The Quiet Riot

"It is unfair to expect Mayor Suarez not to be a Cuban in a moment of crisis," Fair insists. "It's contrary to human nature. If Mr. Mandela said that the grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan was his intimate friend, I wonder how many of us would have embraced him?

"There are some white people who simply will not respond to boycotts," Fair warns. "It makes them recoil, it repulses them. It's a hard-line approach, and it's an approach that in our experience puts you in a no-win situation. I've got a sneaking suspicion that this boycott will rise and then level off, and soon things will be back to business as usual."

Victor Curry, the pastor of Liberty City's Mount Carmel Baptist Church, disagrees. "I think for the most part there's pretty solid unity behind the boycott," he says. "Back in the 1950s, during the Montgomery bus boycotts, there were plenty of black people who wouldn't participate. There are those who have tried to divide us, but we will not be divided.

"It's one of those issues that has galvanized the community," Curry adds. "I've never in my life seen the African community - Jamaicans, Haitians, West Indians, and American blacks - come together like this. We have preachers standing in the pulpit telling their parishioners not to host their family reunions here. And the great thing about it is, it's not playing into the hands of those who expect us to take to the streets and fight and burn and then get arrested. The approach now is very different, and right now it has the powers that be a little baffled."

During Mandela's visit to Miami, you were the only person the South African leader embraced - physically hugged. Some people, blacks and whites, suggest that your demand for an apology has a personal dimension to it that they don't share. They say, "Mandela has gone back to South Africa, and we're still here." They say it may not be appropriate to put so much emphasis on a nonmaterial demand such as an apology.

First of all, let me say with regard to the boycott organizers, that every decision that is made is made by a vote. My vote has no more weight than anybody else's vote. I can assure you that there are people who are involved in organizing the boycott who are much more firm and much more demanding of an apology than I am. Number two, the arguments that have been made by the boycott organizers concerning an apology deal with the issue of dignity and respect.

The masses of black people are telling us - are telling the Miami Times, are telling WEDR or WMBM - that they have gone too far in disrespecting our leader, Nelson Mandela, and they must apologize. I would be willing, and I feel the boycott organizers would be willing, to put it to a poll of the people. I feel very, very confident that it would be in the neighborhood of eight-to-one demanding an apology for Mandela. When dignity and respect are on the line, they're nonnegotiable.

There may be the kind of criticism you're talking about from blacks as well as from whites, for two reasons. One, because some people sincerely feel that way. It's just a disagreement. "Mandela hugged H.T., he didn't touch anybody else, so H.T.'s doing this for this reason." But secondly, there are people out there who are saying this because they want to use it as a divisive tactic to defuse me as a spokesperson, to divide the boycott movement and then conquer it. I'm sure that some of this is coming from Merrett Stierheim and the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, because Stierheim has said several times in the media that he's going to use peer pressure to try to get the boycott defused.

Weren't you worried, or aren't you still worried, that someone's going to feel left out?

There's always that potential. The boycott took off much faster than we could anticipate. We had a schedule of our own, but what started happening is that the idea was so appealing to organizations that they began contacting us. Before we knew it, five, six, seven conventions had pulled out, and ten, twelve, twenty local organizations were canceling local affairs.

Yes, we're going to have some bruised feelings, but we have a policy of inclusion. We're bringing people in as fast as their organizations can pass resolutions supporting the boycott and they can agree to some representation. There are some people who will feel we are stealing their thunder; we're not including them. But you also have to realize that everybody can't be at the table. Everybody can't be a policymaker.

People are going to say we're grandstanding. People will say we're exclusive or elitist, people are going to say, "You never did a damn thing before, where are you coming from now?" People will say they've paid their dues and we haven't. People will say this is the wrong entity to handle it.

From the July 17 onset of the tourism boycott elected officials have been sidestepping the prickly issues presented by the sanction movement. When Miami Mayor Xavier Suarez didn't return phone calls from the Miami Herald in August, a reporter caught up with him outside the Omni Hotel. What did the mayor think city commissioners should do about the boycott? "What's the Herald doing?" Suarez retorted. Did the mayor think the boycott would fizzle? "What do the editor and the publisher of the Herald think?" Suarez snapped.

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