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Tonyaa WeathersbyTonyaa Weathersbee

Tonyaa Weathersbee is a columnist for the Florida Times Union out of Jacksonville. A member of the prestigious Trotter Group of African American columnists in the US, she has maintained an interest in Cuba and issues of race & identity there, as well as in Venezuela.

In September, 2007, Tonyaa Weathersbee wrote an article about a recent trip she took to Cuba, One Race, Two Countries. A group of 4 Cuban Americans attacked her for this article in a letter to the editor, Cuba is no paradise for blacks, 11/07, citing a few myths that are common among Cuban Americans.

AfroCubaWeb columnist Alberto Jones comments on this attack in A Failed Revisionist attempt To Mask Cuba’s Tragic History, 11/07.

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Seeing the people, not Cold War politics, Tonyaa Weathersbee, 2/07 Column about Alberto Jones.

CUBA: Racial segregation is still apparent, 3/16/06 is another letter to the Times Union editors attacking Tonyaa Weathersbee for her column on Cuban academics should be freed from trade ban, 3/13/06. The letter begins factually enough, at least some of the stats on black participation are correct, though one wonders why the author does not include similar statistics for South Florida. Then it veers into never never land with its endorsement of the prosecution of the Miami 5, whose only crime was to monitor narco-terrorist organizations that the letter-writer apparently admires.

Articles/Artículostop

For Black Cubans, That Handshake Was Hope  12/17/2013 The Root: By: Tonyaa Weathersbee - "But for Cubans, particularly many Afro-Cubans, such a gesture between their president and the black president of the superpower just 90 miles north of them fuels hopes for bigger changes. One such change would be the ultimate lifting of a five-decade long economic embargo that has disproportionately ratcheted up more suffering among black Cubans, who receive far fewer remittance dollars than white Cubans and feel more of the brunt of shortages and hardships, as well as the increasing economic stratification that it abets."

More visits by artists like Beyonce, Jay-Z, needed, says Afro-Cuban filmmaker  5/17/2013 Pittsburgh Courier: by Tonyaa Weathersbee

Tonyaa Weathersbee: A goal is reached after two decades  4/11/2013 Jax Air News: "This week marked two milestones for the African-American Cultural Society here. For nearly two decades, it had been trying to get Gloria Rolando, a renowned Afro-Cuban filmmaker whose work primarily deals with the triumphs and struggles of black people in that island nation, to visit. Last Sunday, she finally did. Rolando made a stop here after appearing in Atlanta and en route to other U.S. destinations. She showed two of her films, “The Jazz in Us” and “Cherished Island Memories.” Her lifetime mission has been to use film to uncover those portions of black Cuban life either lost or buried in history. “I am very curious,” Rolando told me. “I like to explore the history of a people, how they got there, what happened to them.”"

Why the Black and Poor Loved Hugo Chávez  3/6/2013 The Root: By: Tonyaa Weathersbee - "The news, at least back in the U.S., was that Chávez had shut down RCTV, and the speculation was that in doing so, he was moving the country toward totalitarianism. But the throngs of black and brown Venezuelans who gathered to support him apparently didn't believe that. Nor did they care about the fate of a station that rarely saw them in a positive light or, for that matter, at all. What they cared about was the fate of a leader who not only acknowledged his own black features and heritage but also saw theirs."

?Encuentro con delegación de Estados Unidos  6/3/2010 Noticias de la Biblioteca Nacional José Martí: "Un fructífero intercambio sostuvieron el Dr. Eduardo Torres Cuevas, director de la Biblioteca Nacional de Cuba José Martí y el investigador de la propia institución Tomás Fernández Robaina, con una delegación de periodistas norteamericanos."

Commentary: Afro-Cubans could influence an anti-Bush vote in Fla.  3/30/2008 Black America News: by Tonyaa Weathersbee, published 10/04, still topical

End failed trade ban with Cuba  12/14/2007 Times Union: by Tonyaa Weathersbee - ""When I approached this solid waste dump, I couldn't even smell it," said Alberto Jones, who is a native of Guantanamo and vice president of the friendship association. "It was like a botanical garden ... the air quality has improved in that area tremendously." "When I met this lady [Garcia], I said to Soledad: 'She ought to be a CNN hero,' " Weeks told me. So Weeks nominated Garcia. And she won. The living room erupted into cheers. Then came the rude interruption. Actress Rosario Dawson announced that because of travel restrictions between the United States and Cuba, Garcia couldn't come to New York to pick up her $10,000 prize. Jones had to accept it on her behalf. Such craziness ought to make more Americans want to step up - and push for an end to the failed embargo and travel ban."

