Afro-Cuban Delegation Meets With Congressional Black Caucus

By Jim Burns | July 7, 2008 | 8:09 PM EDT

( - A delegation of Afro-Cubans, four from the Miami area and two from the Washington, D.C. area, spent Tuesday on Capitol Hill meeting with members of the Congressional Black Caucus, hoping to convince them that Fidel Castro is bad for Cuba and should improve his human rights record there.

Omar Lopez Montenegro of the Cuban Civic National Union was among the delegation. He was told by the Castro government to leave Cuba several years ago and has lived in the United States ever since.

"We want to explain to the American people what the real situation is in Cuba," Montenegro said at a Capitol Hill news conference.

"Blacks in Cuba are unhappy with the system of government. A majority of blacks living in Cuba are dissidents. Many blacks cannot get government positions in the arts or politics because of the Castro government. The only field where blacks have excelled in Cuba is in sports," he said.

Other members of the delegation did not speak English and their remarks were translated by interpreters from the Cuban-American National Foundation, an anti-Castro group that was escorting the delegation around Capitol Hill as they called on members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

The delegation was scheduled to meet with Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), chairperson of the caucus. Reps. Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-Ill.), Carrie Meek (D-Fla.), Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.), Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.), Earl Hilliard (D-Ala.), and Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.).

Selby McCash, a spokesman for Bishop, said the delegation met with the Georgia congressman but Bishop had no comment on the meeting. Spokespeople for other CBC members wouldn't confirm or deny that their bosses had met with the delegation.

The group also lunched with Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), a Cuban exile and one of Castro's most vociferous critics in the House.

The delegation carried a letter to caucus members from Bertha Antunez, the founder of a Cuban dissident group calling itself the "Mothers for General Amnesty."

In the letter, Antunez said, "The Cuban government tries to fool the world with siren songs depicting racial equality in our country. But it is all a farce, as I and my family can attest, having suffered from the systematic racism directed at us by Castro's followers."

Her brother, Jorge, according to the letter has "suffered the scourge of racial discrimination in every prison he has been condemned to. The beatings are always accompanied by racial epithets. They set dogs on him. They deny him medical attention. They kept him from attending his mother's funeral."

In many of its broadcasts, Radio Havana, the official voice of the Castro government has denounced the United States and its racial policies. However, Antunez thinks the Castro government shouldn't be pointing the finger at the U.S., because Castro hasn't treated blacks very well in Cuba.

"Fidel Castro has often denounced racial discrimination in U.S. penitentiaries and has decried the high percentage of blacks in the U.S. prison population. Yet in Cuba, the percentage of blacks in the prison population hovers between 80 and 89 percent, conservatively estimated," he said.

Antunez also believes the Castro government practices "racial profiling."

"The racist mentality is so ingrained among Cuba's agents of repression that when mixed race groups are stopped on the street, only the blacks are asked for their identification papers," he said.

"I've been told by the political police, 'because you're black you have to be grateful to revolution for making you equal to whites.' To which I've answered, before God we are all equal, but among men the only thing that differentiates us is our conduct, not the color of our skin," Antunez added.

"The only think I have to thank the (Cuban) revolution for is for restoring the yoke of slavery that my ancestors lived under," he concluded.