The Black Lives Matter Movement in Cuba

Disclaimer: The following blog post is not a reflection of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s opinion on the Black Lives Matter movement in Cuba.

By Elena Cata.

In June of 2020, the killing of an unarmed young Black man received widespreadmedia attention and sparked calls for protests across Cuba. However, 52 local activists were preemptively arrested for planning such protests that called for racial justice on the island. Additionally, the state-owned communications company blocked phone and internet access the night before participants and journalists were planning to cover the protests.[1] The killing of Hansel Hernandez was not an isolated incident nor was it the first time cries for protests reverberated through the streets of Havana and neighboring cities. In Cuba’s predominately impoverished and Black neighborhoods, a racial reckoning is stirring. Their movement calls for social and racial justice and recognition that such goals have yet to be achieved in Cuba. In November of 2020, 500 Cubans staged a protest outside the Ministry of Culture. Protestors demanded the end of the permanent harassment directed toward a young social movement of mostly Afro-Cuban artists and musicians known as the San Isidro movement.[2] The protestors belong to a new group known as the N27 that was created as a result of police brutality against Afro-Cubans. N27 is considered to be a unique movement as its members do not shy away from calling out the Cuban system’s racism.

In May of 2020, after the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis, Cuban American writer Alisa Valdés-Rodríguez tweeted commentary on racial tensions in the United States versus Cuba. She tweeted “Late 1950s, two North American countries fought [the] legacy of racism and class injustice brought by the enslavement of Africans by colonist genocidal Europeans — Cuba & [the] United States. Cuba used violent revolution. The US used nonviolent resistance. Guess which worked?”.[3] Cuban journalist Louis Nevaer labels her tweet as extreme gaslighting and notes “Valdés-Rodríguez denies the reality lived every day by black women in Cuba” through this racist attack. Her “reprehensible” tweet signals that Fidel delivered Cuba to a post-racial Utopia, a fallacy that forcefully devalues the experiences of Afro-Cubans.[4] The promises of the racial reckoning of the 1950s have yet to be fulfilled yet Cubans who seek to illuminate this reality are systematically silenced. Therefore, Black Lives Matter supporters and activists must join the fight to combat racism in Cuba, as the transnational coalition has the potential to accomplish racial justice on a global scale.

The Black Lives Matter Movement, an online campaign created in 2013 in the wake of a brutal police killing of a young black man, has since sent long-lasting and powerful waves across the world. The movement has inspired the creation of transnational and local racial justice organizations through decentralized activism that has effectively “ousted anti-Black politicians…critical legislation to benefit Black lives, and changed…terms of the debate on Blackness around the world”.[5] Cubans across the country have become increasingly exposed to enduring racist practices and anti-black attitudes that pervade their society through the work of brave activists. It has become increasingly difficult for the government to limit citizen exposure to international media and Cubans are actively observing racial justice protests across the world and posting evidence of their own mistreatment on social media. The Black Lives Matter Movement has the potential to embolden a true racial revolution in Cuba, one that doesn’t silence the experience of Afro-Cubans or claim that racism ended with the Revolution. However, in a country where free speech and assembly are consistently infringed upon, Cuban activists need the support of international actors to illuminate their struggles and pressure the government to recognize and work to combat the enduring racism non-white Cubans face.

“No hay odio de razas, porque no hay razas.” Martí’s famed statement in Nuestra America illustrates the Cuban poet’s desire for racial equality in Cuba and across Latin America. However, a group of scholars from the University of Pittsburgh contend that though it was a progressive thought for his time, Cuba’s nearly dogmatic adherence to this concept in official rhetoric has majorly stalled progress on achieving racial equality on the island.[6] While Martí’s statement was once an ideological hope, the notion that race does not exist in Cuba has negatively advanced the false claim that racism has been eradicated in Cuba. The danger in Martí’s statement is that it has been used by those who reject racial discourse that illuminates the varied experiences of non-white Cubans on the island. Ultimately, I arrive at the conclusion that the Cuban government and citizens alike must move away from the rhetoric that racism ended with the revolution because anti-black attitudes not only prevail in Cuba, they are rampant. The power of the transnational Black Lives Matter Movement to spur global change lies within the movement’s ability to establish international racial justice norms. While I have outlined the devastating ways in which anti-black attitudes pervade Cuba, I ultimately leave this research with the hope that a true racial reckoning in Cuba is possible as calls for global racial justice are no longer easy to ignore.

[1]Cuba Prevents Protest Over Police Killing of Black Man.” U.S. News & World Report. U.S. News & World Report, June 30, 2020.

[2]Javier Corrales | December 15, 2020. “Cuba’s Racial Reckoning, and What It Means for Biden.” Americas Quarterly, January 28, 2021.

[3]Nevaer, Louis. “In Cuba, Black Lives Matter to No One.” Medium. Medium, June 9, 2020.

[4]Mahfoud, Alexandra Anton, Ashely Brown, Dara Dawson, Dennis Espejo, Sofia Jacalone, Stephanie Jiminenez, Isabel Morales, and Abby Neiser. “Black Lives Matter: A Panorama of the Movement Across Latin America and the Caribbean.” Panoramas, November 20, 2020.

[5]Binning, Arelle A., “How Black Lives Matter Has Influenced and Interacted with Global Social Movements” (2019). CUNY Academic Works.

[6]Mahfoud, Alexandra Anton, Ashely Brown, Dara Dawson, Dennis Espejo, Sofia Jacalone, Stephanie Jiminenez, Isabel Morales, and Abby Neiser. “Black Lives Matter: A Panorama of the Movement Across Latin America and the Caribbean.” Panoramas, November 20, 2020.