Message from Cuba to AfricanAmerican intellectuals and artists

We are sure that´s the way it will happen when the arguments refuting those deceitful statements about our society contained in a document circulated on December 1st in the name of a group of Afro-American intellectuals and leaders are considered.

To say that among us there is a "callous disregard" for black Cubans, that they are "denied civil liberties on the basis of race," and to "stop the unwarranted and brutal harassment of black citizens in Cuba who are defending their civil rights," would seem a delirious vagary if the evil intention of adding respectable voices from the Afro-American community to the anti-Cuban campaign that attempts to undermine our sovereignty and identity were not behind those fictions.

If the Cuba of these times was that racist nation they want to invent, its citizens would not have contributed massively to the liberation of the African people. More than 350,000 Cuban volunteers fought alongside their brothers of Africa against Colonialism. More than 2,000 combatants from the Island fell in the lands of that Continent. A personality of undisputed worldwide import, Nelson Mandela, has recognized the role of those volunteers in the definitive defeat of the infamous Apartheid regime. From Africa we brought back only the remains of our dead.

If the Cuba of today felt such disrespect for the black race, more than 35,000 African young persons wouldn´t have been trained in our schools over the past 40 years, nor would 2,600 young people from some 30 nations of that region be studying right now in our universities.

A people sick with racism would refuse to collaborate in the training of medical doctors and other human resources for health at the Schools of Medical Sciences founded in Guinea Bissau, Equatorial Guinea, Gambia, and Eritrea.

It would have turned its back on the health assistance programs that have saved thousands of lives in Latin America and the Caribbean, where the African Diaspora is significant, and they would have not provided services to the more than 20,000 Haitians and English speaking Afro-Caribbeans who recovered their eyesight through surgical operations performed in our country, free of charge.It is very probable that the majority of those who signed the document aren´t aware that when the City of New Orleans was devastated by Hurricane Katrina, dozens of Cuban medical doctors and paramedics volunteered to provide help to storm victims in a humanitarian gesture that received no response from the American authorities.

It is probable that those who signed the document also ignore the fact that from the earliest days following the popular victory of 1959, the institutional and legal bases that sustained a racist society were dismantled.

In 1959 the Cuban Revolution found a critical situation in the majority of the population. Cubans of African descent, who were among the victims that suffered most from the Neo-colonial model that existed here, immediately benefited from the battle carried out by the Revolution which put an end to any form of exclusion, including the fierce racism that characterized Cuba during those years.

Cuba´s policy against any form of discrimination and in favor of equality, has Constitutional backing, found explicitly in the chapters of the Cuban Constitution that refer to the essential political, social and economic foundations of the State, and about the rights and obligations and guarantees of its citizens.

These Constitutional Rights, as well as the mechanisms and means to uphold them and the restoration of legality before any violation of them, are guaranteed by means of very precise complementary legislation.

As never before in the history of our nation, black and mestizo Cubans have found opportunities for social and personal development in transformative processes that have been ongoing for the past half a century. These opportunities are conveyed through policies and programs that made possible the initiation of what Cuban Anthropologist Don Fernando Ortiz, called the non-deferrable integration phase of Cuban society. It is a process, we know, that is not exempt from conflicts and contradictions on which inherited social disadvantages and deeply-rooted prejudices play an important role.

Six years ago, Fidel Castro, in a dialog that took place in Havana with Cuban and foreign pedagogues, commented how "even in societies like Cuba, that arose from a radical social revolution where the people had reached full and total legal equality and a level of revolutionary education that interred the subjective component of discrimination, it does exist in another form," He described it as objective discrimination, a phenomenon associated with poverty and a historical monopoly on knowledge.

Whoever observes daily life anywhere in the country will be able to see how a sustained effort is underway to bring an end to the factors that provide the conditions for that situation through new programs oriented towards eliminating any social disadvantage.Afro-American intellectuals must know how their Cuban colleagues have dealt with these topics and promote actions from the prominent position they hold in civil society.

Some of the programs to which we have made previous references came into being as a result of the debates that took place in 1998 during the VI Congress of the Cuban Association of Writers and Artists (UNEAC), in an open and sincere dialog with the State´s highest authorities and then-President Fidel Castro.

It should be remembered that UNEAC, which brings together the vanguard of Cuba´s intellectual and artistic movement, had as its President and founder, a black poet, Nicolas Guillen, one of the most important poets in the Spanish language during the 20th century, an active fighter against racial discrimination, and personal friend of Langston Hughes and Paul Robeson.

Within UNEAC, an organization that never turned its back on these problems, a permanent Committee has been created to fight against any remains of discrimination and racial prejudices from a cultural perspective.

In a racist country it would be inconceivable to found and operate institutions like the House of Africa, the Fernando Ortiz Foundation, the House of the Caribbean of Santiago de Cuba, the Center of Caribbean Studies of the House of the Americas, and the National Institute of Anthropology, which, among others, conducts in-depth research into the African legacy in our culture and interracial relations in our country.

Likewise, artistic organizations and entities such as the National Folklore Group, the Camagüey Folkloric Ballet, and the Oriente Folkloric Group would not have received support and the most widespread social recognition,

The Museum of the Slave Route would not have existed. The first of its kind in Latin America and the Caribbean, The Museum is one of the first results of Cuba´s commitment to the UNESCO-sponsored program to vindicate the contribution made by Africans forcibly removed from their lands of origin and brought to these lands where they helped forge new identities.

If racial hatred was a predominant trend in our society, the celebration of the 100th Anniversary of the founding of the Party of Black Independents would have been nothing but a rhetorical gesture. The celebration was based on recovering the historical memory of that stage of struggle by and aspirations of the Cuban people for their rights and liberation from all forms of domination.

Genuine bearers of traditional musical culture much appreciated by the American public like "Los Muñequitos de Matanzas", "Yoruba Andabo" and "Clave y Guaguanco," would be working as parking lot attendants, shoe shiners and domestic labor were their extraordinary values not recognized. A racist society would not have committed itself so deeply to translating and publishing hundreds of literary works by African and Afro-Caribbean authors.

On one of his visits to Cuba, the Nigerian Nobel Prize Laureate Wole Soyinka declared: "It is difficult to find any other place in the Western Hemisphere where the quest to learn about African writers transcends the interest of the academic institutions, as I have seen here."

Cuban artists and intellectuals are thankful for the solidarity, the comprehension and respect many Afro-American personalities have shown towards the Cuban reality during a half century. We have never asked them to share our political ideas, nor have we put conditions on the dialog, or any type of support or backing. From a most basic sense of ethics, we respect their points of view.

Perhaps it would be opportune for those who signed the declaration about which we are commenting to listen, without prejudice, to this criteria. We are sure that by doing so, as the /Yoruba/ saying proclaims: "the truth will have its day."

La Habana , 3 December 2009

Nancy Morejon, Poet and Essayist

Miguel Barnet, Poet and Anthropologist

Esteban Morales, Politologist and Essayist

Eduardo Roca (Choco), Artist

Heriberto Feraudy, Historian and Essayist

Rogelio Martinez Fure, Africanist

Pedro de la Hoz, Journalist and Essayist

Fernando Martinez Heredia, Sociologist and Essayist

Report in English on Cubarte website

Original letter in Spanish on UNEAC website