As Miami Cubans continue to protest in solidarity with those in their homeland, some are remembering another protest involving white Miami Cubans more than 30 years ago.
After being released from prison in 1990, legendary revolutionary Nelson Mandela stopped in Miami as part of an international tour to thank supporters of the South African freedom movement. White Miami Cubans denounced Mandela for being a friend of Fidel Castro and he was snubbed by city officials.
Mandela arrived in Miami on June 28, 1990. While the city’s Black community was excited to be on Mandela’s list of stops, white Miami Cubans condemned the international icon due to comments he’d made the previous week praising the Cuban dictator.
“Our friend Cuba, which has helped us in training our people, gave us resources to help out with our struggle, trained our people as doctors,” Mandela said, describing Castro’s support during the fight to end apartheid. “You have not come to our country. When are you coming?” Mandela asked Castro.
Instead of the warm, congenial welcome due a hero of his stature, Mandela was met with throngs of angry protestors upon his arrival and snubbed by Miami’s local government, most of whom were Cuban.
An official proclamation that was originally planned was revoked. Mandela was given no official welcome to the city when he spoke at a Miami Beach labor convention, the Sun-Sentinel reported.
The Black community in Miami was deeply offended by the disrespect and organized a boycott in response. The chasm between Miami’s Black and Cuban communities deepened.
H.T. Smith, a respected Miami attorney, was one of the leaders of the Boycott Miami Campaign. In an article in the Miami Herald published in 2020, he remembered the “quiet riot” as “a peaceful and effective way for the Black community to express its feelings of disappointment and disgust at being so disrespected.”
“This well-organized and disciplined boycott lasted 1,000 days. Greater Miami lost more than $100 million in tourism revenues as scores of organizations, and individuals refused to do business with the local tourism industry,” Smith wrote.
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The city’s Cuban-born Mayor Xavier Suarez at the time (father to Miami’s current Mayor Francis Suarez), only offered his regrets over how the situation was handled after the boycott adversely affected the city’s finances. He stopped short of apologizing to Mandela, however.
“Words can barely begin to describe the pain I feel over the division which has occurred since Nelson Mandela visited this community,” Suarez said. “I searched for a formula that adequately expressed my regret that the matter was not handled better.”
Despite being shunned in Miami, Mandela continued to praise Castro and Cuba as an ally.
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