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A Nation for All:
Race, Inequality, and Politics in Twentieth-Century Cuba
A Nation for All: Race, Inequality, and Politics in Twentieth-Century Cuba. By ALEJANDRO DE LA FUENTE. Envisioning Cuba. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001. Photographs. Illustrations. Tables. Notes. Bibliography. Index. xiv, 449 pp. Cloth, $55.00. Paper, $19.95.
This book is an ambitious study of race and racial equality in Cuba during its twentieth-century process of national formation. It examines the impact of racial ideologies, government policies, and social and political mobilization in shaping Afro-Cubans' opportunities and limitations in the labor market, education, and political representation during the republican and revolutionary periods.
The book is organized chronologically, beginning with an analysis of race in the competing visions of national construction and electoral politics from the inauguration of the republic in 1902 to Gerardo Machado's dictatorship. The second part focuses on the labor market and education as key areas of inequality from the 1900s to the 1950s. The author then turns to the complex politics of the three decades that preceded the revolution of 1959, in which race continued to be central in the struggle of unions and political parties as well as in the failed revolution of 1933, the constitutional reform of 1940, and the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. The fourth part examines the ideology of the 1959 revolution and the attempts by Fidel Castro's government to make Cuban society more equal without raising racial tensions. The book ends with a discussion of the increase of racism and racial inequalities prompted by the market-oriented reforms of the "special period" in the 1990s.
De la Fuente's study is impressive. His examination of the Communist Party's integration of Afro-Cubans and struggle against discrimination in the 1930s-40s is compelling. Most welcome is his analysis of race under the revolution (pp. 259-334). Although largely based on the secondary literature, it is the first general examination of the complex ways in which, until the 1980s, the revolutionary leadership aimed at reducing inequalities. As the author shows, in the 1950s Cuba was segregated in entertainment, sport, private education, and even public parks; the labor market discriminated against Afro-Cubans. After 1959, the task of the new government was enormous and risky, as it simultaneously needed to build unity behind the revolution. The leadership chose to launch vast programs in employment, education, and welfare that were mostly successful. However, if the government desegregated the public sphere, it decided not to intervene in the private sphere. No debate on race and racism was initiated. No mass organization was created to struggle against racism (but the Federation of Cuban Women was founded to help women's integration). These omissions, de la Fuente argues, help explain the rapid resurgence of racism and inequality in the 1990s.
Yet, disregarding his own conclusion about the revolutionary period, in the introduction and first part of the book, the author asserts that any autonomous [End Page 386] organization of Afro-Cubans would increase racism and thus deter Cubans from forging a "nation for all." With this in mind, he limits his brief analysis of the Partido Independiente de Color to the two years of 1908 and 1912, ignoring the recent Cuban and foreign scholarship that shows the rapid growth of the Afro-Cuban party between 1908 and 1912 and its ideological challenge: if racial equality really existed in Cuba, Afro-Cubans should be allowed to claim both their Cubanness and their blackness and to organize against racism. In other words, de la Fuente overlooks the fact that in a racially stratified society such as Cuba, there can be no decline of racism and racial discrimination without the empowerment and racial pride of the historically oppressed minority. Instead, he believes that the existence of a national rhetoric of racial inclusiveness has created sufficient opportunities for Afro-Cubans to appropriate and manipulate the nation-state project to their advantage. In his view, the...