Breaking the status quo

Racism persists in Cuba

March 24th, 2013 | Posted by Alex in Cuban entrepreneurs | Cuban reforms

The private sector in Cuba now enjoys a certain degree of economic liberation, but blacks are not well positioned to take advantage of it. We inherited more than three centuries of slavery during the Spanish colonial era. Racial exclusion continued after Cuba became independent in 1902, and a half century of revolution since 1959 has been unable to overcome it.

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In the New York Times.

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10 Responses

  • May says:

    After reading the commentary written by Roberto Zurbano, I was inspired to learn more about the author. A quick search did not produce a full biography, but it appears he lives in Cuba and is working in an open space within the framework of the Cuban system. This may be a premature assumption, but he is openly critical of the system, travels abroad, and has not been “arrested” or “violently beaten” by Cuban agents. Perhaps the key to productive dissent in Cuba is not asking a foreign HOSTILE government to intervene in the country’s domestic affairs.

    Tomás Fernández Robaina, Gloria Rolando, and Roberto Zurbano are three leading members of the new Afro-Cuban cultural and social movement that is currently shaping debates about race, culture, and nation in Cuba. Those debates have intensified in recent times, as Cubans commemorate the centennial of the destruction of the Partido Independiente de Color, a black national party that was created in 1908 and dismantled, in a wave of racist repression, in 1912.

    A writer, literary scholar, and critic, Zurbano (Casa de las Américas) is the Director of Movimiento: La Revista Cubana de Hip Hop, edited by the Agencia Cubana de Rap and devoted to covering and publicizing the hip hop movement in Cuba.

    Eastern Connecticut State University will host author, scholar and cultural critic Roberto Zubano to talk on “Hip Hop and Race” on Oct. 23 in selected Performing and Visual Arts classes on campus.
    Zurbano is the editor/publisher of “Casa de las Americas,” a Havana, Cuba-based magazine that publishes the work of writers, artists, musicians, playwrights and scholars of literature and the arts, as well as social sciences of Latin America and the Caribbean.
    Zurbano is a graduate of the University of Havana. He completed advance studies at the Casa de las Américas, Instituto de Literatura y Lingüística de Cuba and the Sorbonne in Paris, France. He has published numerous books including, “Elogio del Lector,” “Ramón Rubiera. Un Astro Ilusorio,” “La Poética de Los Noventa” and “Los estados Nacientes: Literatura Cubana y Postmodernidad.”
    Cuba’s unique political and economic model may have cut many off from the Internet and other global phenomena, but they haven’t insulated the island from all of the region’s trends, said Roberto Zurbano, a promoter at the government-run cultural institute Casa de las Americas. Reggaeton’s popularity on the island is a product of those influences, he said.
    “Reggaeton is a music that very much reflects the era, an era of marginalization,” Zurbano said. “In general reggaeton is about the poor people of the Caribbean, with its poverty, violence, precariousness, machismo, the avalanche of television, consumerism, the lack of values.”

  • Alex says:

    You’d have to define “productive”, in “productive dissent”. Or continue to use the crutch of US hostility that has been used to justify everything from harebrained economic policy to brutal suppression of dissent.

  • May says:

    It is damaging to Cuban society when you callously overlook decades of well-documented USG aggression. If you are interested in “breaking the status quo”, you are going to have to learn how to discuss the issues without getting testy. If you disagree with comments, counteract with facts and not emotionally driven narrow-mindedness.

    The definition of “productive dissent” is useful political opposition to a government or its policies. You should also take into consideration the “brutal suppression of dissent” in Cuba pales in comparison to the Homeland Security apparatus the USG employs. Perhaps you need to look in your own backyard before you start throwing stones at Cuba.

    The purpose of my original comment was to point out that Roberto Zurbano’s accomplishments indicate that “open spaces” do exist within the framework of the Cuban system. Do you agree?

  • Alex says:

    If asking you for a definition of a concept that does not exist in reality — exactly what dissent is considered “productive” or “useful” by the Cuban government, when all they do is try to delegitimize it as foreign-financed or not representative of the majority– is “getting testy”, maybe you can take a look at your shoulder and remove the large chip that I suspect resides there.

    Particulary since even the most cursory reading of this blog proves that we do not support, much less “callously ignore” the detrimental policies of the US government against Cuba. Yet, I do not subscribe to the viewpoint that everything Cuba does has to be compared to something the US does (and I always find fascinating when an opponent of “injerencismo” does this) especially if it’s only to be used as an excuse. Needless to say I do not agree that the repressive activities of the Cuban regime “pale in comparison” with Homeland Security. But feel free to list a litany of complaints about the latter while justifying the former.

    As for Zurbano, he moves in both the official spaces, such as Casa de la Americas or UNEAC, and the unofficial or alternative such as the hip hop movement. (Some of these, such as la Agencia Cubana de Rap, have been controversial and seen by some as trying to co-opt and control a genuine alternative space.) This particular article was published in the NYT. If he’s able to publish it in Casa de las Americas, then you could say your premise was true. In any case, I’m less interested in the source and more in the content.

