A Black perspective on Cuba

MSR EditorialMost people in the U.S. have not studied Cuba in any depth and what little information they have received has been been from the White corporate press and the hostile U.S. government, which created and fosters the false image of Cuba as a ruthless dictatorship under the control of communists and and the Castro brothers.

It should be noted that when Nelson Mandela was freed, the first head of state he visited to show his gratitude for support for Black liberation was Fidel Castro. This false image serves as the justification for U.S. aggression (military occupation of Cuban territority-Guantanamo Bay) and trade restrictions.

When I was a Black student activist in the 1960s, I was inspired by the liberation struggles in Africa, Asia, and Latin America and their socialist goals. I viewed these struggles as congruent with the Black liberation struggle in the U.S. In 1964 I and members of our Black student group UHURU, along with a larger racially diverse student group, had the opportunity to spend over two months in Cuba.

This was one of the most critical periods of my life. Cuban society was vibrant. Youth brigades were involved in eradicating illiteracy, large boarding schools were being built, and the large abandoned mansions of the White racist class who left for Miami were appropriated to serve as day centers for the Cuban working class. These changes were long over due after centuries of slavery and decades of U.S. domination with its rigid form of racial segregation in Havana.

My third visit to Cuba in 2000 provided an opportunity for me to compare my observations of Cuba today with my impressions of it in 1964 and 1984. I remain inspired by Cuba’s commitment to social justice and the equitable distribution of its resources among its population.

What is remarkable is Cuba’s dedication to the struggles of the oppressed around the world as demonstrated by its commitment of its scarce resources to the education and health projects designed to help the impoverished populations of countries in South and Central America, as well as in Africa.

I was impressed by Cuba’s own educational and health systems, and the government’s firm commitment to giving top priority to the basic needs of every Cuban. Although Cuba has institutionalized many revolutionary social programs over the years, I do sense that there has been a decline in revolutionary zeal and enthusiasm that was strongly exhibited and expressed during my first visit in 1964.

I think Cuba represents the best available model for impoverished countries to organize their population to develop their own resources for the benefit of the broad masses of the people. But the future of Cuba is problematic.

I am glad that the Obama administration has moved toward normalization with Cuba, but this change in policy will probably have the effect of increasing the income and wealth gap between Black Cubans and White Cubans (the Cuban government tries to avoid using racial categories, but by U.S. racial norms the majority of Cubans would be classified as Black) because White Cubans will undoubtly receive more material resources from their wealthier White relatives in the U.S.

Dr. Luke Tripp is a professor in the Department of Ethnic and Women’s Studies at St. Cloud State University. He welcomes reader responses to lstripp@stcloudstate.edu.