For the first time in Cuba’s 116 year history, two Black women hold positions in the executive branch of government.
Long overdue for a country with a majority Black population, Inés María Chapman Waugh and Beatriz Johnson Urrutia are two of five co-vice presidents in Miguel Diaz-Canal’s new administration. Their elections signify the country’s push for a government that looks much different than before.
According to Reuters, “[Díaz-Canal’s] leadership team…is younger and more diverse in terms of gender and race than the previous one. All the appointees are long-term members of the ruling Communist Party, however, and some serve on its powerful Political Bureau.”
The recent election unveils the republic’s attempts at a more relatable representation of the Cuban public, with its emphasis on age, gender and race in politics to keep them satisfied. With politics being the highest level in the Cuban societal hierarchy, those who held office were mostly white, wealthy men with a penchant of nationalism.
In addition, these efforts are attempts to maintain control over the public narrative and the significance of a Revolution that is antiquated. As a result, Cuba’s government is pandering to its Black, women, and young constituency.
The oft-neglected general population is being used for national propaganda as a way to dominant social paradigms, and thus, control the people. These elections are not a celebration of Blackness, Waugh and Chapman are merely tools in a grander scheme of political survival for the Cuban government.
The new, new
As per the Cuban Council of State’s website, Miguel Díaz-Canal and his new administration consists of a first vice president (Salvador Valdés Mesa) and five subsequent vice presidents (Ramiro Valdés Menéndez, Roberto Morales Ojeda, Gladys Bejerano Portela , Inés María Chapman Waugh, and Beatriz Johnson Urrutia).
Chapman, 52, and Johnson, 48, join the leagues of the new 31 member council made up of: 45% are blacks and mestizos members,13 newly elected officials (35%),16 women (48%), with an age average of 54 years (77%), ”as stated on The Office of the Diplomatic Representation of Cuba Abroad.
Formerly, Inés María Chapman Waugh as the regional delegate of the National Institute of Hydraulic Resources and Beatriz Johnson Urrutia as the delegate for the Provincial Assembly of People’s Power, both already held powerful positions at the time of their nominations. These women are very well qualified.
However, in a historically uncharacteristic move, the notoriously white male dominated government has been promoting their choice of two “acceptable” Black women to anyone that will listen.
Former prime minister and brother of Fidel Castro, Raul, stated of the women, “We still have the battle of proportions, not just in numerical aspects, but qualitative — in decision-making slots.” He further emphasizes, “Three women were elected vice president of the Council of State, two of them black — not only for being black, but for their virtues and qualities.”
Cuban leadership is trying to convince the public that Waugh and Chapman’s social identifiers do not matter because the women were more than qualifies for their roles. Yet, the sole focus of conversation repeatedly harps on the significance of their race, genders and age.
Castro’s need to emphasize the numbers casts reasonable doubt on the state’s intentions with these elections.
The Popular Vote
As part of Díaz-Canal’s administration, Chapman Urrutia and Johnson Waugh are two of three Black vice-presidents and two of three women elected to the ruling body. Though their social identifiers may be different, there is a common requirement amongst Cuban political officials: a life-long, very-public dedication/allegiance to the Revolution that Fidel Castro’s leadership brought upon the isle in 1959.
The administration boasts landslide election rates, implying general support of the newly elected governing body. A report from the Cuban Foreign Affairs website states, “Miguel Diaz-Canal received 99.83% of the votes cast. In the same way, the other members of the Council of State were elected with high percentages of votes, and in most cases with 100%.”
During one of his initial addresses in April, Díaz-Canal reaffirmed support of diversity, according to Cuba’s Foreign Ministry of Affairs.
He spotlighted Chapman, declaring her as “an example of how much the Revolution has done for Black and mestizo women.”
Not since early era Fidel Castro, has a politician made a claim on behalf of a Black woman political official. Simply because they did not exist, socially nor bureaucratically. Before the renown revolutionary leader came into power, Afro-Cubans were largely invisible. When Castro came into power, recognized Blacks and placed some into power.
“Everybody was happy,” Cuban expat, former Miami mayor and US white house correspondent, Tomas Regalado recalls. “Everybody was celebrating that Batista was gone… we as children joined, too.”
Unlike former leadership, Castro constantly reassured his love and belonging to a nation of neglected constituency. Castro persuaded millions of young Black crowds with unfulfilled serenades of an equitable government with a focus on inalienable human rights, that was representative of the different sectors in society. Coupled with rebel forces leading the charge, the people of the nation put their trust behind the rogue lawyer.
Díaz-Canal ’s cosign plays a key role in the narrative of creating “permanent contact with the population and facilitating the participation of [all] the people in revolutionary tasks and in decision-making.”