Race and Inequality in Cuba Today

From the beginning of Cuban history, among the social themes that have occupied Cubans, the topic of race, with its many aspects, has probably drawn the most attention of scholars, researchers, journalists, writers, and social actors, as well as travelers and simply curious observers.1 The Revolution, since 1959, has taken a path of profound transformation in which racism and its socio-economic and cultural foundations have been severely assailed. Although a more careful and detailed analysis is required to explain the link between elimination of private ownership of the means of production and elimination of the economic and social bases of both the ideologies and the practices of racism, in general we can say that the process has brought some fundamental changes.

As part of this process and outcome, the historically constituted economic elites, which were predominantly white, disappeared from the social landscape. Because of their history and socioeconomic status, these groups were especially likely to use racist ideologies to buttress their domination. While before, in the name of the sacrosanct principle of private property, certain individuals or groups had been excluded, changes in ownership now limited opportunities for practicing discrimination in the economic sphere. The management of large properties was handed over to representatives of the broad masses, including many people born in the poorest stratum of society, without regard to color.

The destruction of the old political order and the creation of a new one was a decisive factor in changing the race situation. It was a complex process in which the newly evolving power structures were profoundly popular in character. This process was accompanied by a sharp class struggle, which provided vast opportunities for cooperation among the most humble in carrying out the socio-political transformation. At the same time, there was extraordinary social mobility that brought representatives of the popular sectors to various positions of power.

Moreover, the core of the defeated bourgeoisie and a significant part of the middle class took the path of emigration. All this had a dual effect on the character of racial representations and conduct that were taking shape in the new context. On one hand, daily cooperation in the various tasks involved in carrying out the revolution contributed significantly to bringing the different groups together, reducing many deep-seated prejudices and easing the boundaries between racial groups. On the other hand, despite the emigration of the vast majority of representatives of the bourgeois class – heirs of former slave owners – there remained in the middle and working classes a residual racism which they had absorbed by osmosis.

The subsequent incorporation of the masses into the social process was reflected in a set of widely popular measures enacted by the Revolutionary government, which included:

  • Elimination of all previously existing race-based exclusions from club and association memberships (announced during their nationalization on May 16, 1961).
  • The reduction of rent by a Council of Ministers decree on March 10, 1959 and the adoption of a series of housing-related measures in the wake of the Urban Reform Law of October 14, 1960, which protected tenants, granting them ownership, and called for various programs to build housing for workers.2
  • The development of a radical agrarian reform that turned over property to many tenant farmers.3 This measure especially benefited black and mestizo rural workers, historically excluded from land ownership as descendants of slaves.
  • Free and compulsory education for all children and a literacy campaign that extended to the entire population.
  • The extension of health services free of charge to all regardless of the complexity or cost of treatment.
  • The development of a policy of full employment and minimal social inequality. The inequalities that began to arise covered a narrow range and reflected mainly differences in skill.

Finally, racism was affected by the socio-political discourse of those in power, which advocated equality and stigmatized all forms of exclusion, including that based on race. The dominant discourse made racism a cardinal sin that was seen not only to debase the individual, but also to divide and weaken the Revolution. The expressions of racism that persisted became less obvious, retreating into a “but” racism that hides behind the official discourse of equality. Generally, people who adopt this attitude start by saying, “I am not racist, but …”

The 1960 First Declaration of Havana, an internationally renowned document, established the incompatibility of democracy and racial discrimination. In 1976, the Constitution of the Republic reflected the revolutionary aspirations of an entire nation against “discrimination based on race, color, sex, or national origin.”

Cuba’s struggle against racism went far beyond mere “elimination of institutional racism,” which is a very well-worn concept denoting the removal of forms of discrimination related to formal institutions of power or legally endorsed in one way or another. In the best case, this notion separates racism that is instituted by power structures from that which is reproduced at the level of social psychology. Some people see in the elimination of discrimination a matter of paper declarations or empty words. Such an idea is a simplistic reduction of a much more complex phenomenon that is deeply rooted in the spiritual and cultural world of the masses. The most telling effect of all is the retreat of racism to the most intimate spheres of family life and interpersonal relationships, in which prejudice was recognized with some guilt, like a sour note. It persisted in jokes and phrases used among family and close friends, or hidden in some forms of paternalism. In these circumstances, the phenomenon became less visible for a long time. The topic of race was fading from view not only in publications but also in statistics, data on health and education, and in the public sphere overall. This was not the case, however, in the cultural sphere, including history and folklore. It was widely believed that with the social equality measures developed by the Revolution, mainly in education, racism would be completely abolished.

