Black Woman – Double or Triple Discrimination?
Black Woman: Double or Triple Discrimination? / Diario de Cuba, Laritza
Posted on October 7, 2015
Diario de Cuba, Laritza Diversent, Havana, 31 July 2015 —In Cuba there
is a myth that says that there is no racism here because “all the races
and cultures melded together forever in a happy synthesis.”
Nonetheless, in reality, invisibility is on the rise, and a concept of
“racial democracies” is maintained.
The invisibility of Afro-descendants’ poverty, along with enduring
stereotypes and prejudices, contributes to the perpetuation of historic
situations of segregation and exclusion, racism, and racial
discrimination. Afro-descendant women, in particular, face major
obstacles to the enjoyment and exercise of their rights, be these civil,
political, economic, social, or cultural.
Official statistics state that men and women of African heritage on the
Island constitute a minority. However, the general perception is that
the official information does not reflect reality insofar as the ratio
of races is concerned.
In the 2002 Census, the Cuban population was tabulated at 11,177,743
inhabitants. Of these, 65% were categorized as white, 10.1% as black,
and 24.9% as mixed-race. In 2012, there was a reduction in the number of
blacks: 9% men, and 8% women. The State admits that this tendency
towards reduction can be traced back to 1981, when blacks made up 12% of
the population. Presently, they comprise 9.26%.
As of today there is no official information to explain this trend.
There are various potential reasons. The first is related to
self-identification. There is no “Afro-descendant” option as a Census
category, nor are questions asked that would identify the heritage and
ethnic membership of the Afro-descendant population.
Official data do not distinguish between ethnicity and race. They are
focused on personal identification, based on “skin color,” which
provokes social inequalities.
The data-collectors operate totally according to their own judgment, and
without surveying the interviewees, because they consider the question
of little importance, or “offensive.” What they do not realize is the
impact of skin color on the answers.
Meanwhile, the State does not provide public education and
consciousness-raising about the categories, which would promote correct
self-identification on the part of Afro-descendants, nor does it
sensitize the data-collectors about this subject.
Regarding skin color, the Census provides information only as it
pertains to gender, age, marital status, residential zone, and working
vs. retirement age.
It is impossible to know from the data of the last Census what
percentage of professionals in the country are black, and in what
region, provinces, municipalities and neighborhoods they are concentrated.
Statistics are fundamental. They paint a picture of the situation and
are a way to discern one group among others. Data facilitate the design
and adoption of public policies that take into account concrete needs.
Without reliable data, without indicators and periodic measurements, it
is impossible to make political decisions geared to confronting the
problem of discrimination.
The current trend is for the mixed-race population to increase. Between
1981 and 2012, this segment grew by 4.62%, while the black population
decreased by 2.74%, and the white by 1.88%
How can we identify racial profiling and bias in the criminal-justice
system that persist in practice and directly affects the Afro-descendant
population, such as the mechanism for selective and discretionary
detention and investigation? And how can we develop strategies to
The practice of racial profiling, or the establishment of racial
profiles as a “repressive action,” is adopted for supposed reasons of
security or public protection, and is based on stereotypes of race,
color, ethnicity, language, heritage, religion, nationality or place of
birth, or a combination of these factors—and not on objective
suspicions. This practice tends to single out in a discriminatory manner
individuals or groups who meet erroneous criteria for propensity to
certain types of criminal behavior by people with certain characteristics.
The establishment of racial profiles includes the practice by police
officers and other law enforcement officials of using race, color,
heritage, or national or ethnic origin as a reason to subject people to
activities for purposes of investigation, or to determine if they are
committing criminal acts.
The Afro-descendant population is more susceptible to being suspected,
persecuted, processed and sentenced. Selective detentions of persons of
color based on racial profiles, unjustified police surveillance, and
negative interactions with the police are common, as are elevated arrest
rates and an over-representation of persons of African origin in the
criminal justice system.
These circumstances are exacerbated by a lack of information provided to
the persons detained by the police (and a lack of self-identification),
and because the more individual discretion an agent has in handling a
situation, the more he or she relies on stereotypes.
