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We Welcomed Mandela in the Streets of Miami

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December 9, 2013
Andrés Gómez, director of Areítodigital

Miami – The death of Nelson Mandela recently produced an extraordinary and ridiculous display of historical revisionism from the right in Miami. It came from the white Americans remaining in this city -mainly represented by the Miami Herald- and the most vigorous and hegemonic right: the Cuban American right. This also reflects what happened in the rest of the country, especially in the mainstream press, concerning the life and work of Mandela following his death. It would seem that the governments of the United States were in the forefront of the struggle against apartheid …

This recent show of historical revisionism has to do with the position taken by the Cuban American right against Mandela as a result of his visit to Miami in June 1990, a few months after spending 27 years in prison for his responsibilities as the main leader of his people in the cruel struggle against apartheid. At that time, these leaders of the Cuban American right, with visceral hatred, denounced him as an evil entity; and now, those still living, have -with sanctimonious faces and phrases- publicly praised him as a hero and a saint of the magnitude of Gandhi.

On June 20, 1990, Mandela began in New York City his first tour of the United States. It was an eleven-day program of visits to eight cities, including Miami. Miami was included because Mandela was the guest of honor at that year’s meeting of one of the most powerful unions in this country: the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, AFSCME, which had supported the struggle against apartheid. That summer the meeting was held at precisely the Miami Beach Convention Center. Let us remember that the struggle against apartheid was still on because apartheid was not banned in South Africa until 1991.

The Cuban-American right, then headed by Jorge Mas Canosa, who was the former president of the powerful Cuban American National Foundation, followed the line of the U.S. government that for years had supported in a thousand ways the apartheid regime and other counterrevolutionary movements in Africa. This crowd considered Mandela then -and inwardly considers him today- a terrorist, the leader of a powerful black terrorist organization: the African National Congress, an ally of Cuba’s revolutionary government. The U.S. government regarded the African National Congress in the same way.

In the first days of his short, busy tour, while still in New York, Mandela made a statement acknowledging the support received for years by the African National Congress in its struggle against apartheid from the governments of Cuba, Libya and the Front for the Liberation of Palestine. His statement included a logical refusal to repudiate the top leaders of these governments. Ethically and politically Mandela had to be true to those who accompanied his people and fought with him in the unequal struggle for their freedom.

In Miami the Cuban-American counter revolutionary leaders took advantage of these statements by Mandela and -in one of their delusions of arrogance- made ​​the stupid decision of not conferring the black African leader the legitimate honors due to distinguished guests when officially visiting a city.

The Miami City Municipality -three of whose five members were Cuban Americans, and the five Cuban American mayors from Dade County, including those of Miami and Hialeah- refused to adopt a resolution giving an official welcome to Mandela and in a joint statement these five mayors denounced and condemned the South African leader for not speaking out against the Cuban revolution and compelling him to do so.

For more than four days before the arrival of Mandela to Miami, the Cuban American radio and television stations and, through these, the leaders of the counterrevolutionary political and civic organizations and the Cuban American elected officials were disparaging of Mandela, the African National Congress and all who supported the black South African people and the African National Congress in its struggle against apartheid.

An extremely dangerous political and social storm burst out. The relations between the African American and Cuban American communities had been strained for decades. Any confrontation would have exploded a tinderbox of old resentments. The African American community, through its leaders and grassroots organizations denounced the position and statements of the counterrevolutionary Cuban American leadership and considered these a grave insult to the rest of the community, especially to them, and therefore unacceptable .

On June 26, a day before the arrival of Mandela in Miami, the Antonio Maceo Brigade, at a press conference, denounced the attitude of the government officials and, on behalf of all other Cubans in Miami who did not share those positions, joined the call of the African American community to give a worthy welcome to Mandela.

And so it was. Members of the Antonio Maceo Brigade and the Alliance of Workers of the Cuban Community, with posters welcoming Mandela on behalf of the Miami Cubans, joined in a jubilant crowd estimated at 4,000 people, predominantly African Americans, to give a worthy welcome to Nelson Mandela in Miami, on June 28 outside the Miami Beach Convention Center, site of the AFSCME meeting. There, Mandela, as guest of honor, made his speech to more than 6,000 trade unionists and guests. The congregation in the streets outside the Center was the greatest manifestation of the African American community that had ever taken place in Miami. That day, the Cuban-American right expressed their rejection to Mandela and a little over a hundred people gathered, also outside the Convention Center, in an area heavily guarded by police.

But that’s not all about how the Cuban-American right and its leaders are now hypocritically trying to distort the history of Nelson Mandela ‘s visit to Miami in June 1990. What they do not talk about is that the personal security agents detailed to Mandela by the U.S. Department of State estimated that the life of Mandela was in great danger during that visit to Miami, particularly by the ever present threat from active Cuban American extreme right terrorists who lived in Miami. Therefore, from the Miami Beach Convention Center they took him to the airport and boarded a plane to Detroit, the city where his next public event would take place. That is why Mandela could not attend another mass rally in Miami where he was going to be speaking in a Liberty City park, the largest African American ghetto of Miami. They never talk about that.

But we certainly were present in the streets, along with thousands of others in a grassroots welcoming to Nelson Mandela on his visit to Miami. And we did it to honor him for his indefatigable struggle and the wise leadership of his people to achieve their freedom.

To conclude this work, to better remember and record that momentous visit of Nelson Mandela to our city, I present below the Press Release of the Antonio Maceo Brigade released in Miami in a singularly packed press conference on 26 June 1990:

“There are several reasons why we have convened this press conference. First is the shameful action of the City of Miami Council which refused to offer the due official recognition to a distinguished guest of our city, Nelson Mandela. Nelson Mandela is a hero in the struggle of the African people for freedom: he is an example for all men and women in our planet.

This decision of the City of Miami Council makes it equal, in the moral order, to the City of Pretoria Council and all other municipalities dominated by the apartheid regime in South Africa.

This decision is no surprise to us. It was to be expected from the kind of people who make up the town hall: individuals who support, to cite just one example, the release of terrorist Orlando Bosch, and thus become accomplices of the murderous objectives of this shameless character.

This decision is also an offense to all the men and women of good will in our city, and especially an insult to our African-American community that has been so patient and always respectful despite the sufferings and impositions during our more than thirty one years in south Florida.

For these reasons we make use of our democratic right by joining the feelings of thousands of Cubans and other Latin Americans, as well as of thousands of other citizens of our city to give a warm popular welcome to Nelson Mandela. We hope you join us in this welcome to Mandela on Thursday, the 28th, in front of the Miami Beach Convention Center, at seven in the morning. ” / /

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