Racism Will End the Dictatorship

Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Please read this historic, introspective column by famed Nigerian-Jamaican author Lindsay Barret in Nigeria's The Sun News:

Cuba: Will Racism Kill the Revolution?

By Lindsay Barret

I have been an almost uncritical supporter of the Cuban revolution ever since it was installed by Dr. Fidel Castro Ruz in 1959. One of my closest friends and a fellow advocate of the struggle for Pan African liberation Dr. Carlos Moore is however the exact opposite of me in this wise. Dr. Moore is a Cuban and he has consistently asserted that in spite of all its undoubted social benefits, in comparison to the old plantation-based imperialism of the system that he overthrew, Castro's revolution has not actually confronted the endemic racism inherited from the Spanish colonial past of that Caribbean island. Many of us who consider Carlos an intellectual of high repute and irrepressible integrity have tried to reconcile his dedication to the truth with his irrevocable intransigence against the Cuban Government. It has not been an easy task.

The anti-imperialism of our youthful days melded seamlessly into support for the Cuban people's struggle to sustain their social integrity and build what we believed to be an equitable society against the open antagonism of the USA. Over the last five decades the Cuban Revolution has provided one of the most epic examples of the improbable power of the triumph of the people against the imperialist system. It has appeared to us to be the ideal example for African nations to look up to in spite of the fact that very few of them have actually achieved the level of conscious reform that the Castro Revolution has recorded in Cuba. It is therefore both disappointing and distressing for me at this point to have to acknowledge that in spite of everything Carlos Moore's challenging assertions are beginning to ring true fifty years after we allowed ourselves to be enchanted by the glamour and courage of the Cuban insurgency.

The immediate issue that has brought Carlos Moore's stand on Cuba's betrayal of its revolutionary purpose to the fore arises out of the arrest and detention in recent months of a bright Afro-Cuban doctor who has been confronting some serious issues within the country. Dr. Darsi Ferrer is now the subject of a burgeoning international movement seeking not only his release from detention but also the acknowledgement of the conditions and the struggle for equity within Cuban society that he represents. This issue has been brought to my attention by a letter published by Carlos, but that is not all.

One of the most highly respected elders of the intellectual pantheon of the African Diaspora is Dr. Abdias do Nascimento of Brazil, whose advocacy of the recognition of the ascendancy of African culture in Brazilian national sensibility has made him an international icon. During the period leading up to the festival of Black and African Arts and Culture (FESTAC) held in Nigeria in 1977 Dr. Nascimento was resident at the university in Ile-Ife and many of us who visited him there were influenced not just by his erudition but also by his impeccable integrity and humility. He has leant his voice to appeals for the release of Dr. Darsi Ferrer in no uncertain terms and this has given extra weight to the overwhelmingly emotional appeal that Carlos Moore's interventions on this matter represent. It would be totally unconscionable of me to pretend that I can be as knowledgeable about the real situation in Cuba as either Carlos who is a Cuban or Dr. Nascimento who is an elder and scholar of the Afro-Latin Diaspora whose impressive depth of comprehension is universally acknowledged.

For this reason it is of paramount importance that I should allow Carlos's words in his widely disseminated letter to speak for themselves.

"Dear brothers and sisters: Many of you may never have heard of the Civil Rights Afro-Cuban activist, Dr. Darsi Ferrer. Yet, he is one of the most important Civil Rights leaders in Cuba today, and a tireless, courageous fighter against social exclusion. Dr. Ferrer was arrested more than three months ago, and jailed on absurd, untrue charges of having "stolen materials" from the state. What did he do? Dr. Ferrer runs a number of independent programs designed to help impoverished, marginalized and discriminated communities in Cuba (who are overwhelmingly of African descent). But because the government claims that there are no such things as poverty, racism or marginalized communities in Cuba, Dr. Ferrer is regarded as a highly subversive person by the authorities. A documentary produced by Dr. Ferrer, shows the condition of these communities (residents of what are called "tenements").

These are the people that Dr. Ferrer has been assisting for many years. I want to make clear, that this is the first time in my life, as an anti-racist activist myself, that I publicly raise a voice in support of any Cuban dissident. If I have done so, it is only because the Cuban government has, once again, crossed another threshold in the sort of oppression that it customarily dishes out to its citizenry. We have come to the point where to remain silent before such injustice and oppression is tantamount to be complicit with it. That is why I raise my voice on behalf of those who have no voice inside of Cuba. I appeal to your own sense of justice, asking you to help me mobilize world opinion around this case where an honorable, brave, black Cuban citizen, has suffered detention because he dared place himself at the service of the humblest of communities in Cuba. I am asking for your help to free the black political leader, Dr. Darsi Ferrer. I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Please help us free this brave Black intellectual whose only crime is to have stood up and protested against the racism and discrimination that Blacks confront in Cuba

Carlos Moore is the author of a book of reportage about the life of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti entitled This Bitch of A Life. He is also the author of a new and widely praised memoir entitled Pichon. The latter book's title is a term used to identify blacks in Cuba we are told and the suggestion is that by accepting the designation Dr. Moore is exposing the continued devaluation of the peoples of African descent in a society that claims to have overcome racist stereotyping. This is an issue that cannot be wished away. Moore's determined assertion that the Cuban nation is actually inhabited by a majority of peoples of African descent, the Afro-Cubans, but ruled by a minority of Hispano-Cubans must be considered objectively.

While I am not aware of what recent census figures or statistics of population by race in Cuba illustrate the cultural matrix of the society, which I have maintained a deep and profound interest in, suggests to me that Moore's assertions must be true. In fact in my last column on the subject of Cuba I raised the issue that with the change of guard represented by Fidel's retirement and his brother Raul's ascent to the seat vacated by his sibling there should be a fundamental examination of the need for more equitable and representative change if the revolution is to remain a revolution.

In the event that this does not happen the Castro revolution will become atrophied by its refusal to acknowledge such realities as those being exposed by men like Darsi Ferrer and Carlos Moore. In that event supporters of the Cuban revolution like me will become culpable collaborators in the demise of the dream that we thought we were supporting when we raised the Castro banner against the imperialist charge wherever and whenever we could.