News Analysis

Why There Are No George Floyds in Cuba

Speech by Cuba’s Ambassador to UN


The following is the speech by Ambassador Pedro Luis Pedroso Cuesta, Permanent Representative of Cuba to the United Nations, to the online event, “Why There Are No George Floyds in Cuba.” The virtual forum was held April 11, 2021, while the trial of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was under way in that city for the murder of George Floyd. Chauvin was videotaped kneeling on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes during a May 2020 arrest. Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man who is shown in the video face down and handcuffed, died during the encounter. His killing triggered mass protests against police brutality and racism across the United States and other countries.

The online event was sponsored by the Minnesota Cuba Committee, U.S-Cuba Normalization Committee, and Mass Action Coalition to Jail Killer Cops. Other speakers included August Nimtz, Professor of Political Science, University of Minnesota; Aislinn Pulley, Co-founder, Chicago Black Lives Matter; Kimberly Washington, member, 2019 Venceremos Brigade to Cuba; and Soffiyah Elijah, Executive Director, Alliance of Families for Justice. Sandi Sherman of the Minnesota Cuba Committee and Azza Rojbi of the U.S.-Cuba Normalization Committee moderated the forum, which was hosted by the National Network on Cuba and Women Against Military Madness.

Subheadings, image captions, and endnotes are by World-Outlook.com.


By Pedro Luis Pedroso Cuesta

First of all, allow me to thank you for convening this virtual event, to address such a significant and urgent topic as racism and racial discrimination; as well as the opportunity to talk to you and share with you some elements on Cuba´s experience in confronting this scourge.

Pedro Luis Pedroso Cuesta, Cuba’s ambassador to the United Nations, speaks during April 11, 2021, online event. (Photo: Screenshot from video)

In Cuba, the struggle against racism and racial discrimination is inseparably linked to our struggles for independence and true emancipation, first against the Spanish colonialism, and then against imperialism, inside and outside Cuba.

In this regard, there is a common thread in the thinking of our heroes and main leaders, which largely explains the principled position taken by Cuba in this matter.

When Carlos Manuel de Céspedes[1], the Father of the Homeland, rose up in arms against the Spanish crown in October 1868, he freed his slaves and encouraged them to join the struggle for independence. He understood that colonialism and slavery were synonyms. For that same reason, in 1878, Antonio Maceo[2] would reject the peace conditions offered by Spain, since they did not guarantee the independence of Cuba or the abolition of slavery.

Later, in 1893, José Martí,[3] our National Hero, would write that “Men are more than whites, mulattos or blacks. Cubans are more than whites, mulattos or blacks. On the battlefield, dying for Cuba, the souls of whites and blacks have risen together into the air. In the daily life of defense, loyalty, brotherhood and cleverness, a black man has always been there, next to each white man”.

Anti-racist and egalitarian essence of Cuban revolution

This is the thinking that explains the anti-racist and egalitarian essence of Fidel’s Revolution, which, as of 1959, carried out radical transformations to eliminate the structural foundations of institutional racism and racial discrimination. It is also the reason why my country supported, at great sacrifices and risks, the national liberation struggles in Africa, and joined the fight against the disgraceful apartheid regime.[4]

Basically, the struggle against racism and racial discrimination has been part of the work of Cuban revolutionaries, inside and outside our borders.

Dear friends,

For Cuba it is a source of national pride to be a monoethnic and mixed-race nation, which is a stronghold of our identity. We are a country with Indo-American, European, African and Asian blood. The vast majority of our population is mixed-race, as are our traditions, idiosyncrasy, religiosity and folk culture.

The African heritage that enriches our identity is not limited to those who genetically descend from the three hundred thousand slaves brought to Cuba by colonialism. Nor is it assumed as an element of differentiation or segmentation with respect to other groups. It is a fundamental component of everything that is considered Cuban.

Cuban volunteers at Cuito Cuanavale, Angola, 1987. During that battle, Cuban troops, fighting alongside the Angolan army, routed the invading forces of South Africa’s apartheid regime. This feat gave impetus to the democratic revolution inside South Africa, leading to the overthrow of the white-supremacist regime. Cuba’s socialist revolution enabled its people to extend invaluable aid to national liberation struggles in Africa and elsewhere in the world.

