Despite Change in Cuba, Racism Still Looms Large

Despite the economic changes and increased number of blacks in political positions on the island, Afro Cubans are still marginalized, writes Roberto Zurbano in the New York Times.

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Afro Cuban All Star musicians Ibrahim Ferrer, Juan de Marco and Ruben Gonzalez perform in Mexico in 1999. (STR/AFP/Getty)

Economic and political changes are afoot in Cuba, but according to Roberto Zurbano in the New York Times, not enough has shifted for Afro Cubans.

It's true that Cubans still have a strong safety net: most do not pay rent, and education and health care are free. But the economic divergence created two contrasting realities that persist today. The first is that of white Cubans, who have leveraged their resources to enter the new market-driven economy and reap the benefits of a supposedly more open socialism. The other reality is that of the black plurality, which witnessed the demise of the socialist utopia from the island's least comfortable quarters.

Most remittances from abroad — mainly the Miami area, the nerve center of the mostly white exile community — go to white Cubans. They tend to live in more upscale houses, which can easily be converted into restaurants or bed-and-breakfasts — the most common kind of private business in Cuba. Black Cubans have less property and money, and also have to contend with pervasive racism. Not long ago it was common for hotel managers, for example, to hire only white staff members, so as not to offend the supposed sensibilities of their European clientele.

That type of blatant racism has become less socially acceptable, but blacks are still woefully underrepresented in tourism — probably the economy's most lucrative sector — and are far less likely than whites to own their own businesses. Raúl Castro has recognized the persistence of racism and has been successful in some areas (there are more black teachers and representatives in the National Assembly), but much remains to be done to address the structural inequality and racial prejudice that continue to exclude Afro-Cubans from the benefits of liberalization.

Read Roberto Zurbano's entire piece at the New York Times.

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