Attacking Tonyaa Weathersbee  12/2/2007 AfroCubaWeb: "Tonyaa Weathersbee is a columnist for the Florida Times Union out of Jacksonville. A member of the prestigious Trotter Group of African American columnists in the US, she has maintained an interest in Cuba and issues of race & identity there. In September, 2007, Tonyaa Weathersbee wrote an article about a recent trip she took to Cuba, One Race, Two Countries. A group of 4 Cuban Americans attacked her for this article in a letter to the editor, Cuba is no paradise for blacks, 11/07, citing a few myths that are common among Cuban Americans. AfroCubaWeb columnist Alberto Jones comments on this attack in A Failed Revisionist attempt To Mask Cuba’s Tragic History, 11/07."

Seeing the people, not Cold War politics  11/5/2007 Florida Times-Union: by Tonyaa Weathersbee, a member of the Trotter Group, an association of Black US columnists. This article discusses Alberto Jones, whose columns appear on AfroCubaWeb.

Seeing the people, not Cold War politics  2/21/2007 Florida Times Union: by Tonyaa Weathersbee - "Alberto Jones is the last person one would expect to have any love for Cuba. Especially when hatred forced him out of it."

TONYAA WEATHERSBEE: Boycotting for revenge, not justice  4/1/2003 BAW: "Fresh off the heels of that great Republican congressional campaign to change the name of French fries to freedom fries on the cafeteria menus in the House of Representatives, Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga., decided it was his turn to up the anti-French ante. Last week, he sent a letter to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld urging him to terminate a contract between the U.S. government and Sodexho Alliance, a French company."

Perils of life without a free press are evident in Cuba  6/3/2002 Florida Times Union: Tonyaa Weathersbee is part of the Trotter Group

OPINION: There is a plus side to the Cuban struggle for food  5/27/2002 Times-Union, Jacksonville: Tonyaa Weathersbee is part of the Trotter Group of black US columnists.

ONE RACE, TWO COUNTRIES, 9/07top

History and culture inextricably tie blacks in Cuba to blacks in the United States. But they are worlds apart, too 
TONYAA WEATHERSBEE
Published: September 23, 2007

In February, Times-Union columnist Tonyaa Weathersbee traveled to Cuba with the Institute of Advanced Journalism Studies at North Carolina A&T State University. She was there as part of an ongoing mission to examine how Afro-Cubans -- a group that is largely marginalized in most U.S. reporting on Cuba -- have influenced that country's development and the development of other people of African descent in the Americas. 

HAVANA -- I was looking for someone to help me track down an old friend, Cuban ethnologist Natalia Bolivar Arostegui, this past February when I ran across Lazaro Ramos.

I hadn't seen Bolivar in seven years. I had lost her address, so all I had to work with were aged bits of a mental picture of her neighborhood -- Havana's once-ritzy Miramar district. But my Spanish wasn't good enough for me to ask around for her, much less understand the replies.

So Ramos did the asking. We wound up finding Bolivar.

For that, I had the Isley Brothers to thank.

Ramos, a representative of the Cuban tour company Transtur, told me he learned English by listening to the music of that legendary R&B group, as well as numerous other black artists.

"I learned my English by listening to rhythm and blues," Ramos, 39, told me. "I listened to Anita Baker, Kelly Pryce, Ron Isley . . . my professor explained that's the best way to learn English . . ."

Ramos said that many of his friends also received their English lessons via soul music. And our conversation, like countless others I had with Cubans of color in my six years of visiting the island, a place separated from the United States by 90 miles of water and 47 years of Cold War politics, reminded me of the inextricable ties between black Cubans such as Ramos and blacks in the United States.

Those ties extend from slavery, which was officially abolished in 1886, to Cuba's wars of independence. When the United States entered the third and last war in 1898 -- a war most Americans know as the Spanish-American War -- black frontier soldiers known as the Buffalo Soldiers drew the fire that led the charge in the Battle of San Juan Hill in Santiago de Cuba. That was one of the most decisive battles of that war, which led to Cuba's liberation from Spain.

Today in Santiago de Cuba, a monument exists in their honor.

Then, like blacks in the United States, Cubans of color soon felt the disappointment of being cut out of the freedom that they fought for alongside their countrymen. Just as Reconstruction was winding down in the United States, and just as white supremacist groups began to use violence and segregation to intimidate blacks, blacks in Cuba were grappling with discrimination and racism as well.

In 1912, when they formed a political party to deal with it -- a party called the Independents of Color -- the Cuban government staged its own Rosewood, the tiny Florida settlement of blacks wiped out in 1923. Revved by rumors of the group having designs on wanting to take over the island and rape white women, its military slaughtered more than 6,000 blacks.

