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Cuba blasts US black leaders for charges of racism

Posted on Friday, 12.04.09
Cuba blasts US black leaders for charges of racism
By WILL WEISSERT
Associated Press Writer

HAVANA — Cuba hit back Thursday at 60 prominent U.S. black leaders who
challenged its race record, with island writers, artists and official
journalists calling the criticism an attack on their country's national
identity.

The five-page signed statement, distributed by Cuban government press
officials in an e-mail, defended Cuba's progress in providing social and
personal opportunities for blacks and people of mixed race.

But it focused more on Cuba's past than the racial inequalities of
contemporary Cuban society that came under criticism from Americans such
as Princeton University professor Cornel West; Jeremiah Wright, former
pastor of President Barack Obama's Chicago church; and Susan Taylor,
former editor of Essence magazine.

Cuba's response said the country has proven its racial credentials by
sending troops to Angola and Ethiopia during the 1970s and offering free
education through exchange programs and medical schooling to youngsters
from Africa. It also recycled past Fidel Castro comments on race and
noted that the 1959 revolution his bearded rebels "dismantled the
institutional and judicial bases of a racist society."

It also accused the signers of the U.S. statement, which was released
Tuesday, of being unaware that Cuba offered to send medical assistance
after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans – a gesture the U.S.
State Department turned down.

"To say that among us exists a 'callus disregard' for black Cubans, that
their civil liberties are restricted 'for reasons of race,' and to
demand an end to 'the unwarranted and brutal harassment of black
citizens in Cuba who are defending their civil rights' would seem a
delusional farce," Cuba's response read.

It accused the U.S. black leaders of being part of a campaign "that is
attempting to suffocate our sovereignty and national identity."

The reponse was signed by, among others, Miguel Barnet, a renowned
author on race who heads the Union of Cuban Writers and Artists.

Many artists and leaders in the U.S. black community have traditionally
supported Castro's government, but this week's statement said that
"racism in Cuba … must be confronted."

It also called for the release of Darsi Ferrer, a black physician and
political opposition leader who is celebrated in the U.S. but virtually
unknown on the island.

Ferrer was arrested in July for obtaining black-market building
materials to repair his home in a country where the state controls
nearly all construction. Human rights activists say officials prosecuted
Ferrer for a crime they often overlook in order to silence him.

Government statistics put the island's black or mixed-race population at
about 35 percent, though some U.S. academics believe it is far higher.

While blacks hold many seats in Cuba's rubber-stamp parliament, there is
virtually no Afro-Cuban representation at the highest levels of the
communist government.

The Cuban statement said the island is not a racist society, saying
blacks have opportunities "like never before in our country."

Cuba blasts US black leaders for charges of racism – World AP –
MiamiHerald.com (4 December 2009)
http://www.miamiherald.com/news/world/AP/story/1364976.html

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