Interview with Cuban Revolutionary Esteban Morales
The following is a recent interview the People’s Forum in New York City did with Cuban revolutionary leader Esteban Morales Domínguez.
Morales died from a heart attack on May 18, 2022. Born in Cárdenas, Matanzas, Cuba, in 1942, he became one of Cuba’s most prominent scholars. He was a member of Cuba’s Communist Party, the National Union of Writers and Artists (UNEAC), and of UNEAC’s José Antonio Aponte Commission. The responsibilities of this commission included U.S.-Cuba relations and the fight against racism in Cuba.
Morales was a member of the Cuban Academy of Sciences and held numerous academic posts — including professor at the University of Havana. He is the principal author, or co-author, of 15 books and has published many articles. His 2007 book, Desafios de la problemática racial en Cuba (Challenges of the Racial Question in Cuba) was the first book-length publication on this subject by a scholar in Cuba since the 1959 revolution. A collection of his essays in English can be found in Race In Cuba: Essays on the Revolution and Racial Inequality (Monthly Review Press, 2012).
“The sudden death of Esteban Morales is painful,” said Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, Cuba’s president and first secretary of the Central Committee of Cuba’s Communist Party, in a statement Prensa Latina published on May 19. “We will miss his intelligent, insightful, and engaging assessment of the problems of our time. I extend my condolences to his family, friends, and the Cuban intelligentsia that he honored with his work.”
“The [Cuban] president thus joined the many declarations of intellectuals, institutions, and people in general for the loss at 79 years of age of the renowned political scientist and essayist,” Prensa Latina noted.
James Count Early conducted the interview below on behalf of the People’s Forum, which released it on April 22, 2022. The videotaped interview, which includes English subtitles, can be found here.
The transcription and subheadings are by World-Outlook. Due to its length, we are publishing the interview in two parts, the second of which follows.
(This is the second of a two-part series. The first can be found here.)
James Early: Can you speak with more precision about what is actually happening now within the Cuban Communist Party and within the Cuban government on issues of racial identity, racism, anti-racism, and national development?
Esteban Morales: The debate has been growing. I have met people who have told me that the debate on racism should not be public. I have also met people, there are articles that reflect this, who say that Blacks cannot be, are not descent, like whites, or that Blacks are not intelligent like whites.
There are still prejudices that a Black man cannot marry a white woman, I am well aware of this personally. When my wife and I would go out on the street, people would give us strange looks. We got married years ago, in the 1970s. Some people looked at us with astonishment. Some Black people would look at me, saying: “Look, when he acquired a social position, he went on to marry a white woman.” At the same time, some white people would perhaps say: “Look, that white woman married to that Black man must be a prostitute, or that Black man must be a millionaire.”
These are the prejudices and situations that still exist and persist in Cuba. There is a raging debate about all this. This debate is promoted by community projects in different groups. It is promoted by the Aponte Commission. It is promoted by the governmental resolution against racism and racist discrimination. It has to be reflected more on national TV, in the written press, in the debate within the assemblies held in Cuba. This debate on this problem has to be more and more public.
Cuban society must, more and more, face this debate and discuss this problem. This is extraordinarily important.
The Cuban government is an ally of Black people
The Cuban government, which is the first ally in this debate, the first to promote it, becomes an ally of Black people.
We have an ally in the Cuban government. First, because in terms of health, education, culture, the government does not discriminate against us. On the contrary, all this is for the entire Cuban population.
As for the promotion of this debate and the need to finally solve the problems of racism and racist discrimination in Cuba, the government is also an ally of the Blacks and mestizos.
Now there is also a debate that has a negative side. That negative part is that the counterrevolution uses the problems that have to do with racist discrimination to subvert Cuban society. The problem of racism is a very sensitive one, very important for Cuban society. There are those who dedicate themselves to wielding it as an issue to divide Cuban society, to seek to influence Cuba, and to search for the possibility of provoking counterrevolutionary phenomena in Cuba.
That is why we must write a lot on the subject, we have to debate a lot on the subject, and we have to clarify a lot about the subject. So that people know what the subject is, what the counterrevolution has done, and how it has advanced, and what it intends to do in the future.
How does the discussion of racial identity and racism relate to the question and challenges of the development of democracy within socialist Cuba?
Public policies in Cuba are universal. We have to start by saying that. They are not public policies for a specific sector. Public policies for society are universal in Cuba. Everyone has the right to participate in [shaping] those public policies and to receive benefits. No one can stand in the way of that.
Now, increasingly, Cuban society is participating more and more in debating those policies. Well, you know there was a tremendously interesting debate on the Constitution, and now there is a very strong debate on the Family Code. It is the code of families, because in Cuba we want to broaden the concept of family. There has been a debate on homosexuality, in which we have made considerable progress, because one of the problems that exist in our culture is machismo, and machismo was a dealt a big blow. Homosexual people cannot be prevented from studying, they cannot be prevented from acquiring a university degree, they cannot even be prevented from joining the party. None of that can be prevented.
This means that the field of freedom for the citizen is widening more and more, and within this widening field, racist discrimination is being increasingly dethroned from the place it had before in Cuban society.