Fight against racism a permanent task in Cuba

That is why the fight against racism and racial discrimination has been a permanent task in the country, with undeniable successes.

In 62 years of socialist Revolution, much has been done in favor of the full equality of all the people, and in terms of the fight against racism and racial discrimination.

It was the Revolution, with its profoundly humanistic approach, which wiped out forever all types of racial segregation in the country, and which democratized the access to education and culture, as a shield and sword against racism and racial discrimination.[5]

It was also the Revolution which created and has permanently strengthened, a robust legal and institutional framework to ensure the right of all individuals to full equality. This right even includes criminal protection, with severe penalties for those who attempt to infringe it.

The work of the Revolution has made it possible to guarantee that all persons are equal before the law, receive the same protection and treatment from the authorities, and enjoy the same rights, liberties and opportunities, without discrimination, which is banned and punished by law.

There is no discrimination based on skin color in the access to public services and the institutions that provide them; decent employment and social security and assistance; the administration of justice and the due protection by law enforcement agencies.

Nor is there discrimination in the access to top State and Government positions or under-representation in them. Some figures speak for themselves. The 2012 population census showed that 35.9 percent of the Cuban population described themselves as non-white. At the same time, it accounts for 41 percent of the National Assembly of People’s Power, our parliament, whose President, as well as the Vice President of the Republic, the President of the People’s Supreme Court, the Attorney General of the Republic and the Minister of Justice are black or mixed race people.

Likewise, the new Constitution of the Republic, endorsed in 2019 by 85.86 percent of voters in a popular referendum, ratified and strengthened the recognition and protection of the right to equality, as well as the prohibition of discrimination.

Nevertheless, no country has managed to completely eradicate all expressions of racism and racial discrimination.

Racial prejudices still linger

In our case, despite the tremendous progress made in this field, racial prejudices still linger on in the behavior and expressions of some people, which are based on historical, social and cultural factors. These prejudices and expressions are unacceptable and are not consistent with the country´s inclusive and participatory model we are building, hence we are determined to continue to move forward until their complete elimination.[6]

Orishas, Cuba’s most famous hip-hop group. “We criticize the social situation in this country, in part, but our only intention is to build, to look for solutions, to give the world an entirely positive image of what happens here,” said Roldán González, a member of the trio (right), “without lying, without exaggerating or hiding reality.” But “unfortunately there are still closed minds, people who don’t understand what you’re saying. To speak of what’s happening is not destructive. If they were to read the press, they’d see that we always put the Cuban flag as high up as possible. We love Cuba, and Fidel Castro too.” This interview with the music group appeared in a special issue of the Cuban magazine La Gaceta de Cuba devoted to “Nation, Race, and Culture” in 2005. The emergence and popularity of hip-hop and rap music in Cuba from the mid-1990s on coincided with renewed efforts to combat lingering forms of racist prejudice. (Photo: Huffington Post)

To this end, and with the purpose of having an updated comprehensive work tool readily available to solve this problem, in November 2019 the National Program against Racism and Racial Discrimination was approved, which is coordinated by a Government Commission headed by the President of the Republic.

Its objectives include identifying the causes of discrimination; diagnosing potential actions to be carried out by territory and area of society; disseminating and making visible our African heritage; and encouraging public debate on the racial problem, as well as its presence in the mass media.

These efforts are in line with our obligations as a State party to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the commitments undertaken in the Durban Declaration and Program of Action, and the shared objective of the International Decade for People of African Descent.

In this connection, we will continue to move forward on this and other areas, despite our status as a small developing country and the serious impact of the criminal economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the United States government for six decades, which has been intensified in an unprecedented way in times of pandemic.

Dear friends,

In closing, I would like to end by answering the question that serves as the topic of this event. In Cuba there are not George Floyds for the simple reason that we have a Socialist Revolution, which has placed the dignity of all human beings at the center of its tasks.

In like manner, I would like to reiterate that Cuba will always join the efforts of the international community aimed at doing away with racism and all forms of racial discrimination, as part of our objective to achieve a fairer world for all.

Thank you.


