The Ferguson case and its possible implications for Cuba / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Ferguson protests. (Andrew Benedict, Twitter)
Ferguson protests. (Andrew Benedict, Twitter)

14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Havana, 27 November 2014 – The events in Ferguson, arising from the death of the young man Michael Brown and the decision not to charge the police officer who killed him, have caused millions of people in the United States to question the situation in their country. The protests that followed the grand jury’s verdict raised new questions about the image of coexistence within the diversity that has been presented as a pillar of American identity.

The situation has renewed the alarm about the American model and sets off warnings in other countries where large sectors of the population continue to be disadvantaged, whether because of ethnicity, race, or geographic origin. This week’s images showing the overwhelming anger on the streets of Missouri speak to us of the accumulation of problems, which have found their trigger in the recent decision not to charge the police officer.

It is not only a question of Michael Brown’s death during a questionable arrest, but one of a society that has been fractured for centuries, living with racism that prolongs the distrust, stokes hatred and fuels the violence that is now breaking out into fires and vandalism. A scream, at times, sometimes silenced, that now raises its volume after the sad events of last August 9th.

Cuban society should take note of the events in Missouri. Among us racism, far from diminishing, has increased in recent decades. Motivated in part by the stubborn official policy of denying its existence and downplaying the rancor that sometimes hides under the disingenuous appearance of a joke, but whose bitter side is the high percentage of the prison population that is black, or the economic precariousness that characterizes this community.

At the last minute, and in a race to show international organizations that it is working on the problem, the Cuban government has created an agenda to fight against racism, which sadly lacks independence as well as enforceability. Lectures, conferences, statements by prominent figures in the Afro-descendant community, abound in the media. However, in reality, little has been done to give a voice to those who suffer first-hand from these prejudices.

Capitalizing on fear of greater discrimination has been, for too long, an instrument of ideological subordination on the Island. The constant allusions to a past of abuse and segregation – prior to January 1959 – have been used by official propaganda to maintain the support of the black community. As if the only choices were the current situation or returning to the slave quarters and slave drivers.

The authorities have ended up hijacking and distorting the voice of this community that should have its own presence in independent organizations and entities that allow it to denounce and make demands with regards the situation in which it exists.

Lately, the Ferguson case has also been sadly used by the official media to stoke fears of democracy. “Look at what happened in the United States,” the television commentators – obsessed with the mote in another’s eye – seem to say to black Cubans. Again, the fear of returning to the whip and the specter of police lynchings are used to call Cubans of African descent to conformity or false complacency.

However, anger is something that is incubated slowly. We are fed facts such as false quotas of power delivered to people by the color of their skin, people who have no real possibilities of decision-making.

Anger gains strength when you enter a university classroom and see hardly any colors beyond a “light mixed-race,” while in the prisons it is just the opposite.

Resentment rises when you see who lives in the illegal slums that crowd the outskirts of the capital and compare that to the racial origin of those who hold positions in foreign joint-venture companies, tourist facilities, or in the administration of economically strategic entities.

Pain increases outside the offices that receive remittances from exiles abroad and you can see for yourself that the most of the people who rely on this relief in convertible pesos are white.

Anger grows slowly and one day explodes. The detonator can be a police officer in Ferguson who kills a young black man, or a man in Havana who is handcuffed and put in a squad car for the simple act of walking through a tourist facility with that skin tone that brings so many problems in so many places.