That is, little by little a legal and social situation is being created in Cuba that is cornering racism and racist discrimination. Because if you can’t prevent a Black person from going to the university, you can’t prevent him from going to see a doctor for free, you can’t stop him from participating in a cultural activity, if you can’t prevent any of this, the possibility of cornering the Black person disappears. The possibility of discriminating against him disappears.
One day I was standing near my sister’s house buying candy for my niece. In front of me there is a white man, with his books on hand, more or less like me, dressed like me. The girl serving him is serving him very kindly, most solicitously. When it’s my turn to buy, the girls asked me abruptly, “You, what do you want?” I told her, “You know that’s not the way to speak to me, not even if you knew me well.” She realized what I was getting at and got embarrassed.
What I am trying to say is that these phenomena exist in Cuban society. But they are not phenomena indicating in any way that we are not making progress. We move forward because we recognize these problems and fight against them.
What happens in the United States doesn’t happen in Cuba
From the point of view of what happens in Cuba, what happens in the United States doesn’t happen here.
For example, where Black people are discriminated against and beaten by the police for the mere fact of being Black. In Cuba, this doesn’t happen. In Cuba, someone may unofficially mistreat a Black person, but officially a Black person is treated the same as any other citizen, with all the capabilities and all the possibilities.
So, it means that we are making progress in that sense, and that we have gradually managed to place the issue [of racism] in the place where it should be. Regardless of the fact that sometimes we may come across people who do not even accept the issue, who do not even want it to be discussed, who are simply not interested in talking about the problem.
That is why it is also necessary to mobilize Black people themselves to participate in this debate, to participate in this discussion, to give themselves their place, and to do it like I responded that day — react to a situation in which you feel you are being discriminated against.
Esteban, you’ve been very direct in proposing to the Cuban government, specifically to the Ministry of Foreign Relations, the need to colorize — not racialize — to colorize statistics about the extraordinary developments of the Cuban Revolution. And as I understand it, with the rationale that although the Cuban Revolution has done some extraordinary things, one does not really know in precise terms the developments on a positive side without looking at the question of color and therein recognizing based on the colorization of policies to understand what is yet to be done in the Cuban Revolution with regard to domestic and democratic policies of recognition, respect, and material development. Would you elaborate more on that?
Of course. I say that much in an article I have called “The Challenges of Color.”
Our national statistics have to include skin color. Why skin color? Because Black and white are not the same in Cuba. Blacks, whites, mestizos, are not equal. Blacks and mestizos face certain problems that whites do not have, even though a white person can also be discriminated against but never because of skin color. He may be discriminated against because of his social condition. But a Black person can be discriminated against just because of his skin color.
So, statistics have to factor in skin color. Because I am not interested in being told that there is a 3% unemployment in Cuba. I want to know who those unemployed are, what color they are, and where they are.
Because if we are really going to work against racist discrimination, the economic statistics have to be colored, the demographic statistics have to be colored.
Today it is possible to have statistics showing how many Blacks are here, how many there, how many whites here, how many there. This is important, because Cuban society is a multicolored society, but within this multiculturalism there are disadvantages.
To really know if society is advancing, we have to know that Black and mestizo people are also advancing. From the cultural, educational, social care, and public policy point of view, we have to know this.
We have to know that if there is a 5% unemployment rate in Cuba, who are those unemployed? Are they Black, white, mestizo? In which companies did they used to work? Where do they live?
I am interested in knowing how many Black lawyers there are in Güines. How many Black doctors are there in Cuba? How many Blacks live in Matanzas? I am interested in these facts. This is important data. Because it is not possible to lead a nation politically without knowing that, without having that kind of information, because that becomes a phenomenon of discrimination.
When you are not in the statistics, you are discriminated against. When you are not considered in the statistics you are discriminated against.
I once dis some work at the university on researchers and faculty. There were 1,200 professors. Only 10% of those 1,200 professors were Black and mestizo. But when I looked at the categories of tenured and assistant professor or researcher there were far fewer Blacks. When I examined those with doctoral degrees there were far, far, fewer. I took that work and put it on the dean’s desk. When the dean took notice, the work became a political discussion of cadre.
So, that’s important. Why is it important? Because society has to move forward. To say that society advances, it has to move forward with all its components, and all the components of a society do not have the same advantages and disadvantages. Every society was born with its advantages and disadvantages.
Cuba was born with slavery. There are great disadvantages carried over from slavery for Blacks and mestizos. Whites carry over other disadvantages for other reasons.
At this current moment of development, ideologically and politically and with respect to democracy, what critical perspectives do you feel that citizens, the Communist Party and the government should bring with respect to the challenges and the advancement of Cuban socialism?
Well, at this moment we face a complex situation in Cuba. From the economic point of view, first of all, we are fighting for economic growth and to establish the best economic model in Cuba so that the Cuban economy grows.
In addition, we have a cultural debate that the United States is imposing on us, which I express in my work continuously.
In other words, it means that there is aggression on the part of the United States from the cultural point of view, and that aggression also affects the issue of racism. Because that aggression also affects those Black people who are not revolutionaries, who do not want socialism in Cuba.
