- The Washington Times - Friday, February 27, 2004

The nation’s leading Hispanic civil rights groups yesterday denounced Rep. Corrine Brown, a Florida Democrat, for her statement this week that white men “all look alike to me.”

She included in her castigation Thursday Assistant Secretary of State Roger Noriega, a Hispanic.

“We find it disturbing that a fellow minority in a leadership position would make a statement like this,” said Brent Wilkes, executive director of the League of United Latin American Citizens. “It is not acceptable no matter what the conditions are to make a statement like this, regardless of political background, it is offensive, period.”

Mrs. Brown’s outburst occurred Thursday during a closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill between administration officials and members of Congress.

She became angry and began yelling at Mr. Noriega, the State Department’s top official for Latin America affairs. The black congresswoman called Mr. Bush’s approach to the crisis in Haiti “racist.”

She then denounced the Bush administration for sending “a bunch of white men” as representatives to the meeting — which surprised Mr. Noriega, a man of Mexican ancestry.

“As a Mexican-American, I deeply resent being called a racist and branded a white man,” the Associated Press reported Mr. Noriega saying. To which Mrs. Brown replied: “You all look alike to me.”

Rep. Henry Bonilla, Texas Republican, yesterday called for Mrs. Brown to step down, while the National Council of La Raza condemned the lawmaker and demanded that she apologize “formally to the Latino community.”

Mr. Bonilla said he has contacted members of the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, both Democratic groups, requesting that they censure Mrs. Brown.

“We will see in the coming days what happens,” he said. “But on the other side, I am not seeing any of the outrage that is called for.”

In a statement in English and Spanish, National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds of New York said Mrs. Brown’s comments were “downright deplorable.”

“What is even more shameful is the Democrat leadership’s deafening silence,” he added. “Such vile, thoughtless and racist remarks have no place in the United States Congress or in our society.”

Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, Hispanic Caucus Chairman Rep. Ciro D. Rodriguez of Texas, both Democrats, did not return calls seeking comment on Mrs. Brown yesterday.

A spokeswoman at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund refused to chastise Mrs. Brown, offering a simple clarification.

“We would disagree with her assessment that Latinos are white,” said spokeswoman J.C. Flores. “We consider Latinos a distinct ethnic and racial group.”

Mrs. Brown’s office immediately sent a personal letter of apology to Mr. Noriega shortly after her outburst. In the letter, the 57-year-old congresswoman also criticized the racial composition of the State Department team in charge of the Haitian situation.

“The State Department delegation that came to meet with us did not include any females or people of color,” she said. “Given the racial makeup of the people of Haiti, who are 95 percent of African descent, I felt the delegation and the delegation’s position were callous and out of touch with the needs (cultural and otherwise) of the Haitian people.”

A La Raza spokeswoman called Mrs. Brown’s letter a “a justification disguised as an apology.”

Mrs. Brown’s district covers parts of Jacksonville, Gainesville and Orlando. She is running for re-election this year with no opposition.

Also yesterday, black activist Randall Robinson called Secretary of State Colin L. Powell “an immoral traitor to his race” based on his policies toward Haiti and other black countries.

Black leaders on the left have disparaged U.S. policy in Haiti, from its refusal to send in a full peacekeeping force to its refusal to grant amnesty to Haitian refugees fleeing the unrest on the tropical island.

They call the amnesty policy racist because Haitians are refused while Cubans are allowed. Haiti is 95 percent black.

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