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Not All in Cuba Are Proud of Being Black

May 28, 2012 Leave a comment

A drunk, off duty, enforcement agent, white, justified the racist Cuban police archetype that turns a black or mestizo into a presumed delinquent with an old refrain learned from his mother: “Not all blacks are thieves, but all thieves are black.”

The guy is not a bad person.  He is a good father, a high caliber criminologist, and he does not consider himself racist. But it was what he learned in his childhood. Racial prejudices abound within Cuban families. Then they are carried into to real life.

The Havana agent’s attitude becomes that of the National Revolutionary Police on operation and raid days: of every 10 citizens that they stop on public thoroughfares, 8 are black. It is a mentality problem.

A couple of years ago, a friend who worked in a foreign firm told me that he was considering buying skin whitening creams. I did not believe him. “According to a market study, the cream would have great acceptance among Cubans,” he told me.

As I never saw them for sale in the foreign currency stores, I thought I had heard a joke of bad taste. In the book Afrocubans, the historian and anthropologist Maria Ileana Faguagua says that in 2009 a Spanish firm studied that possibility.

Several consulted persons, who are dedicated to the treatment of hair for women of the black race, said that those creams would sell like hotcakes. “One can think what one likes. But I have spent 20 years straightening ’kinks,’ and I’m telling you that many black and mixed women would give anything to lighten their skin and become white,” said a white Havana hairdresser.

Certainly, black pride on the island is not at its best moment. What has happened to black people has not been slight.  It is always good to review history.

And it is that since 1886, when slavery was officially abolished in Cuba, blacks were left at a clear disadvantage with respect to whites. They had no property. No money. No lineage. And much less social recognition.

Years later in the Republic, their decisive support in the fight for independence was barely taken into account. In spite of that support, they only got work as stevedores, cane cutters or construction workers.

Many black families did not tranquilly accept their fate to live at the bottom. And some managed to climb the steep and difficult social ladder.

But they were few. Then, as is known, Fidel Castro came to power. And he decided to resolve racial differences by means of decrees and encampments where blacks and whites were mixed and would become “comrades.”

At first it was not bad. But racial prejudices in Cuba were very subtle. They were — and are — very deeply rooted in the minds of the majority. And that cannot be legislated. If you really try to demolish barriers, you need a systematic educational effort, in the long run, and to include blacks and mulattoes in the power structure.

That was already most difficult. One thing was that the personal bodyguards or soldiers sent to the Angolan civil war were the color of petroleum, and another, that they formed part of the status quo.

Although after 1959 blacks gained spaces, and shared carnivales, ball games, scholarships to study at the high schools in the countryside and university studies with whites, later no matter how much talent they had, they remained shackled within the mediocre professional group that retires without having been able to climb socially or politically.

From time to time a black man lands himself a high ranking government or party job. A matter of image. But blacks continue on the lowest social rung.

Of course, they are mostly in jail and on sports fields. With the exception of chess or swimming: according to old racist concepts, blacks are a failure in those disciplines.

Similarly, the dark skinned are good for playing musical instruments beyond the drums.  Or singing boleros, Cuban folk songs, salsa, rap and reggaeton.

Now if they aspire to join the company of Alicia Alonso, they are looked at with suspicion.  Almost with sadness, an old teacher told me: “I have nothing against blacks, but their anatomy causes them many problems in classical ballet.”  She overlooked the triumphs of Carlos Acosta, a black cuban ballet dancer in the London Ballet.

If in music and sports black usually have the one, also they have known how to get a slice of prostitution.  Looking for something different or because of the myth that they are good in bed, many Europeans travel to Cuba to satiate themselves sexually with those of dark skin.  Cheap pleasure.

But while the prostitutes are offered in clubs and night zones of Havana for 20 dollars, some black men keep seeing their future in the distance, above all in Europe.

The worst of the worst in Cuba today is to be a black, dissident woman. Ask community activist Sonia Garro. Graduated in nursing with brilliant grades, she suffered the racism in her own flesh from some creole mandarins.

One afternoon, proud of being the first professional in a family whose members had been dedicated to the worst paying jobs, with her best dress and pair of shoes, she went to the Astral theater to get her diploma. When it came time for the group photo, a provincial director asked her to move away: “Those of your color don’t turn out well in photos.”

Years later, Sonia told me that her anger was such that she left without getting her diploma. In a short time, she became a dissident.

Some days before the arrival of the Pope on the island, last March, forces of the political riot police entered her house as if they were terrorists. Using rubber bullets and excessive violence they charged Sonia and her husband, Ramon Alejandro Munoz, also an opponent. They awaited proceedings in harsh prisons. She was in a women’s jail, he in a punishment cell in the Combinado del Este because he refused to put on the prisoner’s uniform.

Blacks in Cuba cultivate their destiny with the few opportunities they have to triumph. Their failures are triple their successes.  A high percentage live badly and eat worse. Their patience is exhausted. And they have decided to leave behind being culprits of their race. Like Sonia Garro.

Ivan Garcia

Photo:  President of Citizens for Racial Integration, Juan Antonio Madrazo (on foot in the center, with pink shirt) with relatives, friends and members of the Mystery Company of Voodoo, during a celebration of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, last March.  They are all proud of belonging to the black race.  The woman on foot on the left, with the pink dress and blue handkerchief, is Teresa Luna, Madrazo’s mother, who has received threats from State Security, according to what Leonardo Calvo has denounced.

