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Breaking the Silence on Racism in Cuba

Breaking the Silence on Racism in Cuba

Ivet González interviews documentary-maker GLORIA ROLANDO

HAVANA, May 17, 2012 (IPS) – Gloria Rolando has been revealing hidden

chapters of Cuban history since the 2010 premiere of the first part of

her documentary series "1912: Breaking the Silence," about the virtually

unknown story about the only legal political party to promote racial

equality in this country.

The documentary-maker defends the legacy of the Independent Party of

Colour (Partido Independiente de Color), which was active from 1908 to

1912, and is a recurring focus of debates among activists for

non-discrimination in Cuba.

The second part of the series, produced independently, is being shown in

community and institutional locales, and will hit Havana movie theatres

this month.

A century after the slaughter of the main leaders of the Independent

Party of Colour, and as the International Decade for People of African

Descent gets underway, Rolando, who also heads the autonomous

video-makers' group Imágenes del Caribe (Images of the Caribbean),

talked with IPS about the need for teaching another side of history, and

the importance of the family in achieving racial equality.

The Independent Party of Colour

Led by two veterans of the third war for independence, Evaristo Estenoz

and Pedro Ivonet, the Independent Party of Colour was created to fight

against racism in the nascent Republic.

On May 20, 1912, the party's top leaders organised an armed protest

against a decree that prohibited the party from running candidates in

the elections. The protest ended in the massacre of more than 3,000

black and mixed-race people and the imprisonment of survivors by the


Q: What has been the main contribution of "1912: Breaking the Silence"

(1912: Voces para un silencio)?

A: This series is aimed at all Cubans, because it addresses a complex

chapter of our history, involving both blacks and whites. The film helps

us to understand a troubled period, which is studied in in a very

schematic way.

When the ambassadors in Cuba from member countries of the CARICOM

(Caribbean Community) saw the film, they were fascinated. They had come

here without knowing about this fundamental chapter of Cuban history,

which is also part of the development of the Caribbean.

That was a time of generalised repression. A person was treated with

prejudice simply for being black or mixed-race. For that reason, the

events of 1912 were silenced: people knew that they could face problems

for telling the truth. That is how the version that endured until now

was a distorted one, and many historians do not talk about the events as

they actually happened.

Q: What has been the impact on the Cuban public?

A: The first reaction is lack of knowledge: that has been the hook for

getting people to continue to watch the film. When the first part

premiered, people became hooked. I was able to identify that effect in

places where it was shown, such as Havana's main movie theatres.

Generally speaking, nobody knows about the history of the Independent

Party of Colour, or about the massacre of many of its members. I am

basing my work on that. We (the production crew) want people to learn

about the facts and then evaluate that part of national history and its

consequences for the present.

Q: At what point in the public debate over non-discrimination in Cuba

did your series come out?

A: These questions are the focus of a lot of movement these days: there

are different types of publications and there is a visible debate.

Hopefully the polemic will expand beyond academic circles. At least,

that's been the case in the capital, which is the environment I know best.

The issue became a boomerang in the 1990s, but now we are beginning to

address it in a theoretical and scientific way, so that people can

understand that it is not an emotional issue.

It is essential for all of this information to be made available in the

public system. My goal is not just to make the documentary and

show it, but also for the recovery of the memory of the Independent

Party of Col

Part Two of "1912"

The first part of "1912: Breaking the Silence" was broadcast on "Mesa

Redonda" (Cuba's nightly political talk show), and was shown in the

country's main movie theatres in 2010.

The second part has been shown in places such as Havana's Casa de las

Américas cultural centre and La Ceiba community centre. Rolando is now

working on the third part of the project.

lour to be incorporated in teaching.

My greatest hope, once the third part is done and the project can be

presented as a whole, is for it to be shown on the programme "Pasaje a

lo desconocido" (Journey into the Unknown, a Cuban television programme

that airs on Sundays and features documentaries), which has a large


That way, it will no longer be an issue that is unknown to the Cuban

population and that stirs up controversy. I also hope for it to be seen

in community spaces, and it is being passed around informally so that

people will use it, learn and tell others.

Q: Do the conditions exist in Cuban society today for recognising that

racism persists here? And if so, why?

A: Cuban society is many-sided and very complex. Life in Havana is

totally different than life in Holguín (700 km east of the capital), for

example. In some of the provinces where we worked to make the series,

people commented to us that they didn't have those problems.

In fact, Cuba is different in the central and eastern regions. There is

the Haitian presence that came with a huge wave of immigration in the

early 20th century. In Guantánamo, where a large part of the population

is black, it might be that they don't feel the need for this debate as

intensely as in the capital or in the western part of the island in general.

However, racial discrimination is also related to economic status,

, the neighbourhood, and structures for organising

activities that certain population groups experience.

To try to eliminate it requires very complex actions. It's not enough to

have free education and services for all. Services for families

and a return to family values play a fundamental role.

Q: What proposals have you identified for contributing to greater racial

equality in Cuba?

A: There needs to be a television programme devoted to the Cuban family.

The diversity of families needs to be shown — the ones that live in

Baracoa (in eastern Cuba) or in Miramar (a residential neighbourhood in

Havana) – to see how different people live their lives.

It could invite, for example, a sociologist who has researched the

Havana neighbourhood of Pogolotti, or historians and other specialists

who address the real problems faced by Cubans.

It could focus on a plan of action to ensure that many black girls and

boys reach . The doors are open to them, but few of them make

it there. To make that possible, housing conditions and family history

are two of the decisive factors.

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