Ivan Garcia, 7 May 2018 — Fidel Castro’s revolution was always more political than economic. He was never able to produce sewing needles and disposable diapers. He had an incredible ability to multiply poverty, reduce livestock and, based on nonsense, bury the sugar industry.
The sooty pots on the stove remain empty and what was left of the Cuban ‘New Man’ wanders amid the frenetic reggaeton, drinks alcohol distilled with industrial coal, and dreams of itinerant plans to emigrate.
The majority of Cubans do not take the new government seriously. Pánfilo, “the old man who inhabits ‘Vivir del Cuento’ [Living By Your Wits] on TV on Monday nights, should be the president, because he always reflects the real problems of Cubans in his television programs,” says Eddy, a mulato who sells religious objects in the Calzada de Diez de Octubre.
Miguel Diaz-Canel and the renewed Council of State is a joke. And believe me, it’s not a metaphor. To Nilda, a nurse, ’guajiro of Falcón’ — as Diaz-Canel is sometimes called — and Salvador Valdés Mesa, his second-in-command, they represent “ebony and ivory,” recalling the old song by Stevie Wonders and Paul McCartney.
In Cuba there is an overflowing racism that goes from personal prejudices, black segregation to inverted discrimination, that is, blacks who are more racist than the worst white racist. There are cruel jokes. Offenses abound around the color of one’s skin. And fear that some ‘smut’ may be part of your white family.
Blacks were always discriminated against. They were left at a disadvantage that morning in 1886 when the Spanish Crown abolished slavery on the island. They had no property, no money, no academic training.
They paid the price, and they would continue to pay it in the years to come. They are the poorest of the poor. They lead the ranking in numbers in prisons and commit the most despicable crimes. They live in the worst houses. They receive fewer dollars from remittances from family abroad. And those who run private businesses are a minority.
They tend to triumph in music, sports and lately in politics. Both in the dissidence and within the regime, the numbers of blacks and mestizos have increased.
There are numerous black and mixed-race opponents and independent journalists. Among those who are at the head of groups are Berta Soler, Oscar Elias Biscet, Manuel Cuesta Morúa and Juan Antonio Madrazo.
A free journalist, who preferred not to reveal his name, says that the first time he went to a dissident meeting, “he was amazed at how many prietos there were. According to the last census, the total black and mixed-race population is thirty-one percent, but I believe that currently in the opposition it’s more like 60 percent. And beware.”
Rosa Elvira, who works on a farm, believes that “in Cuba racism is a fairy tale. Yes, there are prejudices, but more and more you see more mixed couples. Here blacks and whites are equally screwed. There are whites worse than the most criminal blacks. And blacks who are real bad luck stories.”
On the current Council of State, the president is white (Miguel Diaz-Canel) and the first vice president is black (Salvador Valdés Mesa). Of the six vice-presidents, three are women, two of them black (Inés María Chapman and Beatriz Johnson) and one white (Gladys Bejerano). The three male vice presidents are white. Of the rest, black women are Miriam Nicado, Ileana Amparo Flores, Yipsi Moreno and Felicia Martínez. Mixed-race women: Martha del Carmen Mesa, Bárbara Alexis and Rosalina Fournier. White women: Teresa Amarelle, Susely Morfa, Elizabeth Peña, Ivis Niuba Villa and Reina Salermo. Of the men, of dark skin there is only one, Carlos Alberto Martínez, director of the Calixto García hospital.
“They may appear on their ID cards as whites, but in the Council of State there are some who are really mixed-race,” says Aleida, a retired teacher (referring to Roberto Morales, Homero Acosta, Ulises Guilarte, Rafael Santiesteban, Raúl Alejandro Palmero and Yoerkys Sánchez) . It’s just that in Cuba, el que no tiene de congo tiene de carabalí,” she laughs, using a phrase that suggests everyone in Cuba has some African heritage.
When you ask her why, precisely now the regime has decided to increase its quota of blacks and mixed-race, she shrugs her shoulders, opens her eyes wide and responds:
“I think it’s to shut people up out there. Imagine, the United States, which they always told us was the most racist country in the world, chose a dark president. And every time you watch an American TV show, there are blacks. These people (the government) had to up their game. And they began to change the Central Committee and the Council of State. What worries me is that, to be up-to-date, they put blacks wherever they want, but the professional quality leaves something to be desired. That Estaban Lazo, may God forgive me because I am black, is thick as a plank. And Salvador Valdés, people call him ‘the mute’ because he doesn’t even speak. This having so many blacks and women in the government is just hypocrisy, because in Cuba those who decide are the same as always, the old white people who fought in the Sierra.”
Cándido, a busdriver, believes that “stronger than racism, is the fact that in Cuba, whether you are white, black, mulato or Chinese, you can not get out of poverty. No matter the color of those who govern, they do it with their backs to people. It is not a race or sex problem. It is a matter of listening to the people, solving problems and being efficient. It seems to me that they put those blacks and those women that nobody knows on Council of State just to make up the numbers.”
Jordán, a lawyer, thanks the government for putting in more women, blacks and mestizos. “But nothing is gained if everyone votes unanimously and they don’t stand up in the National Assembly to raise the problems suffered by the people. The issue is not black or white. It’s about having the balls to say what is really happening in Cuba. They say that in the dissidence there are many blacks, but they are invisible to the majority of the population. Few people know them and when the government talks about them they label them as terrorists or mercenaries.”
All the interviewees approve the increase in the number of women and blacks in the government and also in the ranks of the Communist Party. But they want them to be able to make important decisions.
They want them to sit in parliament not only to raise their hands to vote yes on everything, but to take advantage of the presence of the higher ups to speak up and say things. To be something more than a black face to those watching internationally. They want women and men, black, mixed-race or white who do not have the surname Castro, to really govern.