Posted: December 30, 2009
For years I have been reporting on how Fidel Castro has been crushing
internal dissent. I did this while simultaneously trying to demythicize
his comrade, Che Guevara, a charismatic man when he was not a merciless
executioner at Havana prisons. I once met Guevara, and, during our
exchange at a Cuban mission in New York, we did not agree on the value
of free elections. As for Fidel's brother, Raul, he continues the family
tradition of adding to the prison population of Cubans caught practicing
discordant political speech.
Throughout the course of these columns on the Castro dictatorship, I
have cited the chronic racial discrimination against black Cubans
throughout Fidel's Revolution, a "revolution" that gladdens such
visitors as celebrity documentarian Michael Moore, who never mentions
Jim Crow on the island.
The extensive marginalization of blacks in Cuba has failed to break
through into general American consciousness; but as of the Nov. 30
release of "Statement of Conscience by African-Americans"
(miamiherald.com, Dec. 1), the big dirty secret of the Castro brothers
has been exposed.
According to the resounding news release – which had the authoritative
ring of Louis Armstrong's "West End Blues" – "60 prominent black
American scholars, artists and professionals have condemned the Cuban
regime's stepped-up harassment and apparent crackdown on the country's
budding civil-rights movement. This statement is the first public
condemnation of racial conditions in Cuba made by black Americans."
Trapped in Castro's gulag and lived to tell about it – check out Armando
Valladares' story of 20 years under dictator's thumb: "Against All Hope"
Among the signers denouncing the "callous disregard" for the "most
marginalized people on the island" are:
Princeton University professor and widely read author Cornel West;
Julianne Malveaux, president of Bennett College; professor Ron Walters,
University of Maryland and the Rev. Jesse Jackson's presidential
campaign manager; renowned actress Ruby Dee Davis; film director Melvin
Van Peebles; and UCLA Vice Chancellor Claudia Mitchell-Kernan.
These protestors emphasize that "traditionally, African-Americans have
sided with the Castro regime and condemned the United States' policies,
which explicitly work to topple the Cuban government. Yet this landmark
statement by prominent African-Americans condemns the growing
persecution waged by the Cuban government against Afro-Cuban movements"
Tellingly, these tribunes of civil rights emphasize, among other
sources, including Afro-Cubans: "The U.S. State Department estimates
Afro-Cubans make up 62 percent of the Cuban population, with many
informed observers saying the figure is closer to 70 percent.
"Afro-Cubans are experiencing strong and growing instances of racism on
the island, with their 25-odd civil-rights movements reporting a wide
range of discriminatory practices in hiring, promotion and access to
Cuba's socialized medicine and educational system."
When you were filming your tribute to Fidel Castro's exemplary
government-controlled health system, Mr. Moore, didn't you notice the
paucity of black patients?
There's more from this statement of conscience, which has received
little notice in the American press as of this writing. Surely what
follows should be of interest to Americans of all colors:
"Young black Cubans bitterly complain of aggressive racial profiling
conducted by police, and Cuba's jail population is estimated to be 85
percent black, according to black Cuban civil-rights activists." In
addition, "70 percent of Afro-Cubans are said to be unemployed. In such
conditions, a vigorous rebirth of Cuba's black movement, banned in the
early years of the Cuban Revolution, is occurring. Cuban authorities are
responding with violence and brutal civil-rights violations."
(Column continues below)
In a previous column, I reported on a visit to Havana months ago by
members of the Congressional Black Caucus. Several enthusiastically
lauded Fidel Castro's achievements in advancing the betterment of the
Cuban people, but there was not a word about the pervasive racism.
In contrast, writing about this "Statement of Conscience" challenge to
the Cuban government, Juan O. Tamayo (miamiherald.com, Dec. 1) noted
that "more African-Americans traveling to Cuba have been able 'to see
the situation for themselves,' said David Colvin, one of the statement's
organizers and former president of the National Conference of Black
And, in an incisive reminder to President Obama as he advocates improved
U.S. relations with the Cuban government, Victoria Ruiz-Labrit, Miami
spokesperson for the Cuba-based Citizens' Committee for Racial
Integration, also reminds all of us that even those Americans working
for human rights in Cuba have largely omitted the race issue. But, she
adds, "Cuban blacks moved closer to the term 'civil rights,' because
those are the rights that the movement here in the U.S. made a point of
– the race issues."
The Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton – along with leaders in the
NAACP and our other civil-rights organizations – will, I hope, soon book
passage to Cuba to stand with Cuban civil-rights activists trying to get
some of their members out of the Castros' prisons where they are held in
cells with common criminals.
Next week: the prison hunger strike by Cuban civil-rights leader Dr.
Darsi Ferrer, and more of the resistance to the dictatorship.
Nat Hentoff is a nationally renowned authority on the First Amendment
and the Bill of Rights and author of many books, including "The War on
the Bill of Rights and the Gathering Resistance."
The Castro brothers' big dirty secret (30 December 2009)