Some believe it to be impromptu and precipitated, given the stubbornness the Cuban government has always demonstrated regarding the issue of human rights, its intransigence in maintaining a totalitarian State, and its obvious interest in prolonging its control of the country despite the price, the violation of the most basic human, political, social and cultural rights of Cubans. Others see in these measures a consequent political strategy on the part of U.S. government, which is noteworthy not only as a positive step after numerous decades of confrontation, but also puts pressure on the internal and foreign policies that Cuba has been employing, which could open up new spaces and create new opportunities of which Cubans should be ready to take advantage.
To this end, we include, at the last minute, Manuel Cuesta Morúa’s “A Normalization of the Divide,” in which he acknowledges the positive outcome that these new conditions can generate, but he also reaffirms that the real results and their effects are yet to be seen. He offers us a brief reflection about the possible repercussions of a solution to some of the problems that muddy the ability of Cubans to get along, in a sociocultural sense, specifically regarding racial inequality. For decades, Revolutionary propaganda has insisted that the more radicalized the Revolutionary process became, that problem’s solution would be closer at hand. Yet, the reality has been quite different, and the racial divide became even stronger from the 1990s on, as part of the deepening crisis and the due to the dysfunctional socio-economic and political framework that had been defended and imposed. The author warns that the new measures announced by the U.S. government could deepen this divide, as has happened with policy reforms in the past which, despite their positive intentions, caused mixed results for Cubans; such is the case with family remittances. Cuesta Morúa also offers some ideas and steps that could be taken to mitigate potential adverse consequences.
In Cuesta Morúa’s second article for this issue, he concludes that the so-called government reforms to-date have resulted in “a racially based economy that is overwhelmingly poor and definitively marginal.” In “Ethnic Economy: An Abbreviated Version,” the author articulates how Cuban Afro-descendants have seen themselves obliged to exist somewhere between the subsistence ethnic economy and the marginalized ethnic market. The result is that these new extractive institutions, hailed by the government as an “updating of the Cuban Social Model,” depress and repress in order to produce and reproduce the precarious well being they were generating for the majority of Afro-descendants. To this, one could add that the problem steadily worsened due to the government’s unwillingness to deal with the issue and create real policies; it has always done nothing more than tout a triumphalist rhetoric, as a response to problems. Yet, the problem was not resolved in 1959 and resolution will not occur with the stroke of a pen inspired by diplomatic accord, for an issue with such a long history, which has taken on different hues in each time period, and is a cardinal issue for the future of the Cuban nation.
The increasing struggle against racist practices and all its manifestations in Cuban civil society, the fact that such racism has been unmasked in Cuba’s interior as well as the international arena, and the burgeoning healthy movement challenging these practices on a world scale have not gone unnoticed by the government: from total silence, manipulation, and repression of any attempt to discuss the problem, the official response now includes warm reactions and official declarations that acknowledge some of the problems. The creation of the Cuban Chapter of the Afro-Descendant Regional Articulation for the Americas and Caribbean (ARAAC) was significant and encouraging for increased coordination of the entire Cuban anti-racist movement - one that enjoys total autonomy, free of the control and conditions that have characterized previous actions carried out under official auspices. The proposals discussed in meetings - having become little more than words - were backed by recent declarations made by Roberto Zurbano, one of ARAAC’s promoters. Yet, the unencumbered development of ARAAC seems to worry the Cuban government, as is suggested in “The Road to Justice and Equality,” by Leonardo Calvo Cárdenas. He analyzes this ever-complicated phenomenon in the light of the first ARAAC meeting in November 2014, and affirms that if ARAAC doesn’t want to go down in history as one more instrument of trickery and manipulation, it should go from making declarations to becoming an authentic mechanism for bringing pressure and integration; going beyond ideological postulates, it must reach the community and demand that the authorities respect their citizens and their commitments. Such is the way - the only way - to progress towards deeply desired equality and social equity, to achieve the necessary changes in thinking and ideas that lead to a dead end.
The Forum on Race and Cubanness convened shortly after the inaugural ARAAC meeting. The fourth such gathering sponsored by the Citizens’ Committee for Racial Integration (CIR), which was organized independently of the AARAC session, was not attended by any of the ARAAC promoters. This, despite active participation by CIR members in the AARAC meeting. “A Forum for Inclusion and Diversity” chronicles the forum and some of the ideas that were shared therein. In addition to analyzing numerous economic, political, social and cultural problems that are affecting Cubans, and Afro-descendants in particular, the forum made evident that this group is called to recover its civil, political and media collective voice in process of transition towards democracy; Afro-descendants can and must create agency from which they have been deprived for so many years. This foretells a difficult but possible scenario of social integration; as such, it would be extremely valuable to achieve consensus of all involved. As history has shown, Afro-descendants must overcome barriers imposed by ideological and political alignments that are often harmful. The only way to achieve this is through committed work, willpower, and courage. The efforts of the CIR and other civil movements have shown that they have what it takes to break down these barriers. It is our hope that this will be the case with ARAAC as well. The ball is in their court.
Articles “Regionalism as a Political Strategy” and “Santiago de Cuba: Race, Poverty and the Challenge of Hope,” by José Hugo Fernández and Jorge Amado Robert, respectively, contain ample evidence of the daily dilemmas that Cubans in the island’s easternmost provinces (Oriente) face, and the resulting increasing migration to the capital, where they must find their way with the handicap of poverty and neglect. The migrant orientales (people from Oriente) endsure longstanding and escalating dislike by Havana residents and, like pariahs in their own land, have had to deal with the indolence of measures employed to forcefully return them to their regions of origin. After so many years of misguided government policy, which is responsible for these very migrations, continued mass relocation to the capital has become a destabilizing force at a national level.
