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African American activists, including Jeremiah Wright and Cornel West, blast Cuba on racism

January 4, 2010 |  7:08 am

Jackson and Castro

There was a time when African American intellectuals had lots of good things to say about Fidel Castro and Cuba, often noting how the regime in Havana, for all its faults on human rights, had brought better education and healthcare to the masses. It wasn't unusual for black luminaries to visit the island (see photo above).

But as our colleague Richard Fausset reports, 60 black intellectuals have written a stinging statement, “Acting on Our Conscience,” condemning the persistent racial inequalities on the island. An excerpt:

We support Cuba’s right to enjoy national sovereignty, and unhesitatingly repudiate any attempt at curtailing such a right. However, at this historic juncture, we also do believe that we cannot sit idly by and allow for decent, peaceful and dedicated civil rights activists in Cuba, and the black population as a whole, to be treated with callous disregard for their rights as citizens and as the most marginalized people on the island.

Racism in Cuba, and anywhere else in the world, is unacceptable and must be confronted!

Among those signing the document were Cornel WestMelvin Van Peebles, Marva Allen and Jeremiah Wright Jr. As Fausset notes of the statement:

It was a far cry from those heady moments in 1960 and 1995 when Fidel Castro visited Harlem, receiving on both occasions a kind of hero’s welcome as liberator of the oppressed.

Over the decades, many black intellectuals have spoken favorably about the regime’s ability to bring better healthcare and education to some of the island’s poorest residents. A number of prominent figures, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson and actor Danny Glover, have visited the island.

What has changed, some of the statement’s signers say, is a heightened understanding outside Cuba of the plight of the island’s large black population, which remains increasingly marginalized economically and underrepresented in the highest echelons of government. But Obama may also be a factor. Suddenly, Cuba’s great enemy -- long denounced as hopelessly racist by the Castros -- has a black president, one who has toned down the U.S. rhetoric toward Cuba.

And the Cuban government’s reaction to the statement? Havana condemned it. Follow this link for Fausset’s full report on the statement.

-- Steve Padilla 

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Photo: The Rev. Jesse Jackson visits Cuban President Fidel Castro in 1993. Credit: Michael Cheers / Reuters