Like long-separated friends, NAACP President and CEO Kweisi Mfume and Cuban President Fidel Castro warmly greeted each other with an embrace at the Palace of the Revolution in Havana last November. It was the beginning of a four-hour meeting between the Cuban leader and a delegation of NAACP board members, national staff and John Boyd, president of the National Black Farmers' Association (NBFA).
The four-day goodwill and trade mission to the island nation was undertaken to improve trade relations between Cuba and African American farmers, establish ties between WIN (Women in the NAACP) and Cuban women groups and to study the successes of the Cuban universal health care system.
"The visit to Cuba was part of the NAACP's historical mission to establish people-to-people contacts both inside and outside of the United States," Mfume says. "The most fascinating and compelling part of this mission was our contact with everyday Cuban people."
Castro met twice with the delegation. At the initial meeting, the 76year-old leader, wearing his trademark green army fatigues, discussed a range of issues, including the Cuban health care system, which offers free medical care to all citizens; the need to train more African doctors to wage the fight against HIV/AIDS on the continent; the use of social workers as a tool to prevent crime; the need to educate more Afro Cubans so they can move into positions of authority in Cuba and the desire to do business with African American farmers who want to export their products to Cuba.
With Pedro Alvarez, director of ALIMPORT, Cuba's food import company, at his side, Castro promised that African American farmers would have full access to Cuba's $1.5 billion import agricultural market. Under terms of the United States trade embargo, agricultural products and food may be sold to Cuba on a cash-only basis. The U.S. Department of Agriculture expects Cuba to purchase $165 million in food and agricultural products from American farmers.
"President Castro's blessing of a deal to import food products from Black farmers was a significant moment," Mfume said after the trip. "I personally found it very heartening. He promised to do business with African American farmers, and so far he has kept his word."
Additional talks have been held since the trip to iron out the final agreements before signing a contract for rice, chicken quarters, flour and other food products to be exported to Cuba. In addition to helping the farmers secure trade deals, Mfume says, he will press major agricultural corporations that export to Cuba to partner with Black farmers. …