Resilience and Interreligious Dialogue in Havana

By Idelsi Bárbara Alfonso Sandrino

Leer en español

Translated by: Cindy García, Maxine Nwigwe, and Devon Severson

Objective: To describe the preliminary results of the analyzed visions on the treatment of racial issues within the most popular religious expressions in the neighborhoods where the Red Barrial Afrodescendiente coexists.

Keywords: Publications, Popular Religiosity



In 2012, the Red Barrial Afrodescendiente (RBA) was founded, which brings together a diversity of Cuban men and women united by their fight against racism and racial discrimination.

Racial discrimination is a social scourge that many within society thought as extinct or about to reach that state. The reality is different; as the popular saying says, “it is alive and kickin’.” To reveal its existence, diversity of manifestations and effective ways to combat it is a task assumed by the RBA. Labor, to a large extent cultural, is part of the struggle that is being waged in our society among the followers of a socialist process that responds to the challenges and hopes that face our people.

In my condition as a collaborator of the Talleres de Transformación Integral del Barrio of Balcón Arimao, in La Lisa, I knew about the existence of the RBA. I began to participate in activities, workshops, and conferences that were held, which made me consolidate my thinking about racial discrimination in today’s Cuba, its consequences, and the need to combat and eradicate it in our society.

During the systematization process for the 5th Anniversary of the RBA, I was invited to some of its meetings. One of them analyzed the focus and treatment given to the subject in the guiding documents of the Partido Comunista de Cuba (PCC), the Constitución de la República, the press, and in the bibliography and publications of the Catholic and Protestant Churches, but the treatment in publications of religions of African origin had not been taken into account. Since there was no regular publication, it made it necessary to interview practitioners and scholars of these religious manifestations.


The treatment given to the issue of racial discrimination by ecclesiastical publications, books and magazines was investigated. Since the second half of the 20th century, there have been authors such as José Luciano Franco, Esteban Morales Domínguez, and Oilda Hevia Lainer who rewrite history with works, articles, and books dedicated to the issues of race and racism in the Espacio Laical and Caminos magazines. Both publications are linked to the ecclesial world, increasing the treatment of the subject significantly in the 21st century.

Espacio Laical currently appears as a project of the Centro Cultural Padre Félix Varela, located in La Habana Vieja. The center responds institutionally to the Iglesia Católica Cubana. In its beginnings, it appeared as a publication of the Consejo Arquidiocesano Laicos. The search criteria has been to work with those articles directly dedicated to the issue of anti-Black racism, although of course there are those that touch it tangentially. For example, from 2009 to 2020 the subject was only dealt with 8 times. Caminos: Revista Cubana de Pensamiento Socioteológico of the Centro Memorial Martin Luther King Jr. (responds institutionally to the Protestant Church). In 2002, the subject was alluded to in no. 24 and in 2008, in the magazine no. 47. Between 2000 and 2010, the racial issue was referred to 12 times in different articles. In both cases, the theme was fundamentally treated from an ecclesial perspective or through subjects of the history of Cuba. 

In the case of Afro-Cuban religious practices, we set out to investigate this issue among practitioners and scholars of these Cuban religions of African origin. As a spiritualist, Malonguera, Iyalocha, and socio-religious researcher, I undertook the task of carrying out a small group of interviews with people in the study of these issues and practitioners of the same.

In general, practitioners and scholars consider that not only discrimination based on skin color is currently perceived and carried out. Additionally, a group of “inappropriate” individual characteristics and behaviors are given to argue that they are pejorative properties typical of people with dark skin color, for example, the criteria and arguments “disqualifying, pejorative and discriminatory” with which the Abakuás are spoken of.

Racial discrimination is a backwardness. There are opinions that what we have is racial prejudice. The attitude of the person or groups of people that discriminate is due to social conditioning, because the Cuban identity has this prejudice inserted as a result of four centuries of trafficking and slavery.

The practice of religions with African roots, in which the majority should supposedly be made up of people with Black or Mestizo complexions, is changing rapidly in the current context as the number of practitioners with white complexions is increasing. Thus, we see how in many religious houses, the leaders and members of the Black complexion give absolute preference in the treatment and positioning to people with white complexions who come to their houses. We can also highlight that the majority of people in official representative positions of the different religious organizations such as the Yoruba society, the Espiritista societies, or the Abakuá secret society have white complexions.

