The Miami Herald
June 3, 2011

Racism remains an issue in Cuba, officials say

Juan O. Tamayo

WASHINGTON The Cuban government will soon cast a media spotlight on the issue of racism on the island, although some programs to improve the lives of black Cubans had to be cut because of economic restraints, a Havana official said Thursday.

Heriberto Feraudy, who heads the quasi-official Cuban Commission against Racism, also said the popularity of Afro-Cuban religions is soaring and indicated that Raúl Castro’s economic reforms may not help blacks as much as whites.

Feraudy, who served 15 years as ambassador to five African nations, and Esteban Morales, a well-known Havana economist who writes often on race, addressed a conference on the issue sponsored by the Center for International Policy, a think tank.

Their unusually frank comments — for decades Cuba officially denied the existence of discrimination on the island — seemed to reflect the growing concern over race issues as the country drops some of its socialist policies and embraces more private enterprise.

Feraudy and Morales — both black — argued that the Fidel and Raúl Castro governments have done more for Cuban blacks since 1952 than any other government in the previous centuries.

“The problem of a division in Cuba (due to racial issues) is not possible,” said Morales, who was reportedly suspended from the Communist Party last year after he wrote a column complaining about the island’s burgeoning official corruption.

But both also agreed that racism persists on the island, and that the issue needs to be discussed and confronted even though “many people” in Cuba argue that the Castro revolution did away with racial discrimination.

Feraudy said some programs adopted under Fidel Castro to help blacks “had to be terminated” because of a shortage of resources — he gave no further details — but added that his commission is pushing for a broad discussion of the race issue.

Cuban state television will soon launch a one-year run of programs on Africa and its importance to the island, he said, and the parliamentary National Assembly of People’s Power has agreed to take up the issue in one of its coming sessions.

Morales joked that some Cubans, “even at some levels of power,” argue that all race problems in Cuba disappeared after 1959 because the revolutionary government outlawed discrimination “and we are very good people.”

Now racism is a “democratic issue that we must discuss in Cuba” with all of civil society, he added. But the discussion must be handled carefully to avoid simply raising concerns without providing answers.

Feraudy noted that Raúl Castro has called for an increase of blacks in top positions and that the Central Committee of the ruling Communist Party selected last month showed a 10 percent increased in the number of black and mestizo members.

But he indicated that he agreed with widespread concerns that Castro’s proposals to boost the economy by allowing more private enterprise and slashing government payrolls subsidies would hit blacks harder than whites.

Whites receive more remittances from abroad, which could be used to start one the newly legalized businesses, because most exiles are white, he noted.

Feraudy’s committee was created two years ago by the government-controlled Cuban Union of Writers and Artists (UNEAC) as black dissidents began using the language of black U.S. activists to attack the Castro governments.