Sunday, May 16, 2010

The fight against racism in Cuba goes viral

The fight against racism in Cuba goes viral
By Marlie Hall
9:28 AM on 05/14/2010
Tags: Afro Cubans, Cuba, Discrimination, Raul Castro

Rosa Parks refused to stand. Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream. Barack
Obama won the presidential election. America' s plight for racial
equality has had its struggles, its heroes and its progress. But on the
nearby island of Cuba, some say modern-day racism against blacks is
blatant, and fighting it isn't as simple as public protest.

According to Afro-Cuban activists, racism against blacks in Cuba is
systemic and institutional. They say, to this day, blacks are excluded
from tourism related jobs, relegated to poor housing, have poor access
to health care, are excluded from managerial positions and are more
likely to be imprisoned.

Carlos Moore is an Afro-Cuban activist who has spent his life writing
about racial injustice in Cuba and says race is the country's most
pressing issue. In 2008, he sent a scathing letter to Cuban leader Raul
Castro demanding racial reform. In it, he states: "You are a descendant
of Europeans born in Spain; I am a descendant of Africans born in the
Caribbean. We are both Cubans. However, being Cuban confers no specific
privilege on either of us as human beings".

It was a luxury of civil protest he could only afford to write while
exiled in Brazil. According to Moore, "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". He says a new generation of Cubans are looking at politics in
another way.

That new generation is going the way of the world wide web. Henry Gomez,
a White Cuban living in Florida, noticed that some of the most outspoken
voices against racism in Cuba are bloggers. So he founded Bloggers
United for Cuban Liberty (BUCL).

"We basically organize events, distribute press releases and try to
obtain coverage to counter the official propaganda coming from the Cuban
Government" states Gomez, a writer for Babalu, a website that he says is
the most widely read English language blog about Cuba.

Cuba was a former Spanish colony and the destination of hundreds of
African slaves. According to Gomez, the Cuban Revolution of 1959 did
little to liberate blacks. Since then, he says, former Dictator Fidel
Castro has been successful in portraying Cuba as a post-racial
egalitarian utopia. For example, Gomez says "Cuba began to develop the
tourist sector of the economy in the mid-90's and blacks were kept out
of many positions that interfaced directly with foreign visitors. Also,
blacks are extremely underrepresented in the higher echelons of the
Cuban government bureaucracy."

Countless blogs by Cuban writers seek to disprove so-called propaganda
authored by the Cuban government. The U.S. State Department estimates
Afro-Cubans make up 62 percent of the Cuban population. However, the
Cuban census registers that 65 percent of the population is White.

Gomez says the Cuban government pays lip service to the issue of race.
"It's frankly the government that is the biggest perpetrator of racism
in Cuba. As for Afro-Cuban opposition leaders, many of them are in jail
such as Dr. Darsi Ferrer and Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet. Both are Afro-Cuban
medical doctors who are rotting in Cuban prisons for their political
beliefs." Recently, an Afro-Cuban political prisoner, Orlando Zapata
Tamayo, died in prison after a lengthy hunger strike. "Remember, this is
a totalitarian dictatorship that has essentially remained unchanged for
51 years," added Gomez.

Last November, sixty African-American scholars and professionals
condemned the Cuban regime's apparent crackdown on the country's budding
civil-rights movement. They issued a statement called "Acting on Our
Conscience" which also called for the immediate release of imprisoned
Afro-Cuban civil rights leaders. Traditionally, many African-Americans
leaders sided with the Castro regime and condemned the United States,
which in the past, sought to topple the Cuban government. The public
rebuke of Castro's racial policies signed by prominent African-Americans
like Cornell West, Ruby Dee and Mario Van Peebles just to name a few,
may indicate a changing of the tide. However, pro-government Cubans
rejected allegations of racism and repression on the island, calling the
charges "delusional" and part of "an anti-Cuban campaign." They went on
to point out that Cuba outlawed discrimination in 1959 and promotes
Afro-Cuban culture through museums, music, dance and other institutions.

But the lack of acknowledgment by Cuba's government does little to
contain the movement of racial equality that is gaining momentum among
Cuban human rights activists who are using their computers as their main
weapon in the fight against racism. With each blog entry or letter, they
expose what they call one the most blatantly racist places in the world.

But at the same time they remain hopeful that some of the racial
progress seen in America can take root in Cuba as well. "I have no doubt
that when Cuba joins the world democracies that it will have many
Afro-Cuban leaders and presidents," says Gomez, who is leading the new
voice of Cuban Activists online. While Moore, who has spent the last
forty years in exile and published dozens of books and articles about
race relations in Cuba believes it threatens the Castro regime, as more
blacks in the country feel empowered by an Obama presidency in America.
He says, "Something is happening in Cuba, making them more paranoid than
usual on the race subject."

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