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    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%

    Racial Profiling

    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
    eliminate it?

    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.

    Concrete Cases

    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
    life-threatening injury.

    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,
    Geneva, Switzerland.

    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,
    Geneva, Switzerland.

    National Office of Statistics. (September 2005). Census of Population
    and Housing-2002. Cuba.

    National Office of Statistics. (2013). Census of Population and
    Housing-2012. Cuba.

    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 –

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