It can be seen from practice with a critical sense, since discriminatory attitudes are mostly subtle in character and in many cases unconscious. They respond to a whole socio-cultural and media trajectory that has still left a very firm mark on our non-exclusive social system. They must be erased from within. When I say from inside, I refer fundamentally to the education of Black people that should be directed to a revalorization of the conscious and unconscious thought where social ethnic pride is recovered. They should learn to valorize the great cultural values ​​of our race in a fair way based on history from the ethnic point of view.

It is clear that the attitudes and discriminatory actions overlap, but they live with us together. It is there, in the bygone spaces, where Black people and Mestizos are the majority in unhealthy and so-called “marginal” neighborhoods. It is in our universities. If you go to the Universidad de las Artes or to the Instituto de Deportes “Manuel Fajardo,” you may find a large Black population, but as a rule, the rest of the university departments are whitewashed. It is not that the policies stimulate it, but the strategies for access to Higher Education are still insufficient and favor some more than others. It is in the archaic mentality of so many people, Black and white, who, for different reasons, contribute to the durability of discrimination. It is in the possibilities and requirements for this or more that job, where many demand an image that the Black person does not possess. It is in our aggressive jokes many times that ridicule Black people. Our daily life is full of ritualities, sometimes unconscious (sometimes not so much), of racial discrimination.


We are living in times of political and social changes necessary for the survival of our social system, changes that have a positive charge, but that have revived old discriminations based on sex, age and race. Economic reforms are necessary, with favoritism for some and unfavorable for others. Affirmative policies on the part of the state are necessary to improve the quality of life of the impoverished sectors of Cuban society, made up largely of Black people and Mestizos who need policies that empower them in the economic field.

The struggles for the vindication of Cubans in general, influenced so that to some extent, what was implicitly allowed to discriminate, was over time being carried out in a more concealed or subtle way, but always latent in the social pulse. When it is exercised in a neglectful way, it becomes more complex to eradicate the phenomenon. Subjective discriminatory aspects are not resolved with decrees or resolutions.

There are things already overcome, thanks to the Revolution, due to the popular and inclusive character of their education, the social mobility of the Cuban population and their level of participation in different tasks. These religions are and belong to the Cubans. The color of the skin no longer matters to carry out initiations in any of them; however, the social and religious stigma continues. In my opinion, part of the lack of recognition or non-acceptance of the history of Africa, story and culture associated with the environment, underlies the mythology of its Orishas and its religions in general.

The Red Barrial Afrodescendiente has fought and will continue to fight from the neighborhoods of the capital of all Cubans so that these ideas guide the work of all those who fight against the poison of racism. And that at the end of the road that cannot be very long, this fight for the fruits of life that we deserve.



