African-American Group Challenges Cuba on Race

Juan O. Tamayo, Miami Herald, December 1, 2009

A group of prominent African Americans, traditionally sympathetic to the Cuban revolution, have for the first time condemned Cuba, demanding Havana stop its “callous disregard” for black Cubans and declaring that “racism in Cuba . . . must be confronted.”

“We know first-hand the experiences and consequences of denying civil freedoms on the basis of race,” the group declared in a statement. “For that reason, we are even more obligated to voice our opinion on what is happening to our Cuban brethren.”

Among the 60 signers were Princeton professor Cornel West, actress Ruby Dee Davis, film director Melvin Van Peebles, former South Florida congresswoman Carrie Meek, Dr. Jeremiah Wright, former pastor of President Barack Obama’s church in Chicago, and Susan Taylor, former editor in chief of Essence magazine.

NEW VOICES

The declaration, issued Monday, adds powerful new voices to the chorus pushing for change on the island, where Afro-Cubans make up at least 62 percent of the 11.4 million people yet are only thinly represented in the top leadership, scientific, academic and other ranks.

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A news release accompanying the statement acknowledged that “traditionally African Americans have sided with the Castro regime and condemned the United States’ policies, which explicitly work to topple the Cuban government.”

But more African Americans traveling to Cuba have been able “to see the situation for themselves,” said David Covin, one of the statement’s organizers and former president of the National Conference of Black Political Scientists.

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Alberto González, spokesman for Cuba’s diplomatic mission in Washington, said it was “absurd” to accuse of racism a Cuban government that “has done more for black Cubans than any other in all areas, including health, education and welfare.”

The African Americans’ statement was “part of a campaign of subversion against Cuba,” he added, designed to impact the administration of the first African-American president of the United States.

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AUTHOR’S CRUSADE

The statement was largely driven by Carlos Moore, a highly regarded Cuban author and black rights activist living in Brazil who has long criticized racial discrimination in Cuba.

Moore persuaded Abdias Nascimiento, a founder of Brazil’s black movement and longtime Castro supporter, to send Raúl Castro a letter earlier this year denouncing racism in Cuba, then appealed to friends and contacts in the African-American community to add their support.

Jamaican-Nigerian author Lindsay Barret, who confessed he had been “an almost uncritical supporter” of the Cuban government, also added his voice to the chorus of attacks on Cuba with a column he wrote for Nigeria’s The Sun newspaper.

“It is . . . both disappointing and distressing for me at this point to have to acknowledge that . . . Carlos Moore’s challenging assertions are beginning to ring true fifty years after we allowed ourselves to be enchanted by the glamour and courage of the Cuban insurgency,” Barret wrote.

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