Cuba

In Their Own Words, This Is What It's Actually Like for Black and Brown People in Cuba

"They're arresting people at their homes."

|

In 1979, Assata Shakur of the Black Liberation Army achieved a near-impossible feat: She escaped from the Clinton Correctional Facility for Women, where she was serving a life sentence for the first-degree murder of New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster after a shootout on the state turnpike.

She has remained a free woman ever since, having been officially granted political asylum by Cuba in 1984, five years post-breakout.

Shakur's story serves as something of a symbol for the relationship between some American social justice movements and Cuba's authoritarian regime. Take the statement released last week by Black Lives Matter (BLM), addressing the ongoing protests in Cuba amid the government's inability to provide basic food and medicine: "Since 1962, the United States has forced pain and suffering on the people of Cuba by cutting off food, medicine and supplies," the group wrote, referring to the U.S. embargo on trade. "The people of Cuba are being punished by the U.S. government because the country has maintained its commitment to sovereignty and self-determination….Instead of international amity, respect, and goodwill, the U.S. has only instigated suffering for the country's 11 million people—of which 4 million are Black and Brown." The statement also mentioned Cuba's protection of Shakur. 

It's true that U.S. trade policies have exacerbated Cuba's woes—insomuch as the communist island has been unable to reap the rewards of American capitalism. Apart from that, the "sovereignty and self-determination" of the country's government has led to mass oppression of those 11 million people, who are only equal in that they are equally starving.

But don't take it from me. "[Black Lives Matter is] using the situation in Cuba to club their own government over the head," says a 35-year-old black Cuban activist, whose identity has been redacted as he participates in the nation's first protests in more than 60 years. "What's wrong with them?"

In a conversation recorded and sent via WhatsApp, an encrypted messaging service, two Cuban demonstrators, who are both black, responded to the claim that the 4 million black and brown people of Cuba are truly free. After I reached out via an intermediary and asked them to react to BLM's statement, the clip of the two speaking to each other was sent to DADE magazine's Nicolás Jiménez, who translated and shared the transcription with Reason.

The correspondence was dispatched via encrypted messaging because Cubans cannot talk openly about the Cuban government. In fact, the conversation heavily features the two protesters going back and forth on whether it is safe to respond to my press request at all. "You have to respond in a way that doesn't screw you over," says the other activist, who is 25 years old. "They're arresting people at their homes."

"That's why I tell people not to screenshot my messages," responds the 35-year-old. "I've reviewed and I think I'm safe with all my Instagram content, but I'm not sure." He adds that he would have liked to respond with a video, but "I can't expose myself like that," he notes, "because it's true that they're rounding people up."

The Cuban Revolution sought to engineer forced equality via communism following the overthrow of the brutal military dictator ​​President Fulgencio Batista. But that equality is a myth, say the activists, who argue that the Cuban government tries to hide the lingering effects of institutionalized and systemic racism.

At a recent university protest, the 35-year-old relays that special forces "went directly after black people." The 25-year-old agrees. "The idea is that only people on the margins protest against the government. Only delinquents," he says. "In fact, they used to call it a revolution for the poor, and now they use words like marginalized and delinquent to describe what's happening, which is a way of hiding all their racism and all their classism, right?"

Riquet Caballero, a black Cuban immigrant to the U.S., also takes issue with the assertion that the country is equal, a claim made by the Democratic Socialists of America and journalists like The New York Times' Nikole Hannah-Jones.

In an interview, Caballero describes his confusion after coming to the U.S. in the late 1990s and noticing various differences between the two nations. He no longer had to make his own kites out of reeds and newspapers, and, to his surprise, kids no longer played baseball with broomsticks and bottle caps. Other differences were more dramatic: When Caballero came to his Cuban public school in an American Olympic '96 basketball jersey, his teacher threatened him with reeducation unless his mother stole Coca-Cola from her factory job and turned it over for a school party. 

"I also used to steal light bulbs and sell them for candy," he adds. 

He was able to ditch that side hustle upon moving to the U.S. "I would say that what I have thanks to Cuba is to be grateful for having opportunities," he says, having mounted a Libertarian bid in 2018 for the Florida House of Representatives. "I realized that here in America, you could basically make anything of yourself….The pursuit of happiness is something that is really central to my core."

