The Bad Luck of Being Black in Cuba
The Bad Luck of Being Black in Cuba / Ivan Garcia
Posted on September 12, 2015
Ivan Garcia, 11 September 2015 — It was already duck on an extremely hot
day without a hint of a breeze, when a white Mercedes Benz van with the
blue top of the national police pulled up alongside Red Plaza in Vibora,
a neighborhood half an hour by car from the center of Havana.
Just after midnight, dozens of adults, young people and teens walked
toward their homes or huddled on the corners, after the end of one of
the frequent reggaeton and salsa music parties sponsored by the local
branch of the Ministry of Culture.
The pretext for organizing these parties could be anything. The end of
summer, a symbolic date of the Revolution, or a way to collect thousands
of pesos selling beer on tap and light snacks to the residents on the
edge of the capital, mostly blacks and mixed-race and with few
After the timba ends and the drums stop, the good part starts. Brawls
with knives, sex in any corner, urinating in the street, drunk and
feisty, after the party.
Policing is welcome. What is reprehensible is the method. Their modus
operandi is openly racist. A dozen blacks are sitting in the van, some
of them handcuffed, waiting to he hauled off to a police station.
“It’s always the same. We blacks are the target. Even though we are
carrying our identify cards and don’t have a criminal record, they load
us up. At the station they put us in the stinking cells and let us go in
the morning. I don’t know what their point is with these raids. It seems
like all the criminals in Cuba are black or mixed-race,” Moises says
with disgust, himself a high school student who has suffered these quick
arrests on occasion.
Although the government press doesn’t publish statistics, Reinerio, a
guard in the maximum security prison Combinado del Este, on the
outskirts of Havana, says that “70 or 80 percent of the common prisoners
are blacks or mixed-race.”
According to the regime, the prison population on the island has risen
to 57,000 inmates. The Commission on Human Rights, headed by Elizardo
Sanchez Santa Cruz, says that there are about 200 prisons in Cuba and
about 80,000 inmates.
On three occasions, Daniel has been the guest of the harsh prisons on
the island. “On two of those occasions I hadn’t committed any crime. To
the authorities, I was a suspect just for being black, unemployed and
having a criminal record.”
Carlos, a sociologist, thinks that the racism practiced in diverse Cuban
institutions is a concern. “Discrimination because of the color of one’s
skin is a longstanding issue. It goes back to 1886 when slavery was
abolished. Blacks emerged at a disadvantage. They didn’t own property,
had no money, and the majority were illiterate. During the Republic,
policies were developed to integrate them. But racial apartheid remained
in diverse segments of the society.”
According to Carlos, Fidel Castro though he could solve the problem with
decrees and good intentions. “But it hasn’t worked that way. In addition
to racism, there exists in the population something that can’t be
legislated, institutions like the police, tourism, civil aviation and
the media, have segregationist practices.”
The sociologist believes that when it comes time to fill out the
paperwork for getting a job going to the University, the question about
skin color should be eliminated. “In more racist societies than Cuba,
they have removed that data,” he says.
When you look at the tourist resorts on the Island you will observe that
the best jobs are usually occupied by whites. “Blacks are relegated to
the kitchen, cleaning floors, or being maids. That’s the reality,” says
an employee of the Las Dunas Hotel in Cayo Santa Maria in Villa Clara
The same thing happens in public office. Although the regime has put
make up on the Central Committee and the monotone Cuban parliament with
black or brown paint, the important executive positions are held by whites.
“Blacks were important in the African wars that Cuba engaged in the
1960s, 1970s and 1980s. Always as cannon fodder. For every ten senior
white officers there were two blacks. With the generals, the differences
were even greater,” says Rene, a former officer in the armed forces.
Luis Alberto, who graduated with highest honors from the foreign
language school, relates how on going to a five-star Havana hotel that
was hiring tour guides, he experienced racial discrimination.
“The head of personal told me to wait at home for a phone call to start
working. They never called me. A friend who worked there told me why:
when I left, the guy commented, ’That ugly black guy would scare the
tourists’,” said Luis Alberto.
The worst was that everyone present laughed at the boss’s “joke.”
Source: The Bad Luck of Being Black in Cuba / Ivan Garcia | Translating