A black Cuban author, Roberto Zurbano, whose scathing criticism of racism on the island was published in The New York Times last month, has been demoted from his top job at the government-controlled Casa de las Americas book publishers.
“To question the extent of racial progress was tantamount to a counterrevolutionary act,” the dreadlocked Zurbano wrote. “This made it almost impossible to point out the obvious: racism is alive and well.”
Zurbano’s case reflects the growing black-rights movement in Cuba, where 35 percent of its 11 million people are black or mestizo, at a time when its activists are complaining that Raúl Castro’s open-market economic reforms favor whites unfairly.
Maria Ileana Faguaga Iglesia, a Havana academic who specializes in black studies, said she was not surprised by Zurbano’s demotion — “it would have been news if he was NOT fired,” she said — because Castro’s reforms don’t extend to politics.
“This ratifies for me their lack of understanding and tolerance for diversity, for the range of all the problems that Cuba faces in all areas, racial, social, political and economic,” she told El Nuevo Herald by phone from Havana.
Faguaga said Zurbano, an acquaintance and neighbor in his early 50s, battled often at Casa de las Americas to publish more books on black issues and especially the works of Frantz Fanon, a black, Martinique-born Marxist and revolutionary.
Zurbano announced he had been “relieved” of his job as an editor and publisher, selecting books to be published, and transferred to a lesser job during a meeting of the Cuba chapter of the Regional Coordination of Afro-descendants in Latin America and the Caribbean (ARAAC), according to a post Friday in the blog Havana Times.
The post included a statement from ARAAC which did not mention him but said it “resolutely supports the free expression of ideas by all its activists” and opposes any “repressive or obstructive measures against any participants in such polemics.”
ARAAC member Esteban Morales confirmed Zurbano, who also writes poetry and essays, had been demoted by Casa de las Americans but said he was not at the meeting and did not know whether the reassignment was linked to the New York Times column.
Zurbano “of course has the right to give his opinion,” Morales said. Casa de las Americas in any case has the right to reassign or dismiss any of its employees, he told El Nuevo Herald by phone from Havana.
“He’s not been kicked out of Casa. Casa has simply removed him from that job,” he added.
Morales, a well-known Havana economist, was himself kicked out of the Communist Party in 2010 after penning an Internet column in which he complained about Cuba’s burgeoning corruption. He was reinstated in 2011.
Zurbano’s 982-word column for the New York Times on March 23 argued that while the island still has a strong social safety net, Castro’s market reforms are providing better opportunities to the already better-off white Cubans.
Whites have better homes that they can turn into restaurants or bed & breakfasts, he wrote. Cash remittances arrive from the mostly white exile community. And blacks are still “woefully underrepresented” in tourism, the island’s most profitable sector.