The racial issue thus disappeared from public debate, for three principal reasons. First, given a social landscape in which inequalities were minimal – and apparently based mainly on differences in effort and skill-level – racism was thought to be a problem largely resolved. The title of Pedro Serviat’s book, El problema negro en Cuba y su solución definitiva (The Black Problem in Cuba and its Definitive Solution)4 announced and proclaimed it to be so. Second, those in power looked with suspicion upon any attempt to bring so divisive a topic to public debate, thus contributing to its becoming virtually a taboo subject. Finally, there were few interested ears among the vast majority engrossed by transformative tasks. There was little or no social base for that dialogue to emerge from below. This had to do with the incorporation of the majority into the concrete tasks of each particular stage of the Revolution, the way in which they embraced the revolutionary utopia of the early years, and the sense of a need for unity.

In other words, those above did not want to discuss racial inequality and those below were not interested. There was a kind of social consensus about the inappropriateness of raising the issue. Thus it went unaddressed for a relatively long time and therefore persisted. It was not until the Third Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba (1985) that the subject took on a degree of urgency, when an analysis of the 1980 Census revealed disproportionately few blacks, women, and youth in leadership positions. A kind of affirmative action policy was established to promote those groups.5

Research on racial inequalities, their origins and perpetuation

One study initiated by the Ethnology Department at the Anthropology Center (of the Consejo de Ciencias Sociales, in the Ministry of Science, Technology and the Environment) examines whether there continue to be social inequalities based on skin color and seeks to identify the most visible manifestations of such inequalities in present-day Cuba.6

In urban settings, it was found that the most depressed areas or neighborhoods are inhabited predominantly by persons of color, while the more desirable residential neighborhoods are primarily white. This reflects historical patterns of settlement of those areas. But there is no evidence of the rigid forms of segregation that characterize the black ghettos of the United States. In the Cuban neighborhoods, blacks and whites share a daily life that, although not without conflict, is primarily characterized by neighborliness (vecineo) among the residents. The inequality, therefore, is an inherited one that has not yet been eliminated.

The occupation and tenure of housing reflects another level of inequality. A study in the Havana neighborhood of Carraguao (1995) showed that over 50% of residents of tenements (ciudadelas) were black and mestizo, and that their proportion was lower in dwellings that were in fair or good condition. Moreover, a substantial portion of those living in tenements were workers. Given the predominantly working-class composition of the neighborhood and its high proportion of black residents, it would be logical to suggest that the black population tends to be concentrated in the worst housing conditions. One thus finds a persistent inequality strongly influenced by a structural inheritance that has not been overcome.7

In the 1980s, such disproportion in housing existed but was not very pronounced. The country managed to develop the material base for building over 100,000 houses per year – a major initiative that benefited especially those popular sectors. This encouraged hopes that the problem would be solved, thereby reducing its perceived significance. With the adjustments forced by the crisis of the 90s, however, such plans had to be halted. This, together with other circumstances, gave the problem new dimensions, making the inequality more strongly felt.

Another significant feature that studies have revealed is that the single-mother head-of-household family structure is predominant among blacks and mestizos in Cuba. The absent father is a trait found in the Caribbean, Brazil, and the United States. It helps to establish and perpetuate social disadvantages for the offspring of such families.

As noted above, inequality is very closely linked to an inherited structural pattern. However, exploring other aspects of the problem, we find factors closely tied to the current situation.

Income. To measure personal income, one must take into account wages (which are fairly standardized in Cuba), bonuses, incentives, tips, and other strategies for earning revenue. In our current situation, wages do not generate important differences. In the period studied (1996-2002), all occupational categories, sectors of the economy, and racial groups shared the perception that wages were insufficient to meet basic needs, reflecting the deterioration of real wages during the crisis of the 90s. This perception was slightly lower among blacks than among whites and mestizos, and more pronounced in the traditional than in the emerging sector of the economy. The latter is closely related to tips in hard currency, which under current conditions are more likely to produce wage differences. An average of $2 to $3 a day in tips can add up to three to five additional average salaries for the recipient. This is a good example of how inequalities in income are more dependent on alternative sources than on wages themselves.

