Report of US-Cuba Normalization Committee Webinar 07 July 2020
By A. T. Freeman
700 on-line viewers joined diplomats from Cuba’s Washington D.C. Embassy, US based workers’ leaders, academics, and Black Lives Matter and Cuba solidarity activists to discuss – through this live streamed event – the ongoing global demonstrations sparked by the death of George Floyd and the enduring struggles against police violence in the USA.
Organized by the US-Cuba Normalization Committee this latest in a series of webinars broadcast since the Covid 19 lockdown also explored the achievements of the Cuban Revolution in tackling structural racism, the history and role of La Policía Nacional Revolucionaria de Cuba (PNR) and the transformation of policing on the island.
Given the title of the webinar, in introducing his presentation, Panelist August Nimtz highlighted the recent controversial death in Cuba of 27-year-old Hansel Hernandez. Outlining the history of policing on the island since the 1959 Revolution the academic suggested that the rare and unusual nature of the episode gave it a prominence exploited by Cuba’s opponents to incite division on the island.
Highlighting statistics related to the deaths of unarmed African Americans at the hands of US police forces the Professor of Political Science and African American and African Studies at the University of Minnesota maintained that the webinar title was apt and indeed the background, mission and history of the PNR made it inconceivable that the institution could be compared to their US counterparts.
Professor Nimtz recalled that the police force in the United States had evolved in the 19th century from the mobilization of patrols to hunt down and capture enslaved people who had fled their bondage whilst the PNR had emerged from the practices and experiences of the Cuban Rebel Army.
Addressing the legacy of racial slavery, which in Cuba preceded the same system in the USA by a century and succeeded it by several decades,the academic explored how policing practices in both countries mirrored divergent approaches to the historic oppression of Black people and to racism.
Concluding, Professor Nimtz suggested that in respect to both systemic racism and the personal prejudice that shadows it, the American society had failed to resolve the problem in either the structural sense or the cultural sense, whereas in revolutionary Cuba thoroughgoing transformations over several decades led by the country’s revolutionary institutions have addressed racism and discrimination, whilst the society continues to challenge it in the cultural arena as well.
Professor Nimtz’s intervention was followed by historical analysis presented by Rodney Gonzalez. The contribution of the Counselor to the Cuban Embassy in Washington DC offered a wide ranging picture of the anti-slavery and independence movement in Cuba. Drawing a link between the anti-slavery actions of Cuban independence pioneers, the diplomat pointed out that the country’s national consciousness had been formed with the abolition of slavery and the war of independence from Spain. These events, according to Gonzalez, had informed the island’s political development – as embodied by Cuban National Hero Jose Marti – through the Independence War, and the several decades leading to the 1959 revolution.
Whilst the government had addressed inequality and racism in the legal sense, with discrimination prohibited and equality laws ratified in the Cuban constitution, the international relations specialist acknowledged that the problems of racism had not been completely eradicated, especially in the cultural sense.
Speaking of the reemergence of overt discrimination and racism during the 1990s Special Period Gonzalez explained that the government had responded with the creation of the Jose Antonio Aponte Commission to investigate these flaws. Named after the leader of an 1812 anti-slavery uprising the Commission – led by the Cuban union of writers and artists [UNEAC] – was established in 2009 to analyze and eradicate vestiges of racism from a cultural point of view.
Bringing the history up to date Gonzalez described practical support the revolutionary island had given in solidarity with Africa, especially during the battle against colonialism and apartheid, as well as the founding of the Latin American School of Medicine [Escuela Latinoamericana de Medicina (ELAM)]. Concluding the Cuban diplomat applauded these concrete examples of solidarity, for equality, unity and inclusivity as a clear demonstration of Cuba’s principled commitment to the anti-racist struggle.
Yanet Pumariega a representative of the Cuban diplomatic mission in Washington D.C. covered several of the historical issues raised by her compatriot, but from the angle of the institutionalization of anti-racism and for equality in the Cuban judicial and legal environment.
Reiterating the history of the PNR and their origins in the Rebel Army Pumariega shared examples of the brutality and corruption of the Batista Police, and the mission of the revolutionaries to extinguish any perpetuation of those practices.
The Cuban diplomat, recognizing that improvements are necessary, also spoke of the functions of the PNR, crime prevention and the government’s community oriented policing approach.
The diplomat concluded by describing the recent campaign led by the Interior Ministry which considered recommendations from throughout civil society on improving the PNRs crime prevention work and the operation of criminal proceedings.
Called to order by veteran activist Nesbit Crutchfield presentations made by Ike Nahem [organizer International Cuba Conference], Soffiyah Elijah, Gabriel Prawl [President, International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 152], Ahjamu Umi [All-African People’s Revolutionary Party], Cesar Chavez, Chelliah Phillips, Vanessa Amoah, K A Owens, [Kentucky Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression] and Pacey Hackett were introduced by Jamilah Bourdon and Kennedee Geffinger and demonstrated the range of campaigns and activities throughout the United States in opposition to police violence and impunity.
The informative and interactive webinar concluded after 120 plus minutes with brief discussion on several questions raised on-line.
The entire event is available to view at http://www.us-cubanormalization.org.
[All Photo Credits – US-Cuba Normalization Committee]