Saturday, April 06, 2013

the dream is over

Cuba was once a Spanish-ruled sugar plantation economy, with a largely black workforce, until the Spanish-American War of 1898. Slavery had only been abolished a decade earlier by means of a royal decree issued by the Spanish King in 1886. After independence in 1902 little changed. The population of African descent remained at the bottom of the economic and political ladder and whites at the top, with Mulattoes (of mixed European and African lineage) in between. Cuba's history of racism originated with the colonial Spanish settlers and their subordinated African slaves.
In1891 Cuban author and independence fighter José Martí stated that there is no racism in Cuba because there are no races. He argued that Cuban unity and identity depended on all Cubans identifying as Cubans, instead of racially. White Cubans have often cited Martí's position subsuming race to national unity as an argument that racism is not an issue in Cuba because "we are all Cubans." But the legacy of slavery lingered, and was exacerbated by Cuba's semi-colonial status under U.S. hegemony. Interactions with wealthy, white, prejudiced visitors from the U.S. contributed to social and economic divisions along racial lines. Afro-Cubans endured segregated facilities, discrimination under the guise of eugenics, and  blatant racism at the hands of groups as extreme as the Ku Klux Klan Kubano.
The Castro government achieved more for blacks in fifty years than previous administrations had in the last 400 years. He passed policies to desegregate beaches, parks, work sites and social clubs. He outlawed all forms of legal and overt discrimination, including discrimination in employment and education. Three years into his rule, Fidel Castro declared that the Revolution had eliminated racism, making any further discussion of racial inequalities a taboo subject.

"Racism in Cuba has been concealed and reinforced in part because it isn't talked about. The government hasn't allowed racial prejudice to be debated or confronted politically or culturally, often pretending instead as though it didn't exist" explained Roberto Zurbano

Castro’s policies only addressed issues of unequal access without changing structural biases underlying society. With a new wave of economic changes affecting the country, race and racism are once again becoming important issues in Cuba.

Cuba has now in many ways reverted to what it was prior to the revolution. The country now allows for self-employment and the buying and selling of homes and cars. Small businesses have sprung up everywhere. The much praised health and education systems have suffered declines. Commitment to social justice has lost ground to the need for economic development. The country has moved backward in terms of race relations as well.

Without Soviet sugar subsidies, Cuba's economic development shifted to the growing tourist trade.Tourism once again has become a mainstay of the economy, and foreign capital, from Canada, Spain, and elsewhere has flowed in. The US dollar is again king, fuelling an underground economy. While the tourist industry is currently the most profitable sector because of the availability of US Dollars, it is also the industry with the greatest racial disparity in employment opportunities. Afro-Cubans are often excluded from positions in tourism related jobs, where they could earn tips in hard currencies. They are relegated to poor housing. Afro-Cubans hold only five percent of jobs in the tourist sector.The tourist resorts hire primarily whites, drawing on the structural legacy of racism and the pervasive cultural belief that white is superior. Whites tend to live in more up-market houses, which can easily be converted into paladares (small restaurants run from the home) or bed-and-breakfasts — the most common kind of private business in Cuba. Jobs in the tourist sector require less education and skills, meaning that Afro-Cuban advances in education in the early years of the Revolution no longer translate to economic success.
Most remittances from abroad go to white Cubans. 83.5 percent of Cuban immigrants living in the US identify themselves as whites. Assuming that dollar remittances are evenly distributed among white and non-white exiles and that they stay, roughly, within the same racial group of the sender, then about 680 out of the 800 million dollars that enter the island every year would end up in white hands. Black Cubans have less property and money, and also have to contend with pervasive racism.
In 2000, the Havana Survey found that 77 percent of the self-employed were white, and that these white entrepreneurs were more economically successful in comparison to their Afro-Cuban counterparts. Once again, blacks face disadvantages because they lack the capital in USD from tourism and remittances: it often takes an initial investment.
Zurban writes "It’s true that Cubans still have a strong safety net: most do not pay rent, and education and health care are free. But the economic divergence created two contrasting realities that persist today. The first is that of white Cubans, who have leveraged their resources to enter the new market-driven economy and reap the benefits of a supposedly more open socialism. The other reality is that of the black plurality, which witnessed the demise of the socialist utopia from the island’s least comfortable quarters.”

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