Cuban leaders celebrated the slaughter with a picnic for the soldiers who carried it out -- shades of a post-lynching picnic.

But the ties between blacks in the United States and blacks in Cuba aren't just about oppression, but about culture.

According to the book Between Race and Empire: African-Americans and Cubans before the Cuban Revolution, the first black professional baseball team, established in the 1880s, was called the Cuban Giants. Cuban teams often played in New York City, and Negro League teams played in Cuba.

Renowned black social poet Langston Hughes spent time there in the 1930s, comparing notes with Cuba's national poet, Nicolas Guillen.

Afro-Cuban musician Chano Pozo took his conga drum to Harlem in 1946, joined Dizzy Gillespie's band and created the Latin jazz sound known as CuBop.

A Martin Luther King Center exists in Havana. Like the one in Atlanta, it also promotes the teachings of the slain civil rights leader.

Historical and cultural connections, however, tend to be lost in the noise of exile politics -- politics that are guided by a withering dynasty of white exiles who left Cuba after Fidel Castro took power in 1959. Also, not unlike black people in the United States, who have still struggle with the specter of invisibility, so do Cubans of color when it comes to the U.S. policy.

There are differences, though.

Even though Havana's parks and streets teem with people who could be dropped off in Harlem, or for that matter, in Northwest Jacksonville, without anyone knowing they were anything but African-American until they spoke, Cubans of color tend to see themselves as a mixed-race people more than as a black people.

And while black people in the United States embrace the civil rights era as a catalyst to build on the access to opportunities that segregation denied them, many black Cubans accept the professional jobs and education they received after the Revolution as the limit of their advancement in Cuban society -- advancement they fear would be obliterated if the old-line Miami exiles ever resumed power.

But a measure of discontent exists. Younger Afro-Cubans privately complain about a resurgence in racism since tourism replaced Soviet subsidies as a major source of sustenance for the island. Few darker-skinned Cubans land the hotel and tourism jobs that often supplement the meager peso salaries many of them they earn in government jobs.

An Afro-Cuban law professor told me about a rise in police profiling and said he was weary of his government using Haiti, the poorest country in the hemisphere, as the standard when admonishing Cubans on why they should be satisfied with their economic status.

Even the president of Cuba's National Assembly, Ricardo Alarcon, told our journalists' group that Cuba had a race problem -- an admission that few black Cubans are candid about, lest they be branded as counterrevolutionaries. He also said the government had learned that the problem couldn't simply be wiped out by decree and was examining ways to address it.

Yet in spite of the discontent, it's obvious that the black and mixed-race Cubans, who make up more than 60 percent of the country's 11 million people, aren't up to helping the United States overthrow a government that gave them the basic tools they needed to defy centuries of racism and indignity.

Nor are they up to undermining a system that cut their infant mortality rate from 37 per 1,000 in 1960 to 6 per 1,000 today, and gave them a literacy rate of around 99 percent, according to the CIA World Factbook.

According to an April 1952 Time magazine article, which chronicled the rise of Cuba's last dictator, Fulgenio Batista, Cubans' life expectancy was 15 years less than that of Americans -- which at the time was 65. Now, Cubans can expect to live to age 77, while Americans can expect to live to age 78, according to our own CIA.

But the biggest thing that inspires the loyalty, Cubans say, is the education.

"The revolution has its problems and things like that, and there is racism here, but before no Negro could go into medicine . . . they had no Negro psychologists in Cuba, no professionals," said 81-year-old Leonides Terrero, over a lunch of roast chicken, salad and rice at the Hotel Lincoln.

"Now, we have Negro architects in Oriente [Cuba's easternmost province, which includes the city of Santiago de Cuba]."

The hotel, located in the midst of Havana, is where legendary black performers such as Josephine Baker once stayed because blacks, who often entertained at the Cuba's premier spot, the Hotel Nacional, rarely got to stay there.

Yet Afro-Cubans such as Terrero hold out hope that ultimately, the politics will change so that Cubans on the island and black people in the United States can finally get together and celebrate their ties not just to each other, but to Africa as well.

-- -- --

Natalia Bolivar is white. But she's celebrated Cuba's connection to Africa for decades.

It is that connection that had the 72-year-old ethnologist, who I met by way of her second cousin, Jacksonville neurosurgeon Javier Garcia-Bengochea, arguing the point about her racial identity.

"Many American people who come here say, 'But I thought you were Negro,' " said Bolivar, who has written more than 30 books about Afro-Cuban religiosity and who has been honored by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) for her work.

