Afro-Cubans are Cubans of African descent. According to Minority Rights Group International, they range from 33.9 per cent to 62 per cent. CIA factbook says Cuba is 10.1% Black and 24.8% mulatto/mestizo. According to the Cuba Transition Project by the University of Miami, Cuba is 62% Afro-Cuban. They tend to concentrate in the eastern part of the island around Havana, Santiago de Cuba province, and Guantánamo province.


1513, marks the presence of the first slaves to arrive in Cuban society. Landowner Amador de Lares received permission to bring in four slaves from Hispaniola. The Cedula Real, passed in 1526, granted legal importation of slaves to Cuba. By 1532, blacks formed 62.5% of the Cuban population. 

Year % of Pop. 
1532  62.5%  
1775  43.8%  
1792  50.9%  
1811  54.5%  
1817  55.0%  
1827  55.8%  
1850  56.0%  
1841  58.5%  
1846  52.6%  
1849  51.5%  
1855  52.2%  
1859  47.8%  
1860  48.4%  
1861  43.1%  
1872  44.6%  
1877  32.2%  
1887  32.4%  
1899  32.1%  
1907  29.7%  
Annual % of Black popul.

Initially, before the 1540s most slaves came from the North African Barbary Coast of Morocco and the Mediterranean islands of Sardinia, Mallorca, and Menorca. Post 1540s, most came from West Africa. Most slaves imported were males. In fact, a sex imbalance existed until the 1700s, when female slaves began to be imported.

Racial categories were flexible, a white father could bestow white status on his offspring from slave women. In 1795, the Royal Decree of Charles IV allowed a white father to purchase white status for his children, called 'gracias al sacar.' Paper would be issued legally declaring his children white. The Cedula Real also gave the slave the previlege to purchase his freedom.


During the 1800s, 100 different African ethnics were counted in Cuba. African slaves would form cabildos around their common ethnic heritage. The first cabildo was formed in 1568, Cabildo Shango in Havana. By the end of the 1800s, 14 distinct ethnic were able to preserve their identity. Cabildos were social, self-help, religious, and aid organization, with members from common African ethnics and free blacks of similiar origins and later comprising of their Cuban born offsprings. They were based on fraternal societies of Spaniards from various regions of Spain, originating in Seville. The most prominent cabildos were Lucumí(Yoruba), Arará(Dahomey), Minas (Akan), Carabali(Igbos), Macua (Mozambique), Abakuá, and Kongo.


A freed black population in Cuba developed. Initially, the activities of freed blacks were regulated. They could not move freely. They could not earn an independent living. The selling of produce was forbidden around the 1550s. Those in violation could receive punishment of 300 lashes. Overtime, freed blacks had almost the same rights as whites. They could carry arms and walk in towns without suspicion and on equal terms with whites. Some were members of black militia's as the Batallon de Pardos y Morenos in Havana. After the 1800s, this changed due to the Haitian Revolution. Whites became paranoid. They were scared of another Haiti on Cuba. 


Cuba experienced numerous slave revolts. The first recorded slave revolts occured in 1533 in Bayamo. Four slaves fought Spanish soldiers to the death. To alleviate, colonist fear, their decapitated heads were put on public display. The period of 1790-1796, during the Haitian Revolution, the black population agitated for freedom. Slave importation ceased during that period. The Haitian Revolution made the Cuban planters paranoid. They were in constant fear of blacks taking over Cuba and began to ran their plantation like prison camps with watchtowers stationed everywhere. 

The planters were also in fear of the French refugees, who established numerous plantation and were quite prosperous in the mountainous part of the Oriente, eastern Cuba. The Spanish planters feared that the Haitian refugees would take-over Cuba for France, especially after Napoleon conquered Spain and placed his brother, Joseph Bonaparte, on the Spanish throne in 1808. During this period, much cultural and economic interaction occured with Louisiana, with some of the St. Domingue French refugees fleeing to Louisiana.

Laborers from the Canary Island were imported. In 1812,  Aponte a free black militia commander organized a slave and free black rebellion against slave owners and Spanish colonialism. Carlota, in 1843, a slave woman, led a slave rebellion at the Triunvirato sugar mill, in Matanzas. She was killed in the rebellion. In 1844, Conspiración de la Escalera(The Staircase Conspiracy) occurred but was brutally supressed.