Among such alternative sources of income are remittances from abroad, which are not equally received by different racial and working-class groups.8 In general, remittances are received by a much larger percentage of whites than of blacks and mestizos, a phenomenon which, to some extent, reflects the racial structure of emigration. On the other hand, they are received more often by those who work in the emergent hard currency sector than by those in traditional occupations. In addition, professionals receive more than workers.9 Another point of interest is that more remittances flow to Havana than to Santiago de Cuba. Consequently, the pattern of inequalities that arise from this source is visibly marked by race, but also has class and regional aspects. This reveals a double path toward reinforcing inequality – remittances, and occupations with access to hard currency. Both the corresponding sets of beneficiaries enjoy a distinct economic advantage.

Sectoral patterns. Research has shown a greater presence of blacks and mestizos in the traditional sector of the economy. In the emergent hard currency sector, their proportion, although lower, is very close to the national average.10 This is another expression of inequality not rooted in inherited structures, but rather created during the economic crisis and reform of the 90s. This lower percentage of black and mestizo workers in the emergent sector of the economy suggests that they encountered greater barriers in shifting toward this sector. However, to learn more about the factors associated with these circumstances, it became necessary to look more closely at the labor structure (estructura sociolaboral) that, under those conditions, was reproduced in both sectors.

Racial patterns in the workforce by economic sector. The analysis of various strata within the traditional sector revealed significant disparities by race.11 Blacks and mestizos together make up the majority in the “worker” category in this sector, but they are also significantly present among professionals and technicians. In the emergent sector, by contrast, no majority appears in any of the occupational categories. In the tourism industry, blacks and mestizos are heavily represented in low-level service jobs (which serve tourists only indirectly) but are drastically underrepresented among managers, professionals and technicians, where they comprise only 5%.

The comparison between the two sectors suggests that the low proportion of black and mestizo professionals and technicians in the emergent sector is not due to differences in qualifications. The fact rather suggests, on more thorough consideration, that the existence of barriers to the mobility of black labor is not only a reality but also reflects certain social conditions that have enabled the establishment of such obstacles. This also confirms the existence of another expression of inequality that materialized during the 90s: the perpetuation of certain disadvantages in gaining access to the emerging sectors.

Currently jobs related to the emergent sector of the economy – tourism and foreign firms – are perceived as being the most prestigious and profitable types of employment. Such views mark a turning point in how upward social mobility has come to be understood. They reinforce the perception of inequalities grounded in disparity of employment by race between different sectors of the economy.

Survival strategies. These strategies seek out the resources with which each person or group confronts the crisis. In order for our study to disclose inequalities without arousing suspicion or the need to hide information, we had to limit the investigation to activities that do not violate any law. These were classified into two groups: those that depend on circumstances beyond the control of the actor, and those that express, in some way, a purposeful and personal effort, consciously aimed at making additional income. The first group reflects participation in a working environment from which it is possible to access supplementary income or to make certain social contacts that could provide it. Examples of such income are family remittances from abroad, tips, per diem stipends, certain gifts, etc.

The second group includes activities such as moonlighting after normal working hours and selling portions of the subsidized goods that are distributed through the ration book. The latter practice reflects the worst living conditions, in which people who do not consume certain basic items they have obtained at heavily subsidized prices from the State, turn around and resell the products for additional income. For example, some non-smokers sell their share of cigarettes at a price three times higher than they paid. But this category also includes persons who, being in a precarious position, establish certain consumption priorities, selling some products to buy others. An analysis of these indicators found that:

  • Whites receive 2.5 times the remittances of blacks and 2.2 times those of mestizos. Employees in the emergent sector receive 2.4 times the remittances of those in the traditional sector.
  • Whites moonlight 2.7 times less than blacks and 1.4 times less than mestizos. Blacks moonlight 1.6 times more than mestizos. In the emergent sector moonlighting is 4.2 times less common than in the traditional.
  • Whites received 1.6 times more tips than blacks and 1.4 more than mestizos. Blacks receive 1.2 times less than the mestizos.
  • Whites resell products subsidized by the rationing system 3.7 times less than blacks, and the latter, 2.1 times more than the mestizos. Among workers in the emergent sector, such reselling is 2.1 times less frequent than among those in the traditional sector.

In general, the predominant strategy among the black and mestizo population is more dependent on personal effort than on the situation in which they find themselves. In particular, blacks make up the significant majority of those who resell the rationed goods that they do not consume.

