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Belafonte, een van de grootste voorvechters tegen racisme is heengegaan

By 27 april 2023Doorgeplaatst

Fidel Castro and Harry Belafonte met often, over the years, and developed a close relationship. Photo: Pedro Beruvides

When on July 23, 2020 Harry Belafonte held in his hands the Friendship Medal, awarded by the Cuban state, surely passing through his mind, like a good movie, was an unforgettable sequence of the many moments during his life when he shared the same luck, convictions and destiny of inhabitants of our island.
On that day, then Cuban ambassador in Washington José R. Cabañas stated: “This distinction serves as recognition of your lifelong solidarity with Cuba, your respect and admiration for the Cuban revolutionary process.”
On the 95th birthday of the U.S. actor, musician and social activist – born March 1, 1927 in New York – Belafonte continues to be a source of inspiration for many of his compatriots and for those of us who appreciate him as an exceptional artist, extraordinary human being and dear friend.
One name cannot be overlooked in describing the development of such a special bond: Fidel Castro. The historic leader of the Revolution and the actor and singer, a companion of Martin Luther King in the struggle, cultivated a very close relationship, after Belafonte reencountered Cuba in 1979, subsequently never foregoing his trips to Havana, as long as his health allowed.
Belafonte got to know the city in the 1950’s, not without first exchanging words and experiences with many Cubans living in New York, and feeling an affinity for the music of the neighboring country, especially after listening to Chano Pozo with Dizzy Gillespie’s band.
In those same years, more than because of his films, the song Matilda penetrated the musical imagination of Cubans at that time, a song that dates back at least to the 1930s, when the calypso pioneer, Trinidad’s King Radio (aka Norman Span) released the song. Belafonte first recorded it in 1953 and it became an immediate hit, further popularized with its inclusion on his second full-length album with rca Victor in 1955.
In his memoirs, My song, published in 2011, its Spanish version still unpublished in Cuba, he said: “When I became an artist and began to have some celebrity, I went to Cuba quite regularly, before ’59. I went there with Sammy Davis Jr., and to hear Nat King Cole, and to hang out with Frank Sinatra; the place where we most often gathered was the Hotel Nacional. Everybody was performing there except me. When they came to me – and I had a work contract, when the Habana Riviera Hotel first opened – I was in an interracial marriage, as it was called in those days, and suddenly I became a persona non grata, in Cuba, everywhere.”
Right around that time he filmed Robert Rossen’s film, The Island of the Sun, in which he played a black union leader in a fictitious West Indian country who lived a love story with a young white woman from the upper middle class (Joan Fontaine). The film generated a controversy when it was released in the United States in 1957, given the fact that racist elites considered its content an irresponsible transgression. After the triumph of the Cuban Revolution, January 1, 1959, Fidel, who, in addition to being an insatiable reader, enjoyed movies to the extent that his political and governmental responsibilities allowed, saw the film and talked about it with Belafonte, along with his wife Julie, and Sydney Poitier, a friend and colleague. For both Fidel and Harry, racism and discrimination based on skin color were inadmissible, abhorrent social and cultural phenomena.
In this regard, he noted in his memoirs: “Many Cuban exiles say that in Cuba there was no racism before the Revolution, that Cuba was never racist, never like the United States. I think that Cuba, among all the Caribbean islands, all with racist practices, was the most racist… So, when I went to Cuba after the Revolution, the first thing I noticed was the mixture of people, particularly among young people, there were still residues of the old customs, but certainly among the young, when I went to the University, and when I went to cultural sites, when I went to day care centers, wherever I went in Cuba among the young, I was deeply impressed by the extent of racial integration…. I am not suggesting that in Cuba there is no racism, but it is important to know that it is not an official state practice, nor is it institutionalized.”
Precisely the objective and subjective factors that favored the reproduction of racist and discriminatory attitudes in Cuban life, and the struggle to eradicate these as an inalienable part of the Cuban revolutionary project, were the subject of Belafonte’s conversations with Fidel more than once, and over the last two years, he has followed news of the implementation of our National Program against Racism and Racial Discrimination, an effort inspired by Fidel’s ideas.
One of Harry Belafonte’s invaluable contributions to the dismantling of prejudices was the vindication of hip-hop culture, and particularly rap, in the Cuban scene. On one of his trips at the end of the last century he met black rappers who told him how they found it difficult to gain recognition from cultural institutions, so they offered their art basically underground.
Years later, interviewed by the U.S. activist Sandra Levinson, he confessed: “I tell you something that impressed me a great deal: I lived the hip-hop culture of Cuban rappers… I was surprised by how many there are and how uninformed the established leadership in Cuban cultural circles was of the whole hip-hop music culture. After meeting hip-hop artists in Havana, I met with Abel Prieto at a luncheon hosted by Fidel Castro, and we got to talking about hip-hop culture. When I returned to Havana a couple of years later, people from the hip-hop community came to see me and we hung out. They thanked me effusively and I said, why, and they responded, because your conversation with Fidel and the Minister of Culture about hip-hop led to the creation of a special agency within the Ministry… What I think is important is how open the leadership was to this phenomenon called hip-hop, whereas in the United States, we do a lot to demonize the culture, and we don’t even have a Ministry of Culture.”
As testimony of his unwavering solidarity and sense of justice, it is worth recalling the words with which he introduced a rally held at the Church of Reconciliation in New York on September 27, 2003. On that day he prayed for the Five Cuban anti-terrorist heroes serving long prison sentences in the United States. He stated: “What is happening with our policy toward Cuba is not the American way, it is not the true voice of the American people, it is not the true voice of those of us who believe deeply, profoundly, in the rights of all peoples, and the freedom of all people and in democracy… There is a great deal that the Cuban government, the Cuban people have achieved, that many of us here are still attempting to achieve.”
He was once asked why he supports the Cuban people, and stated, “I don’t see it as a supreme effort it is a way of life: if you believe in freedom, if you believe in justice, if you believe in democracy, if you believe in people’s rights, if you believe in the harmony of all humanity.”
He keeps Fidel present, as Estela Bravo said: “Fidel is Fidel. Unique in his time, his presence in the world improved the lives of millions of people.”