racial Politics in Post-Revolutionary Cuba by Mark Q. Sawyer discusses the racial ideology prevalent in the country.[11]

According to anthropologists dispatched by the European Union, racism in Cuban is systemic and institutional.[1] Black people are systematically excluded from positions in tourism-related jobs, where they could earn tips in hard currencies.[1] According to the EU study, black people are relegated to poor housing, were excluded from managerial positions, received the lowest remittances from relatives abroad, and were five times more likely to be imprisoned. Blacks also complained of suffering the longest waits in healthcare.[1]

Esteban Morales Domínguez, a professor in the University of Havana, believes that "the absence of the debate on the racial problem already threatens {...} the revolution's social project".[12] Carlos Moore, who has written extensively on the issue, says that "there is an unstated threat, blacks in Cuba know that whenever you raise race in Cuba, you go to jail. Therefore the struggle in Cuba is different. There cannot be a civil rights movement. You will have instantly 10,000 black people dead".[12] He says that a new generation of black Cubans are looking at politics in another way.[12] Barack Obama's victory has raised disturbing questions about the institutional racism in Cuba.[1] The Economist noted, "The danger starts with his example: after all, a young, black, progressive politician has no chance of reaching the highest office in Cuba, although a majority of the island's people are black."[13]

Jorge Luis García Pérez, who was imprisoned for 17 years, states that "the authorities in my country have never tolerated that a black person oppose the regime. During the trial, the color of my skin aggravated the situation. Later when I was mistreated in prison by guards, they always referred to me as being black".[14]

As a black prisoner of conscience, Óscar Elías Biscet wrote to Coretta Scott King in January 1999, "They [black Cubans] have a very low political, economic, and judicial representation in contrast to the numerous prevailing black penal population. This situation is never publicly manifested by the government but is a component of Communism's subtle politics of segregation." Black Cubans such as Biscet and Jorge Luis García Pérez have been allegedly forcefully separated from their families for criticizing Fidel Castro.[15]

Anti-discrimination laws[edit]

Cuba's leader Fidel Castro was quoted as saying: "One of the most just battles that must be fought, a battle that must be emphasized more and more, which I might call the fourth battle—the battle to end racial discrimination at work centers. I repeat: the battle to end racial discrimination at work centers. Of all the forms of racial discrimination the worst is the one that limits the colored Cuban's access to jobs."[16] Castro pointed to the distinction between social segregation and employment, while placing great emphasis on correcting the latter.

In response to the large degree of racism in the job market, Castro issued anti-discrimination laws. In addition, he attempted to close the class gap between wealthy white Cubans and Afro-Cubans with a massive literacy campaign, among other egalitarian reforms in the early and mid-1960s.[17] Two years after his 1959 speech at the Havana Labor Rally, Castro declared that the age of racism and discrimination was over. In a speech given at the Confederation of Cuban Workers in observance of May Day, Castro declared that the "just laws of the Revolution ended unemployment, put an end to villages without hospitals and schools, enacted laws which ended discrimination, control by monopolies, humiliation, and the suffering of the people".[18] Some sources consider the claim to be premature.[19]


Research conducted by PhD researchers Yesilernis Peña, Jim Sidanius and Mark Sawyer in 2003 suggested that social discrimination was still prevalent, despite the low levels of economic discrimination.[20] After considering the issue solved, the Cuban government moved beyond the issue of racism. His[who?] message marked a shift in Cuban society's perception of racism that was triggered by the change in government focus.[19]

Many[who?] who argue that Cuba is not racist base their claims on the idea of Latin American Exceptionalism. According to this argument, a social history of intermarriage and mixing of the races is unique to Latin America. The large mestizo populations that result from high levels of interracial union common to the region are often linked to racial democracy. For many Cubans this translates into an argument of "racial harmony", often referred to as racial democracy. According to Mark Q. Sawyer, in the case of Cuba, ideas of Latin American Exceptionalism have delayed the progress of true racial harmony.[21]

Frommer's Cuba travel guidebook warns that black female tourists can have a hard time entering hotels and restaurants because they are sometimes mistaken for Cuban prostitutes by the security forces.[22]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f "'Obama Effect' Highlights Racism in Cuba". New America Media. December 15, 2008.[permanent dead link]
  2. ^ a b "The Cuban revolution at 50 - Heroic myth and prosaic failure". The Economist. December 30, 2008.
  3. ^ a b c Carlos Moore. "Why Cuba's white leaders feel threatened by Obama".
  4. ^ Voyages – The Transatlantic Slave Trade Database Archived 2013-10-27 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ a b Sawyer, p. 77
  6. ^ a b Sawyer, p. 57
  7. ^ Sawyer, p. 110-112
  8. ^ Sawyer, pp. 131–122[clarification needed]
  9. ^ Sawyer, pp. 130–131
  10. ^ Afrocubaweb.com
  11. ^ Mark Q. Sawyer, Racial Politics in Post-Revolutionary Cuba, Cambridge University Press, 2006. ISBN 0-521-84807-5, ISBN 978-0-521-84807-7
  12. ^ a b c "A barrier for Cuba's blacks". Miami Herald.
  13. ^ "Fifty years of the Castro regime – Time for a (long overdue) change". The Economist. December 30, 2008.
  14. ^ "Cuban former political prisoner Jorge Luis García Perez Antúnez: I felt death was very close several times".
  15. ^ "A Black Journalist Goes to Havana".
  16. ^ Speech at Havana Labor Rally. (Utexas.edu Transcript)
  17. ^ Perez, Louis A.: Cuba: Between Reform and Revolution, New York, NY. 2006, p. 326
  18. ^ Speech given by Fidel Castro on April 8, 1961. Text provided by Havana FIEL Network
  19. ^ a b Moore, C. 1995. Afro-Cubans and the Communist Revolution. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press.
  20. ^ Pena, Y., Jim Sidanis and Mark Sawyer. 2003. Racial Democracy in the Americas: A Latin and US Comparison. University of California, Los Angeles
  21. ^ Mark Sawyer. Racial Politics in Post-Revolutionary Cuba.
  22. ^ Eliot Greenspan, Neil E. Schlecht. Frommer's Cuba. p. 34.

Books and papers[edit]