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Veronica Vega: For years I had a hard time deciding between writing, painting or dancing. It was writing that proved to make the most sense financially in the short term. I live in Alamar, an aborted project for a city that only breathes from what’s left of nature, from the alternative cultural scene, and above all, from the infinite will of the human soul. I’m not a journalist. Writing in HT has been an opportunity to say what I believe can be improved in Cuba.

Shortcomings of the Cuban Revolution

July 25, 2017 |

Veronica Vega

Photo: Mabel Nakkache

HAVANA TIMES — I was surprised to discover that an official media platform such as that of Trabajadores weekly newspaper, had denounced an act of racial discrimination which is being investigated by the Attorney General of Cuba.

The accuser is Danay Aguirre Calderin, a law student at Havana University. According to her testimony, she took a taxi in Marianao and half-way along her route, she decided to get out a couple of stops beforehand. The driver shouted that “every time a black person gets in his car it was the same story and that’s why he couldn’t stand them.” He ordered her to get out of his car before reaching the destination she had asked to go to and he said that “he didn’t want black people in his car.”

The fact that somebody has behaved in this manner and said these kinds of things doesn’t come as a surprise at all. I have heard statements like these for decades now and no legal action has been taken.

In the ‘80s, I experienced a similar event. I was traveling in a taxi from Old Havana and the driver stopped in front of a young black man who was flagging him down. He told him that he would pick him up as soon as he dropped me off, which the man seemed to agree to. When the car took off again, he blurted out angrily: “Let him stay there waiting, I don’t let black guys into my car…” I was left dumbfounded and the man continued to tell me how some black passengers had lured him into a dark place where other accomplices were waiting and they beat him up with sticks and tubes. They fractured several of his ribs and it was a miracle he survived. All of that just to rob the money he had on him.

Some time ago, I heard about a taxi driver who was ambushed on Alamar hill and he was killed after being tortured with particular cruelty. I don’t know what race the criminals were of this attack because such news, as you might know, isn’t covered by government media.

With such precedents, resentment and prejudice have some firewood. However, stereotypes are pervese and do nothing to help but just found myths where there is no room for truth.

The question that comes to my mind is why? If ever since I was a little girl, school instilled in me the knowledge that racial discrimination had been wiped out in Cuba, yet I have been witness to so many racist displays ever since I can remember.

Why have I never heard about someone being arrested for racist remarks? Why does everything normally remain as a discussion, sometimes even physical aggression, personal protest, whispers?

Why were we never taught at school that, given the fact that the Revolution had wiped out racism, everyone who was a victim of racism to whatever extent, could turn to the law?

Why did the young woman go to the “Letter to the editor” section to put in her complaint? The publication and debate about the event is appropriate, but does racism exist as a legal figure?

A neighbor told me how her son, a young black boy, had left his bike on the lower floor in a building, had gone to one of the apartments higher up and watched how a blonde boy got onto it and disappeared in front of his eyes without him being able to get down the stairs in time to try and catch up to him. As a result of his report, he was called to the police station several times where he was shown photos of alleged suspects of the theft: they were always black individuals. He emphasized the fact that the thief was a “natural blonde”, of the rare breed that we find on this island, but it was to no avail. He ended up not going to the police station anymore and gave up on waiting for justice.

It’s a well-known fact that black people, mulatos or people with dreadlocks, are asked for ID on the street a lot more by the Police, as if they had received very exact orders against them.

I am reminded of a racist joke that I used to hear as a little girl: “Agostinho Neto, the man with black balls…” The phrase was a kind of retaliation against government media about socialist presidents who came to visit us, and whose sessions in August didn’t change the country’s unstable economic landscape. It was an expression of the lack of faith people have in the system and it was an escape valve to let off some of the political indoctrination’s steam.

But, at school even, we were forced to sing: “Ai, ai, ai la chambelona, Nixon doesn’t have a mother because an ape gave birth to him…”

A derogatory language was instilled in us for political figures that represented countries which are allegedly the enemy. Mockery, a lack of respect and a lack of ethics were encouraged as our legitimate right.

