A New Era for Afro-Cubans

By Rundlet, Karen | Essence, April 2015 | Go to article overview

A New Era for Afro-Cubans


Rundlet, Karen, Essence


WHAT OUR COUNTRY'S CHANGING RELATIONSHIP WITH THE ISLAND REPUBLIC COULD MEAN FOR ITS BLACK CITIZENS by karen runduet

Yesenia Fernández Seller, an Afro-Cuban dancer and Ph.D. student, cheered when President Barack Obama announced the political thaw between the United States and Cuba last December. It was a huge shift- the U.S. and Cuban governments had been adversaries for more than 50 years.

Now, both countries have vowed to normalize relations. Among the changes: An American embassy will be reestablished in Cuba; political prisoners in both countries have been released; American citizens are allowed to travel to Cuba for humanitarian work and public performances without special approval; and some imports and exports will be allowed between the countries (though the trade embargo is still not completely lifted).

To understand why this diplomatic breakthrough is such a feat, first, some history: The two countries' complicated relationship was at its most hostile during the Cold War, when Fidel Castro-who came to power during the Cuban Revolution of 1959-forged an alliance with the Soviet Union. This, and ideological differences around Cuba's communist leadership (which sanctioned egregious human rights violations), led the U.S. to impose a trade embargo on the country in 1960. The goal was to make life so difficult for Cubans that Castro's government would crumble and move toward democracy. But the new embargo exacerbated tensions (most notably the Cuban Missile Crisis), plus Cuba had a powerful trading partner in the Soviet Union and didn't need U.S. exports,

Scores of White Cubans, descendants of Spanish colonists, looking to flee Castro's regime sought exile in the United States. "The first wave of Cubans to the U.S. in the sixties was about 90 percent White," says Guillermo Grenier, a professor of global and sociocultural studies at Florida International University. By contrast, most Black Cubans, descendants of African slaves, stayed behind. "The revolution was greatly supported by Black and mulatto Cubans." says Grenier. Under Castro, citizens were given free education and health care, and the communist leader also vowed to wipe out racial inequalities, all of which largely appealed to Black Cubans, who made up a significant portion of Cuba's working class and laborers.

But when the Cold War ended in 1991, Cuba's economy buckled without Soviet support. …

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