Espacio Laical. Iglesia Catolica. La Habana

  1.   Año 5 No. 1, 2009
El piñazo de la Mejorana. 
Jorge  Felipe Gonzáles.
It collects the racist background in the story of the supposed punch that Antonio Maceo gave José Martí at the Mejorana meeting.
La sublevación de los Independientes de Color.
Pedro Antonio García. 
  1. Año 5 No.  2, 2009.
Espacio Dossier. ¿Existe una problemática racial en Cuba?
In its pages are collected the answers of: Jesús Guanche, Alejandro de la Fuente, Tomás Fernández Robaina, Rodrigo Espina Prieto y Víctor Fowler Calzada, to a questionnaire in relation to the racial issue in Cuba. 
  1. Año 6, No. 2, 2010. 
Marzo 21. Día internacional de la lucha contra el racismo. 
Tomás Fernández Robaina. 
It analyzes the origin of the International Day for the Fight against Racism instituted by the UN and the way it was celebrated in 2010. It also includes a critical assessment of what is being done in Cuba in the field of the fight against racism.
  1. Año 8, No 2, 2012. 
El racista enmascarado. 
Carlos Fuentes. 
In this text, the great Mexican writer responds to the ideas proclaimed by North American professor, Samuel P. Huntington, in relation to the dark danger to the identity of the American nation.
  1. Año 9, No 2, 2013. 
Víctor Fowler Calzada.
It constitutes the introduction to a compendium of analyzes published in the magazine, Espacio Laical, dedicated to the issue of race in Cuba and which were later published in a book(Indagaciones sobre la cuestión racial en Cuba.) 
Espacio Laical Publicaciones, 2013. 
La dimensión intercultural como componente esencial del diálogo en Cuba.  
Manuel de Jesús Heredia Noriega.
In his treatment of interculturality, he analyzes the reasons that lead Cubans to consider themselves a Mulatto nation, as well as the role of Afro-Cuban and Indo-Cuban cultures in its construction.It also deals with the issue of racism in Cuba today.
  1. Año 9, No 4, 2013. 
Un pequeño sorbo de agua donde hay grave sed. 
Víctor Fowler.
 Presentation of the book entitled “Indagación sobre la cuestión racial en Cuba”, held on October 22, 2013 at the Padre Félix Varela Cultural Center. Some of the interventions made after Fowler’s words appear.
  1. Año 10, No.4, 2014.
” Empoderamiento de sectores desfavorecidos: los afrodescendientes”. 
The topic was discussed in the space “En Diálogo” and had as speakers the sociologists, Mayra and Rodrigo Espina Prieto, the anthropologist, Antonio J Martínez, the essayist, Victor Fowler, and the writer, Tato Quiñones. The interventions that were made from the public present also appear.
  1. Año 11, Nros. 3-4, 2015.
La Educación en Cuba hoy.
The topic was discussed in the space  “En Diálogo” and featured a panel made up of: Historian and professor, Berta Álvarez; educator, Leonor Amaro; researcher, Mayra Tejuca; and professor, Jorge Suárez. As part of the exhibitions, the presence of Black and Mestizo people in Higher Education was discussed. The interventions of the present public also appear.


Editorial Caminos. Revista Cubana de Pensamiento Socioteológico. La Habana.