Translated by:  mlk

May 27 2012

Remittances and the Silence of Their Beneficiaries on the Island

May 10, 2012 3 comments

To ask for money from relatives who live in the United States of America is a constant in Cuba. Whether it is done through one of most expensive international collect calls from the island, an e-mail, or through a letter describing a string of scarcities, at the end of the missive money is requested from the relative or friend.

And from what the figures say, the request doesn’t fall on deaf ears. Something more than two billion dollars in 2011, according the Cuban economist Emilio Morales.

From 2000 until today, the income from remittances to Cuba has almost trebled. It is not only good news for the poor relatives on the island. Also for the government. With the aim of gaining hard currency, the Havana regime exploits all possibilities. From a “revolutionary tax” on the dollar of 13%, to the opening of new stores, kiosks and coffee places operating in hard currency, to offering tourist packages in 4 and 5 stars hotels to Cubans on the island.

Of course, for 70% of the thousands of national tourists who can walk along the fine sand of  Varadero beach, and drink a Mojito in a jacuzzi, it is thanks to the money wired from other countries.

Not even the enormous crisis affecting Europe nor the delay in fully restarting the economy of the United States, have stopped the stream of money to Cuba from growing each year.

An economist consulted believes that, if the domestic economy continues shaky, along with the typical structural insufficiencies of the Castro system, in 2020 the figures of the remittances may be higher than those of Cuban exports, which in 2010 were 3.311 billion dollars if we give credit to Index Mundi.

To this you may add that in 2011, more than 400,000 Cuban American citizens visited their homeland. It is estimated than in 2014, this number may double and be higher than that of 900,000 tourists who yearly travel to Cuba.

For many years, in a race to collect the greatest amount of dollars, the Castro government has created a structure to collect hard currencies, inside and outside the island. In Miami, for its part, there is an increasing number of agencies that make money with abusive telephone tariffs and from the sending of money or packages through “mules” (people who travel legally to Cuba carrying goods for others).

The Cuban exiles in the United States have always laughed at the embargo. The restrictive measures to impede the regime from collecting hard currency to support still more their autocracy of 53 years, have not been effective. The Cubans living in the Florida would manage and travel through a third country or would wire the 300 dollars authorized by the government of George B. Bush.

When Barack Obama arrived in The White House in 2008, he signed a decree that would enable Cubans to send up to $10,000 and to visit their country as many times as they wish.  It’s true: those two billion dollars sent by remittances have helped the Castros to maintain themselves in power.  Also a part of those hard currencies are used to repress, besiege and watch peaceful opponents.

As there’s no transparency, the regime does not report what its share of the money sent by Cubans living abroad is spent on. But also thanks to these fresh hard currencies, many families in Cuba have opened small business. “Paladares” (private restaurants) in some cases; rooms for rent in their houses; or they have bought a car to use it as taxi.

According to an official statistics, more than 40% of the population receives remittances. Although there are no figures concerning this, those who receive dollars live better than those who work 8 hours and get a salary of 500.00 Cuban pesos (20.00 dollars).

But the emigrant does not only send money. Probably the value of the number of computers, plasma television sets, latest generation cell phones, medicines, clothing, footwear, food, cleaning goods and toys, among others, is between 5 and 6 billion dollars per year.

In a country where basic consumer goods, in hard currency, are as expensive as in Paris or New York, the people who receive between 200 or 300 dollars per month, are privileged.

The lean monthly basket (from the ration market) — 7 pounds of rice, 3 pounds of white sugar, 2 pounds of brown sugar and 20 ounces of beans — is not enough for the diet for 30 days.The rest of the food one has to buy at prices not subsidized or in convertible pesos (cuc), where 90% of the income from a worker is stolen.

Cuba is crowded with problems, but the worst of all is the food. To properly dress and wear shoes costs you. If you can administer it properly, the dollars or euros sent by the families enable one of these possibilities: repair the house, go on holiday to a tourist place, dance in a discotheque which charges 10.00 cuc per person, or sit on the wall of the Malecon to drink a can of beer.

“Luxuries” can be afforded only by the high hierarchy of the party, the government and the military; by managers of foreign joint ventures ,as well as the officials and employees in tourism, due to the tips, under-the-table commissions of foreign contractors and from what is stolen from their jobs.

Although that over 40% of Cubans receive dollars or euros that gives them certain economic  independence (they don’t have to resort to social assistance or the scarce state subsidies), this privileged position is not reflected in a rebellious attitude toward the government, whether afiliating with dissident groups or, in the Popular Assembly, raising one’s hand to ask for the urgent political changes Cuba needs.

The fear is always waiting around the corner. And though most of the people who receive remittances are tired of such inefficient government, of bureaucracy and corruption, they prefer to remain indifferent and silent.

The future aspirations of a wide sector of the people who live better in Cuba, thanks to the dollars delivered by the “mules” or wired by Western Union, or by the euros sent through bank accounts, are to meet again with their family in the United States or Europe.

In the meantime, they escape from shortages watching the channels from Florida through the “antenna” (satellite connection, illegal), following the Brazilian soap operas on national television, drinking vodka with orange juice, and playing domino with the fellows of the neighborhood. As mental hygiene, they don’t read the official press.

Until the “fulas” (dollars) are gone. Then they phone or send an e-mail to their relatives in Hialeah. “Please, send me one hundred dollars.” But they keep silence before the government outrageous behavior.

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 Translated by AnonyGY

May 10 2012

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