What are they afraid of? This.

Here you see the combination of music and dancing in huge crowds, dancing with abandon and a lot of sexuality and some fighting, that scares the bejeezus out of people who either are frightened of the unknown, frightened of free expression, or just plain frightened. The fact is, such crowd phenomena do have an internal order. Watch the police try to maintain order and still get drawn into the dance.
Interestingly, in another video on this topic they mention that the year of the Castro revolution, the Conga did not come out b/c there was so much bloodshed. I would be interested to see how closely tied to cabildos these fiesta and parades are.
It’s worth noting that the foremost authority on Afro-Cuban society, in fact, the originator of the term “Afro-Cubano”, initially began his career as a criminologist. He studied and worked extensively around the turn of the last century in Europe and then returned to his native Havana. There, as a criminologist, he took up the study of the Afro-Cuban “cabildos”, which were seen by the authorities as the hang-outs of criminal gangs. What he discovered instead was that they were the locus of a deep African culture surviving on the margins of society from slavery (which ended in Cuba only in 1886) through oppression based on race and social class. He delved deeper and deeper into this world and wound up producing an incredible treasure of scholarship on Cuban society, Afro-Cuban culture, and the music of Cuba (see Ned Sublette’s The Music of Cuba, a magnificent and complete until the 1950s introduction to the subject)
These cabildos and other institutions of Afro-Cuban society are an example of masking, where Blacks masked the African content of their cultural institutions to avoid confrontation with authorities, the most famous of which is putting African gods in the guise of Catholic saints. Just google cabildo and you will see many illustrations of the parades of the cabildos and will easily see the connection between those and the Mardi Gras carnival.

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