We were taught to harrass anyone who official discourse chose as the bullseye for their attack. That could be rockers, the homosexual, the intellectual, the artist… Anyone who reported a shortcoming of the Revolution, because in the sick vision imposed on us, everything bad (or good) wiped out by it, would be gone forever, like the effect of a nuclear weapon.

The Revolution, which we have inherited without asking for it, seemed to hold a double meaning of objective country and subjective homeland. This appeared to include the collective self and the individual, which makes up our creed and the foundation of our principles, but hasn’t taught us anything about inalienable human rights. Rights which don’t depend on an ideology and aren’t subject to the ups and downs of politics.

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  • N.J. Marti

    That is awful. By now Cuba should have evolved beyond such ugly racism.

  • Eden Wong

    Cuba is no different than anywhere in this regard.

    • Carlyle MacDuff

      I have to differ with you about that Eden. I think that racism is even worse in the US than in Cuba, but my wife and I can go about our lawful business walking in the streets in Canada and the UK and we have never been stopped by the police. That is very different from Havana where being stopped by the police is a regular form of harassment. We are racially different.

      • Eden Wong

        I have no problems with Cuban police checking out certain individuals in certain areas. Too many jineteros in my neighbourhood scamming naive tourists on a regular basis.

        So long as you being held up is done quickly and politely and you’re on your way in no time, then no big deal.

        • Carlyle MacDuff

          If it had only occurred once Eden, I might accept your view. But when it occurs repeatedly and white couples are not similarly harassed the reality of racism is evident.
          We have experienced a police car driving around a block to stop in our way and demand identity. We have experienced travelling in a taxi to Jose Marti International Airport, passing a police car which then drew us in to the side of the road, not to check the driver’s documents, but to make my wife get out of the car for interrogation. We have been stopped three times walking the streets of Old Havana.
          You may think that is acceptable, but when you are the victim, the perspective changes. My wife as a much respected professional holding a fairly responsible position in Education in Cuba, has done nothing to deserve such harassment – other than being born in Cuba with a black skin.
          There is no form of redress, the MININT goons are all powerful and as you know, not subject to criticism.

  • drspocks

    The question ‘why’ is always raised about racism, whether in Cuba or the US. i have spent much of my life as an attorney trying to unravel an answer to that question by furthering our (US) civil rights laws. But i have come to the conclusion that while enforcement of new national legal norms for non-racial treatment is important, the most important arena for struggle lies in our culture.

    As Ms. Vega points out, the message of racism is conveyed in many different ways in culture that often transcend the norms we establish with the law. Racism begins with slavery because the human mind needed a rational for the cruelty of that institution. The true nature of slavery is being constantly re-examined by scholars and as they uncover more information they reveal how it still castes a long shadow that influences aspects of our culture today.

    I’ve often felt that Cuba was living in a bubble. On one hand Cubans i have met repeat the official line on racism being eliminated by the revolution. But on the other it was clear that it was not racism, but racial discrimination that was being addressed. Failing to see this fundamental difference has suppressed a deeper and more meaningful conversation about this very complex social issue.

    So this law student was allegedly a victim of racial discrimination. But the comments Ms. Vega cites point to a much deeper disparagement of black Cubans by their lighter skinned countrymen. Until and unless that issue is addressed, cab drivers or others will simply find less obvious ways to express their racism. Take my word for it. Many in the US have done just that.

  • Carlyle MacDuff

    Yes ‘armstro’ many in these pages talk about Cuba and Castro’s ‘Socialismo’ as if it is a theoretical subject. But there are others who address the reality. The ugly reality is that racism is practiced by the Castro regime using the MININT goons as tools. We have experienced being ejected from an Hotel – the Tropicoco at Habana del Este – because my wife is a black Cuban. She knew nothing else until visiting both the UK and Canada where she has never even met a policeman and is accepted as just another person. You are correct, Cuban racism makes one sick!