LHM: Black in Latin America – Cuba

As I mentioned earlier in the month, I am hosting four workshops on the PBS series called Black in Latin America.  This was a documentary that was ground breaking in the way it showed the rich history of Afro Latinos in the Caribbean and South America. Last night, I hosted the first. I showed the the episodes on Cuba and although the audience was small, it was well received. For those who did not see it :

I took some notes of interest that stuck out in my mind when viewing this. These we also discussed when the viewing was done.

  • Cuba received over a million slaves from Africa. That is double the amount than the United States
  • The Haitian Revolution caused a shortage in sugar production in which forced Cuba to fill thee gap that lead to hundreds of thousands of slaves being shipped in order to meet demand. Whites feared a possible revolution in Cuba and because of this, plantations were operated like prisions.
  • By 1825, all of Spain’s colonies were independent with the exception of Puerto Rico and Cuba. The sugar industry was too profitable for Spain to lose
  • Carlos Manuel de Cespedes made the “Grito de Yara” on October 10, 1868. He declared his slaves free and this started a 10 year war.
  • Antonio Maceo and Jose Marti believes in a Cuba for Cubans and the Spain was trying to break Cuban unity by making race an issue in war.
  • Cuba abolished Slavery in 1886, 21 years after the United States

The documentary does not get too much into the Spanish American War. But it it interesting to point out the United States influences when it comes to racial policy. That can be seen with political cartoons of Cuba being defined as the “black child” of the United States.

It was at the mid way point when showing this documentary that students really got into this. When we wrapped it up, there was a mention that this type of information is not readily available. How else could they learn this information because history class is certainly not providing that.

  • Pedro Yvonnet and Evaristo Estonez (not mentioned) formed the Independent party of Color in 1908. This lead to the Cuban governmant massacring 3000 Afro Cubans in 1912 when they staged a revolt.
  • Son was considered black music and thus declared illegal but was declared a legal in 1925 by President Machado
  • The Cuban Revolution was on 1 January 1959, when a rebellion army lead by Fidel Castro overthrew the US-backed Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. The wars lasted 5 years. (much of this detail is not mentioned)
  • Castro declared Cuba to be free of Racism.

There is was a lot of talk after the viewing that Castro is viewed as this evil man, yet healthcare and education is free to everyone in Cuba. He made it a point to wipe out illiteracy as best he could. However, the USA has view of him as an evil dictator who aligned with the USSR when the embargo was placed on them. It is, of course, a matter of perception. It is no secret that Castro’s revolution lead to many White Cubans leaving the island and migrating to Miami.

  • The collapse of the Soviet Union lead to the loss of 6 Billion Dollars to the Cuban economy. That is about 80% of trade and over 50% of the GDP. This loss of money made racial inequality glaringly obvious.
  • Money from abroad (families in Miami send money to families in Cuba) is one reason for racial divide. The other is the currency: the peso vs the CUC.

It has always been my belief that Cuba has always been a racist country. One person int he documentary points out “Prejudice never went away in Cuba, it was just pushed under the table”. The reality in Cuba is the more class issue that has race written all over it. It just so happens that the rich are White and the poor are Black (as it oftens is).

Another thing that was discussed was Hip Hop in Cuba. It is very interesting that music of “Black” people can be under a certain type of scrutiny. I view Hip Hop to be just like Son in because it speaks to the poor and underrepresented.

I enjoyed showing this episode and will be showing another one this Saturday. I expect a larger crowd as we view and discuss Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

Let me know what you think!

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