People of color, especially young people, invest vast sums of money in
their appearance and dress, so as to avoid negative interactions with
security agents. The latter exert more intense control over them than
over people with white skin in terms of requiring identification
documents, and performing searches and seizures, primarily because of
the established “suspicious person” profile: generally young, male and
The police maintain the notion of the “suspicious person” and utilize
categories constructed on the basis of “intuition,” “experience,” “sense
of smell,” or “facial bearing.” There is also labeling done, according
to which the harsh living conditions that many black people must face,
classifies them as more prone to commit crimes, principally of property.
Access to Justice
The lack of mechanisms for complaint, judicial guarantees, reparation,
and the lack of sensitivity of justice personnel (administrative or
judicial) in relation to racial discrimination, contributes to the
persistence of racism on the Island, deepens the resignation of the
discriminated groups to their lot, and perpetuates patterns of
segregation and exclusion.
The government does not report complaints or cases of discrimination.
This shows how the victims lack knowledge of their rights and confidence
in the police and/or judicial authorities, and how insensitive and
inattentive these authorities are to instances of discrimination.
Such paucity of records of racial discrimination shows that such cases
do not come to the attention of the justice system, nor have they been
taken up by the courts, and it denotes the obstacles to legal access and
the absence of effective legal guarantees for the dark-skinned
population. It is common for the authorities to use inappropriate and
discriminatory discourse against these persons.
Regarding criticisms and discriminatory comments, there is a total
tolerance for them in the communication media and in recreation centers,
where “jokes about blacks” and racist comments are freely bandied about.
There is no judicial recourse for their protection, which results from a
process of “resignation in the face of historic and endemic injustice,”
being that “there is no devolution of the processes of complaint that
implicate a fault of the complainant.”
Afro-descendants’ lack of confidence in the judicial system is
influenced by the obstacles they face in accessing the courts to pursue
cases of racism: the racist insult, not being framed in the law, remains
unpunished in the majority of cases.
Generally speaking, the police refuse to accept and settle these types
of claims because they consider them irrelevant. There are,
additionally, issues of difficulty in proving such accusations, and lack
of adequate investigation, standardized procedures, or guidelines.
This same attitude is replicated at the judicial level, insofar as the
judicial authorities do not, as a matter of course, process claims of
discrimination, nor are they willing to receive such complaints.
Situation of the Afro-Descendant Woman
Racism in Cuba particularly affects Afro-descendant women, who
historically have suffered a triple discrimination based on their sex,
extreme poverty, and race. Although this is has been a reality
throughout the history of country, during the last 50 years it has been
buried under a supposed social equality. The special needs of black
women—tied to other factors such as religion or beliefs, health, civil
status, age, class, sexual orientation and gender identity—have been
totally ignored by State policies, thus feeding contemporary forms of
racism and racial prejudice in our society.
Such discrimination impacts Afro-descendant women in a special way.
Statistics show that they are even poorer and have fewer possibilities
of accessing housing, health care, and education than white men,
Afro-descendant men, and non-Afro-descendant women, and even fewer
possibilities to attain employment and political participation.
The Afro-descendant community overall lives in the poorest regions, but
the weight of discrimination is even greater for women of African
heritage because their multiple roles, both within and outside the home,
and is not adequately reflected in their social position, employment,
and salary. Compared to the rest of the female population, they are
notoriously underrepresented in decision-making, such that “in the
political sphere, only a miniscule number of Afro-descendant women have
been able to obtain positions of power.”
There are no studies that contrast the situation between white women and
their Afro-descendant counterparts.
Laura Masa: Afro-descendant woman 50 years of age, mother raising a son
who suffers from paranoid schizophrenia. She has resided in the El
Morado district, La Lisa municipality, Havana province, since 1990. Her
house, which is in a terrible state of disrepair, has wooden walls, a
dirt floor, and an asbestos roof. It consists of one multi-purpose room
(bedroom and kitchen), with no toilet, and is in danger of collapsing.
The authorities are aware of her situation, and recommend construction
of a dwelling from the ground-up to avoid accidents. She has been
requesting help from the State for 25 years. In August 2014, Masa asked
the authorities to recognize her as the owner of the land she occupies
and provide her with a construction subsidy. So far she has not received
a response, and her situation is worsening. Water service is denied her
because she does not hold the title to her real estate.