  1. No. 13-14. 1999. 
La teología de la liberación como posibilidad de que el negro latinoamericano encuentre a Dios. 
Marcos Rodríguez da Silva.
It deals with the problem of the poor and discriminated Afro-American people from the perspective of Liberation Theology. The author, who is Brazilian, takes as the basis for his reflections the life of Brazilian Afro-descendants.
  1. No 24-25.2002. 
Raza y Racismo. 
La cuestión racial en Cuba y este número de Caminos.
Fernando Martínez Heredia.
It succinctly presents the genesis of anti-Black racism in Cuban society and its reproduction in the First and Second Republics.
Aportes culturales y deculturación. 
Manuel Moreno Fraginal. 
It offers us from a Marxist analysis the essentials of the construction of race and racism in the Cuban 19th century.
Cuba insurgente. Raza Nación y Revolución, 1868-1898.
Ada Ferrer. 
It deals with the participation of Black and Mulatto people in the independence revolutions and their implications in the formation of the nation and in racial constructions.
Martí y las razas. 
Fernando Ortiz.
It includes a conference by Fernando Ortiz, in which Martí’s position regarding races and racism is collected.
Política, campesinos y pueblo de color: “la guerra de razas” de 1912. Louis A Pérez Jr. 
The author develops a study of the great massacre of Black people in 1912, trying to understand it as a tool of the Cuban bourgeoisie against the eastern peasantry with the aim of favoring the latifundist control of the land by imperialist and Cuban companies.
Identidad racial de “ gente sin historia”.
YeseniaSelier y Penélope Hernández. 
They work on the issue of self-identification of a group of Cubans who consider themselves Black and the obstacles they encounter to build this in a positive way.
Textos de Antoni Maceo.
They show us how the Bronze Titan had to face the problems associated with race and racism.
El apellido. 
Nicolás Guillén.
It shows us through the use of the poetic genre, Guillén’s ideas in relation to racial problems.
La teología negra latinoamericana como un espacio de descubrimiento y afirmación del sujeto. 
Silvia Regina. 
Its objective is to show how Black theology in Latin America and the Caribbean has been a space for the discovery and affirmation of the Black subject.
No 20.2000. 
Desde la óptica  de los pueblos negros.
Marisel Mena López. 
It ventures into the field of Black, Latin American reading or hermeneutics, presenting a series of hermeneutical methods used in it. He takes as a basis for this work his experience in Afro-American and Caribbean communities.
No 21.2001. La Teología Negra.
Reinterpretando la Biblia. 
Dwight N. Hopkins. 
It takes us to the genesis of Black Liberation Theology and its relations with the Civil Rights Movement in the United States in the 50’s and 60’s of the last century and how it led to a reinterpretation of biblical texts taking into account as hermeneutical key the liberation of the majority of society: the poor and the oppressed.
Mi encuentro con la Teología Negra. 
Raúl Suárez.
In this article, we can discover how the exclusion of Black people from the exercise of the pastorate was practiced within the Baptist Convention of Western Cuba before the year 1959.
  1. No 37-38 2005. 
Ser cubano. 
Por el camino del mar. 
Guillermo Rodríguez Rivera.
It offers us the contributions of the original, Hispanic and African peoples to the construction of the Cuban identity, how we see ourselves and how we are.
  1. No 58. 2010
Pueblo negro y Biblia: reconquista histórica.
Heitor Frisotti. 
The author of Brazilian origin shows us the relationship between the Afro-Brazilian people and the Bible, collected in the phrase: For the black people of Brazil, the Bible is a wound, a delicacy and a source.
Raza y desigualdad en la Cuba actual: boceto de un tema adolescente. 
Wilmer Pérez. 
It exposes the development of anti-Black racism in the first two republican stages and its reproduction in the socialist stage. His ideas are of interest in relation to the reasons that led to the belief that racism had been eliminated in Cuban society since the 1960s.
  1. No 68-69 2013.
-Moralidad y obligación en los sistemas de adivinación de Ifá cubano. Martin Holbraad. 
A very old accusation leveled at Cuban religions of African origin is their amoral nature, which incidentally serves to disqualify their Black and Mulatto followers. This Holbraad work that brings us closer to the knowledge of morality within Ifá disqualifies the previous statement.
  1. No. 47. 2008. Otra vez raza y racismo.
Los ñáñigos y los sucesos del 27 de noviembre de 1871: Memoria histórica,dinámicas populares y proyecto socialista en Cuba. 
Mario Castillo.
Centenario de la fundación del Partido Independiente de Color 
Fernando Martínez Heredia.
Desafíos de la problemática racial en Cuba. 
Esteban Morales.
José Martí. Apuntes sobre su antirracismo militante. 
Leyda Oquendo
Me afro-conozco. 
Grupo de rap Obsesión


  • Dr. Ramón Torres Zayas “Mongui”
    • Doctor en Ciencias de la Comunicación Social
    • Vicepresidente del Consejo Provincial Abakuá
    • Obonecue Efí Embemoró (data 1851)
    • Ekueñón Oboni Mañón Metara (data 2010)

    Museo Casa de Africa. La Habana.  2018.

  • Dra. Ileana Hodge Limonta
    • Doctora en Historia Social. Universidad Federal de Bahía. (UFBA) Brasil.
    • Jefa del Departamento de Estudios Socioreligiosos del CIPS. Universidad de La Habana.

    Centro de Investigaciones Psicologicas y Sociologicas. La Habana. 2018.

  • Lic. Andrés Ramírez Machín
    • Malonguero, Babalocha, Orihaté.
    • Licenciado en Educación. Especialidad Física. ISPEJV.

    Casa Templo “Mundo Nuevo”. Cerro. La Habana. 2018.

  • Lic. Elena Díaz Rodríguez
    • Espiritísta, Malonguera, Iyalocha.
    • Licenciada en  Inglés del ISPLE.

      Casa Templo “Mundo Nuevo”. Cerro. La Habana. 2018.

  • Dra. Martha Emilia Cordies Jackson
    • Doctora en Ciencias Pedagógicas. Especialidad Literatura.
    • Directora del Centro Cultural Africano “Fernando Ortíz” de Santiago de Cuba.

      UNEAC. La Habana. 2018

  • Lic. Nelson Marcos Aboy Domingo
    • Malonguero, Babalocha, Orihaté, Babalawo.
    • Presidente del Consejo Científico Asesor de la Asociación Yoruba de Cuba.
    • Presidente del Consejo Científico de la Casa Museo de África.

    Residencia Particular. La Habana. 2018