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Prominent black Americans condemn Cuba on racism

Posted on Tuesday, 12.01.09
Prominent black Americans condemn Cuba on racism
BY JUAN O. TAMAYO
jtamayo@ElNuevoHerald.com

A group of prominent black Americans has for the first time publicly
condemned Cuba's rights record, 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 said in a statement Monday.
"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 and Dr. Jeremiah Wright, former pastor of
President Barack Obama's church in Chicago.

The declaration could add 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.

"This is historic," said Enrique Patterson, an Afro-Cuban Miami author.
Although predominantly white Cuban exiles "tried to approach these
people before, they lacked credibility. Now they [black Americans] are
listening."

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 recent changes in black Americans' perceptions of Cuba, the growth
of racial activism on the island and the continuing complaints of racial
discrimination there created a need for the statement, said U.S. and
Cuban activists involved in the declaration.

More black 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.

An increase in the numbers of Cubans identifying themselves as racial
rights activists also has led more blacks to pay attention to the issue
on the island, the California State University at Sacramento professor
emeritus told El Nuevo Herald.

The twin developments helped to create "a critical mass of people who
have bucked the tradition of support [for Cuba] in the black community,"
Covin added.

At the same time, Afro-Cuban activists have been casting their struggle
more as an issue of civil rights than of human rights, said Victoria
Ruiz-Labrit, Miami spokeswoman for the Cuba-based Citizens' Committee
for Racial Integration.

"The human rights issue did not make a point of the race issue, and now
we have an evolution," she added. "Cuban blacks moved closer to the term
'civil rights' because those are the rights that the movement here in
the U.S. made a point of — the race issues."

Alberto González, spokesman for the Cuban 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 black Americans' statement was "part of a campaign of subversion
against Cuba," he added, designed to impact the administration of the
first black president of the United States.

The four-page "Declaration of African-American support for the Civil
Rights Struggle in Cuba'' demands that Raúl Castro end "the unwarranted
and brutal harassment of black citizens in Cuba who are defending their
civil rights."

"We cannot be silent in the face of increased violations of civil and
human rights for those black activists in Cuba who dare raise their
voices against the island's racial system," it added. "As of late, these
isolated, courageous civil rights advocates have been subject to
unprovoked violence, state intimidation and imprisonment."

The statement also demanded the immediate release of Darsi Ferrer, a
well-known Afro-Cuban physician and activist jailed since July while
under investigation on charges of illegal possession of two sacks of
cement. It called Ferrer a political prisoner.

The black Americans added that while they support Cuba's right to
sovereignty "and unhesitatingly repudiate any attempt at curtailing such
a right," they "cannot sit idly by and allow for peaceful, dedicated
civil rights activists in Cuba, and the black population as a whole, to
be treated with callous disregard for their rights as citizens and as
the most marginalized people on the island."

"Racism in Cuba, and anywhere else in the world, is unacceptable and
must be confronted," their statement declared.

A "briefing sheet'' issued with the statement noted that Afro-Cubans
make up 85 percent of the prison population and 60 of the 200 political
prisoners, but only 20 percent of the Havana University professors and
own only 2 percent of the land in private hands.

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 black community to add their support.

"Without this historic figure, no one would have listened," said
Patterson, who predicted that other high-profile black Americans will
soon add their signatures to the statement.

Prominent black Americans condemn Cuba on racism – Cuba –
MiamiHerald.com (1 December 2009)
http://www.miamiherald.com/news/americas/cuba/v-fullstory/story/1360232.html

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