Book chapter

The Dynamics of Racial Discrimination in Cuba Past and Present (2020)

in: Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics

Abstract

Knowing Cuba's past is crucial in making sense of the present; that's especially true when it comes to the question of race. Racial slavery, with its peculiar Latin American characteristics, set the stage upon which the 1959 revolution began. All of the practices and ideas associated with the institution that disadvantaged Cubans of African origin had to be challenged. That task was combined with the overriding one of making Cuban sovereignty a reality for the first time. Important gains were made for Afro-Cubans that proved qualitatively favorable in comparison not only with their pre-1959 status but also with that of their cohorts in the United States. As Cold War realities intervened, conscious and explicit attention to the issue began to fade, often in the name of unity in the face of the threat from the north. And when those continuing gains began to be undermined owing to the collapse of the Soviet Union and its Eastern European allies in 1989, the race question was forced back onto the national agenda. Fidel Castro, as was so often the case during the revolution, took the lead in addressing the issue. For the first time since the early years of the revolution, conscious attention began to be paid to race, the all-important unfinished business that had begun in 1959. Not all Cubans began on an equal footing in the commencement of that project, thus special attention now needs to be paid to those of African origin to fulfill its egalitarian quest. It should be acknowledged that while progress has been made, much remains to be done.