In summary, an analysis of the variables found that inequalities persist and are perpetuated in the following ways:

  • The black and mixed populations, on average, are concentrated in the worst housing conditions.
  • Remittances from abroad come mainly to whites.
  • For blacks, strategies to supplement income depend more on personal efforts and scarce resources.
  • Blacks have relatively less access to the emergent sectors of the economy.
  • Blacks and mestizos make up the majority of the workers in the traditional sector.
  • In tourism, blacks and mestizos are concentrated in internal support jobs that are only indirectly related to the tourist.
  • Blacks and mestizos are overrepresented among professionals and technicians in the traditional sector and underrepresented in the emergent sector and among managers, which suggests that their low presence in these sectors is not due to lack of skills.

The deterioration of real wages brings tensions in these circumstances. However, a more detailed and comprehensive analysis of such inequalities reminds us, first, of the persistence of inherited structures and, second, of the current economic situation to which they have adapted. They are at once cause and outcome of a process that operates in two directions: as a social, cultural, and structural inheritance, and as a restructuring of that inheritance in a crisis situation, in which competitive situations have arisen.

The existence of such elements of inequality is a relative phenomenon. It is not exclusionary, nor does it result in polarizing social wealth. It is manifested mainly in the sphere of consumption, within a social policy that promotes equity. It is not related to ownership of the means of production or to economic power.

Subjective conditions of inequality: Prejudice

The racial inequalities listed not only have structural and material support, but also are strongly influenced by subjective factors. Racial prejudice has the trait of being able to materialize in concrete social relations. It is therefore important to explore its current expressions.

Although the responses of the vast majority of those interviewed implied agreement – sometimes tacit, sometimes explicit – that racism exists, concrete confirmation of the matter was necessary. Table 1 shows that in one way or another 91% (150) of respondents from all racial groups perceive the existence of racism, which some referred to as discrimination or prejudice. However, the responses contained some interesting nuances.

Some tend to deny the existence of racism in Cuba, but not of prejudice or discrimination. This is based on a comparison of the situation in Cuba to that of countries such as the United States, where racism is associated with racial violence. Others confuse or equate the term with state or institutional racism. There are those who conclude that the Revolution has eliminated racism in Cuba and that only remnants of it exist.

The perception that racism does not exist in any form was found mainly among people over 50 years old across all racial groups, although whites made up the majority. Participants in this group focused on the racial achievements of the Revolution. The opinions of the blacks and mestizos complemented those of the whites, but were concentrated on comparing the current situation to that prior to 1959: “racism really existed before.”

The perception that racism exists was higher among younger age groups, who usually criticize the older age groups for perpetuating its manifestations. Older participants feel that race relations are freer among youth. Similarly, the perception of racism was greater among professionals within the group of technicians and among workers.

A variety of reasons were given for affirmative responses. The majority of references to the existence of prejudice were based on interpersonal relationships and accompanied by personal or second-hand anecdotes: “When a woman walks down the street and sees a black man coming she always fears that something’s going to happen” or “whenever there’s a robbery, they think a black guy did it.”

Affirmations as to racial discrimination fell into four categories in which the public perceived specific acts: in employment, in education, in everyday police conduct in the neighborhoods, and in the composition of Cuba’s prison population. Regarding labor, comparisons are made between the traditional and emergent sectors of the economy, citing whether or not blacks are seen working in hotels, hard currency stores, or in joint-venture companies. As for the educational sector, all interviewees in Havana believed that there is low admission rate of black students to the Lenin Vocational School and to the University of Havana. The nine black or mestizo participants who mentioned the police argued that “the police only check the ID cards of blacks” and expressed their surprise because “most of the officers are black too.” They believe that the prison population of Cuba is composed mostly of blacks. Two of the participants have been in jail and confirmed that it was true.

The perception of the existence of racism was explained with different examples, covering a wide range of areas: employment, education, the media, interpersonal relations, and emigration. In all cases, there were references to the efforts of the Revolution in its fight against racism, but a significant group of respondents felt that more should be done.

An interesting observation is how the terms used to define the problem have been radicalized. At first, terms such as prejudice or discrimination were most common and the term racism was rarely heard. In recent times, it occurs with greater frequency in the media.