"I say, 'Oh no, no . . . I'm a mixed race, as are all humans.' "

But race is one of the reasons that Bolivar decided to remain in Cuba after her wealthy family fled. As a child, she was fascinated with the stories that her Congolese nanny told her.

"I became a student of their religions, the Afro-Cuban religions. I studied all the ones who came to Cuba from the Congo, Angola and Benin, all that part of West Africa. I dedicated my life to it."

The other reason was that Bolivar had sacrificed a good bit of her life toward ending the regime of Castro's predecessor, Fulgencio Batista. It is a regime that many old-line Cuban exiles who largely influence U.S. policy toward the island romanticize when they talk about democracy returning to that island, but one that was as every bit a dictatorship as the current one.

In fact, an April 1952 cover of Time magazine features a drawing of Batista, with a caption that reads "Cuba's Batista: He got past democracy's sentries" after he overthrew that country's corrupt but democratically elected government by way of a military coup.

"I was in the underground. . . . I was tortured. . . . I had all my ribs broken," Bolivar said.

But in spite of the material shortages she now endures, Bolivar remained in Cuba because she saw it as the best place for her to pursue that country's connections to Africa. In fact, she was instrumental in the creation of Africa House, or Museo de Casa de Africa, which teaches about those connections.

One day, she said, she hopes that more Americans will get to see it.

-- -- --

Digna Castaneda Fuertes is a senior professor of Caribbean history and senior adviser for graduate diplomas in history at the University of Havana.

She is also a black first in Cuba.

In 1965, she became one of the first Afro-Cubans to become a history professor at the university. She went on to pioneer studies of Caribbean history, a history she said had rarely been studied before.

Castaneda also co-edited Between Race and Empire: African-Americans and Cubans Before the Cuban Revolution and in the process came across some intriguing links between herself and her co-editor, Lisa Brock, an associate professor of African History and Diaspora Studies at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Her father, like Brock's grandmother, played the early 20th century lottery known as the bolita. That illegal lottery was largely played by working class and impoverished blacks and Cubans on both sides of the Florida Straits.

"What is interesting, though, is that I had not thought about this activity in the context of my father until Brock and I began talking about the linkages between African-Americans and Cubans," Castaneda wrote.

While Cuban academics such as Castaneda are routinely denied visas to conferences in the United States, she told us that she would like to have more such exchanges -- especially with historically black colleges and universities in the country.

"Today the average Cuban has at least a ninth-grade education," Castaneda said. "Because of the Revolution, there are few illiterate people in Cuba. This is what we want to tell."

-- -- --

Alberto Jones lives in Palm Coast. But he got there by way of Cuba.

Jones, a veterinary pathologist who is of Jamaican descent, fled that country on the Mariel boatlift in 1980 after futilely fighting charges of disloyalty that he says were cooked up by jealous co-workers. But Jones, 68, still hasn't jumped on the exile bandwagon when it comes to condemning and isolating his native land.

And, he says, neither will the black Cubans who make up the majority of Cuba's population. Too many of them, he said, remember or have been told about what life was like for them before 1959.

"My schoolmate, Roberto Knight, and his family were like mine," Jones said. "They were brought to Cuba to work on the sugar plantations near Guantanamo. But in that same family today you can find four doctors and three engineers. ... Before that [the Revolution], we had never known anyone who had gone past the sixth grade ..."

Jones also said that while there wasn't segregation by way of "white" and "colored" signs, it did exist in a big way.

"If you were black, and you went inside certain restaurants and certain places, they'd just simply ignore you. They didn't need signs to let us know what our place was," he said.

Hence the distrust of those exiles who support the embargo and other restrictions to force Cubans to trade off Castro's yoke for theirs.

"You see all the problems once you get off the plane in Cuba. Hunger, all those things are a fact of life," said Jones, who founded the Caribbean American Children's foundation to send aid and supplies to Cuba. "But even with that, you can sense how proud they [black Cubans] are when they say they were the first in their family to do something. . . . It's an undeniable fact that black Cubans have made more advancement in the 47 years under Castro than they ever had before."

"The problem is that the people in Miami want us to rise up against the government. But we [Cubans] don't want to overthrow the government [the socialist system]. We want to fix the problem."

-- -- --

We ran into Leonides Terrero hawking magazines in front of our hotel, the Parque Central. He offered to take us on a tour of what he called "Black Havana," a section of Old Havana where the crowds were considerably darker.

As we sat down to lunch at the Lincoln Hotel, Terrero didn't need any coaxing to unleash his opinions about race in Cuba and about the connections between Cuban blacks and U.S. blacks.

He had lived it.

In the 1920s, Terrero stowed away on a ship bound for New Orleans. After working the South for a while, he said, he decided to head for New York City -- where he promptly began hanging out at the Savoy Ballroom and other spots frequented by black entertainers.

