Cuban dissident says racism remains a grave problem

Cuban dissident Manuel Cuesta Morua on Wednesday called for “affirmative action” to redress what he called the “grave” problem of racism on the communist-ruled island.

“As long as the race problem is not resolved, we don’t believe that the problems of the nation can be resolved,” Cuesta Morua, who is black, said during an appearance at the University of Miami’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies.

He is the latest of nearly a dozen dissidents to visit South Florida since Cuba eased its restrictions on travel abroad in January. Also in Miami on Wednesday were Guillermo Fariñas, winner of the European Parliament’s Sakharov prize in 2010 and Eliezer Avila.

Cuesta Morua, the 50-year-old leader of the unofficial Progressive Arc party, said there’s clear and broad agreement in Cuba that the island needs fundamental changes and not the reforms pushed by ruler Raúl Castro to improve the economy.

Such changes can be achieved only with the input of all factions and interests on the island and abroad, Cuesta Morua added, because for too long Cuba has been ruled by elite groups, including revolutionaries for the past half century.

As for racism, he said it was more than a problem for the island — a “grave problem” made worse because the Castro governments have tried to sweep it under the rug by arguing that the revolution outlawed racism.

White Cubans generally have more access to cash remittances sent by friends and relatives abroad, Cuesta Morua said. And while whites generally live in better neighborhoods, blacks generally live on the edges on cities.

To fix the problem of racism, he added, Cuba requires a broad debate on racism and “affirmative action” for blacks because “their point of departure is disadvantageous” when compared to white Cubans.

The term “affirmative action” rankles officials of a government that boasts of trying to build an egalitarian society since 1959.

Some black-rights activists on the island, where the census shows about 35 percent of the 11 million people describe themselves as black or mestizo, are complaining that Raúl Castro’s open-market economic reforms favor the already better-off whites.

“Today, no one in Cuba can deny that we have a serious racial problem,” Cuesta Morua said.

He also noted the case of Roberto Zurbano, a black writer demoted from a top job at the state-controlled Casa de las Americas book publishers in March after his scathing criticism of racism on the island was published in The New York Times.

The case highlighted and advanced the debate on black rights in Cuba, Cuesta Morua added.

A critic of the U.S. embargo, he also argued that Cuba is a “military dictatorship” because armed forces officers now hold most of the key jobs in all of the island’s key economic sectors.

Cuesta Morua, a historian and social democrat, has been active in the opposition since 1991and is also a member of the Citizen’s Committee for Racial Integration, which has been speaking out on black-rights issues.

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