Afro-Cuban, African-American Solidarity Movements and the Future of Cuba: An African-Centered Political Ecology Perspective.

Author:Densu, Kwasi


Since the age of European exploration African diasporic communities have formed transnational linkages to negotiate and resist European cultural hegemony and economic exploitation. The relationship between Afro-Cubans and African-Americans is an outgrowth of this history. For over three centuries solidarity movements have endured, each characterized by problems peculiar to both the external and internal realities of Afro-Cubans and African-Americans.

With the death of Fidel Castro, the Obama administration's reversal of Cold War isolationist policies, and the ascendancy of the administration of Donald Trump, new conditions have materialized requiring a reassessment of previously held assumptions. This discussion seeks to consider the relevance of an African-centered political ecology to our understanding of contemporary Cuba and ideological tendencies that have historically shaped Afro-Cuban, African-American solidarity movements. It argues that ideological models that inform Afro-Cuban, African-American solidarity work are typically shaped by an urban bias which privileges urban centered, growth oriented socioeconomic values. Hence, an African centered political ecology perspective seeks to shift movement discourse toward the understanding that important linkages exist between racial inequality, economic inequality, and environmental degradation. These connections have profound implications for how we understand (1) the historical and contemporary problems of Afro-Cuban communities, (2) the successes and failures of the Cuban Revolution and its stated commitment to racial and economic justice, and (3) the impact of contemporary, U.S. foreign policy on Cuba. This discussion will unfold in four stages. First, we will delineate the core, theoretical assumptions of an African-centered political ecology. Second, we will explore the historical development of U.S. foreign policy towards Cuba, contextualizing the Obama administration's shift away from Cold War strategies. Third, we will analyze ideological tendencies that have historically shaped African-American, Afro-Cuban solidarity movements. Finally, we will consider the connections that exist between race, socioeconomic inequality, and the environment, and its implications for ideological clarity within African-American, Afro-Cuban solidarity work.

An African-Centered Political Ecology: Theoretical Considerations

Definitionally, an African-centered political ecology is a reformulation of ancient principles undergirding indigenous African societies that seeks to explore the historical development of African communities through an eco-philosophical lens. It attempts to expand the contours of Africana critical theory by demonstrating the salience of indigenous African socio-ecological praxis to our understanding of the contemporary problems of African people. Therefore, it contributes to a global dialogue over the need for human communities to refashion our relationship to the earth in an effort to create a sustainable future. African-centered political ecology has two broad concerns. The first is the degree to which communities of African descent have constructed paradigms of human development and liberation that reflect an urban bias. This influences how one understands the relationship between individuals and society, definitions of "freedom", conceptualizations of what socioeconomic institutions are appropriate, how society engages in the construction of the built environment, and how communities perceive and interact with nature.

The urban bias has its origins in the evolution of Western civilization, specifically modernity. It should not be confused simply with the notion of constructing densely populated areas most often called "cities" and "towns". It is a culturally defined development philosophy. The urban bias is characterized by "(1) an anthropocentric, secular perception of nature, (2) the hegemony of mass consumption and industrialization, (3) the devaluation of indigenous, rural knowledge, (4) mass rural to urban migration, and (5) the concentration of political and economic power within urban centers." (Densu, 2017, p. 4) As an outgrowth of Western Modernity the urban bias has its roots in the enclosure movement, European slavery and colonialism. The same psycho-spiritual, intellectual, socioeconomic and technological patterns of development that gave birth to Liverpool, England; Seville, Spain; Paris, France, and Lisbon, Portugal, would in turn reproduce themselves as an extension of Europe's imperialism in the Americas and Africa. In addition, it would serve as the "ideal" model of nation building pursued by anti-imperialist and progressive nationalists in the post-colonial era. This is problematic from the perspective of an African-centered political ecology and is central to the current problems facing African communities globally.

