Kweisi Mfume, President and CEO, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), said an agreement was reached earlier this week with the Cuban government to purchase some of its food products directly from African American farmers. The accord represents a major breakthrough in the NAACP's efforts to help black farmers win business in new and emerging markets. Mfume and John Boyd, president, the National Black Farmers Association, announced the deal after meeting with Pedro Alvarez, director of ALIMPORT, Cuba's food import company.
"This is an historic announcement and one that I personally find very heartening," Mfume said. "President Fidel Castro promised to establish trade links with black farmers, and it appears he has kept his word."
Mfume is leading a good will and trade mission to Cuba that includes three members of the NAACP National Board of Directors, senior staff and Boyd. Castro, after a lengthy meeting earlier this week with the NAACP, promised that African American farmers would have full access to Cuba's $1.5 billion import agricultural market.
Alvarez told Boyd that if African American farmers can deliver the many tons of food that Cuba wants to buy, "you will not be standing in line behind anyone." Alvarez said Cuba would be buying more than a billion dollars worth of food in the coming year. Boyd and Alvarez will hold additional talks to iron out the final agreements before signing a contract for food products such as rice, chicken quarters, flour and other grocery products.
Boyd said, "On behalf of 12,000 full-time and 7,000 part-time black farmers, we certainly appreciate the opportunity to do business in Cuba." He thanked Mfume and the NAACP for its support in this venture. Black farmers met previously with the Cuban government, but were unable to win a contract before this week. Mfume said the NAACP would press major agricultural corporations that export to Cuba to partner with black farmers. Under U.S. law enacted in 2000, Cuba is allowed to make cash purchases of food and agricultural products from United States farmers.
"African American farmers want to aggressively pursue business opportunities in Cuba the same as major farm cooperatives and agribusiness corporations that have traveled here and sold hundreds of millions of dollars worth of food to Cuba in the past two years," Mfume said.
The four-day trip is part of the NAACP's overall objective to establish people-to-people contacts both inside and outside of the United States. "The most fascinating and compelling part of this mission is our contact with everyday Cuban people," Mfume said. Moreover, the NAACP is examining Cuban education and free health care systems. The NAACP group, which includes Dr. Willarda Edwards, director, NAACP Health Advocacy, met yesterday with Cuban health officials and toured the Hermanos Ameijeiras Clinical-Surgical Hospital. The delegation also met with education officials and toured the University of Information and Computer Science, a recently opened institution that is being built on a former Soviet Union military base about 30-minutes from Havana.
On November 15 the delegation was scheduled to visit the Latin American School of Medical Sciences and an agricultural cooperative. A meeting is planned with the Federation of Cuban Women to help establish links between Cuban women's organizations and WIN (Women in the NAACP), an auxiliary program directed by Dr. Thelma Daley.
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