One year after its approval by the Council of Ministers, in November of 2019, the National Racism and Racial Discrimination Program has outlined a plan to address the problem, the success of which depends on the integrated, comprehensive nature of its proposals and the shared responsibility of all involved.
Noteworthy, in the first place, is the political will of the country’s leadership. The government commission that directs the program is headed by President of the Republic Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, with 18 state agencies and an equal number of civil society organizations contributing. The Ministries of Culture, Foreign Affairs, as well as Science, Technology and Environment, are involved in the direct coordination of work, along with the Union of Cuban Writers and Artists.
Also significant are the scientific and conceptual foundations on which the program was designed, based on an initial diagnosis submitted to commission members for analysis.
The diagnosis included the contributions of the social sciences, abundant statistical information from various sources, numerous observations by agencies and organizations, as well as the experience and opinions of experts, intellectuals and activists.
Also incorporated were results of research on the Cuban population, carried out by the National Center of Medical Genetics, which scientifically demonstrates that, ethnically and culturally we are a Mestizo people, regardless of the color of our skin, the presence of European, African and Native American-Asian ancestral genes in our genome is irrefutable evidence that we are also biologically Mestizo.
A polyhedral, integral view of these problems, that affect Cuban society transversally, makes clear that required are public policies and specific measures for their definitive eradication.
Racism, as we well know, is a cultural construction of long standing in the evolution of humanity. It has been and remains a system of ideas that attempts to justify the exploitation and oppression of one human group over another.
In Cuba, as in the United States and in other lands on the continent, the brutal use of slave labor, taken by force from Africa for the economic development of European colonies, for the benefit of metropolises and nascent local oligarchies, was necessarily sustained by racism. The domination of one color of skin over another presupposed an irrevocable, irreversible dichotomy between superiority and inferiority, intelligence and inability, virtue and vice, beauty and ugliness.
But in Cuba, unlike the United States, the structural and institutional bases of racism were dealt a devastating blow by the process of revolutionary transformations begun in 1959, which inherited the anti-racist legacy of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, José Martí and Antonio Maceo (the founding fathers of the northern nation did not even consider abolishing slavery) of intellectuals and social rebels like Juan Gualberto Gómez, Gustavo Urrutia, Nicolás Guillén and Fernando Ortiz – who in the first six decades of the 20th century committed themselves to anti-racist action and thought, and the many Cuban men and women who, throughout various stages of the liberation struggle, made contributions to the effort, with the color of their skin presenting no impediment.
Unlike the United States, the Cuban nation was forged and recognizes itself on the basis of the diversity of our origins, of our country’s uniqueness as a cultural construct.
The anti-racist thinking of Comandante en jefe Fidel Castro, deeply rooted in Martí and Maceo’s ideas, the contributions of Army General Raúl Castro, and the combative tradition embodied by the revolutionary and intellectual vanguard, constitute strengths of the program, also supported by the Constitution and the current Penal Code.
Nevertheless, Fidel himself, when addressing an audience gathered on September 8, 2000 in a solidarity event at the Riverside Church, in the New York City neighborhood of Harlem, admitted: “I do not intend to present our country as a perfect model of equality and justice. We believed at the beginning that by establishing the most absolute equality before the law and absolute intolerance of any manifestation of sexual discrimination, in the case of women, and racial, in the case of ethnic minorities, these would disappear from our society. It took us some time to discover – I say it this way – that marginality, and with it racial discrimination, is in fact something that cannot be eliminated by one law or ten laws, something that we have not been able to eliminate completely over 40 years.”
Two years earlier, during the Sixth Uneac Congress, in a dialogue with several writers and artists who raised the issue, Fidel addressed it this way: “It seemed that by giving opportunities to everyone and opening aristocratic clubs to the entire population and providing everyone access to beaches and schools, universities, all possibilities, we were managing to make discrimination disappear. But we came to understand that the problem is much more serious. We believed that, if classes and exploiters and the rich disappeared, true equality of opportunity would be created for all. But then we realized that discrimination was a social and cultural issue.”
The diagnosis highlights historically accumulated disadvantages associated with skin color: the starting point for the realization of the life projects of black and brown youth have been different and distant, in their vast majority, from those of white skinned Cubans. Derived from such disadvantages, economic and social asymmetries are measurable and perceptible vulnerabilities in Cuba’s current reality, although they require more exhaustive study, as commission members concluded in a session devoted to reviewing the current status of social research.
Among the subjective factors noted are an insufficient awareness of the negative impact of prejudices and distorted perceptions about the true profile of the Cuban ethnos; as well as deficiencies and gaps in the systematization and consistency of introducing anti-racism as an essential value in revolutionary political-ideological work, which leads to the understanding that racial prejudices are totally incompatible with Cuba’s socialist project. It is no accident that the issue is being analyzed at this time, by organizations responsible for the formation of current and future generations.
Before the end of 2020, the program will have a local presence in all the country’s provinces, and the intention is to advance in implementation of the approved communication strategy. Both efforts are directed toward achieving the widest possible socialization and public awareness of the program’s objectives and work underway in their implementation.
An essential reference for the work done thus far, and more so for the much that remains, are the words of President Diaz-Canel when the program was launched: “Everyone recognizes that our Revolution has possibly been the social and political process which has contributed most to eliminating racial discrimination, but vestiges remain, not as a result of policies in our society, but in the culture of a group of people. We have every right and the ability to do something coherent, something of impact, that will help us solve these problems in our society and show once again the degree of justice and humanism of the Revolution.”
The National Anti-Racism and Racial Discrimination Program has been designed to combat and definitively eliminate remaining vestiges of racism, racial prejudice and racial discrimination in Cuba.
The program includes the fight against regionalism and discrimination based on ethnic and national origin, manifestations also associated with racism.
Conceived as a government program, its follow-up is integrated into the work system of President Díaz-Canel. A government commission, headed by the President, was created to coordinate the tasks.
Its objectives include identifying the causes that encourage discriminatory practices; diagnosing possible actions to be developed provincially, locally, and by different branches of the economy and society; disseminating the historical-cultural legacy of Africa, our native peoples and other non-white peoples as part of Cuba’s cultural diversity; and fostering organized public debate on racial issues within political, mass and social organizations, as well as their presence in the media.
Author: Pedro de la Hoz