That mentality is not welcome in Cuba. On the contrary, it's actively discouraged, and punishable by law. "There was a man that was arrested who produced illegal cheese," notes Caballero. "He didn't report all the milk that the cows were producing, even though they were his cows….He only reported the milk production, started making cheese and selling cheese on the side….The government found out and they confiscated his cheesemaking operation." The man was then sent to jail, says Caballero.

Like the two activists in Havana, Caballero also altogether rejects the claim made by American leftists that Cuba has been able to construct racial equality. "They really made sure to control the black population because we have a history of being fighters."

BLM in particular has been criticized by the right for having Marxist roots. While it is certainly not true that every person involved with or sympathetic to BLM is also a Marxist, the group's support of the communist regime in Cuba has cost it support from people who otherwise identify with the broader civil liberties goals of the movement. 

"When they killed George Floyd I remember that all of [the Cubans] in Miami were accusing BLM of being Marxist, of being communist. And I defended them, bro. I would say, 'Look, it's more than that,'" the 25-year-old Cuban activist says in the voice recording. "And now I see that no, it's actually less than that. It's like they have this ideological starting point from which they see the world instead of standing alongside allies and people who are going through the same things they are."

"You feel alone," he adds. "You feel like…I don't know. It's a letdown. It's horrible, really."

NEXT: Californians Get 42 Choices To Potentially Replace Gov. Gavin Newsom

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Nonsense – Cuba would be a paradise if it weren’t for those racist U. S. sanctions.

    To protest this anti-Cuban propaganda, the BLM leadership should all move to Cuba.

    1. Saying a socialist economy would work great — if only it were allowed to trade with the rich capitalist country nearby is not the killer argument that socialists think it is.

      1. It’s axiomatic that capitalism/market economies can do quite well without communism, while communism cannot exist without the opposite.

        1. GoogIe ahora paga entre 17488 y 24900 dólares al mes por trabajar en línea desde casa. Me incorporé a este trabaj0 hace 2 meses y he ganado $ 27540 sdm en mi primer mes de este trabajo. Puedo decir que mi vida ha cambiad0, ¡compIetamente para mejor! Mira lo que hago.>>>> READ MORE

  2. Clinton Correctional Facility for Women

    I’m just going to leave this here.

    1. #BelieveWomen
      #(ExceptClintonsAccusers)
      #(AndCuomosAccusers)
      #(AndFrankensAccusers)

    2. I’m guessing it’s DeWitt Clinton, not Bill.

      1. And his Dad was named George Clinton.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Clinton_(funk_musician)

        No, different George Clinton.

        1. George Clinton most definitely inhaled. Many times.

          1. Your mother too, judging by your brain damage.

      2. I’m thinking it’s a bad porn title.

    3. The jokes really write themselves there, yeah.

  3. When we Koch / Reason libertarians invite the planet’s Black and Brown bodies to immigrate to the US, we have two main goals in mind:

    1. Import cost-effective labor for billionaire employers like our benefactor Charles Koch.
    2. Import enough Democratic voters to turn the entire country into a single-party state like California.

    I don’t doubt that Cubans would be useful for #1. As for #2, however, I’m not convinced. If Biden decides Cubans don’t deserve the open borders treatment he’s given to Mexicans, I’ll still support him.

    #ImmigrationAboveAll
    #(UnlessTheImmigrantsMightVoteGOP)

  4. This guy is clearly a lying clinger that doesn’t know anything. He’s not a real black, and he’s never been in a real communist country. Reason need to stop interviewing these bigot clingers.

    1. Username checks out. 😉

  5. “Riquet Caballero, a black Cuban immigrant to the U.S., also takes issue with the assertion that the country is equal, a claim made by the Democratic Socialists of America and journalists like The New York Times’ Nikole Hannah-Jones.”

    Hannah-Jones? Since when has a Pulitzer Prize winner lied about a Communist country?

    1. Yeah, Walter Duranty’s reporting from the USSR was proof that Soviet Communism could survive any depression the west could not. And they could feed their people unlike the capitalist swine.

      1. And make the trains run on time. Don’t forget about the trains.

        1. Um …

          That was the Eye-Tie Fascists, wasn’t it?

          1. In USSR the trans also ran on time. Of course, they were filled with thousands of political prisoners, bound for GULAG.