This general perception of the existence of racism explains, in part, the problem of its subjective causes. For a broader understanding, it is necessary to delve into the contents and concrete expressions of prejudice and racial stereotypes, of which an important component is one’s racial definition of others and of oneself. To study racial representations, content-analysis was conducted and the results were grouped in categories of opinion as follows:

1. Non-characterizing opinions (juicios que no califican). Included in this group were all those who deny differences, reduce them to physical appearance, or consider them to be determined by education and social environment, without referring to any specific racial group. Also included were those who opined about a particular situation but not about a particular racial group.

2. Negative opinions. This group described racial groups in strongly pejorative terms, using prejudgments that stigmatize or undervalue them.

3. Positive opinions. Here are included those who describe racial groups in positive terms, assigning socially accepted values to them and praise them.

4. Neutral opinions. This category consists of those who refer to racial groups without rating them negatively or positively, or assigning them any particular meaning.

Opinions by the first group can be exemplified in the following way:

  • We are all the same; there are no differences among people.
  • Differences are between individuals, not between groups and they have to do with education, the environment and social circumstances and cultural.
  • In Cuba there are no races, but rather a mix.
  • Despite efforts, forms of discrimination persist.
  • Racism existed before the Revolution, but now we have eliminated it.
  • We are all Cuban revolutionaries.
  • Martí and Maceo didn’t get along; perhaps Fidel doesn’t get along well with blacks?
  • In this business there were not so many white people before, but now with the dollars involved, there are.
  • There’s a whole bunch of black bosses here.
  • The white guys are… Damn, man!… you’re putting me on the spot.

As is evident, these express to some extent assimilation of the aforementioned anti-racist ideology, and an understanding of the problem in its most acute expression. In general, these ideas blur boundaries between racial groups.

Some of the stereotypical negative judgments towards blacks drawn from interviews were:

  • They are thieves and delinquents.
  • They are violent, cocky, confrontational, and pick fights.
  • They are obnoxious, boisterous, and rowdy.
  • They are ugly.
  • They are less cultured and less well educated.
  • They are vulgar, foul mouthed.
  • They feel guilty for being black; they have a complex about their color.
  • They feel superior, even though they are not.
  • They are uppity and vain.
  • Negro, negrito, negrazo, turrututo, turrututú, ¿quién es el monito? (a taunt that compares blacks to monkeys).

The following are some examples of the positive judgments:

  • They are more intelligent and creative.
  • They are festive, happy, and fun-loving.
  • They are calmer, less boisterous.
  • They are intellectuals, studious.
  • They are stronger.
  • They are sociable.
  • They are hard-working.
  • They are athletic.
  • They are superior, more advanced.
  • They are romantic.
  • They are more beautiful and elegant.
  • They are more passionate

These sets of judgments carry stereotypes that assign cultural traits to phenotypic differences which, unlike other physical characteristics such as baldness or hairiness, shortness or tallness, endow racial categories with sociological significance. They also contribute to drawing boundaries between racial groups by assigning differentiating qualities. In addition, in many cases they reflect the persistence of an ideology that tends to underestimate “others,” as much in the positive as in the negative sense. A similar situation, but in attenuated form, is presented by the neutral judgments, especially regarding mestizos.

  • They are normal people just like anybody.
  • They are the balance between the two races, a mixture.
  • They are the group that has suffered discrimination most.
  • They are like the blacks.
  • They are different in their roots, folklore, and beliefs.
  • They dress differently.
  • They are the same as whites.
  • They are Cuban, like us.

Content-analysis of the 500+ interviews conducted in Santiago de Cuba, Santa Clara, and Havana was used to explore the incidence of positive, negative, or neutral representations of the different racial groups. Regarding whites, positive evaluations predominate and greatly exceed negative views. Pejorative and stigmatizing qualifiers predominate regarding blacks, while the percent of positive and neutral evaluations of them is relatively low. Although to a lesser degree than the whites, mestizos are mostly viewed in positive terms. However, the number of neutral judgments used to describe them is significant. Social representations of racial groups thus revolve around positive stereotypes assigned to whites and negative stereotypes to blacks. These reflect the cultural inheritance from colonial times of slavery and the African slave-trade, reinforced by the disadvantages that still exist today and by general frameworks that have been shaped by a white paradigm. This structure of attitudes is very stable. There are variations of degree but not of substance, reflecting an objective situation in which racism is reinforced. The most characteristic nuances may now be summarized:

Positive evaluations of whites and negative opinions of blacks were more accentuated among intellectuals than among workers and more in the emergent sector than in the traditional. In short, such views are reinforced where competitive individual activity is emphasized. On the other hand, where cooperation and collective activity predominate, those views are attenuated.

