In 1988 there was a large march and demonstration in Harlem starting on 125th Street. The lead banner in the march declared, “Africa Called — Cuba Answered.” It was a bold statement in support of Cuban military assistance to Angola, which was under attack from internal counter-revolutionary forces, backed and prodded by the apartheid South African military. In the ensuing battles, nearly 5,000 Cuban soldiers gave their lives for African freedom. With Cuban assistance, the Angolan government defeated the South African army, which led to the consolidation of the Angolan revolution, the independence of Namibia, and, a few years later, the collapse of apartheid South Africa.
Nelson Mandela, on his first visit to Cuba, noted:
What other country has such a history of selfless behavior as Cuba has shown for the people of Africa? How many countries benefit from Cuban health care professionals and educators? How many of these volunteers are now in Africa? What country has ever needed help from Cuba and has not received it? How many countries threatened by imperialism or fighting for their freedom have been able to count on the support of Cuba?
There has also been a long relationship between socialist Cuba and African Americans. Cuba has repeatedly hosted and given safety and support to African American activists who were under violent police assault.
Thus, it should come as no surprise that the Black Lives Matter Global Movement (BLMGM) would raise their voices in support of the Cuban Revolution. In a statement released last July they wrote:
Black Lives Matter condemns the U.S. federal government’s inhumane treatment of Cubans, and urges it to immediately lift the economic embargo.
This cruel and inhumane policy, instituted with the explicit intention of destabilizing the country and undermining Cubans’ right to choose their own government is at the heart of Cuba’s current crisis. Since 1962, the United States has forced pain and suffering on the people of Cuba by cutting off food, medicine, and supplies, costing the tiny island nation an estimated $130 billion. . .
Cuba has historically demonstrated solidarity with oppressed peoples of African descent, from protecting Black political prisoners, revolutionaries like Assata Shakur through granting her asylum, to supporting Black liberation struggles in Angola, Mozambique, Guinea Bissau, and South Africa.
One misguided professor, who was born and educated in Cuba but moved to the U.S., added:
The sympathy that BLM expresses for Cuba’s Communist government is steeped in a sense of Cuba as it was in the 1980s — and that Cuba no longer exists. Like the United States, Cuba had a long history of slavery, followed by various forms of institutional racism. The Cuban Communist revolution in 1959 resulted in socioeconomic opportunities for Black and mixed-race Cubans. Resources from the former Soviet Union helped bolster the economy and reduce historical disparities. Cuba under Fidel Castro was a dictatorship, but it’s also true that racial equity in education, life expectancy, and employment improved for a time during his tenure.
What the well-meaning professor seems to ignore, while at the same time acknowledging, is that the Cuban government made great strides toward “racial” equality from 1959 until the 1990s. What limited those strides was the U.S. embargo and constant hostilities against Cuba by the U.S.
There is a long discourse among scholars and activists on racism in Cuba. Most of them, whether pro-Revolution or anti-Revolution, admit that major steps were taken to abolish institutional racism by the Cuban government in its early period. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Cuba entered a “special period,” during which its economy suffered greatly as the U.S. embargo exacted a heightened effect. Slowly, the Cuban economy began to recover due to the expansion of the Cuban tourism industry in the mid- to early 2000s and Obama’s relaxation of the embargo much later.
Then Cuba was hit by two disasters — the Trump administration and the Covid-19 pandemic. The Trump administration resurrected the sanctions that Obama had softened and significantly strengthened the embargo. In Trump’s last week in office, he added 240 additional sanctions — including marking Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism (due to its support of Venezuela), halting remittances, barring U.S. cruise ships from entering Cuba, and clamping down on educational trips. These are estimated to have cost the Cuban economy more than $20 billion.
In addition to the embargo, the U.S. government spends $20 million annually to Cuban “pro-democracy” organizations and another $28 million for the U.S. Office of Cuba Broadcasting, which operates Radio and TV Marti’s non-stop anti-government propaganda.
Despite the U.S. embargo, which is opposed by nearly every country in the world except Israel, Cuba has achieved a life expectancy of 79.74 years (U.S. = 78.69), a literacy rate of 99.95% (U.S. = 99%), and an unemployment rate of 1.7% (U.S. = 5.8%).
When the Covid-19 pandemic struck, it dramatically increased the impact of the restrictions on the Cuban economy resulting from the embargo. This created the conditions for the Cuban economy to contract. And, as in any economy in crisis, the poorest sections of Cuban society were hit the hardest. That this poor section is probably disproportionately composed of African-descended people is a reality of the long global history of slavery and racism.
It is clear that the U.S. embargo is the major impediment to improving the lives of all Cuban people — especially the African-descended population. Consequently, the central demand for activists in the U.S. must be to end the embargo. We, supporters of the Cuban Revolution, feel that the Cuban people are capable and willing to solve their internal problems. Our task is to ensure that the U.S. government is not acting as an obstacle to that process.
Organizing one’s community to demonstrate against the U.S. embargo of Cuba, working with unions and community groups to educate on the embargo and support Cuba, writing one’s representatives and senators, and calling for an end to U.S. imperialist intervention in other countries, and for peace, are some ways to advance this struggle.
Statement by the African-American Equality Commission, Communist Party, USA, August 5, 2021.
Image: Maurizio Laudisa (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).