- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 1, 2001

Black Cuban dissidents yesterday urged members of the Congressional Black Caucus, which has taken an interest in expanding U.S. relations with Cuba, to also take a leading role in demanding Cuba end discrimination against its black residents.

A handful of dissidents came to the Capitol to lobby caucus members and to tell them a part of the Cuban story they say hadn't been relayed of a glass ceiling in employment, poorer living conditions for black Cubans and a disproportionate number of blacks in jail, particularly among political prisoners.

"After these meetings we're going to have, they will not be able to say they didn't know about it," said Omar Lopez Montenegro, one of the dissidents who came to the United States nine years ago.

The caucus has been vocal in calling for an end to U.S. sanctions that prohibit trade with Cuba and ban travel to the island nation. Several members have traveled there and met with President Fidel Castro, and returned with praise for Cuban successes such as universal health care and low infant mortality.

But the dissidents, most of whom spoke only Spanish and had their comments translated by organizers for the group, said caucus members were taken on planned tours and didn't see the run-down areas where black residents lived.

"If they are really concerned about the fate of the situation of black people in Cuba, they should visit all the people in Cuba," said Mr. Montenegro, one of those who spoke English. "We are not telling them 'Don't go to Cuba,' we are telling them 'Go to the real Cuba.'"

Phone calls to the offices of several caucus members scheduled to meet with the dissidents were not returned yesterday.

The group is asking the black caucus to lobby Cuba to end employment discrimination in its tourist industry, to lobby for the release of black Cuban dissident prisoners and to support legislation in Congress that would send aid to dissidents in Cuba.

One of the dissidents, Herrera Macuran, said the population of Cuba is 60 percent black and 37 percent white, but the proportion in leadership positions is reversed. Groups where blacks make up a bigger percent is among dissidents and those in jail, the group said.

The dissidents also said lifting U.S. sanctions and letting Americans travel to Cuba wouldn't help black Cubans economically, since they are kept in the lower-tier tourism jobs.

"Black Cubans in Cuba they know they're being segregated; they know they're being discriminated against," Mr. Montenegro said.

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