"That was 1927 when I hit New York City, and I was very glad I went there," Terrero said. "I got a good experience there, and I met my Afro-American brothers, which I enjoy life with them.

"I used to play dice with them. I met Dizzy Gillespie, and Sarah Vaughn. ... She was the greatest!

"The blues penetrate me. ... I say that music was born in a field of cotton, when the Negro was working. ... I think when I see them, I see the Cuban Negro."

Ultimately, though, Terrero was deported back to Cuba. But while he supports the goals of the Cuban revolution, he is disturbed by the lack of knowledge on the part of Afro-Cubans about U.S. blacks.

"They [Afro-Cubans] think Ebony magazine is a counterrevolutionary magazine, but they don't know, they haven't seen it," Terrero said.

Terrero said that although he thinks more Afro-Cubans are being hired by the hotels and in the tourism industry, for them, those opportunities are still limited.

"You cannot openly demand [more opportunity] because they consider that counterrevolutionary," Terrero said.

That's why Afro-Cubans such as Terrero hope for a day when they and black Americans will not only be able to revel in their history and culture, but also on what they can do to help each other improve their lives.

Right now, however, any hopes for such changes hang in limbo as the ailing 81-year-old Castro, who last year relinquished control of the country to his brother, Raul, continues to fend off the Grim Reaper.

"Everybody is standing by, everybody is carrying out their routine, and they're reading the paper," Terrero said. "Now they're republishing his ideas in the newspaper.

"I don't know whether they're going to mummify him or not, but you're 80 ... you can't live forever." 

- www.jacksonville.com/tu-online/


Cuba is no paradise for blacks
, 11/07top

Florida Times Union, Jacksonville
11/29/07

Josefa Quintana, Ph.D, a Miami journalist; Evelio Bofill, a Miami Beach physician; Rafael Gomez, a Jacksonville physician; and Otto Rodriguez-Viamonte of Miami. 

As Cuban-Americans living in Florida, we are appalled by Tonyaa Weathersbee's article on blacks in Cuba. The administration of the newspaper obviously did not check to verify the facts stated in it. 

Ever since the founding of the Cuban republic in 1901, all public colleges and universities had been free and open to all races. Although, for decades now, one of the slogans the Cuban government has lived by is, "The universities are for the revolutionaries" only. 

Weathersbee quoted someone as saying, "It's an undeniable fact that black Cubans have made more advancements in the 47 years under Castro than they ever had before." 

However, in Cuba, prior to the revolution, not only could blacks study any profession, but many had been federal senators, representatives, secretaries of governments, Supreme Court justices and even one popularly elected president (Fulgencio Batista, 1940-44). 

Today, after nearly 48 years of revolution, the Cuban government can show only one black in high position in the government. 

Publishing articles like this one is a disservice to the interest of this country, to the journalism profession and to freedom in general. 

It is also a disservice, of course, to the legitimate interests of freedom and democracy for Cuba, and to those who fight to achieve them. It is surely an affront to the good and peaceful racial relations of all Cubans. 

In 1961, during the Bay of Pigs invasion (after President Kennedy ordered the U.S. military personnel to return to the U.S., even though their help had been promised to the Cuban freedom fighters), Fidel Castro went to inspect the prisoners and noticed a black soldier approaching him. He asked him: "You're black. What are you doing here? Don't you remember that blacks are not allowed to swim at the beaches?" 

That was a veiled reference to the Havana Yacht Club and other private recreational places where blacks were not allowed to be members, although since 1940 all beaches and their adjacent waters were public and accessible to all. 

The Cuban fighter, Tomas Cruz, answered: "I came to Cuba to liberate my country, not to swim at the beach." 

Of course, there was racial discrimination in Cuba prior to the revolution, but very mild if we compare it with the United States at that time, and insignificant if we compare it with the position of the blacks in Castro's revolution. 

Don't Weathersbee and her source know that the most prominent political opponent to the totalitarian Cuban regime (jailed for many years now for simply using his voice against the atrocities of the Cuban Communist tyranny) is black physician Oscar Elias Bicet? 

Of course, they know! 

-- www.jacksonville.com/tu-online/stories/112907/opl_221151670.shtml


A Failed Revisionist attempt To Mask Cuba’s Tragic History, 11/07top

Alberto N. Jones
November 30, 2007

As I read "Cuba is no paradise for blacks" (Florida Times-Union 11/29/07) written by Josefa Quintana PhD, Evelio Bofill MD, Mr. Otto Rodriguez-Viamonte from Miami, and Rafael Gomez MD, from Jacksonville, Fl., I am stunned by the fact that fifty years have failed to erase their mythological views and fantasized memory of Cuba prior to 1959, one that existed only in their secluded Miramar, Biltmore, or Kholy neighborhoods in Havana, where blacks were not allowed and trespassers were quickly moved out of the area by private security guards.