            1. The difference between Hitler’s trains and Stalin’s trains:

              Nearly all of the people stuffed into Hitler’s trains got off alive at the camps. _Then_ they were either killed right away, or starved and worked to death, because that was the purpose.

              Many of those stuffed into Stalin’s trains were dead when the train arrived at the camp. They weren’t _supposed_ to be killed, but Communists were careless about things like food, water, heat in the winter and ventilation in the hot summer. Then after arrival, the survivors weren’t _supposed_ to be starved and worked to death, but more often than not they died, because Communists were still careless.

              So according to a “Progressive”, the Soviet Communists were morally superior to Nazis even though they killed at least 50 million to Hitler’s 12 million, because they didn’t _intend_ to kill them… It’s all about FEELINGS, not results.

    2. Certainly not one who worked for the NYT.

  6. We’re oppressing the communist country by not doing capitalism with them.

    Capitalism: life blood of communism.

    1. So…AOC and Bernie are actually anticommunist? This is a very disturbing paradox.

      1. Communism has probably killed more communists than all other ideologies combined

        1. Nothing’s as deadly as an incompetent government that wants to run everything.

    2. It can hurt the brain can’t it? One would think the Capitalist’s countries would be wallowing in misery and blaming the rich Communist countries for all their woes.

    3. Lenin recognized this reality. Xi is putting it to good use.

  7. Since 1962, the United States has forced pain and suffering on the people of Cuba by cutting off food, medicine and supplies

    There hasn’t been a blockade of Cuba since Kruschev pulled the missiles out (in 1962, coincidentally). They can buy food, medicine and supplies anywhere they want, except for the US.

    1. They have a government that censors speech and rounds up deserters for arrest.

      Does the embargo make them do that?

      These people make excuses for communist totalitarianism. They really shouldn’t be influencing policy.

      1. A government that cencors speach and rounds up dissenters for arrest? I’m glad we have nothing like that under the Biden administration!

        1. That’s different!!!
          – take your pick of any of the usual suspects

    2. But they cannot use US currency to do it, which is a significant roadblock.

      Why Cuba doesn’t have it’s own currency that’s worth anything on an international scale is unknown, but we can be sure it’s got nothing to do with the merits (or lack thereof) of communism.

      1. Bitcoin to the rescue! To bad their entire GDP is less than one bitcoin.

  8. Cuba’s an oppressive regime, but they’re better than us because Trump.

    /Sullum and Boehm

    1. While it is certainly not true that every person involved with or sympathetic to BLM is also a Marxist, the group’s support of the communist regime in Cuba has cost it support from people who otherwise identify with the broader civil liberties goals of the movement.

      Binion is principled enough to remove the sign from his lawn, but he really hates having to explain to his neighbors why.

      1. “the group’s support of the communist regime in Cuba has cost it support from people who otherwise identify with the broader civil liberties goals of the movement.”

        Yea, it sets a bad example for what exactly those broader civil liberties goals are…

  9. The government found out and they confiscated his cheesemaking operation.

    The worst part of communism is that nobody in Cuba has ever seen The Life of Brian.

    1. Any manufacturer of diary products

      1. The Cuban Government has a Big Nose.

  10. Democrats have openly stated they want the US to emulate communist Cuba. Their words. They have threatened our constitutional republic with a totalitarian dictatorship. It is obvious who is the real threat to civil rights and blacks in this country and it is the treasonous democrat party.

    1. They have shown to be a mix of gaslighting, completely wrong, and out of their depth in the analysis of the Cuba situation.

      It is really fucking rich. To see Hannah Jones saying blacks/browns are treated better there with more “equity”, AOC blaming the US for the atrocities Cuba’s communist govt did to their citizens, and capitalism is at fault for their failed govt’s mistreatment of its own citizens. BLM praising the Castros, hating the US.

      This must be remembered. Not only do these people have no fucking clue how to govern, but they are trying to steer us toward a form of govt that is PROVEN to be tyrannical over its citizens, that makes everyone poor/miserable, that takes freedom from and hurts its citizens. This is what they want, this is what they strive for. And they have the nerve to say capitalism is racist, capitalism is directly hurting black/brown people.