  • Omar says:


    Well, we are investing our time here because this blog certainly favors it. This is a good thing. But quite another is to say that the blog “do not support…the detrimental policies of the US government against Cuba” and for this to expect not to be considered “to overlook decades of well-documented USG aggression”. Compared to the golden standard of “Babalu”, it is indeed progress to consider the US policies toward Cuba “detrimental” and to allow some decent exchange of ideas. But again, “detrimental” is still far away from cruel and callous. The embargo is cruel and callous above everything else because its intention is to rotten things in Cuba beyond any possible resistance so that the populace erupts in a violent fight which is the only possible way in which the interests that promote the embargo can fulfill theirs maximalist agenda. Well the other way is to allow a Troy horse to cross the gates, which after half a century of successful resistance is very sad. Something like the worst version of Yoani, to be specific.

    Staying on the “frame of reference” mode: what do you mean by “brutal”? What are you comparing the defensive ways of the Cuban government with? By any regional standard that is not “brutal”. It is pretty mild indeed and any appearance of the contrary is nothing but the result of the amplifying capacity of the mass media conglomerate. Alex wasn’t with us when scores of left leaning Latinoamerican youngsters were tortured and disappeared. Or just now when syndicalist and peasant leaders are killed in Colombia, the land of the “false positives”. That is “brutal”, Alex.


  • Alex says:

    But the problem here is not to what extent I oppose the embargo or what epithets I use, the problem is that I don’t believe in using the embargo as an excuse to justify Cuban repression, their refusal to allow dissent or the slow pace of reforms. My position is that none of those are Trojan horses. Those are legitimate demands of a growing sector of the Cuban population that their government simply isn’t fulfilling.

    Comparing levels of brutality, or calling any repression “mild” is just another, even more perverted way of justification.

  • Omar says:

    It won’t work Alex. Unless the aggression ends, no one can ask the victim to renounce to defend herself.
    The problem is being stated in different terms but at the end its the same. Yoani is an staged show, to say the least.
    One can say this or that. One can call it and excuse, or paranoia, or whatever but the immutable truth is the aggression, man.
    I do hope this can be solved by peaceful means but not at any cost. We have gone too far for spreading our legs now. We have gone well beyond what even the most optimistic (a.k.a. Fidel) believed it could be possible.
    It has been quite a journey.
    Have a good night.


  • May says:

    The embargo is not being used as an excuse to justify Cuban repression. The civil liberty restrictions Cuban face are caused by the $150 million spent on Helms-Burton/Section 109 democracy programs.
    To qualify for program assistance, Cuban dissident movements must be anti-GOC and pro-USG involvement. Dissidents that dialogue or cooperate with government entities are not eligible for program assistance. Dissenters that qualify for assistance are required to collaborate and receive aid from hard-line, fund pilfering Cuban-American groups. It guarantees that Cuban dissidents will be arrested for violating the “Law for the Protection of National Independence and the Economy of Cuba”. The dissident arrests are exploited by hard-line Cuban-American groups, hoping to persuade the global community that a USG-sponsored, democracy building intervention is needed in Cuba.
    Civil liberties will flourish in Cuba when the USG reforms Section 109 qualification guidelines to exclude groups with known ties to terrorists, and when the programs promote collaboration and dialogue with the GOC. Imagine if $150 million was spent on building bridges and not destabilization programs.
    We can blame the embargo and the “State Sponsor of Terrorism” designation for the slow pace of reforms. USG policies that isolate Cuba from the world economy severely cripple Cuba’s economic growth and create devastating hardships for the Cuban people.
    Please keep in mind, these are not cheap suspicions, this is information is grounded in facts.
    1996 Helms-Burton Act Section 109 – Authorization of support for democratic and human rights groups and international observers.
    Law 88- the Law for the Protection of National Independence and the Economy of Cuba. Under the law, Cubans who collaborate with media organizations seen as promoting U.S. policy can get up to five years in prison. People who disturb the public order and aid the U.S. “economic war” on Cuba can also be punished. Dissident leaders can be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison.”
    Information on USG suppression of dissident movements-
    FBI Documents Reveal Secret Nationwide Occupy Monitoring
    “the FBI treated the Occupy movement as a potential criminal and terrorist threat even though the agency acknowledges in documents that organizers explicitly called for peaceful protest and did “not condone the use of violence” at occupy protests.
    The PCJF has obtained heavily redacted documents showing that FBI offices and agents around the country were in high gear conducting surveillance against the movement even as early as August 2011, a month prior to the establishment of the OWS encampment in Zuccotti Park and other Occupy actions around the country.
    “This production, which we believe is just the tip of the iceberg, is a window into the nationwide scope of the FBI’s surveillance, monitoring, and reporting on peaceful protestors organizing with the Occupy movement,” stated Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, Executive Director of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF). “These documents show that the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security are treating protests against the corporate and banking structure of America as potential criminal and terrorist activity. These documents also show these federal agencies functioning as a de facto intelligence arm of Wall Street and Corporate America.”
    Redacted FBI file-

  • Omar says:

    Keep on, May, keep on. When you said 150 millions to build bridges I automatically connected to the huge investment required to refurbish the water and disposal systems in Havana. I’m obsessed with that. That would be a real help specially if made upfront and through the Cuban government. At he same time, accepting such a thing would certainly be a concession, because it can easily be interpreted as a image washing gift by the same who has a major share of the responsibility in the difficulty of the Cubans to fix the water problem in Havana.


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