On November 14th, Cuban President Fidel Castro met for four hours with Kweisi Mfume, President and CEO, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and a delegation from the organization that included national board members and senior staff to discuss health, education and agricultural and trade issues in his country. The NAACP is visiting Cuba as part of a good will and trade mission. John Boyd, president of the National Black Farmers Association, is also a part of the mission and was present at the talks in the Cuban presidential headquarters.
Mfume said: "This is a good-will, people-to-people mission that seeks to build bridges with the people of Cuba. During our time here, we hope to learn more about Cuba's education and health care systems, which offer free schooling and medical care to all citizens. It is also important that the NAACP assist African American farmers in their quest to sell farm goods in this emerging market. Historically the NAACP has worked to establish people-to-people contacts, both inside and outside of the United States."
During the wide-ranging talks with the NAACP, Castro directed Pedro Alvarez, the director of ALIMPORT, the Cuban agency in charge of overseas purchase of food, to meet with the NAACP and Boyd. The purpose of that meeting is to explore ways for black farmers to win agriculture contracts with the Cuban government. In addition to Alvarez, the NAACP is scheduled to meet with the Cuban Minister of Foreign Trade, Raul de la Nuez.
"It is important that we reach out to Cuba to do business and to supply farm goods here," said Boyd, whose group represents 12,000 full-time and 7,000 part-time African American farmers in 38 states. Under the terms of the U. S. government trade embargo, food and agricultural products may be sold to Cuba on a cash only basis. Cuba is expected to purchase $165 million in food and agriculture products from American farmers, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Mfume said the NAACP would, among other things, investigate ways to encourage major U.S. agriculture companies that export to Cuba to partner with black farmers. Castro also talked with the NAACP about the struggle for equality of African Americans in the United States.
Mfume proposed yesterday that the NAACP convene a summit at the 2003 NAACP Annual Convention in Miami to discuss trade, education and health issues that impact Cuba, other Caribbean nations and Central America.
While in Cuba, Mfume said the NAACP would also work to establish links between the Federation of Cuban Women and WIN (Women in the NAACP), an auxiliary program of the NAACP that exclusively targets a wide range of issues affecting women.
The NAACP delegation plans meetings with Cuban health officials to study how this country's free health care system compares with the care-for-cost system in the United States. Although the U.S. has some of the best health care facilities and physicians in the world, African Americans continue to have a shorter average life span than whites and to suffer disproportionately from heart disease, kidney disease, hypertension, HIV/AIDS, certain types of cancer and other life-threatening diseases.
In addition to Castro, the NAACP met with six members of the Cuban Parliament, the National Assembly of the People's Power. Ramon Pez Ferro, the Assembly president of the Commission on International Relations, led the talks. Ferro said, "It is important for us to move ahead with the formal normalization of relations with the United States."
The NAACP delegation also met with the Rev. Raul Suarez, pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church and director of the Martin Luther King Center in Havana. Suarez, a member of the Progressive Baptist Convention, has worked since 1971 to eradicate racial prejudice.
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