City officials shunned Nelson Mandela on his arrival overnight in Miami, where the South African activist's embrace of Cuba's Fidel Castro has driven a wedge between blacks and Cuban-Americans.
About 300 demonstrators Thursday joined an estimated 2,000 people outside a convention center where Mandela was to speak. The demonstrators, mostly Cuban-Americans, waved placards protesting Mandela's praise of Castro."Mandela is a traitor," said Ricardo Acabader, who wrapped himself in the Cuban flag. "I'm here to fight for human rights."
Police kept the two groups apart, although they shouted back and forth with megaphones and at least one fistfight was broken up.
Mandela, who earlier Wednesday laid a wreath at the grave of Martin Luther King Jr. in Atlanta, arrived at Miami's airport just before midnight to none of the fanfare with which he was met in the four other U.S. cities he has visited.
"We do feel somewhat embarrassed," Gerald McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said after welcoming Mandela. "Embarrassed for the state of Florida and embarrassed for Dade County."
A crowd of about 200 people who greeted Mandela outside his hotel early Thursday chanted "Free South Africa" and then "Free South Florida" and finally "Where is Suarez?" - a reference to Miami Mayor Xavier Suarez, who denounced Mandela for his support of Castro.
"We're here to show him our love and appreciation," said Doris Dorcilini. "We're unhappy that our local politicians are not doing the same. We're going to remember this when they need us."
Mandela, 71, was scheduled to speak to the AFSCME convention, but his speech was delayed 21/2 hours. The 1.25 million-member union has been a strong supporter of Mandela's African National Congress. He was to head to Detroit later in the day.
Inside the convention hall, only a small group of Miami-area officials waited for Mandela, including Dade County Commissioner Charles Dusseau.
After Mandela last week reaffirmed his support for Castro, the Miami City Commission, with three Cuban-American members, dropped plans for a welcome proclamation. Five Cuban-American mayors issued a statement condemning his support for Castro.