The self-representation of blacks was dominated by negative evaluations comparable to those expressed by the other groups. Thus, it appears that self-esteem is affected. A practical reflection of this is the fact that many blacks who seek jobs in the tourism industry believe that they have a better chance if they choose less sought-after positions, those having to do with internal operations such as kitchen work, etc., thus establishing a kind of self-limitation. Their stigmatization thus becomes objectively oppressive.

An analysis of racial representation would be incomplete if limited to evaluating only the configurations of ideas used to categorize the various racial groups. The conclusions derived from such an analysis would be only partial, because within this persistent ideology is also a set of unambiguously anti-racist attitudes, which tend to blur boundaries and reject any stereotypical labeling of racial groups (these are the attitudes represented in our study by those whose judgments we have called non-characterizing). An overall assessment of the problem cannot ignore the correlation between this aspect and the rest of the manifestations already analyzed. A look at respondents in this group revealed that the proportions of non-characterizing judgments varied (a) by region, being higher in Santiago de Cuba and Santa Clara than in Havana, and (b) by occupation, being higher among workers than among intellectuals, and higher in the traditional sector than in the emergent sector.

A look at families

The family and interpersonal relationships also influence the manifestations and perpetuation of racism. The family outweighs other social actors, both as a social actor itself, and, at the same time, as the source of primary socialization and acculturation of the individual, in which racial prejudices and stereotypes and their accompanying attitudes are shaped along with other behavioral patterns. Hence, family and interpersonal relationships are of interest in this investigation, and we may offer a short summary of our findings.

It was observed that in the family context there is a general tendency toward interracial personal relationships among the three racial groups, whether friendly or romantic in nature. Regarding preferred spouses for children, the general trend was “in agreement” with interracial marriage. However, existing marriages in the study sample tended to be intra-racial. In mestizo families and in mixed families (those comprised of people of different racial descent) there was an increased tendency toward interracial marriage.

When asked who is the “best neighbor” there was a general preference for whites, then mestizos and finally blacks. “Circles of friends” tended to be multiracial, although within the family intraracial links predominated. School facilitates the creation of multiracial groups of friends during school hours. However, away from school, these mixed racial groups tend to polarize. It is not a predominant tendency, but its influence is important enough to be noticeable. Regarding “best friends,” the clear trend is to establish closer friendships with those of white racial affiliation, and next with mestizos, except in black families, in which intra-racial friendships and relations with mestizos are equally common.

Race relations in the future

Outlooks expressed regarding the future provide additional insight into the issue of interracial relations and especially racial prejudice, because they specifically involve assessing the stability, permanence, and evolution of the phenomenon in the context of broader social relations and evaluating the possibility of eliminating social inequalities.

Four basic types of responses were given. Most participants said that race relations would be “better” than today, with two explanations: one based on increased racial mixing (mestisaje), the other on the permanence of a political platform of social equality. This could be interpreted as a firm belief, but could also be the expression of a political/ideological stereotype. A second group, those without a clear view on the subject, should not be overlooked, as they reflect a lack of knowledge or uncertainty about the future course of this phenomenon. The third type of response allows for the possibility of an increase in racial prejudice and discrimination, depending on the course of economic relations and national development. The fourth suggests that the situation will remain largely unchanged, on the assumption that racial prejudice will exist as long as there are racial differences.

These general trends manifest themselves similarly in all types of families except mixed families, among whom uncertainty points toward a possible worsening. This may due to the difficulty of interracial families in achieving social acceptance.

There is another group that says that race relations will depend on the country’s future economic conditions and whether they will be conducive to the balanced social development of all racial groups, consistent with the principles of the Revolution.


Racial disparities persist in Cuba and have become more visible particularly since the economic crisis of the 90s, when forms of racism that had been lurking in the subjectivity of many people resurfaced. It is a kind of sociological racism which, under new conditions of competition accompanied by symbolic and real repositioning of certain economic sectors, could generate genuine inequalities. Among other things, in the prevailing racial representations negative evaluation of blacks and positive evaluation of whites predominate, forming one of the key barriers that limit the mobility of blacks into more favored sectors.

