Afro-Cuban dissident Cuesta Morua (right) can’t understand why some American progressives who marched with Martin Luther King Jr. or identify with him today can support a regime that would never permit a similar movement, writes The Washington Post’s Harold Meyerson.
“We have a message for the American left, especially the African American left,” he said. “There are forgotten Cubans, invisible Cubans, many of them Afro-Cubans, many of them not. They do not live in the utopia that some Americans still imagine. They live in Cuba.”
The leader of Arco Progresista, a democratic socialist group, Morua recently called for a “new national project” of structural reform in the area of “democratization and the relationship with power.” Promoting pluralism through “respect for political and cultural diversity” would help generate a “new legitimacy of the political process” based on the free will of citizens rather than the Communist “elite,” he told the University of Miami’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies.
Morua’s colleague Calvo Cárdenas, a former director of the Lenin Museum, is also Afro-Cuban — “a group that makes up roughly half of Cuba’s population but that is greatly under-represented in its political leadership, media and nascent business class,” writes Meyerson:
Cárdenas’s days in the Lenin stacks came to an abrupt end in 1991, when he and his friend Manuel Cuesta Morúa, a historian at Havana’s Casa de Africa Museum, lost their jobs after publicly criticizing the Castro regime’s lack of democracy. ….In 2008, the two joined other activists to form the Citizens Committee for Racial Integration — an organization whose very name is an indictment of their beleaguered workers’ paradise.
“The Afro-Cuban population is stagnant, at the bottom of the social pyramid,” Juan Antonio Madrazo Luna, the committee’s national coordinator, said during the recent trip. As in virtually every other nation in the Western hemisphere, Calvo Cárdenas added, “Cuba has traditionally had a racially stratified workforce. And despite the egalitarian rhetoric of the government, African descendants remain excluded from the most promising jobs.”
But racism is a forbidden topic for Cuba’s Communist authorities who recently dismissed Roberto Zurbano from his post as editor of Casa de las Americas after he wrote an article on the issue in The New York Times.
“Racism in Cuba has been concealed and reinforced in part because it isn’t talked about,” he wrote.
Nevertheless, Cuban civil society groups like the Afro-Cuban Alliance are striving to promote discussion and analysis of racial issues, while Afro-Cuban activists like Oscar Biscet and Jorge Luis García Pérez, commonly known as “Antúnez,” are also assuming more prominent leadership roles in the island’s dissident movement.
“As long as the race problem is not resolved, we don’t believe that the problems of the nation can be resolved,” Morua told the Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies.
The ruling Communist party’s problem “is that any independent movement is inherently not under its control. For Afro-Cubans, the road to equality is blocked by the party’s suppression of civil society,” writes Meyerson:
“When we hold public forums at the community level, we’re often arrested,” said Cuesta Morúa. “But then they let us go. The tactics of repression have changed. Long prison sentences didn’t weaken the human rights movement; they strengthened it.”
The Citizens’ Committee leaders entertain no illusions that the regime’s fall and the institution of a democratic government would in themselves eliminate Cuba’s racial stratification.
“The existence of multiple political parties guarantees the democratization of the state,” said Cuesta Morúa. “It doesn’t guarantee the democratization of society.”
Nevertheless , the committee leaders are emphatic that Cuba can’t become more egalitarian until it becomes radically more democratic.