- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 27, 2002

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People plans to open an office in Havana.
"Cuba likes the idea of an NAACP chapter established there, and we are very open to it," said Hilary Shelton, director of the NAACP's Washington office. "We have no timeline on this and haven't set a date to open the office."
He added that establishing a chapter on the island run by communist dictator Fidel Castro is a "great move."
Mr. Shelton was part of an 18-member delegation that visited Cuba for four days this month. The group included NAACP Executive Director Kweisi Mfume and several members of the National Black Farmers Association.
The contingent visited dissidents, university students and government agents.
It also held a four-hour meeting 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.
The delegation visited the island with the belief that "policies were changing in Cuba," Mr. Shelton said. "This is a country in which 70 percent of the population is of African descent. We have a lot of kinship with those people."
Trade and visitation to Cuba are restricted by U.S. law, but the NAACP is likely to use legal provisions that allow religious groups to establish churches there.
Mr. Shelton said the NAACP office in Cuba, like the 500,000-member organization's 1,700 other branches, would be staffed by volunteers.
Black leaders mostly Democrats have long supported the Castro regime, making frequent visits as guests of the Cuban government.
Castro foes both here and in Cuba have urged black leaders to consider the enormous number of black Cuban dissidents.
"The NAACP, if it is really doing civil rights work there, is needed," said Omar Lopez, director of the Human Rights Project with the Cuban American National Foundation. "I have never heard of Kweisi Mfume trying to improve the lives of blacks under the Castro regime."
That Cuban government, Mr. Lopez said, has refused to help its own black farmers.
An NAACP presence is a "good idea," countered Wayne Smith, former head of the U.S. Interests Section in Cuba from 1979 to 1982. "No matter what the census says, Cuba is a black majority nation."
Under U.S. Census provisions, Cubans are counted as Hispanics.
Since taking power in 1959, the political hierarchy in Cuba has been criticized by human rights groups for the treatment of its citizens.
Critics say the regime has not made high-ranking government positions available to blacks.
"They are among the most repressed [people] in that country," said Miami-Dade County Mayor Alex Penelas, a Cuban descendant. "And 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."
When Mr. Penelas heard the NAACP was making a trip to the communist country, he called Mr. Mfume and urged him to meet with dissidents.
"I told him that they needed to hear both sides of the story," Mr. Penelas said. "I told him that they needed to get into the country with the real people."


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