Jamaicans in Solidarity with Cuba

It is precisely because of Cuba’s anti-racist and pro-worker policies that the U.S. government has labeled the country “a violator of human rights.”

As activists unite to confront white supremacy in the United States, it is important for us to study other societies outside the U.S. that have made true strides in racial and economic justice, in order to better envision the world that we want to create.

OPINION: Britain’s Open University Bows to US Pressure over Cuba

After listening to President Donald Trump’s June speech on Cuba, in which he reversed all the steps that the Obama administration had made to improve relations, one might not think to look towards this island nation as such an exemplary society. However, one must understand the history of Cuba to see why the U.S. government is escalating the six-decade war and embargo against the socialist country. It is not hard to see that the issue of race is central to the capitalist empire’s war on this socialist stronghold.

The Revolution’s Early Measures Against Racism

Like most colonial nations, institutional racial oppression was brutal in pre-revolution Cuba. Black Cubans formed the most oppressed sector of society: they faced rampant job discrimination in which they had no access to most positions in government, health care, transportation, and retail. A system of Jim Crow-style segregation relegated Afro-Cubans to specific neighborhoods and schools, and they were banned from hotels and beaches.

Illiteracy was widespread among the most oppressed sectors, and medical care was out of reach. Few know that after Castro’s failed guerilla attack on the Moncada Garrison in 1953, it was a black lieutenant from then Dictator Fulgencio Batista’s army that found him in the hills, and — sympathizing with the rebel cause — saved Castro’s life by sending him to jail in Santiago rather than to the Moncada Barracks where he would have been shot and killed along with the 70 guerilla soldiers who met such a fate. History works in mysterious ways.

When the revolution triumphed six years later, one of new government’s first measures was to abolish racial discrimination in employment and recreational sectors. When the rebel army tanks entered Havana, they crushed the hotel fences, which represented the old racial order signifying where the black and poor could not go. Castro’s government abolished the private school system of the white Cuban elites and established a well-funded and integrated public school system for all.

OPINION: US Human Rights Record, Not Cuba’s, Should Be Condemned

Laws were passed to outlaw racial discrimination

Revolutionary laws were passed to outlaw racial discrimination in housing, employment, healthcare and education. Hence, while the white upper class Cubans fled to Miami, there were no questions of loyalty from working class blacks as to whether they would support the socialist government. The fight against racism and the struggle for socialism go hand in hand.

The revolution dramatically improved the socioeconomic conditions of black workers and farmers, cutting rents in half, redistributing land, and providing universal free education and healthcare to all. Before 1959, over a quarter of Cubans were illiterate. The revolution launched a massive literacy campaign, sending brigades of student teachers into the most remote areas of the countryside, and in 1961, Cuba was declared free of illiteracy. Today Cuba has a 99.8 percent literacy rate, the highest in Latin America.

Solidarity with African-Americans

fidel y malcom.jpgCuba has always been a guiding light in the black freedom movement. Fidel’s historic visit with Malcolm X in Harlem’s Theresa hotel in 1960 was symbolic of the Cuban revolution’s blow against colonialism and world white supremacy. Both Malcolm and Castro understood the centrality of racism to the capitalist system: “you can’t have capitalism without racism,” Malcolm once famously said. Along the same vain, at the 2001 World Conference against Racism , Castro argued that:

“Racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia are not naturally instinctive reactions of the human beings but rather a social, cultural and political phenomenon born directly of wars, military conquests, slavery and the individual or collective exploitation of the weakest by the most powerful all along the history of human societies.”

Assata Shakur

Assata Shakur, former leader of the Black Liberation Army and one of “America’s Most Wanted’, escaped prison in the 1970s, and sought refuge on the socialist island. Cuba has vowed to protect this revolutionary heroine, a crime for which the empire will never forgive her. This past June, when President Donald Trump demanded that Cuba return Shakur, Cuba’s Deputy Director of American Affairs said: “It is off the table .” Throughout the ‘70s, other African-American revolutionaries such as Eldridge Cleaver, Huey Newton and Stokely Carmichael all visited the revolutionary Caribbean nation. Over the decades, black pastors and community leaders have led key US-Cuba solidarity initiatives such as Pastors for Peace which has made over 20 annual trips to Cuba and raised awareness to end the embargo of the island. Indeed, the African-American people have been the most consistent and loyal of friends to the Cuban people.

Cuba’s Contribution to African Liberation Movements

Less well-known is Cuba’s historic and pivotal role in supporting the African Liberation movements of the 1960s and ‘70s. For a period spanning over a decade, the small island nation sent over 300,000 volunteer soldiers to Angola, not in pursuit of diamonds, oil or natural resources like the imperialist nations, but to assist the anti-colonial fighters of Angola in their struggle against the South African apartheid army which had invaded the newly independent nation.

