Friday, June 03, 2011

Cuba: Experts Weigh in on Questions of Race in Cuba

SOURCE Center for International Policy

Today, the Center for International Policy hosted an all-day conference that explored the notion and implications of racism and racial identity in Cuba as the Afro-Cuban population struggles with widespread discrimination. When Castro seized power in 1959, he declared Cuba a "raceless" society under the Communist project; however, socioeconomic disparities on racial lines remain clear. Once considered taboo, discussions on race are becoming more prevalent in Cuba with the creation of National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC) "Cuban Color" working groups and other race-related government organizations committed to dismantling barriers.

"The United States and Cuba share a common challenge. Both have black minority populations and thus residual traces of racism; both must focus on how to eliminate these inconsistencies," said Wayne Smith, director of the Cuba project at the Center for International Policy.

To Smith, the conference's primary goal was "to understand how the Cubans are approaching the problem, with some commentary on its approach from the American perspective." The participants discussed the implications of race on the Cuban nation, Afro-Cuban initiatives striving for racial equality, and the effect on these issues on U.S.-Cuban relations.

Conference panelists included Wayne Smith; James Early, Smithsonian Center of Folklife and Cultural Heritage; Esteban Morales, Center for the Study of U.S.-Cuban Relations; Heriberto Feraudy, Cuban Commission against Racism; Luis Murillo, Phelps Stokes; Julia Sweig, Council on Foreign Relations; and Philip Brenner, American University. Emira Woods of the Institute of Policy Studies, Mwiza Munthali of TransAfrica Forum, and Sarah Stephens of the Center for Democracy in the Americas moderated the panels.

Esteban Morales underscored the importance of race in today's political discourse: "The topic of race is intimately connected with others, such as the economy, human rights, inequality, and social justice. Avoiding the topic for so long has been a serious risk for the solid unity of the Cuban nation because national unity must be achieved by the construction of consensus among civil society."

By addressing these issues at the conference, James Early believes that the conference ultimately "supports the positive efforts of the Cuban people and the government to advance the interrelated goals of social equality, political and cultural democracy, and economic development."