It is very upsetting to listen to people who had no contact with a black person except for their nanny, driver, or cook, who never dared to venture into a black neighborhood or did not care when blacks were enslaved, segregated, kept illiterate, and denied their most basic means of survival or when 6000 blacks were massacred in 1912 when they attempted to express their dissatisfaction with the prevailing environment, which was implanted and enforced in all likelihood by the ancestors of these highly offended and aggrieved writers.

But to question and attack Ms. Weathersbee’s integrity, when she has been to Cuba numerous times, has met with countless Afro-Cubans and non-Afro-Cubans from all walks of life who have shared with her their views, hopes, and frustration, which she has corroborated and published, only to be slandered by people who have never been to Cuba in half a century, is not only obscene, it is another Miami-type veiled, vicious dog attack, intended to influence the Times Union management and hopefully get her fired from her job. So many Cuban-Americans in Miami have had to endure similar treatment in the past forty years for speaking the truth, have seen their homes or business fire bombed, have had IEDs placed under their car hood, or have been shot in front of their families.

Fortunately, the world had a glimpse of the wicked entrails of this crowd during the Elian Gonzalez saga in 1999, when a frail six year old child, who miraculously survived the drowning death of his mother and nine friends attempting to cross the Florida straits and reach the US and who may have suffered a greater mental trauma than most of us in a lifetime, was forcefully withheld from his father, half brother, and grandparents for months by a bogus legal manipulation of a Cuban-American controlled kangaroo court in Miami, openly defying a federal Government decision returning him to Cuba.

Then there was the case of Rosita Fornes, an American born actress who has lived in Cuba all of her life, came to the US to settle some personal matters, made a few presentations while in New York city and was asked to perform in a night club in Miami. Did any of these writers say anything when this business was firebombed, burnt to the ground, and its owner driven out of town?
 
Another intentional distortion of Cuba’s reality prior to 1959 is seen in their unwillingness to share with readers the pyramid shape that governed the public education system, by which primary schools were within walking distance from most homes. Secondary schools could be located 2-5 miles away, high schools existed only in the 12-15 larger cities in the country and there was only one University in Havana, until a smaller one was created in Santiago de Cuba in 1954. Millions of people were deprived of a basic education.

But even if their statement of free access to universities was factual and poor students could apply for free tuition, how many black families and poor white families in Cuba could afford to send their children hundreds of miles to Havana, buy expensive textbooks, pay for clothing, food and board, knowing that blacks would never be given a job in department stores, banks, office settings, allowed to drive Greyhound-type buses, or work in low-level administrative positions in the electrical, telephone and other large companies, except in menial positions picking-up trash!

Around mid-morning on March 10, 1952, our school principal dismissed everyone abruptly, rushing us home because of a coup d' etat or Golpe de Estado that General Fulgencio Batista had engineered (He was not popularly elected, as misstated in their article, nor were there Federal Senators, which exist in the US and never in Cuba). When I got home my aunt was ready to punish me, assuming I had been kicked of school for misbehaving. In vain I tried for her to explain the meaning of such a development, but she was only able to say that golpe de estado was very bad; close the door and windows, and be quiet.

Because most kids at that time went to school on an empty stomach, we had what was known as “School Breakfast”. On the first day of the school year , kids were given an aluminum cup to keep and around 9:15 am, we lined-up to receive a cup of hot cocoa-milk and a couple of buttered biscuits. Friday was the big day no student would miss, since we would receive a slice of white cheese with our breakfast.

A few months after the golpe de estado, all students understood the full meaning of General Batista’s action. The cocoa was the first to disappear followed by the cheese, then the butter and one day, they came by and took away our cups. Many of these crooks, who stole children 's food and school supplies or built imaginary highways and hospitals, arrived at Miami International Airport in 1959 with tens of luggage stuffed with millions of dollars stolen from the Cuban treasury.  Instead of being locked-up as vulgar thieves by the Florida department of law enforcement, they became respected citizens entering the South Florida knighthood, handing out some of their loot at charitable photo-op events.

Ms. Weathersbee was also accused of quoting “someone” as saying, “It’s an undeniable fact that black Cubans have made more advancements in 47 years under Castro than they ever had before, which actually means, from our forced arrival in Cuba in 1512 until 1959.

That “someone” is Alberto Nelson Jones, age 69, who lived in Cuba until the Mariel boatlift in 1980 and I stand by every word included in that quote!

