The Havana Tribune, a state-controlled Cuban newspaper, has added insult to injury following Fidel Castro’s scathing criticism of President Barack Obama upon his departure from the island. In an editorial, the title of which refers to President Obama as “negro,” an opinion columnist has accused him of “inciting rebellion.”
The article is titled “Negro, ¿Tu Eres Sueco?” which roughly translates to “Black Man, Are You Dumb?” (The idiom “pretend to be a Swede” means to play dumb, hence the title is literally asking, “Are you Swedish?”) The author, who is black, goes on to condemn President Obama for meeting with Cuban pro-democracy activists and “subtly” suggesting that the Cuban Revolution needed to change. “Obama came, saw, but unfortunately, with the pretend gesture of lending a hand, tried to conquer,” Elias Argudín writes.
“[Obama] chose to criticize and subtly suggest … incitations to rebellion and disorder, without caring that he was on foreign ground. Without a doubt, Obama overplayed his hand,” he continues. “The least I can say is, Virulo-style: ‘Negro, are you dumb?'”
Virulo is a white pro-Revolution comedian.
Argudín’s article later accuses President Obama of presiding over a racist country–mocking the calls for freedom in Cuba by stating, “Which freedom–the freedom enjoyed by white police to massacre and manhandle black people?”–and issue demands parroted straight from the Castro regime: the end of the “genocidal” embargo and giving the Guantánamo Bay Naval Base, which has belonged to the United States since before Cuban independence, to the Castros.
The column appears on the Havana Tribune website with a March 23 dateline, though it appeared in the print edition of the newspaper on Monday and has begun to make the rounds online this week. It has received intense criticism from Cuban-Americans on social media for its disrespect of the president and openly racist language.
Argudín has since written a follow-up article in which he claims he “did not expect” the negative feedback and apologizes “to those who may have been offended.” He then accuses his critics of “misunderstanding” his piece:
It is not necessary to be an advanced reader to note: I did not write a racist column. The word “negro” is mentioned twice, in the title and the phrase giving the article its name, which isn’t even mine. It is a reference to a comedy work. Journalism has its rules. It also allows some licenses. Among the demands of the job there is a very important one: capture the reader’s attention from the title.
Argudín’s piece has, nonetheless, highlighted the rampant discrimination against Afro-Cubans that has existed throughout the history of the Revolution. As the leaders of the communist Revolution were all white–and at least one was an avowed racist—few Afro-Cubans currently hold positions of power in Cuba, though an estimated 60 percent of the nation is black.
In a video declaration in 2015, Ladies in White dissident leader Berta Soler explains that, of known political prisoners, 60 percent are black. Black people are often forced to live in segregated neighborhoods and kept far away from tourism industry jobs (except prostitution). “To the government, the black person is a thief, a bandit, a troublemaker,” Soler argues, noting that the Cuban people are significantly less racist than the regime. “Interracial marriage is resulting in fewer black people. … This is a problem for the government,” she notes.
In a series about racism in Cuba, The Root notes a common phrase used by revolutionaries: “Negrada–which means, literally, a group of black people–came to signify a screw-up, a f*cked-up affair. ¡Que negrada! became as common as hustling foreigners.”
The inevitable use of what, in the United States, is considered a racial slur (though Cubans often use negro as a term of endearment), is the latest indignity in a trip to Cuba laden with them, from the slight of Raúl Castro failing to greet President Obama upon landing in Havana to Castro openly denying the presence of political prisoners in Cuba, only to have President Obama later “welcome” his criticism on America. The elder Fidel Castro, or someone claiming to be him, weighed in with a scathing column in the national publication Granma this week, in which he accused President Obama of being racist towards Native Americans and refused his call to normalization: “We do not need the Empire to gift us anything.”