Tuesday, April 21, 2009

What Obama's Cuba Move Means For Blacks

What Obama's Cuba Move Means For Blacks
by TheLoop21 .com Friday, April 17, 2009
TheLoop21 .com BY MARVIN KING

This week, President Barack Obama announced a shift, a subtle, but important shift, in American policy toward Cuba. First, he is lifting travel restrictions for Cuban-Americans with family still in Cuba. Second, he will allow unlimited transfers of money from Cuban-Americans to family still on the island. Third, Obama will allow American telecommunications companies — if Cuba allows it — to compete in the Cuban market.Obama has not lifted the trade embargo on the island nation, nor will he allow unrestricted travel by Americans to the island — that would require congressional action. (A shame, too. I've already daydreamed about a Cuba Libre in Havana for my next vacay.)Myopic journalists and cynics on the right insist on framing this issue as solely a matter of Obama trying to win over more voters in Florida. There is so much more to consider, though. Let me point out the relevance of the new policy to Cuba's black population, which is significant.
According to the 2002 Cuban Census, 35 percent of Cuba's 11 million people are black or mulatto. Unofficial estimates, however, have a broader definition of mixed ancestry, and put the black or mulatto population at closer to 60 percent to 70 percent. During the revolution, Fidel Castro earned black support, because he promised equal opportunities. As the saying goes, in Cuba, race does not exist, people "are only Cuban." Yet objective reality says something different.

The Good:
To Castro's credit, since the revolution, in some areas, life has improved for the better for Cuba's black population. Cuba is much more likely to produce black doctors. There is considerably more racial integration on the island and relationships between the races are more amicable.
The Bad:
However, blacks are severely overrepresented in Cuba's prisons. (Sound familiar?) Despite the prevalence of black doctors, blacks with college degrees are relatively sparse. And, government officials, the elites in Cuban society, are overwhelmingly white. There is a strong pro-white, Spanish tilt to Cuban aristocracy.At the end of a recent visit by members of the Congressional Black Caucus, chairwoman Barbara Lee noted that the 47-year American embargo against Cuba has done little to alter the political status quo in Cuba. The Castros are still in charge. Furthermore, the real victims of the embargo appear to be those lowest on the economic and political ladder — black Cubans. (As an aside, critics of the trip have failed to note it is consistent with the CBC agenda of fighting poverty and suffering everywhere.)No doubt, Cuba still has a long way to go in addressing valid, real concerns of human rights abuses of political prisoners. There are legitimate concerns over the severe restrictions on freedom of movement and even the persecution of religion. We can say the same of China, but how many Americans visited for last summer's Olympics?Still, as long as there is only a tiny American investment on the island, a relatively small, white, Spanish elite will horde those resources. Significant American investment is the only way to improve life for all Cubans.Obama could start by sending me to Havana for that Cuba Libre.

Marvin King is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Mississippi and writes the blog King Politics.

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