Some of these inequalities arise from inherited structures that have not been overcome; others were reproduced and generated under conditions of crisis and economic reform. Underlying these processes are highly persistent factors: subjective—like those already mentioned—and objective, which are related to the status of different racial groups at the inception of the revolutionary process in terms of housing, employment, and social networks, all amplified by the crisis.

Nevertheless, the population expresses, for the most part, a positive outlook on race relations in the future, based on the increasing number of mestizos (procesos de mestizaje) and on the attention recently given to the topic. The racial issue in Cuba manifests itself in a tangle of contradictions. People consider the Revolution’s achievements in removing barriers as laying the basis for better race relations.


1. See 4,000+ references compiled by Tomás Fernández Robaina in Bibliografía de Temas Afrocubanos (1986) and Cultura afrocubana (1994). The issue of race is reflected in important historical documents. Christopher Columbus wrote in his logbook, the first document of Cuban history: “very well built, with very handsome bodies and very good faces, thick hair like the silk tail of a horse, and short: the hair is worn above the eyebrows except a few strands in the back which they wear long and never cut: they are dark, the color of the Canary-islanders, neither black nor white.” The notion of the creole appears in conjunction with the race question in the oldest Cuban literary text, Mirror of Patience, by Silvestre de Balboa: “Oh, creole Salvador, honored negro.” The issue is also addressed in the founding documents of the Cuban nation, although more explicitly. Céspedes declared “All inhabitants of the Republic are entirely free.” Also the Constitution of Guáimaro expressed “the white Cuban’s sincere respect for of the equal spirit, the firm culture, the fervor of a free man and the friendly character of his black countrymen.” Continuing this line of thought, Fidel Castro stated: “among the cruelest sufferings to afflict human society… is racial discrimination.” That logic is reflected in the Socialist Constitution of 1976, which establishes that “Discrimination based on race, color, sex or national origin is prohibited and punishable by law.”

2. One of the first housing projects carried out was linked to the clearing of shantytowns like Las Yaguas.

3. This process involved two steps: the first Agrarian Reform Law (May 17, 1959), which eliminated large estates, establishing 30 caballerías (33 acres or 13.4 hectares) as the upper limit of land tenure and turned over land ownership to all those working it, and the Second Agrarian Reform Law (October 3, 1963), which expropriated land from the agrarian bourgeoisie passed over by the first reform, and set a ceiling of 5 caballerías.

4. Havana: Editora Política, 1986.

5. This response provoked criticisms that are not analyzed in the present work.

6. One of the first attempts by the Ethnology Department to address the issue of race relations was the undertaking in 1987-88 of a preliminary project that never materialized. It was related more to the culture of African descendants in Cuba than to the specific issue of race relations. In 1992, a working group conducted a review of the literature that revealed a shortage of information on the topic from an anthropological point of view. The lack of statistics and studies on the issue in the post-Revolutionary context made it difficult to clearly define a hypothesis, thus requiring a pilot study. Therefore, a census was conducted in an electoral district in the Carraguao neighborhood in the municipality of Cerro, which allowed some of the contradictions of the issue in its current expressions to be approached and several hypotheses to be developed. In 1993-94, three research teams were created to study: 1) the interrelationship between social class and racial structures in the context of emergent and traditional working-class sectors; 2) the determining factors in the persistence of prejudice and racial discrimination in the family environment and in educational and labor institutions; and 3) the ethno-cultural characterization of racial groups. These studies were linked to national scientific research programs.

7. Pablo RodrIguez, Lázara Carrazana and Ana J. García, “Estructuras y relaciones raciales en un barrio popular de Ciudad de La Habana (Carraguao),” Scientific Archives of the Department of Ethnology, Center of Anthropology, 1994.

8. This discussion is based on a study involving more than 500 interviews in workplaces from different sectors of the economy in the cities of Havana, Santiago de Cuba and Santa Clara, during the years 1996-2002.

9. This paper uses the concept of intellectual workers to refer to those groups who, in production or services, perform an essentially intellectual type of activity as managers, as technical intelligentsia, or in organizing production. Another concept of intellectuals, widespread in sociological literature, is much more limited and refers to creators and artists.

10. This does not indicate proportionality, since the data from Havana and from Santiago de Cuba Province are combined, and the white population of the latter is only 31%, according to the 1982 census.

11. Data reflect the total workforce of all sites visited (see note 8), approximately 7000 workers in all sectors.

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