In order to establish who speaks the truth and who doesn't, I strongly suggest that anyone interested in deciphering these lies that have been floated around the US since January 1, 1959  organize a fact finding team of journalists, sociologists, political scientists, anthropologists, physicians, educators, jurists, and whomever else they may deem necessary and visit my birthplace in Banes which happens to be also that of the Diaz-Balart dynasty, or any other of the tens of segregated English speaking Caribbean islanders and Haitian emigrant sugar plantation communities dispersed through the provinces of Oriente and Camaguey (Cuba’s Soweto), where they will find communities historically divided in three sections: the American, the Cuban, and another neighborhood on the other side of the railroad tracks, where thousands of people were forced to live in thatched roof shacks without electricity or running water, with a sewer that was an infamous gully full of putrid effluent winding through our community. People had no jobs, education or healthcare, and as a result there was a monstrous infant and maternal mortality rate which turned wakes and funerals into our community meeting place.

The Knight-James family migrated to Cuba in the early 1920’s from Nives and Panama to a back-breaking sugar plantation job in Marti, Camaguey. With the advent of WW II and the huge expansion taking place on the United States Naval Base in Guantanamo, they relocated to that city, where Hector, the patriarch, was the only breadwinner, earning in the mid fifties $26.00 a week, with which he had to support both of his in-laws, himself, his wife, and six children. One of his older son complemented the household income by shinning shoe in Guantanamo’s main square and his mother by baking bread and buns.

Having completed their studies in Guantanamo high school and bookkeeping school in the late 50’s and with nowhere to go, three sons over the age of 18 got jobs on the US Naval Base driving a school bus and doing menial clerical jobs. In 1961, when the Cuban government started mass training in higher education by creating thousands of scholarships in every field of knowledge, two sons quit their jobs on the Naval Base; one went into medical school and the other into electrical engineering. In 1967 Roberto became not only the first member of his family to sit in a classroom of higher education but the first physician in their family's 350 years presence in this hemisphere. Orlando, the brother who shined shoes, graduated as an electrical engineer in 1968 and later became the head of maintenance overseeing 1500 employees at a chemical plant in Cuba.

Today, the James-Knight-Henry family of very humble beginnings can proudly exhibit to the world their family tree composed of: 

One Actor, One Accountant, Two Teachers, Two Dentists, Five Physicians (one deceased), One Architect, Four Construction, Mechanical and Electrical Engineer, Two Biochemist (one deceased) One Biologist and Two Nurses.

Is this a sufficient example or should I expand on these devastating facts that some insist on ignoring?

Is Cuba a perfect society? Absolutely not!! Tons of unsatisfied needs are evident everywhere. Low salaries, lack of foodstuff, clothing, poor housing, limited free enterprise and freedom of speech, poor recreational facilities, transportation, and hundreds of other unsatisfied human needs that the population increasingly demands be met, these things can be detected 15 minutes after landing at any airport in that country.

One of Cuba’s most critical social issue at this moment is the racial/social disparity that must be addressed and corrected immediately. Cubans of Spanish descent, who represents 85% of the emigrant community around the world, are able to send remittances to their relatives living in Cuba, in addition to a generous yearly stipend that the Spanish government provides to their emigrants and descendents living in Cuba. The miniscule Jewish community receives enormous material support from Jews living in the United States and Canada and the small Arabic and Chinese community are also supported by their countrymen. Afro-Cubans are on their own and receive no help from anyone or any country in the world.

Further compounding the plight of blacks in Cuba was the collapse of the Soviet Union and the eastern European countries with whom Cuba did 75% of its trade -- they disappeared overnight, creating havoc, literally bringing the country to a stand still. This lead to the resurgence of racism and segregation and created an intense struggle to access the limited amount of employment paid in hard currency, pushing the Afro-Cuban community to the verge of desperation, leading to a notable decrease in the family moral fabric and an increase in petty crimes resulting from these tragic events.

Attempting to capitalize on the Afro-Cuban despair, caused primarily by the United States' forty seven year old embargo, the State Department has launched, in conjunction with many ultra-right-wing Cuban-American anti-Castro organizations in South Florida, a well orchestrated and amply funded campaign to exacerbate their suffering, pretending to share their pain and inciting the Afro-Cuban community to rise up, overthrow their government, and deliver on a silver platter to the racist Cuban-American counterrevolutionary establishment the reins of the Cuban government, returning us to the events of 1912 or worse, as requested by the late Agustin Tamargo.