Fidel y Amilcar Cabral.jpgAs Guinea Bissau’s legendary independence leader Amilcar Cabral once said of this selfless solidarity: “When the Cuban soldiers go home, all they will take with them are the remains of their dead comrades.” Cuban forces struck the decisive blow to defeat the apartheid army in the battle of Cuito Cuanavale.

In addition, Cuba sent troops to battle alongside independence fighters in Algeria, the Congo, Ethiopia and Guinea-Bissau. In his 2000 speech at Harlem Riverside Church, Fidel exclaimed that:

“Half a million Cubans have carried out internationalist missions in numerous countries in different parts of the world, especially Africa. They have been medical doctors, teachers, technicians, construction workers, soldiers and others. When many were investing in and trading with the racist and fascist South Africa, tens of thousands of voluntary soldiers from Cuba fought against the racist and fascist soldiers.”

It was these historic feats of internationalist solidarity that prompted Nelson Mandela to visit the Caribbean nation after his release from prison, where he proudly stated : “The Cuban people have a special place in the hearts of the people’s of Africa.”

Socialist Health Care

One of the landmark pillars of the revolution has been the establishment of a world-class health care system which provides free, quality medical care to all Cuban citizens, and has disproportionately benefitted the island’s black and historically marginalized citizens. While all Cubans have free access to comprehensive medical care, people of color in the United States (the richest country on earth) face extreme health disparities and make up over half of the 32 million nonelderly uninsured. Cuba has twice as many primary care doctors per capita than the United States, due to its prioritization of community-level preventative care.

OPINION: The World Must Learn From Cuba

Infant mortality rate is an important indicator of a country’s health. In pre-revolution Cuba, the infant mortality rate was over 50 infant deaths per 1,000 live births. Now it is down to 4.3 . Meanwhile the United States, one of the richest nations on earth, has a rate of 7.7 . Further, when you look at underserved regions of the US like Mississippi — which has the largest black population of any state – the infant mortality rate is 9.6 , double that of the Cuba’s. In other words, Black babies matter in Cuba — more so than they do in the US.

Revolutionary Doctors

If there’s one accomplishment the international community cannot ignore it is Cuba’s ‘medical internationalism’ which in 2014, saw 50,000 Cuban doctorssaving lives in over 60 developing nations across the globe. While activists around the world attend protests, Cuba demonstrates her belief that black lives matter by sending doctors and medical personnel overseas to African and Caribbean nations to literally save black lives. Cuban doctors operate a comprehensive health program, which makes 3,000 doctors available for the region of Sub-Saharan Africa. Speaking on Zimbabwe, a nation where the former apartheid regime did not train any black doctors, Fidel explains that, “We sent teams of 8 to 10 doctors to every province: specialists in comprehensive general medicine, surgeons, orthopedic specialists, anesthiologists and x-ray technicians.”

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the Cuban government assembled the Henry Reeve Brigade — 1,500 fully equipped health professionals trained in disaster medicine — which were brought together on an airstrip, ready to depart for New Orleans immediately to help save black lives.

Cuban doctors in Haiti

President Bush rejected the offer. Many of these same doctors then went to Haiti, the Western Hemisphere’s first free black republic, where today there are several hundred Cuban doctors and specialists providing free health care to 4 million people. After the deadly 2010 earthquake, Cuba health professionals arrivedwithin 72 hours as some of the first responders.

OPINION: Representation and Resistance: Slavery Depictions in Cuba vs. US

The United States, on the other hand, sent thousands of marine soldiers to the island. This juxtaposition speaks volumes regarding the values of capitalist and socialist societies. In the aftermath of catastrophic disaster, one society exploited the crisis and sought to control black life; the other sought to save it. More recently, the same international Medical brigade spearheaded the fight against the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, sending surgeons, intensive-care doctors, epidemiologists and pediatricians. These efforts earned Cuba an award from the World Health Organization.

Over 100 scholarships for African American and low-income students from the United States

If it were not enough to export its own doctors to countries in need, the Cuban revolution has also taken up the admirable task of training doctors from other countries free of charge in Havana’s Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM). ELAM currently has an enrollment of over 19,000 students most of which are from Africa and Latin America. Medical school is free for all students, and this includes over 100 scholarships for African American and low-income students from the United States who have agreed to use their training to serve low-income communities at home.

Despite these social gains, Cuba is far from a racial utopia; blacks are still underrepresented in high-level government positions and in the lucrative tourism industry, and whites have had disproportionate access to the new market-driven sector of the economy that emerged during the special period. However, most can acknowledge that it is quite difficult for a society to overcome a racial legacy of 400 years of colonialism, in just 50 years of revolution. The struggle against racism in Cuba is an ongoing process.

Lift the embargo on Cuba

It is precisely because of these anti-racist and pro-worker policies, and Cuba’s audacity to stand tall in the face of empire, that the U.S. government has labeled her “a violator of human rights.” On the contrary, it is the U.S. government whose police forces continue to take black lives with impunity, and wage a war on the poor, who is the real human rights violators. Let us lift the embargo on Cuba and put the embargo on US capitalism and racism. Let us not forget that if there ever was a place where black lives truly matter, it’s Cuba.