Yurliani Tamayo Martínez: Afro-descendant woman 33 years of age, mother
of two daughters. She lives in the 10 de Octubre municipality, inside a
school building that is in danger of collapsing, which lacks water and
sewer connections, has leakages and broken sewers, and is infested with
rats, cockroaches and mosquitoes. She has written to the authorities,
but there are no available dwellings and, apparently, there are other,
worse cases than hers.
In 2010, a day after Hurricane Gustav passed over the area, she entered
the dwelling whose former residents had left the country. Functionaries
and police officers tried to lure her out with threats of physical
violence. The harassment continued, and Tamayo Martínez feared that if
she went outside, her children would be snatched from her to force her
to give up the dwelling.
On 9 April 2010, at 4am, she was sleeping with her daughters of 4 years
and 1 year of age, respectively. A rumbling frightened the smaller one.
They started to scream. The electricity was cut off. A man said, “Open
up, it’s your cousin, Noslen.” But Tamayo Martínez does not have a
relative by that name. She took her little ones in her arms and tried,
in vain, to prevent the intruders from knocking down the door.
Two uniformed policemen entered via the balcony. A plain-clothed man
dragged her by one foot, while the others let in an official who tore
her girls from her arms, despite the screams. They dragged her by the
hair. Upon being immobilized, Tamayo Martínez couldn’t see, but felt a
foot pressing down on her head while the men shouted obscenities at her.
A hand squeezed her face. She instinctively bit a finger. A blow to her
face loosened one of her teeth.
They picked her up from the floor by the handcuffs and took her and her
daughters out into the hallway, barefoot and in their underwear. They
led them down the stairs and put Tamayo Martínez in a patrol car. A
female police officer slapped her while hurling insults. They took off
at lightning speed but a few hundred meters away they remembered that
they had left the little girls semi-clad in the chill of the dawn. They
returned. They hurriedly grabbed the girls and threw them into the car.
One fell backward on her little arms, and the other landed face-down.
They screamed for their mother between sobs, while the officer yelled
that they were under arrest.
After 12 hours they were taken to a doctor. The older of the girls and
Tamayo Martínez had contusions. Because they had nowhere to go, the
officials threatened Tamayo Martínez that they would take the girls to a
home for children without parental protection, and that she would go to
prison. Her family had to claim them. They returned to the hospital the
next day. The orthopedist diagnosed a fractured elbow and a contusion in
her shoulder. Her pains continued, caused by a fracture in the second
vertebra where the spinal column connects to the cervical spine–a
Yaumara Brown Surit: Afro-descendant woman, 33 years of age. At 6 am on
7 September she was evicted by functionaries of the Municipal Housing
Authority, who were accompanied by officers from the National Police.
They kicked down the door and evicted her along with her two small
children. Violence and bad treatment ensued at the hands of the State
functionaries. Brown Surit was arrested along with her children, Sheyla
and Maykel Valdivia Brown, 11 and 4 years of age, respectively, who
witnessed the arbitrariness of the functionaries from the Housing
Authority and the Police. Now, Sheyla does not want to go outside to
play for fear of leaving her mother and something happening; she
presents symptoms of regression, she awakens in a panic from nightmares,
wets herself, and is under psychiatric treatment for anxious adaptive
Niurka Pérez Carbó: Afro-descendant woman of 60 years of age, suffering
from ischemic cardiomyopathy, mother of a prison inmate. On 18 November
2018, she was attacked in the very police station where she tried to
stop the detention of her son. The desk clerk struck her with the back
of his hand, and then various police officers joined in the attack. They
shoved her, dragged her by the hair and arms, beat her on the breasts
and neck, and kicked her. One agent pulled on her left arm and caused a
fracture of the elbow at the joint.
María Isabel Rodríguez: Mother of a prison inmate who since his
adolescence has been a target of unjustified police surveillance, due to
various members of his family having been tried in court. Her son was
arrested for pre-criminal dangerousness and anti-social conduct for
having gone straight home from work every day for three years. The local
police authority, unsatisfied with the charges, continued harassing him.
María Isabel Rodríguez told the official that he was a liar and was
lacking in professional ethics. He accused her son of calling him
corrupt, and this resulted in his arrest. She went with her son and took
responsibility for the action, but her son incriminated himself and
pleaded for his mother to be left in peace. He was then transported to a
prison cell by two agents.