ENDNOTES

[1] Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, a wealthy Cuban landowner, freed his slaves on Oct. 10, 1868, and launched Cuba’s first war for independence from Spain, known as the Ten Years War. The independence fighters, known as mambises, quickly expanded their ranks among Cuban workers and peasants, Black and white. The Ten Years War ended in 1878 with a compromise, the Pact of Zanjón. The pact freed Black slaves that had fought in the war, but did not win independence. Afro-Cuban pro-independence commander Antonio Maceo was among the few who refused to sign the pact. It should be noted here that between 1810 and 1825 most of the Spanish colonies in the Americas won their independence. Only Cuba and Puerto Rico remained colonies of Spain. The weight of chattel slavery in those countries retarded their independence struggles because sections of the rising bourgeoisies in these nations feared that independence would also lead to slave revolts. But those struggles became historically inevitable.

[2] Antonio Maceo was a military leader and strategist in Cuba’s three wars of independence against Spain in the 19th century. An Afro-Cuban known as the “Bronze Titan,” in 1878 he attended a meeting of independence army leaders at Los Mangos de Baraguá to discuss a proposed pact with Spain to end the first war. Maceo declared his opposition to the pact, which failed to grant Cuba’s independence. He issued what has become known in Cuban history as the “Baraguá Protest,” calling for continuation of the struggle. A general in Cuba’s final independence war that began in 1895, Maceo was killed in battle the following year.

[3] José Martí, Cuba’s national hero, founded the Cuban Revolutionary Party in 1892 to fight Spanish colonial rule. He organized the relaunching of the independence war in 1895, and was killed in battle that same year.

[4] About 375,000 Cuban volunteers served in Angola between 1975 and 1990, and 2,000 of them died, fighting alongside Angolan and Namibian troops to defeat successive invasions by South Africa’s apartheid regime. One of the most important battles, in which Cuban troops played a pivotal role, was that at Cuito Cuanavale in 1987-88, where the invading apartheid armies were dealt a decisive defeat and were driven out of Angola once and for all. That defeat of the white supremacist regime gave the necessary impetus to the democratic revolution inside South Africa, resulting in the un-banning of the African National Congress (ANC), the freedom of ANC leader Nelson Mandela, and eventually the first-ever nonracial elections, which the ANC won in 1994. In July 1991 Mandela visited Cuba and spoke along with Fidel Castro, president of Cuba at the time, to tens of thousands of Cubans and international guests. “The Cuban internationalists have made a contribution to African independence, freedom, and justice, unparalleled for its principled and selfless character,” Mandela said. “Cuito Cuanavale was a milestone in the history of the struggle for southern African liberation! Cuito Cuanavale has been a turning point in the struggle to free the continent and our country from the scourge of apartheid!”

[5] One of the first measures taken by the new revolutionary government following the January 1959 victory that dismantled the U.S.-backed dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista was to ban discrimination against Blacks in employment and public facilities. It was taken in conjunction with many other steps that brought growing equality for Blacks within Cuba—an agrarian reform that distributed land to those who worked it, an urban reform that slashed rents and utility rates, and a massive literacy drive and expansion of education, among others. The nationalization of the factories and land held by U.S. and Cuban capitalists in the summer and fall of 1960 capped these measures that uprooted the material foundations of racism in capitalist Cuba.

[6] Despite the enormous transformation since 1959, racist attitudes and more subtle forms of discrimination were more persistent than many had anticipated, which has been a concern of Cuba’s revolutionary leadership. In a 1986 speech to a congress of the Communist Party of Cuba, Fidel Castro declared, “We can’t leave it to chance to correct historical injustices. To really establish total equality takes more than simply declaring it in law.” Referring to the need to advance the percentage of Blacks and women on the Communist Party’s Central Committee, Castro called for affirmative action, saying, “We can’t leave the promotion of women, blacks, and mestizos to chance…. We have to straighten out what history has twisted.” In the 1990s, Cuba’s revolutionary leadership and mass organizations in the country took new initiatives to promote a national discussion on the ongoing struggle against racism. They included the launching in 1998 by Cuba’s National Union of Writers and Artists (UNEAC) of the working group Color Cubano. The group led “discussions that range from the role that the media should play in the struggle against racism, up to the need to incorporate racial themes into school textbooks as an important aspect in the classroom,” Cuban journalist Gisela Arandia reported in an article in a special issue of La Gaceta de Cuba devoted to “Nation, Race, and Culture” in 2005. La Gaceta is UNEAC’s bimonthly journal.

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