Written by Kieran Proctor

Is There Racism In Cuba?

There is no public racism in Cuba. But there is classicism. And classism is far worse than racism and it’s ...

There is no public racism in Cuba. But there is classicism. And classism is far worse than racism and it’s all pervasive in Cuba. You won’t be able to avoid noticing distinct socioeconomic divides in Cuba. I know I can’t avoid seeing them, everywhere I travel on the island.

What you’ll notice in Cuba, is that people with darker skin are often at a severe disadvantage, to those people with lighter skin. Here’s everything you need to know about racism and classicism, in Cuba.


Is There Racism In Cuba?

Racism, in the form that most Americans understand it, is almost absent from Cuban society. In your day to day interactions within Cuba, you likely won’t notice overt racism or segregation based on ethnicity or color.

If you are familiar with the history of Cuba, you will know that racism was one of the points of contention between Cuba and the USA, following the Cuban Revolution.

Che Guevara used the issue of racism, as a foreign policy tool in his December 11, 1964, speech to the 19th General Assembly of the United Nations in New York. In his UN speech, Guevara stated:

Those who kill their own children and discriminate daily against them because of the color of their skin; those who let the murderers of blacks remain free, protecting them, and furthermore punishing the black population because they demand their legitimate rights as free men — how can those who do this consider themselves guardians of freedom? We understand that today the Assembly is not in a position to ask for explanations of these acts. It must be clearly established, however, that the government of the United States is not the champion of freedom, but rather the perpetrator of exploitation and oppression against the peoples of the world and against a large part of its own population.

Che Guevara – December 11, 1964.

Post Revolution, the new government in Cuba inherited a race problem, that was itself two centuries old. And in response, they enacted legislation that sought to end all forms of public racism.

The new Cuban Government partially improved the welfare of blacks in Cuba, through their redistributive policies. Yet these were in truth bandaid measures, used to pacify a large portion of Cuban society.

It is the Cuban Government’s ‘foreign policy, rather than its domestic policy per se, that has ultimately favored the full integration of blacks into Cuban society.

What this means, is that discrimination is not absent from the island. Only that there are no distinct legal divides based on color or creed. And that the Cuban Government uses this as a type of propaganda in its foreign policy.


Is There Classicism In Cuba?

Classicism is strongly present in Cuba. There is preferential treatment in Cuba of citizens based on social class or perceived social class. And the main fault line in Cuban society, is a division between those with assets and those without.

More often than not the difference between those with assets and those without assets is also a division of color and ethnicity. Darker skinned individuals in Cuba, often own less than those people with lighter skin tones and more often than not, they only have their labor to sell.

Classicism in Cuba can be defined as,

Classism is differential treatment based on social class or perceived social class. Classism is the systematic oppression of subordinated class groups to advantage and strengthen the dominant class groups. It’s the systematic assignment of characteristics of worth and ability based on social class.

Those with assets from which they can generate an income through tourism, are significantly wealthier than those without assets.

A single bedroom apartment in Cuba, that can be rented as a casa particular on Airbnb, generates anywhere from $1500 to $2500USD per month. Or between $262,500CUP and $437,500CUP at the current exchange rate per month.

These same individuals who rent their assets to foreigners, then pay less than $1500CUP ($8.5USD) to those people without assets for a day of labour to clean their apartments. Or $1000CUP ($5.70USD) to a technician for 5 hours of labor, fixing their appliances like fridges.

So, to simplify the problem, those with assets as the dominant class group do take advantage of subordinate or lower class groups. And those with assets, are often linked to the State. Either directly, or through surnames and familial ties.


Institutionalised Oppression In Cuba

Government policy prevents those without assets, from questioning their own social status. Reinforcing the dominant position of those people with assets and those who are linked to the State.

If, as Guevara noted in his UN speech of 1964, the people of Cuba ‘demand their legitimate rights as free men (and women)’, they would be deemed counter-revolutionary and would get 10 years or more, in prison.

Those without assets and links to the State, cannot question their own ‘exploitation and oppression’. If they do, they will get 10 years or more, in prison.

Those without historical and longstanding connections to the Government, cannot question their own lot in life. If they do, they’re deemed counter-revolutionary and they get sentenced to prison.

The Cuban Government relies on the subordination and oppression of the general population, to sustain itself. Without cheap labour and poverty, the Cuban State would not exist.

And this is why, like every socialist state in the history of the world, they’re heavily invested in censorship, mass surveillance and propaganda. They can’t have people asking ‘why’. Because to allow the question to spread, is the death knell for the regime.


Institutionalized Privilege In Cuba

I’ve personally observed those with familial ties to the State and ‘famous’ surnames. And I can say with absolute certainty, that they hold privileged positions. And I can confirm that they are often totally unaware, of their own privilege.

It’s my own observation that they often possess the Cuban version of ‘White Privilege’. In that they were born with assets and connections to the State. Darker skinned individuals born in Guanabacoa, Habana Vieja, La Lisa or Diez de Octubre are essential born into a life of poverty and subservience to the ruling class.

Those darker skinned individuals, born without wealth and familial connections, cannot choose to question their own lot in life. Like they might do if they were born in the United States or elsewhere. Basically, if they did question the system under which they live, they’d be thrown in prison.

They have no hope of acquiring assets, or of holding significant positions of power. They cannot strike for a liveable wage or protest systemic inequality. Cubans can’t even question Government corruption.

For someone born without a familial connection to the Cuban State, income generating assets or a famous surname, their choices are limited to excepting a life of servitude, fleeing to another country, or death.

Communist ideology in Cuba, merely serves to reinforce the position of the privileged elite over everyone else. And this is just part of the farcical cycle of Cuban economics, supported by the Government’s ridiculous propaganda.


What is Worse – Racism Or Classicism?

In general terms, I would say they’re on an equal footing. Yet when taken in the context of Cuba, I view classicism as worse than racism.

If Cuba was a purely racist society, one group would simply say that they’re better than the other group and that would prompt a reaction. But in Cuba, the Cuban elite projects an air of equality. It uses its purported lack of racism, as a policy tool and instrument of propaganda.

Yet, in reality, all Cubans are not equal. And those who are born into privileged positions, due to their familial ties to the regime, continue to perpetuate a cycle of systemic inequality. A cycle of systemic inequality, dressed up as benevolent governance.

If Cuba’s communist elite were really benevolent, they would be open to a genuine discussion on the inequality present in Cuba. And they would genuinely allow the full and free participation of the community.

As Cuba currently stands, any Cuban who questions why their own position in society relegates them to poverty, while others are born into privilege, are deemed counter-revolutionary and jailed.

To throw one back at Guevara’s 1964 speech, at least in America its citizens can use their freedom to publicly voice their opposition to racism and inequality. But in Cuba, questioning ones own social standing in life is, counter revolutionary.


Where Can I Get More Information About Cuba?

I’ve made my Complete Guide To Traveling Cuba available on this website. And I recommend you read it, before traveling to Cuba. It will help you navigate Cuba and Cuban society.

My Cuba travel guide will save you a lot of time and money on your next trip to Cuba. Cuba is not the sort of destination in which you can arrive unprepared. Read the most complete Cuba Travel Guide.