Remembering When Black America Confronted The Powerful White Cuban Establishment In South Florida

Written by Ann Brown
Back in 1990, Nelson Mandela announced he would visit Miami, Florida, only four months after spending 27 years as a political prisoner in South Africa. Nelson Mandela receives a hug from 8-years-old Joi Addison of Miami Saturday, June 30, 1990 in the lobby of the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles. Mandela and his wife Winnie, right, were preparing to depart for Oakland, Calif., the last stop in their tour of the U.S. Three-year-old Clifton Addison joined his sister in bidding the Mandela’s farewell. (AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian)

Back in 1990, Nelson Mandela announced he would visit Miami, Florida, only four months after spending 27 years as a political prisoner in South Africa. This outraged the Cuban-Amerian communities in Miami-Dade County since Mandela had had a long and supportive relationship with Fidel Castro. The city of Miami was to give Mandela a proclamation and a key to the city.

“But a week before his planned June 28 visit, Mandela appeared on ABC TV and acknowledged his support for Moammar Gadhafi, Yasser Arafat, and Fidel Castro — setting off a string of events that people still recall more than two decades later,” The Miami Herald reported.

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The day after Mandela made the comments, Miami Commissioner Victor DeYurre demanded the city rescind its proclamation. And five Cuban-American mayors, including Miami Mayor Xavier Suarez, signed a letter protesting Mandela’s Upcoming visit and claimed Mandela’s comments were “beyond reasonable comprehension.” The decision to resent the proclamation went through.

This, of course, outraged the NAACP, and the head of the organization’s local chapter issued a warning that “to reject Mandela is to reject us.” Unable to come to terms with the local government, the NAACP started a boycott of Miami. 

The boycott hit Mami hard, especially after other major Black organizations decided not to hold events there. The National Bar Association, for example, canceled a convention planned for 1993 in Miami.  Some boycotted the entire state of Florida.

“The Greater Miami area ended up losing millions of dollars in convention and tourism business,” The Miami Herald reported.

On April 27, 1992, Miami, Florida, declared Nelson Mandela Day.

The boycott finally ended on May 12, 1993. 

Then in 2010, there was another clash been Black Americans and Cuban Americans when President Obama loosened travel restrictions to Cuba. 

“His critics accuse him of harboring socialist sentiments. And he is, of course, a member of the African American intelligentsia — a group that has tended, for the last half-century, to have a soft spot for the Cuban revolution,” The Los Angeles Times reported. 

Some accused Obama and Black American liberals of having a “love affair” with the Castro regime.

But not all Black Americans were for the travel embargo lifting.

“In a statement issued in November, luminaries including Princeton professor Cornel West, actress Ruby Dee, and director Melvin Van Peebles criticized the communist government for its ‘increased violations of civil and human rights for those Black activists in Cuba who dare raise their voices against the island’s racial system,’” The Los Angeles Times reported.

The statement was called “Acting on Our Conscience.” 

Still, many Black notables have been pro-Cuba, such as Rev. Jesse Jackson and actor Danny Glover.