I remember when no decent person would even consider of traveling to South Africa under apartheid, so heinous was that policy. Meanwhile, people from all around the world flock to Cuba, and as abhorrent as it is, it’s easy to label the white tourists as racists, they must be, how else could they turn a blind eye to such obvious apartheid?
I have to tell you, other than fidel worship, I’m at a loss to explain this from AllAfrica:
Overt Racism Gives Cuban Ideal a Sinister Hue
By Jacob Dlamini
I HAVE lived in the US on and off for the past three years and have yet to experience racial profiling, or what people of colour in America know as walking/driving/breathing while black. I spent three weeks in Cuba in 2000, and was subjected to racial profiling five times — all in one day.
I am sure, then, that the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), the African National Congress (ANC) and the South African Communist Party (SACP) — who swear by Cuba and all it stands for — will understand why a leftist like me is not as enthusiastic as they are about that socialist island. I had my love of Cuba mugged out of me by racism.
Racial profiling, for those who have not heard of it, is a phenomenon whereby people get stopped by the police for looking, well, black and therefore, in the minds of the police doing the profiling, suspicious.
You could be driving down a busy highway, walking through a shopping mall, or just taking a walk through your neighbourhood. You only have to be or look black to qualify for racial profiling.
My experience of racial profiling in Cuba came on the last day of what had been a wonderful holiday in which my girlfriend and I had travelled around the south in Santiago de Cuba, taking in the island’s majestic tobacco fields and pub crawling through the capital Havana’s districts.
My girlfriend was returning directly to SA and left early, while I was flying back to school in the US, and had to take a midnight flight. With nothing to do but eat, read and do some sightseeing (again) in a town I had come to know fairly well, I decided to rather take a long leisurely walk up and down the beach.
I had been walking for about 10 minutes when two policemen stationed at the beach motioned for me to come over to them. Thinking they were being friendly and wanted to chat with a tourist, I went over. The one who looked as though he was in charge said something in Spanish. The only word I caught out was documento. “It’s at home,” I said. They quickly realised I wasn’t local, and let me go. I continued with my walk.
It happened again about half-an-hour later, only with a different set of policemen. Them: “Documento?” Me: a shrug and a point in the direction of where I was staying. They let me go. I was bemused and, being in holiday mode, slow on the uptake.
By the fourth time, I was in a foul mood, said something about fascismo and pointed at the two Italian men who happened to be walking past us just then, asking why the police were not stopping them and demanding to see their papers.
I did not even stop for the fifth set of cops and told them to their faces to f**k off! By the way, the 10 or so policemen I dealt with that day were either AfroCubans or Cubans of mixed descent.
Then I started thinking about how all the prostitutes seemed to be young black women and men; how all the jobs in the tourism industry — from the state-owned taxis to the hotel receptions — seemed to be held by only white or very light-skinned Cubans; how on the few occasions that I managed to watch Cuban television, there were no black Cubans on TV. Except once, and he was only part of a band.
You might ask why anyone would want to visit an island that quarantines people with HIV/AIDS, treats its gay and lesbian citizens like criminals, and dishes out passports the same way a parent gives out candy to an obedient child — be nice and you will be handsomely rewarded with a pack of sweets.
But Cuba is about more than just tourism for many of us. It helped liberate southern Africa and offered, for a time, a way of looking at the current world and imagining a different one. That is why South Africans continue to visit it.
I have told this story numerous times over the past five years and people always ask the inevitable question: would I recommend Cuba as a tourist destination? My answer is always yes. Just don’t go there expecting a socialist haven where solidarity reigns supreme.