Cuba Struggles to meet Challenges Since 1959 Revolution

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It is disconcerting that racial prejudice remains even after a Revolution. But, in Cuba, as in America, the struggle continues.

 [Global: The Americas]
Few tourist ships dock at Havana’s famous esplanade. The United States government prohibits American businesses in Cuba.

travel to Cuba is restricted to relatives, journalists, students, and
researchers. On a recent trip to Havana conducting research on the
American Civil Rights Movement, this writer discovered the Martin Luther
King Jr. Center as well as the color line.

Eleven million
Cubans survive under the world’s longest economic embargo -- imposed by
the United States. Cuba, located 90 miles from Florida’s coast, is
famous for Fidel Castro’s Revolution and America’s Guantanamo Bay

In Havana, structural deterioration and 1950s era
automobiles blend with modern construction. Medical and educational
access is renowned; however, so is prostitution. For a small island with
little economic stature, Cuba plays an over-sized role in American
culture and politics. And, Cuba's color line shows how Latin America's
racial history can impact U.S. race-relations.

Cuban-American lobby is conservative and powerful. Florida’s delegates
are crucial to any successful presidential bid. Issues involving Cuba
receive special attention. President Barack Obama loosened family
restrictions on Cuban travel. Based on the U.S. Census, America's Cuban
population increased by 44 percent, growing from 1.2 million in 2000 to
1.8 million in 2010. U.S. policy now allows 20,000 Cubans to legally
migrate to America, annually. Famous Cuban-Americans include Gloria
Estefan and Andy Garcia.

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, a
Cuban-American, is a strong contender for Willard “Mitt” Romney’s
presidential ticket. Recently, Senator Rubio led a protest against
issuing a U.S. visa to President Raul Castro’s daughter to attend a
Latin American Studies conference in San Francisco. Raul Castro assumed
the presidency of Cuba following his brother Fidel's lengthy illness. No
such protests arose against communist Russia, China, or visits by
relatives of despots.

The conflict with Cuba is political and
emotional. Following the 1959 Revolution, Cuban immigrants lost more
than businesses when they fled to America. They lost race-based
privileges. Considered "White" in Cuba, they are people of color or
Latino, in America.

In Cuba, “Mammy” dolls with dark-skin, big
red lips, enormous breasts, wearing headscarves, and carrying
watermelons still fill the shops. This color line is not unique to Cuba. Offensive Black caricatures abound in Latin America as remnants of
Spain's slave trade.

The slave ship Amistad, made infamous by
the uprising led by Cinque, flew under a Spanish flag. That ship sold
part of its human cargo in Cuba prior to arriving in Connecticut’s Long
Island Sound. The United States obtained Cuba by defeating Spain in the
Spanish-American War. When Cuba gained independence in 1902, America
kept the naval base called Guantanamo Bay.

Race, class, and
color would dictate opportunity for most Cubans. Although the
Afro-Cuban, Antonio Maceo, known as the Bronze Titan, fought heroically
for Cuba’s independence, Black Cubans remained oppressed by law. In
1912, Afro-Cubans rebelled against the near slave conditions of the
sugarcane plantation. America crushed this Afro-Cuban uprising using
military force to protect its U.S.-owned plantations there.

Cuba appeared to be a pleasure-seeker’s paradise boasting world famous
casinos, beaches, and entertainment. In reality, Cuba’s President
Fulgencio Batista suppressed protests against governmental corruption
and suspended constitutional rights. In 1953, a young attorney named
Fidel Castro led an unsuccessful revolt against President Batista. After
years of guerilla warfare, Castro, his brother Raul Castro, and Che
Guevara, overthrew the Batista government on New Year’s Day, 1959.
Ironically, Batista himself had overthrown the previous president.

Castro instituted communist rule, nationalizing all businesses, and
seizing private property. America responded with a trade embargo
intended to cripple Cuba’s economy and defeat communist rule. America’s
attempt to invade Cuba, known as the Bay of Pigs, failed.

Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 brought the world to the brink of atomic
war. In 1980, over 125,000 Cuban prisoners and psychiatric patients were
given to America as Fidel Castro’s response to international criticism
when he allowed them to leave the country. Cuba, condemned for human
rights violations, is bombarded daily with pro-democracy messaging.
Since the Revolution, hundreds have drowned fleeing the country.

the Cuban government has long contended America ignores anti-Castro
militia groups in Florida. In 2001, five men infiltrated such an
anti-Castro group. The “Cuban Five” were convicted, and given life
sentences, despite exposing and providing evidence of an anti-Castro
assassination plot. An April, 2012, fire bombing of a travel agency in
Coral Gables, Florida, is under investigation by FBI counter-terrorism
units. The travel agency ran afoul of anti-Castro groups when it booked
trips for Americans traveling to Cuba for Pope Benedict’s Havana

At least, Cuba is wrestling with its color line. Among
President Fidel Castro’s controversial political reforms were policies
to end racism. In 1959, Cuba became the first Latin-American country to
end racial discrimination by law. This year marks the 25th Anniversary
of the Martin Luther King Center, in Havana, Cuba. The Center's work is
financed by the Castro government.

Race-based classism in their
host countries could explain the Latinos in America who benefit, but,
show little interest in African-Americans’ sacrifice for racial justice.
Since Latinos are America’s majority minority, the unenlightened
perspective on race among some, if not rebutted, can undermine America’s
racial progress.

For all of its oppression, Afro-Cubans
spoke positively of the Revolution’s efforts to address Cuba’s
entrenched racism. It is disconcerting that racial prejudice remains
even after a Revolution.

But, in Cuba, as in America, the struggle continues.

"Speaking Truth To Empower."

J. Browne-Marshall, an Associate Professor of Constitutional Law at
John Jay College in New York City, is author of “Race, Law, and American
Society: 1607 to Present” and a journalist covering the U.S. Supreme
Court. Her forthcoming book is “Black Women and the Law: Salem Witch
Trials to Civil Rights Activists - A Legal History.”

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