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African origins of the Cuban revolution: Fidel and the “Black” Dove

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy

Cuban historian Walterio Carbonell asserted that the strength of Cuban nationhood ‘lies in the traditions of the black’. In fact, the ‘race’ question in Cuba, can best be defined as the attempt to ascribe a role Cubans of African descent and their culture played in the formation of the Cuban nation. It is within this framework that the focus behind this investigation consists of moving our understanding of the Cuban revolution away from the traditional Marxist-Socialist perspective. The rationale for this is that Marxism is ill-equipped to give a balanced reading of Afro-Cuban cultural and religious practices, which proved to be central to the island’s culture and historical process on the eve of the 1959 Revolution. These longstanding African influences on the historical narrative of the island and the Revolution provide a completely different approach in analysing the forces which have led Fidel Castro to power and a thorough study inside this cultural sphere could alter our understanding of the charismatic Cuban leader. This will be done through a binary paradigm, in which the spiritual meets the political, intersecting long-lasting cultural narratives with recent events of real historical significance. Not only is this thesis investigating Castro's relationship with - and manipulation of - Afro-Cuban religious symbols, but also the contributions of the island’s historical and cultural African heritage to the revolutionary ideology and collective identity. This requires a complex interaction with both deep historical frameworks such as those of the formation of maroons and the religion of Santería, alongside an engagement with more recent political thought. This will illustrate how the Revolution understood Africanness in Cuba as a social norm giving rise to a political culture based upon the transcendence of ethnicity. Thus, emphasis will be placed on the revolutionary capacity of culture to transform itself into an act of political resistance, drawing heavily on the ideas of Amilcar Cabral, for whom culture and the concept of African national liberation are two completely inseparable entities. With a theoretical focus on the language and politics of “Africanness” / Afro-centrism, négritude, Afro-cubanismo, and Afro-American / diasporic as modern categories and concepts, in the Cuban context, this investigation will present “Africa” as a political possibility in the politics and discourse of revolutionary Cuba.
Original languageEnglish
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Award date1 Jun 2019

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