Omar Lopez Montenegro lives in Miami and represents the Association for Free Arts and the National Civic Union, opposition groups inside Cuba.
SPEAKING of races always leads to racism. When a society finds itself forced -- or impelled -- to establish a different political discourse for its citizens depending on the color of their skin, it is undoubtedly sick. In Cuba there never was a Martin Luther King Jr. because there were no segregated coffee shops, or rest rooms either.
In 1909, seven years after the republic was proclaimed, a black, Martin Morua Delgado, was elected speaker of the Cuban Senate. On Oct. 10, 1868, Carlos Manuel de Cespedes's first act of national sovereignty consisted of liberating his slaves, before taking up arms against Spain.
Contrary to the United States, where the Revolutionary War was the concern of whites nearly exclusively, the Cuban nation cast itself -- and emerged in the eyes of the world -- as free of the racial stigma. The three basic institutions that preserve the Cuban identity are a faithful reflection of the crossbreeding that characterizes the Cuban. Both whites and blacks use the same popular argot, and Cuba's religious patroness, the Virgin of Charity, is a mestizo.
In 1953, the year in which Fidel Castro assaulted the Moncada barracks, blacks and mestizos made up more than 52 percent of Cuba's population. According to a popular saying, in Cuba anyone who does not have a bit of Congo has a bit of Carabali.
Although you could not speak of interracial harmony -- where does it exist? -- before Castro Cuba was entirely bereft of interracial antagonism. For want of a program of betterments for the entire population, Castro has maximized the racial problem in order to pretend that at least the blacks have been redeemed and have regained their lost dignity.
The frustration of blacks in Cuba today can be measured in numbers: 85 percent of Cuba's prison inmates are black or mestizo, and nearly 90 percent of the inmates are under age 35. Faced with this raw fact, Castro gave a demagogic speech ordering an increase in the number of blacks in the Cuban Communist Party. This speech brought two things to light: Either the party had restricted blacks' access, betraying its racist character; or blacks had no interest in joining the party, automatically disqualifying it as the redeemer of blacks.
In instituting race as one of society's poles and establishing separate categories for citizens, the regime is having a noxious impact on the concept of nationality. In the economic, social, and moral crisis now shaking the Castro regime's foundations, race is one of the burning issues of official propaganda. Castro is promoting the concept of a separate black identity, which was absent from Cuba's national conscience before he took power, to weaken his internal opposition and its capacity for cohesiveness. Unless democracy intervenes, this process will result in the dismembering of Cuban society, with consequent social regression.
In his eagerness to manipulate race to his advantage, Castro is producing a regression that will prove to be much more detrimental to blacks in the long run than the racism they supposedly had to deal with at the end of the Batista dictatorship. Bear in mind that the population of Cuba does not perceive nuances. It has been educated to think only in black and white. In such a society, the introduction of thought partitioned by race contributes to increasing the violence already existing within it.
By using the racial theme demagogically to divide Cubans and to remain in power, Castro is merely confirming what he made patently clear soon after taking power: He is the most racist ruler that Cuba has endured.
© 1996 The Miami Herald.