I remember a line from Gil Scott-Heron, whom I often quote in my articles. In his rendering called “The Bicentennial Blues,” he was discussing the Nixon administration and this nation’s penchant for getting in on the economic action of other nations. He called Henry Kissinger the “International Godfather of Peace, a ‘piece’ of Viet Nam, a ‘piece’ of Laos, a ‘piece’ of Angola, a ‘piece’ of Cuba.” That line is so fitting 40 years later as the POTUS returns from Cuba, accompanied bya dozen business executives.
I certainly support entrepreneurship and business development, especially for Black people, and the opportunities for such abound in Cuba if the militaristic government allows it to flourish unfettered. After all, the monthly income for Cubans is around $20, so they could use the sales and marketing opportunities that will surely come with increased tourism and business.
Additionally, forward-thinking entrepreneurs from the U.S. can take advantage of these opportunities as well; I trust that many Black business persons will act accordingly. The protracted embargo against Cuba can now be reversed to such a degree that all sides can win. But there are caveats.
An article in the International Business Times by Elizabeth Whitman, stated, “Some American businesses are positively salivating at the prospect of finally tapping into Cuban markets, and now, U.S. President Barack Obama’s three-day trip to the island nation is offering a tantalizing taste of the possibilities — particularly for the select crew of business leaders who are tagging along.”
That statement conjures up visions of lions going to visit a few sheep to show them how to take better care of themselves. Black Cubans have suffered discrimination and mistreatment for decades. They are at the bottom level of the Cuban economic strata. If our revised friendship fails to bring positive economic change to Black Cubans, baseball, boxing, and entertainment notwithstanding, then once again, as we saw in South Africa, Black folks will be relegated to a narrow and crowded path to Cuba’s new prosperity.
Haiti and the Dominican Republic are examples of what happens to Black people, especially when it comes to economic discrimination, preference, and skin tone. The island, historically called Hispaniola, is now divided into two countries, separated by a mountain range and skin tone, those who are lighter skinned and those who use bleaching cream to get that way versus darker people. The Dominican Republic has flourishing tourism and accommodating infrastructure, far from what we see across the border in Haiti. But, you do remember who stepped in to “help” Haitians, don’t you?
In January 2010, Time magazine featured an article by Alexandra Silver, Haiti and the Dominican Republic: A Tale of Two Countries, which stated, “Haiti had long been exploited, by foreign powers, neighbors, and its own rulers. France not only milked Haiti for coffee and sugar production but also extracted an indemnity from it: the young nation had to pay a burdensome sum to its former colonizer in order to achieve France’s diplomatic recognition. The lighter-skinned Dominicans looked down on the darker-skinned Haitians:in 1965, even as the Dominican Republic was embroiled in civil war, Haitians were working in Dominican fields and not the other way around.”
Jalisco Lancer wrote, “Today, to be a Dominican is above all else not to be a Haitian. Schools and newspapers spread propaganda with the goal of dismissing the African heritage of the Dominican Republic and to distinguish between Dominicans and Haitians. The Dominican people are described as a White people of Hispanic descent.”
Cuba and Black Cubans especially, should be wary and of what is being proposed as help for their island and be prepared to take advantage of the opportunities when they appear; so also should small Black business owners in this country.
Charlie Rangel said, “As soon as our multi-national corporations start receiving the benefits of the profits that will be made with trade, I think in the next election we will move any impediments to bring peace, tranquility, and trade to our brothers and sisters in Cuba.” Really?
An article by Julia Cooke of Aljazeera America last year headlined, “Amid sweeping changes in US relations, Cuba’s race problem persists,” observed, “When Soviet subsidies ended…racial inequality became more pronounced… in the country’s lucrative tourism industry were also white.”
The article continued, “Blacks spearheaded more black-market activities; jails held 85% darker-skinned Cubans. In Cuba’s particular version of stop-and-frisk, Blacks were stopped on streets at far higher rates than whites.”
Cuban expert James Early offers an outstanding perspective on the opportunities that exist in Cuba for Black entrepreneurs: “Despite much racial progress since 1959, the period…has revealed the yet unbridged fissures around racial identity and racism in today’s Cuba.”
The lions are at the Sheep Gate. Be prepared to get your “piece” of the action.
Jim Clingman, founder of the Greater Cincinnati African American Chamber of Commerce, is the nation’s most prolific writer on economic empowerment for Black people. He can be reached through his website, blackonomics.com. He is the author of Black Dollars Matter: Teach Your Dollars How to Make More Sense, which is available through his website; professionalpublishinghouse.com and Amazon Kindle eBooks.