      And instead of listening to actual black/brown people screaming at the top of their lungs that they hate it, they scream at us that WE are the racists. But you dont see them fleeing to other countries. You dont see them going to these communist shit holes.

      1. If the Republican or Libertarian parties had any spine whatsoever, they would rub that in those smug assholes faces every chance they got.

        Although, Spike Cohen may have already savaged them on Twitter as he’s done to some others in the past six months.

      2. Communism is a means to an end, and that is to wield power. And it looks good on paper [equality, equity, from each according to his ability and to each according to his need, etc.] so can be used as promos to “fee the masses” and “down with the oppressor” pablum.

        BLM is playing it for all it’s worth, and it’s up to anyone with a modicum of sense to call them out on it, and of course endure the other handy epitaph, being called a racist.

  11. Yes, but the really important thing about Cuba is their literacy program and universal health care.

    1. “We have universal health care! Everybody has equal access to the one bandaid we have! Once Jose is done with it, Juan will get it!”

  12. Indeed. The BLM leadership are Communists hiding behind black lives. BLM leadership = Disgusting Low-Lifes.

    1. The blm leadership isn’t hiding anything. They all say they are trained Marxists and that they want to force a Marxist society with blacks getting special treatment.

    2. Where is WK to ask if we have seen their communist membership cards?

      1. If I didn’t just mention it, I would expect the “no enemies to the left” crowd to pull a No True Scotsman in response.

  13. The brown and black peoples of Cuba are so overwelmed with freedom they patch together a coble made of discarded doors and empty coke bottles to sail to their oppressed brothers in the US to spread the word of the inexhaustable freedom provided by communism.

    1. There remain many, some posting here, who would have you believe the Berlin Wall was to keep the W. Germans out of E Germany.

      1. That’s actually the official line of the East Germans. The Antifascist Protection Rampart was to protect the East Germans from those horrible fascists in West Berlin.

  14. Poor bozo Billy Binion, still doesn’t realize he’s a useful idiot for Marxism. Everytime he pushes the broader civil rights angle he gives the marxist leadership of BLM more power and influence. Ultimately it will be their anti-family, anti-capitalist. Anti-west and anti-enlightenment totalitarian values enacted; not any rational civil rights reform.

    1. You are so right. We probably shouldn’t be talking about the “civil rights angle” for minorities, because that just emboldens the communists at BLM. Better to just ignore racial injustice altogether.

      1. Stupid lefty shit posts stupid lefty caricature of what stupid lefty shit imagines non-lefty shits to believe.
        Brings nothing but whining and lefty fantasies to any conversation.

      2. BLM explicitly rejects the concept of nstursl/inherent rights.
        They, like you apparently, believe that rights are given by government.

  15. “…Apart from that, the “sovereignty and self-determination” of the country’s government has led to mass oppression of those 11 million people, who are only equal in that they are equally starving…”

    Besides which, during the ’80s, it was the USSR’s mercenary military force in parts of Africa, and it currently uses enslaved MDs as payment for oil and currency ( The hidden world of the doctors Cuba sends overseas – https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-48214513 )

    1. What, you thought that “from each according to their ability” stuff was just marketing?

      1. Something something “healthcare is a human right”…

  16. Black and brown people are the entirety of Cuba. Don’t start imitating Al Sharpton’s ‘white Hispanic bullshit.

    1. Hispanics don’t admit they are all people of color. They place immense importance on lighter or darker brown – and from everything I hear, Cubans are the worst. They absorbed crude and massive racism from the US during the Jim Crow era, then Castro withdrew them from the world just as we were beginning to change that. A Cuban, like the Castros and Che Guevara, who thinks he can claim that his appearance shows he’s descended from swarthy Spaniards rather than Africans and Native Americans will hold himself far about the slightly darker people around him.

  17. What? Reason magazine has discovered the Cuba is the most racist country in the Western Hemisphere?

    Cuba is so racist that it’s taken for granted that black people are “lazy, indolent and immoral” as Che Guevara noted repeatedly.

    There are no black faces among the Cuban “leadership”. In Cuba, for a black person to be noticed he needs one of two things: a 98 MPH fast ball or a left hook that could take down a water buffalo. Otherwise, he’s nothing.

  18. And make the trains run on time. Don’t forget about the trains.

Please to post comments