Furthermore, an African-centered political ecology is concerned with how indigenous African conceptions of nature and socio-ecological praxis can be used to create sustainable, socioeconomic and technological models of development. It also seeks to unearth ways that indigenous African ecological knowledge can inform Africana social movements by recentering the land question within movement organizing and the development of strategies and tactics to resolve contemporary social, economic and political problems. For an African-centered political ecology, racial, and economic inequality are intimately linked to the devaluation and subjugation of nature. Indigenous and rural African life-ways are perceived as valuable in their capacity to offer sustainable alternatives to modern industrial oriented paradigms of socioeconomic organization. Hence, for the purpose of this discussion it considers the strategies of rural development and agrarian reform as solutions to racial and economic inequality. In addition, in the era of mass consumption and climate change it suggests that indigenous African perceptions of nature as "Mother" challenges our view of the earth as simply raw materials for industry. The notion that all life forms, both animate and inanimate, have a purpose independent of their economic use value to human communities, are important ideas to subvert the modern illusion of perpetual economic growth as ideal, and its negative impact on the earth's ecosystems.

Historically, Afro-Cuban, African-American solidarity movements, the Cuban Revolution and U.S. foreign policy have differed, in nuanced and blatantly contradictory ways, around the questions of racial and economic inequality. At the same time they have been "united" by their commitment to the urban bias. We will explore this phenomenon and its implications for our understanding of contemporary Cuba and the ways Afro-Cuban, African-American solidarity movements have attempted to understand the particular problems of Afro-Cuban communities.

U.S. Foreign Policy, the Cold War, and Race: Contextualizing Obama's Cuba Policy

On November 25, 2016, the death of Fidel Castro, former head of state of the Republic of Cuba and the most popular leader of the 26th of July Movement, created turbulence within the international community. For some, his passing represented the end of an oppressive era and the hope for a "democratic" future. For others, it symbolized the triumph of the spirit of revolution, progressive nationalism, and anti-imperialism that emerged forcefully during the second half of the 20 (th) century. Regardless of one's ideological position, Fidel Castro's physical transition embodied the emergence of a new Cuba whose political and economic future is at best unknown and contested. His exit from political life in 2006 due to illness and the subsequent rise of his brother, Raul Castro to the presidency helped to accelerate changes in Cuban domestic and foreign policy that have their roots in the period following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, euphemistically called the Special Period in Time of Peace (Special Period).

During the Special Period Cuba was cut off from world markets because of the collapse of the Eastern Bloc led Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (CMEA) and the U.S. economic blockade. Under these conditions Cuba was forced to reassess its commitment to orthodox state socialism, which would have a profound impact on the socioeconomic development of the island. Within this environment, domestic and international criticism of Cuba's Communist Party (PCC) and Fidel Castro's leadership gained new traction. From the viewpoint of U.S. economic interests and Miami's Cuban-American community, the Cuban state and its leadership failed to admit to the problems and inefficiencies "endemic" to socialist economies, and the limits on personal and political freedom imposed by a one-party state. This perspective was a natural extension of Cold War policies that first emerged in 1960 during the Eisenhower administration in response to the Cuban Revolution's nationalization of American assets and key foreign-owned industries. John F. Kennedy's Proclamation 3447 in 1962, which put into place the embargo on trade with Cuba, set a precedent for U.S. foreign policy that would characterize both Republican and Democratic administrations for the next 55 years.

In an attempt to further isolate Cuba the Reagan administration designated Cuba a "state sponsor of terrorism" in 1982. In 1992, H.W. Bush would strengthen economic sanctions with the signing of the Cuban Democracy Act; the Clinton administration would follow in 1996 with the Cuban Liberty and Solidarity Act, and from 2001-2009, the administration of G.W. Bush reaffirmed U.S. foreign policy's commitment to isolate Cuba from the American public and international markets through strengthening travel and remittance restrictions. The infamous Bush Doctrine would intimately link U.S security and defense strategies to regime change in Cuba and the promotion of liberal...

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