Extract from: Cuba: A New History by Richard Gott
By Richard Lapper
The story takes in the fate of the Taino and Siboney indigenous population, who were largely wiped out by early colonisers, and the development of African slavery - abolished only at the end of the 19th century, half a century after the abolition of the slave trade elsewhere.
White fears that independence might pave the way for a Haitian-style black republic led white elites to give Spanish colonialism a fresh lease of life, although before the American civil war some whites pressed for annexation to the US as a way of preserving slavery. When that option disappeared after the civil war ended, they joined militias known in Cuba as "voluntarios", which fought hard to maintain the status quo. Like their Algerian or South African counterparts a hundred years later, their energies stiffened colonial resolve; the Spanish army made last-ditch efforts to stem the nationalist tide by herding potential opponents into concentration camps.
Invading US armies kicked out the Spanish, but they also excluded black nationalists from the officer class of the newly independent armies. Like Argentina, Brazil and Australia, newly independent Cuba succeeded in "whitening" its population by favouring immigration from Europe.
The number of blacks fell from just over half the population to about a third. They were confined to labouring jobs, were disproportionately poor, excluded from white organisations and became the victims of occasional episodes of repression. By the early 1900s local newspapers advocated lynchings as a model way of keeping the black population under control.
All this began to change in 1959, when the new revolutionary government started to outlaw discriminatory practices. Blacks are still under-represented in the higher echelons of the state and party but generally provide bedrock support for the government, especially in rural areas. The majority of the million or so Cuban exiles are white, increasing the racial disparity in the remaining population of blacks and mulattos. Anti-racism was a theme of Cuba's foreign adventures in Africa, which ranged from the ill-fated venture by Che Guevara in the Congo in the mid-1960s to the Cuban role in Angola, when about 50,000 Cuban troops helped turned the tide in the war against South Africa at Cuito Cuanavale in 1987-1988.
It is a persuasive argument, in some ways, and one that the Cuban government, no longer seriously able to present its rickety economic model as a socialist ideal, has been keen to embrace of late. But - as Gott clearly recognises - there are a few wrinkles. Batista
- the dictator - was poor, of mixed race, and popular among blacks, who were heavily represented in his army and police force.
The guerrilla army that defeated them was made up predominantly of the sons of white immigrants from Spain, like Castro himself, whose father Angel was born in Galicia.
Castro might have scrapped whites-only clubs, but he also outlawed black power organisations, and drove black cultural and religious activity underground. And then there is the awkward fact that the economic model he has chosen to preserve his own power and Cuba's socialist system since the 1990s has created an enclave "dollarised" economy from which Cubans without dollars are excluded. Since black Cubans have fewer relatives in the US sending them dollars, they tend to suffer most.full article: