Miami is entering its peak tourism season with little hope for a prompt end to a seven-month tourism and convention boycott called by local black leaders.
The boycott was organized after local officials snubbed South African black nationalist leader Nelson Mandela during his June 28 visit. The influential local Cuban exile community had been outraged when Mandela praised Cuban leader Fidel Castro's strong anti-apartheid stance."The snub was a slap in the face of the black community here," local attorney H.T. Smith said.
Local black groups, outraged that Mandela received no official honors or welcomes in Miami or Miami Beach, asked their national affiliates to cancel or not consider holding conventions in Miami.
Miami Mayor Xavier Suarez, a Hispanic, recently said he was "pained" by the ethnic divisions in his city and regretted the snub. Most of Miami's population speaks Spanish, but Miami also has a large black community.
Smith and the other boycott organizers this week repeated that they wanted a direct apology and a retroactive welcome for Mandela to three cities - Miami, Miami Beach and Hialeah - before they will negotiate on a number of local grievances, including a complaint that blacks are underrepresented in the tourism industry work force.
Suarez said he found Smith's terms "offensive," without elaborating.
"We have extended an olive branch in an effort to give the elected officials an opportunity to extricate themselves from the quicksand that they developed," Smith responded. "I hope that they are intelligent enough to get out of the quicksand."
Florida gets the bulk of its visitors during the winter months. Tourism officials say the boycott has cost Miami's $7 billion tourism industry $5 million. Boycott organizers put the cost at $25 million.
Members of the boycott committee have labeled Miami "the Selma of the '90s," referring to confrontations in that Alabama city during the 1960s civil rights movement.
The leaders now plan to distribute a videotape of Miami police beating and arresting black Haitians during a demonstration last summer.
The boycott has taken a toll. So far, 11 conventions have pulled out and dozens have indicated they had removed Miami from consideration as a future site, organizers say.