Tuesday, July 15, 2003

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. — Cuban dissidents yesterday accused the NAACP of a double standard in its promotion of human rights, defending those of blacks in South Africa while embracing — rather than condemning — the treatment of blacks in Cuba.

“I have never heard of a chapter of the NAACP taking an interest in the Cuban Negro,” said Eusebio Penalver Mazorra, a black Cuban who spent 28 of his 69 years as a jailed dissident in the communist nation.

“While they moved in a precise way for solidarity to get rid of apartheid in South Africa, we have never received their support, even though we have asked for it.”

Mr. Mazorra is part of the Municipalities of Cuba in Exile, an umbrella group for several factions of the Cuban community who now live in the United States after being jailed under the regime of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.

With the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People holding its 94th annual convention here, Cuban interest groups have lobbied for a meeting with its president, Kweisi Mfume, who yesterday told The Washington Times he understood the perception of such a double standard.

“As long as they know that there were other groups also advocating in South Africa. It wasn’t just the NAACP,” said Mr. Mfume.

With regard to those jailed by Mr. Castro, “Our concern is right up there with everyone else’s,” Mr. Mfume said. “I think there needs to be a diplomatic effort here, and I think it will take negotiation, and most likely through back-channel communications. But something has to come out of this to help relations between the two nations.”

The United States maintains no diplomatic relations with Cuba, and trade and travel are severely limited.

Of the many overtures made to him, Mr. Mfume yesterday chose to spend 90 minutes with the Cuban American National Foundation, a group that is seen by some Cubans as too mainstream but that still wields a powerful anti-Castro stance.

“What we did was to establish a starting point,” said CANF Executive Director Joe Garcia. The meeting was attended by some of Mr. Mfume’s staff, as well as members of the local Cuban community.

“He is aware of what is going on in Cuba,” Mr. Garcia said. “But I am aware that we cannot deprogram him in one hour. Clearly, the debate in Cuba is one of civil rights and justice. But what we did was create a point of reference.”

Anti-Castro groups here have stepped up calls for international action against Cuba for human rights violations since the April execution of three black Cubans who attempted to hijack a boat to Miami.

The execution drew the condemnation of the international community and renewed accusations of racism in the Castro regime, which seized power in 1959. Cuba is 70 percent black, but few blacks occupy high ranks in Mr. Castro’s government.

The NAACP did not comment on the executions.

As Mr. Garcia met with Mr. Mfume yesterday, Venezuelan human-rights activist Ana Maria Lamar accused the NAACP of hypocrisy for the trade agreement it struck with Mr. Castro during a fall visit to the island.

During that trip, a delegation of 18, including NAACP officials and leaders of black farmer groups, made a deal under which black American farmers would sell their goods to Cuba.

“[Mr. Mfume] is helping to subsidize a regime while blacks are being imprisoned and executed,” said Miss Lamar.

“We are asking that the NAACP be consistent in its human rights policies,” she said. “Maybe now that the national leaders are here and preparing to hold a Caribbean summit, they will use what we know about how Castro treats blacks as they speak.”

Mr. Mfume said that there are ways to deal with Castro’s actions.

“What we hope we can do is to work in coalition with these [Cuban human rights] groups,” he said.

Despite his tough talk on Castro yesterday, Mr. Mfume has praised Cuba in several discussions this week.

Mr. Mfume recounted a fall trip to Cuba during a press conference over the weekend: “We met with African American students who matriculated from Cuba — by the way, at no cost — from all over the U.S. because they couldn’t get into medical school here because of this system that still sometimes creates impediments.”

He has also lauded Cuba’s national health care plan and praised its public education.

On Monday, Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas, himself a Cuban, further inflamed some local Cubans by apologizing to South African leader Nelson Mandela for a snub by Miami city officials here during a visit in 1990. Officials refused to welcome Mr. Mandela because of his close ties with Mr. Castro.

The apology was made during the mayor’s opening remarks at the convention.

Mr. Mandela had enraged the officials with comments he made in Havana about Cuban exiles in Miami.

“Who are they to call for an observance of human rights in Cuba?” Mr. Mandela asked in a speech. “They kept quiet for 42 years when human rights were attacked in South Africa.”

“Where is our apology from Mandela?” asked Ernesto Diaz Rodriguez, a Cuban immigrant. “Our mayor, a Cuban, apologizes for no reason. And he does not mention the oppression of blacks in our country.”

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