This aggression also affects Black people who use these problems we have with color as a critical element against the government. Because if a Black woman can die before a white woman dies in childbirth, and the newborn too. Statistically, that is so. And if the Black man has a shorter life expectancy, the revolutionary government is not to blame for that. It is a long-standing problem. And everything that is being done is done to try to iron out those differences.
Today, the biggest example we have is the problem of COVID-19. We are gradually overcoming the burden and the work that has been done. Little by little we are overcoming COVID-19. The work that has been done is extraordinary. Already more than 85% of the population has been vaccinated and we are starting to give booster vaccines. In the vaccination [campaign] there has been no discrimination. None.
No one dares to discriminate against a Black person in the process of vaccination against COVID-19, because, well, they’ll go to prison.
There are people who are racist and who have these attitudes, but sometimes they do not dare to express them because they know this will not be seen well. Racism and racist discrimination are not regarded well by Cuban society.
We Black people and the mestizos are working and fighting to strongly address these problems. So that no one can use it as an element to maintain racism and discrimination. That is not possible.
Esteban in your view, what role should young leftists and socialists play in the development of Cuban socialism, and how do you feel that the government and the Cuban Communist Party should respond to those who try to undermine or overthrow the majority vote expressed in the Cuban constitution in support of socialism as the basic direction of the country?
In Cuba, a person can express whatever opinion they want. If someone doesn’t agree with the Constitution, in a meeting of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution they can stand up and say they don’t agree with the Constitution. They won’t go to jail for that.
There is freedom of expression and freedom of worship in Cuba. Everyone can go to the church they want and practice the religion they want. Everyone can speak their mind, wherever they want. As long as it does not violate the rights of anyone else, because my rights end where the rights of others begin. So, I cannot violate the rights of others.
All this is being debated. Now the Family Code is being debated. A series of laws are under debate that are going to be very important for the country. People can vote for or against them. The majority has to be respected. If the majority says so, that has to be respected and it becomes law. Whoever breaks those laws has to answer for that.
We live in a society that is a democratic society of laws, which is a society even more democratic than others. Because here the laws are discussed and approved by referendum. As far as I know, in the United States no law is passed by referendum. There are many societies in the world where laws are not passed by referendum. In Cuba they are.
The Cuban Constitution was approved by referendum. The Family Code will be approved in a referendum. If it is not approved, it does not become law. But if it is approved, it has to be respected and it has to be complied with. That is that.
We have a government resolution aimed at fighting racism and racist discrimination, but we also have laws that punish racism. If a person behaves in a racist way toward another person, and that is public knowledge, that person has to answer for that. They have to answer for that as they would have to answer for having stolen what is not theirs, because a law is a law.
I do not believe that in Cuba there is a need for a racial law. I believe that the existing laws and the Constitution are enough. We have to work continuously so that those laws are enforced and so that public policies benefit all citizens, something the government will not oppose and a person who does oppose it will have to suffer the consequences.
From your perspective as an Afro-Cuban citizen who is a member of the Cuban Communist Party, what role do you feel that foreigners, particularly in the United States and across the Caribbean and Latin America, should play in regard to solidarity as connected to the racial issues that we have discussed today?
Disseminate the truth of the Cuban reality because there are many people who distort the Cuban reality, who lie about the Cuban reality, who attack the Cuban reality and they don’t do it with truths, they do it by distorting the reality.
So, the first thing to do is disseminate what is being done in Cuba in relation to this issue. Discuss the government’s attitude on this issue. The attitude of intellectuals in relation to this issue in Cuba. The attitude of the citizens in relation to this issue. As truths.
Why? Because slavery, because Spanish colonialism was weak on racial consciousness. It accepted us a little more. It discriminated against us a little less, is that clear? We did not face what happened to Blacks in the United States, who are ultimately killed in the street.
A Black person in North America has to have a very strong racial consciousness. We do not have it. We have to strengthen it, in order to really solve the problem of racism in Cuba.
In Cuba, there is no knowledge of a person being killed for being Black or people demonstrating in the streets because a Black person was killed, while in the United States that has happened with tremendous frequency. That has not happened in Cuba. So Black people don’t have that consciousness. We need a greater racial consciousness. Our racial consciousness has to be strengthened because racial consciousness is needed to fight racism.
Thank you, Esteban. Anything else you’d like to add?
Well, it seems to me that I have said everything I thought, and I have thought everything I said as well.
I know there is a certain lack of understanding. My words have to serve to know that this problem in Cuba, although we have advanced, we still have the issue, and we continue working against it with the support of the [mass] organizations and the Government of the Republic, which is also concerned about this problem within Cuban society being resolved.
That’s why a lot is being done with cultural work, a lot is being done with the possibility of seeking opportunities for everyone. A lot of work is being done so that Black people do not feel discriminated against and can use the available opportunities.
That is our reality. That’s the last thing I wanted to say. And to thank you for the interview.
(This was the second part of a two-part series. The first can be found here.)
Race in Cuba: Everything Within the Revolution
Categories: Cuba/Cuba Solidarity