Fernando Palacio, Moisés L. Rodríguez and Eroisis González write about the devastating reality of which people with disabilities and women are victims. This is particularly the case for black women, to whom the government and social service agencies offer general apathy, inattentiveness to their needs, and the corruption.
Other authors take us down the the paths of exclusion, discrimination, poverty, indifference, and nonexistent acknowledgment or opportunities that Afro-descendant communities endure in other Latin American countries: Rosivalda dos Santos, with the second part of her article “Las mujeres y la Copa Mundial en Brasil en 2014”; Omer Freixa, with his article “Some Things are Better Left Unsaid: Negritude in Argentina”; and Ashanti Peru, with “Proudly Afro-Descendant.” Each experience is closely tied to the historical and current reality of Cuba’s black and mestizo population. As a point of departure, Dos Santos once again focuses on the soccer World Cup to examine the multiple problems that affect black women, including the stereotyped image of them that continues to be used, especially regarding their availability through sex tourism. She describes the myriad consequences as well as contexts of economic interests and cultural traditions that have impeded attempts to solve the problem. Freixa focuses on a problem that is well known in Latin America, one that began when the emerging republics decided to enter modernity holding aloft the banner of whitening and racial purity. In Argentina, this was accomplished through forced “invisibilization” and denial of the cultural contributions of Afro-descendants, leading to the creation of a national imaginary and exclusionary narrative that persists to this day. To close this section of the journal, Ashanti Peru presents us the inspiring and successful work of young Afro-Peruvians transforming social exclusion, racism, and other problems they face, work that could be equally encouraging for Cuban youth.
Given the fact that the creation of a democratic environment is essential for being able to properly deal with the multiple problems and needs of Cubans today, articles on deliberative democracy return to our pages. “Pittsburgh Goes to Cuba,” by Robert Cavalier, and “Constitutional Consensus in Communities,” by Marthadela Tamayo, reveal results of this sort of work in Cuba, along with the impact, sympathies, and collaborative possibilities it has generated among import promoters of deliberative democracy in the United States.
The alternative arts movement does not lag behind in this regard. Its role and efforts in bringing to light much of what is excluded by official media censors, prohibitions, and harassment has been significant, particularly among young Cubans. Articles “Mistreated Alternativity in Cuba” and “Living Off of Cuban Hip Hop,” by Verónica Vega and Miriam Real, respectively, testify to this; none of these risks have been great enough to dissuade these artists’ decisions to keep this movement - characterized by and in defense of free expression and critical thinking - alive and kicking. After diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States are established, this work takes on very significant importance, given that there is no indication that official policies will change in Cuba. Yet, the bilateral context will be able to situate these young people in a better position to pursue their own spaces. This movement already has a history, as Shawn Wells tells us in “Reflections on Cuban Rap and Hip Hop”; she recalls her experiences in Cuba at the end of the nineties, concluding with optimism: “In 2014, Cuban rap and hip hop are a real fact and have taken on their own identity…They have matured and continue to participate in the pan-African conversation on negritude. In particular, underground rappers play a role in following this rebellious conversation about self-discovery, protest and challenge, all characteristic of rap.” For his part, José Clemente Gascón, offers us his second examination of the presence of blackness in Cuban visual art in “He Who Doesn’t Have Some Congo Has Some Carabalí,” and reviews the new expressive directions this art has followed in recent decades.
African-American journalist Bonita Lee Penn examines many of these subjects as they pertain to the current situation in Cuba in her interesting and committed article “Looking at Cuba from the United States.” In her view of Cuba, she explores the impact that events like AfricAméricas I and II, and her relations with Cuban activists and artists, have had on her. “Upon examining so many contrasting and incompatible images, finding the true Cuba has been a process of continuous discovery…. One of the most interesting things for me was how Cuban civil society deals with its own social problems and racism. Perhaps we African Americans here can learn something from them,” she remarks.
The section on AfricAméricas II closes with visual and poetic reflections by and of participants of the September 2014 event in Pittsburgh: an illustrative piece by David D Omni, “The True Kingdom,” and a “Photographic Essay” which offers evidence of the events of that week - including how the city’s citizens embraced it. These are folks who also have to deal with their own problems, as is evidenced in the attempt to deprive them of the August Wilson Center, and their success in defending it.
“The Value of Memories” section includes the second installment of “The Silent Grind,” by Boris González, and with “The Cuban Chapter of the Spanish Black Legend,” by Robert Castell. The first takes up once again the story of the dismantling of the primary agro-industrial structure in all of Cuba’s history, and the economic and social consequences of the government’s decision to do so without consulting the people. The author begins by expounding upon another subject with profound economic and cultural implications: ignorance and the deconstruction of traditions and customs to impose new identities which lack historical context, content, and legitimacy in Cuban agricultural culture -- the disastrous consequences of which are already visible. For his part, Castell studies the effects of propaganda, brainwashing education, and the use of any means possible and available to promote ideas and facts that are often far from historical truth, which has a distorting effect.
The opening and closing of this issue are very closely related. In anticipation of the announcement of the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States, Mitchel Ovalle, in his article “Colombia and Cuba on the ‘Tropical Peace’ Scene,” contextualized Cuba’s ties with Latin America and the rest of the world. He specifically explores how this has played out with Colombia, to the point that Havana became the site of the dialogue between the Colombian government and the FARC. The paradox is evident: international successes are in no way indicative of the functioning of the Cuban legal system and the Cuban government’s arbitrary actions, human rights violations, and frequent disregard for international, democratic legislation.