U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson: Stand With Cuba's Afro-Cuban Dissidents

Thursday, November 7, 2013
By U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL) in El Nuevo Herald (English translation):

Cuba’s Unfinished Civil Rights Movement

The black citizens of Cuba, like the black citizens of many nations including the United States, own far less property and far fewer assets than their white compatriots—a sorrowful legacy of centuries of slavery and discrimination. They have been largely excluded from quality housing and education. They have fewer opportunities to enter profitable industries like tourism because of systemic hiring discrimination.

The Cuban Revolution was supposedly about equality. While the island’s economy is dismal, food is often scarce, and political rights are limited, everyone—in theory—is supposed to suffer equally.

So what about the Afro-Cubans?

In contrast to the US and other open societies, Cuba’s black citizens are, to this day, unable to raise their voices and organize to challenge a system that’s stacked against them.
This is personal for me. As a lifelong civil rights activist and advocate for women, I was devastated to hear the story of Damaris Moya Portieles, an Afro-Cuban democracy activist and leader of Cuba’s Rosa Parks Movement for Civil Rights.  

Again and again over the past three years, Damaris has been harassed, beaten, and sexually violated by Havana’s political police. Her two-year-old boy and six-year-old girl have been assaulted and arrested.

Just after I met with her colleagues in the Afro-Cuban Pro-Democracy movement in Washington in September, I learned that Damaris’s home was ransacked and that she was again taken into custody. Her crime? Questioning racial progress in Cuba and organizing for change.

Afro-Cuban intellectual Roberto Zumbrano summarized the situation well in a New York Times op-ed earlier this year. “To question the extent of racial progress was tantamount to a counterrevolutionary act,” he wrote. “This made it almost impossible to point out the obvious: racism is alive and well.” In something of a self-fulfilling prophecy, Zumbrano was fired from his job as editor at a state-affiliated Cuban publishing house as soon as the article was printed.

Afro-Cubans, who suffered mightily under Cuban Spanish colonists and later governments, justifiably felt hope when Fidel Castro came to power under the banner of equality. But the past half century has been one of broken promises and unfulfilled aspirations. Black citizens are not only the likeliest to live in poverty but also the likeliest to be dissidents and martyrs in 21st Century Cuba. We must stand with our Afro-Cubano brothers and sisters as they stand up against the atrocities of the Castro regime.

The Castro brothers may never come around to our values like freedom of the press and an impartial judicial system, but it’s long past time that they live up to their own rhetoric about racial equality. The lives of brave people including Damaris Moya Portieles depend on it.