A big day for Cuba overall, but congratulations to Ines Maria Chapman and Beatriz Johnson Urrutia, two black women that are now Vice Presidents of the Consejo de Estado and Consejo de Ministros. pic.twitter.com/hQl7dpkrBI— Ben Munise ?LulaLivre (@BMunise) April 19, 2018
Parliamentary elections in Cuba this year were historic. Not only did the elections hand over the presidency to a non-Castro for the first time since 1959 but the new leadership chose Afro-Cubans for high positions of power.
As the new President Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez assumed office, he appointed three women as vice presidents — two of whom are black.
Salvador Valdes Mesa, who is black, was appointed as the first vice president. The three women brought to the position of vice presidents included Gladys Maria Bejerano Portela, Inés María Chapman Waugh and Beatriz Jhonson Urrutia.
Waugh and Urrutia are both female Afro-Cubans. In total, out of the six vice presidents, three of them are black and three are women.
The appointment of these women is no less than a milestone for a country that has largely been under the rule of old, white men and where Afro-Cubans have struggled.
“Even if this was window-dressing, it would mean they feel the need to dress the window in a certain color, and that is something one would not have said 30 years ago,” said Alejandro de la Fuente, a Cuba studies professor at Harvard University.
Former Cuban President Fidel Castro brought reforms that created racial equality for black Cubans. Cuba became an important ally of the Soviet Union during Cold War. The Soviet Union provided military, economic and political assistance to the island nation.
However, after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990s, the country’s economic situation faced a nosedive. As a result, people living in the country became extremely reliant on remittances sent by Cubans living in the United States. However, the most affected were black Cubans.
This is because majority of Cuban-Americans sending cash remittances in Cuba were white. As a consequence of the practice, black Cubans were pushed in deep poverty.
In the 2012 census, only 9 percent of Cubans identified themselves as black.
Although it yet to be seen to what extent these appointments will help Afro-Cubans, it is definitely a breath of fresh air and a significant development in the fight for racial equality.
“Yes, it has great significance. The Cuban revolution has historically been white, and seen from the outside as a revolution by white men, where black people were part of the crowd, spectators who were silent or applauded, but never participated,” said Ramón Colas, a black anti-Castro activist who sought political asylum in 2001 and now lives in Mississippi.
Spotlight, Banner: Reuters, Alexandre Meneghini