HAVANA–Huey P. Newton, the 34-year-old co-founder of the Black Panther Party who has been in exile in Cuba for more than a year, is now awaiting the okay from his lawyers to return to return to the United States and stand trial for a bizarre string of violent crimes.
In an hour-long interview here, Newton told the AFRO that, although he was “very happy” in Cuba and appreciative of the red-carpet treatment Fidel Castro’s socialist government had accorded him, he is ready to return home and face the charges against him–charges to which he says “I’m not guilty.” Newton also revealed that he “was about to go back” to the United States a few months ago after his party “had gathered enough information about the false charges.”
But he said his lawyers told him to forget that trip back after they learned that former Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver, back in jail in the United States after ending a seven-year self-imposed exile last Nov. 18, was scheduled to testify in Washington on terrorism and subversive activities in the United States. “I was about to go back and face the charges”–but then “renegade scab Eldridge Cleaver returned,” Newton said. “So my attorneys came in and they advised me to wait until after he (Cleaver) goes before the House of Internal Affairs Committee to see what charges might come out of that. “I am in a position to wait and see.”
But waiting isn’t Newton’s game. While his ever present smile and easy manner give the outward impression of a man at peace with himself, Newton is an intense, restless young man who must deal with an issue head-on once he has made a decision. He is also homesick, yearning to be back with relatives and friends and to operate from the American scene which is more familiar to him. I got this impression of Newton after meeting him at dinner here, interviewing him and later chatting with him over drinks with other newspaper colleagues who were a part of an American delegation who visited Cuba a couple of weeks ago.
I met Newton in the lobby of the Havana Riveria here–a luxury, Miami Beach-type facility that was built by American gangsters just before Castro led the Cuban people to independence in 1959 after three decades of American domination and exploitation of the island 90 miles from Miami. I introduced myself and extended my hand to Newton and he shook it with both hands as though we were old friends and had not seen each other in years. He looked more like a movie star than one with a reputation of a revolutionary theoretician. Possibly influenced by Castro’s practice of wearing only military fatigues, I had somehow expected him to be wearing something resembling a “Black Panther outfit”–at least the leather jacket. Instead he looked like a model who just stepped off of the cover of Gentleman’s Quarterly wearing an expensive, perfect fitting faded denim outfit. He looked younger than his 34 years, but a slight limp from a bullet wound received in a confrontation with police reminded that his youthful look could not be attributed to an easy life.
During the interview, it became obvious that there remains bad blood between Newton and Cleaver, the former minister of information for the Black Panthers who was expelled by the party in 1971 in an ideological spat. In addition to calling Cleaver a “renegade scab,” Newton sharply criticized him for supporting Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s foreign policy related to Third World countries and blamed Cleaver for the Panthers’ violent philosophy during the turbulent sixties. Newton said Cleaver’s stand with Kissinger shows that Cleaver has gone beyond “shuffling” to return to the United States where he faces charges of attempted murder and assault stemming from a 168 shoot out between Panthers and Oakland, Calif. police. “He is not shuffling; he is crawling back,” Newton said. Newton, who once represented the epitome of black rage against white racism in America, said that he sought to get the Panthers to abandon the gun philosophy during the sixties–but was unsuccessful because of Cleaver’s influence over Panther leaders.
“…I tried to get the party to stop the shooting, to stop their talk about the gun thing,” Newton said. “They voted me down. We always had a central committee. They were mesmerized by Eldridge Cleaver.” Newton said he was “in solidarity” with the Panthers’ current program of fielding political campaigns and community service projects such as free lunch programs and shoe-distribution centers. Once back in the United States, Newton indicated that he plans to devote much of his time t bringing about black liberation through the mobilization of Blacks to put “the right” Blacks in City Hall and other “authoritative” places. During the interview, Newton also: –told what life has been like for him, his wife and two children in Cuba where Newton is “an honored guest.”
–said that the Cuban government is moving to eliminate racism, but said there “probably” remains some racial discrimination, although he has not experienced any; –revealed that he is writing a “critical” book on the Panthers –called survival the biggest problem confronting black America; –called for support of Johnny Spain of the San Question Six who is on trial for murder; –charged that “police murdered” George Jackson who was killed at San Quentin; –observed that Black Americans and Cubans face the same enemies–“white racist North American authorities”–but the difference in the two groups is that “the Cubans found a way to liberate themselves” while Blacks “haven’t found the way yet.”