Cuba’s legacy in fighting racism

By Larry Hales


On Dec. 1 a statement began to be circulated entitled “A Declaration of African-American Support for the Civil Rights Struggle in Cuba.” The statement has 60 signatories—well-respected Black intellectuals, cultural performers and political activists, many of whom were leaders during the Civil Rights era and continue to be today.

The statement alleges not only racism in Cuban society but systemic racism. It insinuates that racism is a policy of the Cuban government, not merely a lasting vestige of the neo-colonial government before the 1959 socialist revolution.

To anyone who has ever been to Cuba or is in the movement to defend the Cuban Revolution, such a statement seems odd. It seems rather ironic coming from the U.S., despite the existence of the first Black president.

This statement signed by prominent figures is extremely dangerous for the Cuban Revolution and its admirers, defenders and those who look upon it as an example of what is not only necessary but possible when working and oppressed people confront their oppressor.

Such a statement comes at a time when the U.S. is trying to fix its image around the world. While the election of President Barack Obama is progressive—meaning that the consciousness of white workers was advanced enough to see beyond racism and even reject not only the racism of Hillary Clinton’s campaign but also that of McCain/Palin’s—the Obama administration has not meant much materially for the oppressed in the U.S.

The situation of the people of New Orleans has not changed, and many thousands have still not been able to return to their homes or been allowed to rebuild. They haven’t received the training and materials needed, nor prevailing wages, in order to come back and rebuild what had historically been a Black city.

While the U.S. government sat criminally by and millions around the world watched as tens of thousands of Black people languished in rising waters and oppressive heat, facing roving white bands armed to the teeth and racist police, the Cuban government amassed hundreds of doctors, nurses and other professionals who were ready to descend on New Orleans to assist the people, but their offer was ignored.

Racism permeates U.S. society

Today, the situation for Black people, especially young people, has worsened. Oppressed people in the U.S. are left behind greatly in every category.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, while youth unemployment is at an all-time high, it is direr in the oppressed communities. Black youth unemployment is at 32 percent; it’s at 22 percent for Latino/a youth and much higher in Indigenous communities. These numbers are inadequate, as they don’t account for youth who are discouraged and who have probably never had a job.

Poverty continues to increase: 34 percent for Black youth and 28 percent for Latino/a youth, while for Indigenous youth statistics are difficult to find—though 60 percent of Native people outside of cities are impoverished.

The rates of Black and Latino/a youth who graduate on time with a high school diploma are 59 and 61 percent, respectively. Only 50,000 Black men graduate each year with a bachelor’s degree. A much higher number of Black men between the ages of 20 and 29 are under correctional supervision or control. As of 2008, one in three or 846,000 Black males were incarcerated. (

The reality of oppressed people is tied to the very foundation of U.S. society. The roots of the rise of U.S. capital are the most naked forms of exploitation—theft of land, genocide, pillage, plunder and racism. In order to maintain the status quo, racism, sexism, homophobia and other ills are not only tolerated but used by the ruling elite and continue to be written into the laws of society.

Millions of people—undocumented workers—are pushed into the U.S. by imperialism, whether by neo-liberal policies or the military in their homelands, and they fear being rounded up and deported. Their labor not only makes millions for the capitalists, but taxes collected from them put billions into government coffers. The government uses immigration agents to raid workplaces and homes and allows local police to be deputized so they can be used federally to round up people for having brown or black skin and speaking a different language. And then there is the current war being waged against Muslims and Arab people, evident in the seizing of mosques and religious institutions by the federal government.

Cuba demonstrates anti-racist solidarity

But Cuba is targeted for racism? This is nothing more than a ploy to further try and undermine the revolutionary government. Cuba has a long history of showing solidarity with liberation movements around the world. Though it is a resource-poor nation, it has sent tens of thousands of doctors and educators around the world. Cuba’s assistance to the Angolans defeated the South African military and was crucial in breaking the back of apartheid.

Cuba has also shown support to Black people in the U.S. and has given political asylum to a number of Black militants, including Assata Shakur, who has a $1 million bounty on her head from the state of New Jersey.

The Cuban revolution has made great strides in reversing backwards ideas and building a society upon the principles of socialism, where people are in solidarity with one another instead of in competition. This is its greatest weapon and ultimately the greatest weapon any society can use to combat racism, sexism and homophobia.

Afro-Cuban artists have written a letter to the African-American people answering the outrageous claims in the Dec. 1 “declaration” regarding alleged racism in Cuba. The letter can be downloaded in its entirety by clicking on Cuban Solidarity at It reads in part:

“If the Cuba of these times was that racist nation they want to invent, its citizens would not have contributed massively to the liberation of the African people. More than 350,000 Cuban volunteers fought alongside their brothers of Africa against Colonialism. More than 2,000 fighters from the Island fell in the lands of that Continent.

“A personality of undisputed worldwide relevance, Nelson Mandela, has recognized the role of those volunteers in the definitive defeat of the infamous Apartheid regime.

“From Africa we brought back only the remains of our dead. Cuba has over there in that continent no property, no bank, no mines, no oil wells.

“If the Cuba of today were to feel such disrespect for Blacks, more than 35,000 African youth would not have been trained in our schools over the past 40 years, nor would 2,600 young people from some 30 African nations be studying right now in our universities.

“A people sick with racism would refuse to collaborate in the training of medical doctors and other human resources in health care at the Schools of Medical Sciences founded in Guinea Bissau, Equatorial Guinea, Gambia, and Eritrea. They would have turned their back on the Health assistance programs that have saved thousands of lives in Latin America and the Caribbean, where the African Diaspora is significant, and they would have not provided services to the more than 20,000 Haitians and English-speaking Afro-Caribbeans who have recovered their eyesight through surgical operations performed in our country, free of charge.

“It is very probable that the majority of those who signed the document aren’t aware that when the City of New Orleans was devastated by Hurricane Katrina, dozens of Cuban medical doctors and paramedics volunteered to provide help to storm victims in a humanitarian gesture that received no response from the American authorities.”


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