María Isabel Rodríguez tried to stop the agents when Captain Jorge Luiz
punched her in the chest, telling her to shut up, and the Section Chief
gave her another blow in the same spot. She asked why she was being
beaten, being that she had spoken the truth, and that the Section Chief
is indeed corrupt. They then charged her with disrespect. When she
refused to sign the complaint, they took her hand by force and marked
the document with her fingerprint. They put a 1,000-peso bond on her
son. She then demanded to file a complaint against the Section Chief for
all the mistreatment inflicted on her and her son, but another official
asked her if she was crazy, expecting them to “file a complaint against
Female, Black, Poor, and… Dissident
Dissidents are, according to the Government, persons of low class. But
if a dissident is also Afro-descendant, then she is also troublesome,
rude, vulgar and disrespectful of the authorities. Madelaine Lázara
Caraballo Betancourt, 45, y Sonia Garro Alfonso, 39, black women who are
dissidents, were criminally prosecuted. Both reside in zones where
Afro-descendants are the majority.
In both their cases, at the time of arrest, the authorities used
excessive force. Both women were labeled “arrogant and problematic” and
accused of consorting with persons of low social conduct to “demonstrate
against the Government.” So as to stigmatize them, they contextualize
the events using obscene phrases and language that is generally not
employed in provisional summaries by prosecutors.
For her part, Madelaine Lázara Caraballo Betancourt, a carrier of
HIV-AIDS, was tried for public disturbance, disobedience, and resistance
to authority. On the afternoon of 1 October 2012, she tried to stop the
eviction of her family. Her daughter, with her minor grandchildren, had
occupied an abandoned and uninhabitable tenement block in Old Havana.
According to the authorities, Caraballo Betancourt began screaming
obscenities and hurled a spit gob that “hit the chest” of an official.
She hung on to a railing at the entrance to the building. Agents beat
her until she let go, causing a trauma to her left shoulder. Madeleine
served almost two years in the San José de Las Lajas Penitentiary, a
prison in Mayabeque province for HIV-AIDS carriers.
Arrieta, L. C. (15 May 2013). Initial Findings of the Prosecutor Against
Lázara Madelaine Caraballo Betancourt. Havana, Cuba.
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. (5 December 2011). Situation
of Afro-descendant Persons in the Americas. Washington D.C., United
States of America.
Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. (20 January
2010). Periodic Reports Nos. 14, 15, 16, 17 & 18 that the States Parties
Should Present in 2007—Republic of Cuba. Reports Presented by the States
Parties in Accordance with Article 9 of the Convention. United Nations,
Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. (15 December
2011). Periodic Reports Nos. 14 – 18 for Cuba (continuation)- Act
resumed in the 2056th session. Examination of reports, observations and
information presented by the States Parties in Accordance with Article 9
of the Convention (continuation). United Nations, Geneva, Switzerland.
Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. (2 November
2011). Periodic Reports Nos. 14 – 18 for Cuba- Act resumed in the 2055th
session. Examination of reports, observations and information presented
by the States Parties by Virtue of Article 9 of the Convention
(continuation). United Nations, Geneva, Switzerland.
Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. (8 April 2011).
Final Observations of the Committee for the Elimination of Racial
Discrimination- Cuba. Examination of Reports Presented by the States
Parties in Accordance with Article 9 of the Convention. United Nations,
National Office of Statistics. (September 2005). Census of Population
and Housing-2002. Cuba.
National Office of Statistics. (2013). Census of Population and
Pérez, L. V. (7 August 2013). Provisional Conclusions of the Public
Prosecutor against Sonia Garro Alfonso. Havana, Cuba.
Sentence No. 415, Case No. 2018/2010, for Crimes of Attack against
Yurleany Tamayo Martínez (Fifth Chamber of the Provincial Criminal
Tribunal of Havana, 30 September 2010).
Yeg, L. (21 June 2010). Provisional Conclusions of the Public Prosecutor
against Yurleanis Tamayo. Havana, Cuba.
Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison
Source: Black Woman: Double or Triple Discrimination? / Diario de Cuba,
Laritza Diversent | Translating Cuba –