Much of the frustration of these individuals lies with the educational level of the Afro-Cuban community, who is acutely aware of its problems, knows how to confront them and where the battle lines are to be drawn. Never again will Afro-Cubans be fooled as happened at the end of the War of Independence in 1898, when we contributed the largest amount of fighters, wounded and dead, only to be denied every human recognition and dignity, as the new government conferred all the rewards to Spaniards and emigrants from the Canary islands, defenders of the colonial power who suffered a crashing defeat on the battle field.
 
That is why demoralizing, decapitating and silencing people like Ms. Weathersbee and others is crucial to the gang of Cuba-haters and embargo supporters as they write apparently innocuous articles, geared to instill doubt and divide and confuse the African American community as they did during the Civil Rights movement and later, when they publicly embarrassed Nelson Mandela, one of the world most venerated political leaders.

Finally, I have no personal interest in questioning the intentions of their newly anointed Black Hero, Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet - another victim of Miami supremacists groups - who has been portrayed as a Freedom fighter and endowed with the national Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush, when in fact his track record is that of a rabid anti-abortionist, who in a propitious environment like the United States would perhaps become part of those violent fringe groups that have vandalized, bombed, mailed Anthrax, or murdered physicians in the United States, Canada and Australia for simply allowing a woman’s right to chose and performing an abortion.

On behalf of millions of blacks in Cuba and tens of millions of blacks around the world who Afro-Cubans have educated, to whom they have provided impeccable healthcare, who they have trained in numerous sports and cultural manifestations, while being maimed or dying defending their independence and sovereignty, be it in the Congo, Angola, Namibia, Zimbabwe, South Africa or anywhere else in the world, we extend our deep respect and profound gratitude to Ms. Weathersbee's courageous work in presenting the truth, no matter the threats, risks or consequences.

CUBA: Racial segregation is still apparent, 3/16/06top

This appears to be in response to Tonyaa Weathersbee's Florida Times Union Column, Cuban academics should be freed from trade ban, 3/13/06

by JORGE BRUNET-GARCIA, business owner, Jacksonville

This is in response to Tonyaa Weathersbee's erroneous facts in her column about the U.S. State Department denying visas to a group of Cuban academics.

Weathersbee credited Digna Castaneda, a Cuban history professor at the University of Havana, for breaking the color barrier at that institution.

She further quoted Castañeda as saying that ". . . the 1959 revolution . . . abolished the racial segregation that once prevailed in that island nation."

Let's look at the facts. Under the Fidel Castro dictatorship, Cuba's blacks and mulattos, who make up more than 60 percent of the island's population, hold less than 20 percent of the leadership positions in government.

By one estimate, less than 10 percent of the top leadership in the Politburo is non-white. An overwhelming number of officials working at the highest levels of the Cuban government and military are white. Just three of the 36 leaders of Cuban communism are nonwhites.

None of the top 10 generals or senior military leaders in Cuba is black. None of the 15 presidents of provincial assemblies is black. Two of the 40-person Council of Ministers are black, and three of the 15 provincial heads of the Cuban Communist Party are black.

Cuban blacks, according to government reports, have 5 percent of the lucrative tourism jobs, but Afro-Cubans constitute 85 percent of Cuba's prison population.

The execution of three blacks by a Cuban government firing squad in 2003 for attempting to hijack a boat to Miami raised many questions about racism on the island -- questions that cannot be satisfactorily answered by Castro or his henchmen.

This was, you should remember, the first time anyone, black or white, had been executed for trying to flee Cuba. Many observers, both on and off the island, doubt that the three would have been put to death had they been white.

Confessed spies Carlos Alvarez, a Florida International University professor, and his wife Elsa, who worked as a coordinator in the university's counseling center, were arrested earlier this year for passing information to Cuba's Directorate of Intelligence during their travels to Cuba under the guise of academic exchange on U.S.-authorized educational trips.

The couple not only transmitted information about Miami's exile community, including leading groups such as the Cuban American National Foundation and Brothers to the Rescue, but they provided Cuban officials with the identity of at least one FBI employee who had once been an FIU student of Carlos Alvarez.

The U.S. government has also expelled numerous Cuban diplomats for alleged spying, most recently ordering 14 to return home in 2003.

Castro himself told CNN in an interview in 1998, "Yes, we have sometimes dispatched Cuban citizens to the United States to infiltrate counter-revolutionary organizations, to inform us about activities that are of great interest to us. I think we have a right to do this."

-- www.jacksonville.com/tu-online/stories/031606/opl_21363328.shtml

 

Links

topArchive of Tonyaa Weathersbee columns on Florida Times-Union
www.jacksonville.com/tu-online/opinion/weathersbee_archive.shtml

 

Archive of Tonyaa Weathersbee columns on Black America Web
www.blackamericaweb.com/site.aspx/authors/10004

 

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