  • Published in Cuba

Umpire sues major league baseball for racial discrimination

A Major League Baseball umpire Monday sued baseball commissioner Rob Manfred and the league alleging racial discrimination in baseball's promotion and post-season assignment policies.

Cuban-born Angel Hernandez, 55, states in his suit that he has been passed over several times for a chance to work the World Series despite high marks on evaluations. The suit also charges that even though Hernandez was made a temporary crew chief, it has never been made permanent.

The suit accuses MLB of promoting only one minority umpire to permanent crew chief in the history of the game (a Hispanic) and that only one non-white umpire has worked a World Series since 2011.

There are just under 100 umpires currently on the MLB roster; a Cincinnati Enquirer review of the roster and the photos and biographies attached to it indicates about 10 are African-American or Hispanic.

"The selection of these less qualified, white individuals over Hernandez was motivated by racial, national origin and/or ethnic considerations," the lawsuit says.

The suit comes after Hernandez filed two discrimination charges in June with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Hernandez, who has been an umpire since 1993, worked a weekend series in Cincinnati between the Chicago Cubs and the Reds. Efforts to reach him were unsuccessful late Monday afternoon.

  • Published in Sports

Michael Brown was shot at least 6 times, preliminary autopsy result shows

Michael Brown was shot at least six times, according to the preliminary results of a private autopsy that his family requested.

The independent autopsy was conducted by high-profile pathologist Michael Baden. Baden testified in the O.J. Simpson, Phil Spector and Drew Peterson murder trials.

Family attorney Daryl Parks did not provide additional details about the preliminary results.

However, the New York Times reported that two of the bullets struck Brown in the head. The other four struck him in the right arm — and all six were fired into his front.

“This is bound to escalate tensions,” the Rev. Jesse Jackson told CNN. “This is a very provocative report.”

Even before the release of this latest information, the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson has been a racially charged tinderbox.

Late Sunday night, a day of peaceful protests devolved into a night of gunfire, Molotov cocktails and tear gas .

Officers fired tear gas into a crowd of hundreds of protesters marching toward a police command post ht. Authorities also struck one defiant protester with rubber bullets.

St. Louis County police said several protesters had thrown Molotov cocktails toward the officers before authorities shot tear gas toward them.

“That is a lie. It was no fight, it was no shots fired,” a very upset protester, Lisha Williams, told CNN. “The only ones who fired was police. All we did was march to the command center to fall to our knees and say, ‘Don’t shoot.’ And they started shooting.”

The violence escalated through the night as shots were fired toward police. Officers had to take up a defensive position behind vehicles.

Officers had tried to push back and contain a crowd of protesters, which included children. The crowd didn’t let up despite an impending midnight curfew.

“I’m astonished at this reversal of mood,” Jackson said. “The mood was so positive.”

The scene was a far cry from a packed church earlier Sunday, where hundreds of people gathered for a two-hour rally demanding justice for Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager shot dead eight days ago by a white police officer.

A cousin of Brown told the church audience that Brown was killed without reason.

“What I want y’all to remember is that Michael Brown was not just some young black boy. He was a human being … ,” Ty Pruitt said. “He was not a suspect. He was not an object. He was not an animal. But that’s how he was killed.”

Michael Brown’s parents — Lesley McSpadden and Michael Brown Sr. — appeared on stage at the rally at Greater Grace Church with attorney Benjamin Crump but didn’t address the audience.

“What we’re really asking for is simple justice,” Crump said. “We’re not asking for anything extraordinary. They just want what anybody else would want if their children were shot down in broad daylight.”

Crump said there would be an independent investigation in addition to the federal and local probes already under way.

Missouri State Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson spoke to the 1,300 people in the congregation and said he had a heavy heart.

“The past 24 hours have been tough for me,” said Johnson, who took over security in the town on Thursday after what many saw as an overly aggressive police response by the local authorities. Johnson said he met with members of the Brown family and was moved to tears.

Protests had turned violent on Saturday night as well after a curfew began. One male was shot overnight Saturday, authorities said. It was unclear how old he was or who shot him. The victim was in critical condition Sunday.

Officials said state highway patrol officers didn’t fire any shots. They did fire tear gas to get to the wounded victim, Johnson said early Sunday.

A third autopsy

Brown was shot to death August 9 by a police officer after a confrontation as the teen walked down the street. Accounts of exactly what happened when Officer Darren Wilson stopped Brown vary widely.

Witnesses said they saw a scuffle between the officer and Brown at the police car before the young man was shot. Police said Brown struggled with the officer and reached for his weapon.

Several witnesses said Brown raised his hands and was not attacking the officer.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has approved another autopsy on Brown’s body, the Justice Department said. The autopsy will be conducted by a federal medical examiner.

  • Published in World
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