Independence and abolition

Spain taxed Cuba heavily. Its population had no representation in the Spanish government. In 1868, Carlos Manuel de Céspedes declared Cuban independence and slavery abolish in Cuba, known as Grito de Yara. He was joined by 32 other planters. Most of the planter elite was oppose to the rebellion out of fear of losing their livelihood, ultimately tide with freeing their slaves. Peninsulares, Spanish born whites also did not support the rebellion in fear of losing their legal and social status. Most of the fighting took place on the east side of the island. Slaves were encouraged to rise up and burn the plantation of owners who were supporters of Spain. Many flocked to the Liberation Army, which comprised of 92% Afro-Cuban. Slave soldiers were known as mambis and the Liberation Army as Los Mambises. By 1870, it was 40,000 strong. They were led by Generals Antonio Maceo, Máximo Gómez, and Quintín Banderas. General Antonio Maceo rose among the ranks to become general and was a master at out-positioning and out-witting the Spanish generals. The rebel army and Spanish regiments were never able to gain descisive victories against each other. Spain fearing the loss of its most profitable territory press for appeasement. In 1878, the Spanish government reached an agreement with the rebel called the Peace of Zanjon. Many rebels were against the agreement because it did not provide for an independent Cuba and did not completely end slavery.

Spain not truly bent on living up to its agreement did not follow through. By 1895, Jose Marti rose up to re-ignite the fight for Cuban independence. He recalled the old generals from the previous war of independence, from exile. The rebel troops were 92% Afro-Cuban. The Spaniards tried to use fear of a black takeover of Cuba among whites as means of diminishing white support, constantly reminding them of the Haitian Revolution.

US Occupation

The rebels were on the verge of being victorious, when the US Maine exploded in 1889. The explosion triggered the Spanish American War. After the Spanish American War, the US occupation of Cuba had dire consequences for Afro-Cubans. With assistance from the racist white Cuban elite, the U.S. proceeded to disenfranchise, marginalise Afro-Cubans, and heighten racial division in the society. The US dissolved the Liberation Army consisting of majority Afro-Cubans. Afro-Cubans were denied promotion in the new national Rural Guard army. Voting laws were passed to restrict their political participation, like requiring all males to have property worth $250 and to be literate. In 1902, the Cuban elite began advocating large European immigration to whiten the nation, blanqueamiento, counteracting its large black population.  

Observing acts of marginalisation, Afro-Cubans reacted by forming their own political party, the Partido Independiente de Color, in 1910, comprising of prominent members of the Cuban Liberation Army. The repression of the party began quickly by the Cuban government, first passing laws banning parties based on race. The Cuban elite began a mass campaign against the party accusing it of trying to bring about a Haitian style Cuba. Repression of blacks became widespread, like the purging of blacks from the security apparatus and the harassment of black organization not affiliated with the Partido Independiente de Color. All the political persecution culminated in the mass slaughtering of members of the Partido Independiente de Color, in 1912, "The Little Black War."  Vigilante groups were formed, headed by José Francisco Martí, son of Jose Marti, executing leaders of the Partido Independiente de Color. A total of 12,000 member died in the pogrom. The US military aided by garrisoning about 26 town, while the vigilante groups engaged in its killing spree.

Famous Afro-Cuban

Gabriel de la Concepción Valdés
Tito Puente
Luciano Pozo y González
Gloria Rolando
Arturo Sandoval
Ramón Santamaría
Jesus (Chucho) Valdés
José White

Works Cited

CIA Factbook, Cuba.retrieved 05-Oct-2011

Cuba Transition Project(2005). Cuba Facts. University of Miami. retrieved 05-Oct-2011

Minority Rights Group International,World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Cuba : Afro-Cubans, 2008, available at: [accessed 6 October 2011]. retrieved 05-Oct-2011

Gott, Richard(2004). Cuba, A New History. Yale University Press.

Havana Cuba's African Cabildos.< > retrieved 04-July-2012

Sierra, J.A.