- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 4, 2002

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People says it has not discussed opening a chapter in Cuba with Fidel Castro's government.
NAACP President Kweisi Mfume, who led a delegation that visited the island last month, said in a statement released last week that "we had no discussions with the Cuban government officials or citizens regarding a possible NAACP branch in that country during our recent goodwill and trade mission to that nation. Our four-day trip was part of the NAACP's historical mission to establish people-to-people contacts both inside and outside the United States."
The statement came in response to a story in The Washington Times on Nov. 27 quoting an NAACP official about the organization's plans to open an office in the communist island nation.
"Cuba likes the idea of an NAACP chapter established there, and we are very open to it. We have no timeline on this and haven't set a date to open the office," Hilary Shelton, director of the NAACP's Washington office, told The Times.
Contacted yesterday about Mr. Mfume's statement, Mr. Shelton said there are no plans at this time to establish a chapter.
It was not clear whether The Times' front-page story had changed any plans by the NAACP to locate in Cuba, and Mr. Mfume did not return calls for clarification.
"The purpose of going was to interface with Cuban officials, Cuban organizations and the people to develop a relationship that would do a number of things, including establishing a familiarity and open the door of opportunity that will allow African-American farmers to sell their agricultural goods to the Cuban government," Mr. Shelton said.
Mr. Shelton was part of an 18-member delegation that visited Cuba and included Mr. Mfume and several members of the National Black Farmers Association. The delegation met for four hours with Mr. Castro and left with a promise from the dictator to buy produce from black farmers in the United States.
"President Fidel Castro promised to establish trade links with black farmers, and it appears he has kept his word," Mr. Mfume said in a statement after the meeting.
The NAACP, the 93-year-old civil rights organization, has been derided by mostly conservative critics for not using its considerable political muscle to uphold the rights of Cubans of African descent, who make up about 70 percent of the island's population.
Several of those groups lauded the idea of an NAACP presence in Cuba last week.
Miami Mayor Alex Penelas, a Cuban-American Democrat who has been outspokenly critical of the Castro regime, said, "The NAACP being there is a great idea. The NAACP is known for being fair and objective, and if they are, they will find rampant violations of human and civil rights."
Black leaders, mostly Democrats, have long supported the Castro regime, making frequent visits as guests of the Cuban government. No U.S. civil rights groups have established a presence in Cuba, which has been slow to install black officials in its government.
In April, the United States joined a coalition of 16 nations formed by the U.N. Commission on Human Rights in censuring Cuba for its human rights record. Cuba condemned the resolution, saying it was the handiwork of the United States, and rejected suggestions of a visit from a human rights monitor.

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