Under Trump’s revised policy, black Cubans will get left behind, again
BY ALEJANDRO DE LA FUENTE
As President Trump announced the administration’s new policies on Cuba,
I worried that Afro-Cubans would be the main losers. They have been
losing for some time. The timid economic reforms implemented by the
Cuban government in the past two decades have resulted in a growing gap
between those with access to capital and those without it.
This gap is not color blind. Because access to capital depends on
monetary flows from the overwhelmingly white Cuban-American community,
black Cubans lack the resources to participate on equal grounds in the
expanding private sector. As one of my collaborators on the island puts
it, in Cuba, “Dollars are white.” In a country where, according to the
census, they represent more than one third of the population, very few
of the new private restaurants, rental houses, and shops are owned by
Still, the participation of black Cubans in tourist-related,
dollar-earning services probably has increased since March 2016, when
President Obama relaxed the regulations concerning American visitors to
Cuba. The new rules allowed individuals to travel on their own for
“people to people” educational contacts.
Precisely because Americans cannot travel legally as tourists, they stay
away from the tour packages typically preferred by European and Canadian
consumers, most of whom stay in state-owned, all-inclusive hotels.
American visitors stay in rental rooms around the city, including less
affluent areas, where Afro-Cubans are better represented. Their visits
have had a democratizing effect on the service sector, creating
opportunities for individuals, families, and neighborhoods that were
previously excluded from the tourist economy.
According to a statement issued on June 16 by the U.S. Department of the
Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), “The president
instructed Treasury to issue regulations that will end individual
people-to-people travel.” The main targets of the new policies are
supposed to be the military, whose control over the Cuban economy is
well known. However, by limiting opportunities for individual travel
outside of state-controlled tourist facilities, the new measures are
likely to have a disproportionately negative effect on poorer Cubans,
Neither these policies nor the much-needed economic reforms implemented
by the Cuban government are racist by design. Their implementation has
race-specific consequences because blackness continues to be laden with
all sorts of disadvantages in Cuban society, so seemingly neutral,
color-blind policies produce racially differentiated effects. The
policies are not racially defined. Their social effects are.
Afro-Cubans know that the only way to counteract these forces is through
social mobilization and conscious policymaking. Cuba is not a friendly
place for autonomous, non-state-controlled social mobilization, but a
growing Afrodescendant movement has emerged nonetheless. Born in the
midst of the economic crisis that followed the collapse of the Soviet
Union in 1991, this movement is considerably larger and more complex
today than even a few years ago. It began as a cultural movement, led by
Hip-hop musicians, visual artists, writers, and filmmakers critical of
racial discrimination. It now includes community activists working in
some of the poorest neighborhoods in the country; organizations that
specialize in legal services; gender-based forms of activism; bloggers
and websites on Afro-Cuban themes; and organizations that frame their
demands in the language of citizenship and human rights.
These organizations have successfully promoted a debate on the
persistence of racism in Cuban society, but their ability to shape
policymaking remains limited, to say the least. Cuban authorities are
suspicious of any social movement outside their control and generally
are averse to engage in any serious debate with them.
That is, there is not much that the activists can do to counteract the
effects of the new policies of the Trump administration, or of the
economic reforms taking place in Cuba, for that matter. They lack
platforms to effect change or to respond to changes in policy such as
those just announced by the administration. The main target of the new
policies may be the military, but what is certain is that in this
process Afro-Cubans stand to lose, again.
ALEJANDRO DE LA FUENTE IS DIRECTOR OF THE AFRO-LATIN AMERICAN RESEARCH
INSTITUTE AT HARVARD UNIVERSITY.
Source: Under Trump’s revised Cuba policy, Afro-Cubans will get left
behind, again | Miami Herald –