BY MANNY GARCIA, JORDAN LEVIN AND PETER WHORISKEY
The Cuban dance band Los Van Van played Miami Arena on Saturday
night, but not
without inciting a vast show of anger by protesters, who greeted concert goers by
spitting at them, yelling obscenities and throwing eggs, rocks and bottles.
By night's end nearly 50 Miami police officers had donned riot
gear. One journalist
had been knocked unconscious by a rock, and five people had been arrested, one
charged with battery on a police officer. Three of them had been detained after trying
to storm the arena while waving Cuban flags.
Police bearing shields and riot helmets escorted one group of
concert-goers to the
Metrorail station nearby.
``Things have gotten a little disruptive,'' Angel Calzadilla,
spokesman for Miami Police,
said. ``We had a larger crowd than we anticipated. Our big concern is that rocks
The show of police force angered demonstrators and their supporters.
at what the national media is going to see,'' said City Commissioner Tomas Regalado.
``Miami and all these police officers. Another black eye for Miami.''
Police Maj. Adam Burden estimated the number of demonstrators
at between 3,500
and 4,000. The demonstrators associate Los Van Van, one of the island's most popular
and enduring pop groups, with the Castro regime.
Inside the arena, a crowd of about 2,000, relatively sparse within
the cavernous pro
basketball arena, evinced an air of festive defiance. All had braved the rumor of trouble
that had surrounded the concert since its announcement five weeks ago.
``To us, you represent millions of people,'' band leader Juan
Formell told dancing,
screaming fans after the first song, Comenzó La Fiesta (The Party Has Started.)
``There are more of you who love us than don't love us.''
Miami police had clearly anticipated trouble. In the late
afternoon, as the first
demonstrators began assembling, police could be seen throughout the neighborhood:
on the street, on the roof of the arena and the roof of the Arena Towers next door, and
on horseback. Some set up barricades. Others closed roads. Dogs sniffed for
Early on, the demonstration ran peacefully. Protesters waved signs
-- Cuba Si,
Van Van No -- and leaders decried the Castro regime through bullhorns.
Demonstrator Abel Zamora, 56, was standing against the steel barricades,
holding his 9-year-old daughter.
``I spent 20 years in prison,'' Zamora said. ``I was tortured
away from my family so
it is my obligation to be here and show my daughter what it means to be a Cuban
While the protesters assembled outside Saturday afternoon, however,
musicians held a press conference and assured Miamians that their music is
about dancing, not politics.
``I am not part of any political party, not at the city or the
state or the national
level. Like all musicians who live in Cuba, we are part of the Ministry of Culture,''
said Los Van Van's leader, Formell. ``But we don't come here representing the
Ministry of Culture, or the government, or as any kind of ambassadors. We come
here as artists, as musicians, to play.
``Everybody wants me to talk about this, but I didn't come here
on any kind of
official mission. I came here to play like we've played everywhere else in the
United States -- we're here to play in the U.S. and Miami is part of the U.S.''
``Everyone has a right to protest -- but I think that if they
came inside and heard
our music, they'd be dancing.''
In the middle of the press conference, as if to prove the point,
the band members
broke into an a cappella version of their popular dance song Sandunguera.
Sandunguera, if you're really going to get it, you've got to move like this.
``We sang this song because it's the best for dancing,'' singer
Regardless, the arrival of the first concert-goers, about 6 p.m.,
One man wearing a Van Van T-shirt walked to the entrance of the
shook his left fist at the crowd and said: ``Viva Los Van Van!''
The crowd of exiles started screaming: ``Die, you communist pig!
Die, you son of
At 6:05 p.m., a woman in a miniskirt and black high heels walked
half-way up the
arena steps, then stopped, waved her ticket and stuck out her tongue at the
crowd. She then ascended to the arena's front door, let the breeze lift her skirt,
and shook her white lace panties at enraged onlookers.
``Jinetera!'' the crowd yelled.
Soon, the crowd had begun to throw rocks, bottles and eggs at
About 24 officers in riot gear appeared outside the arena.
At least some decided that the music was not worth the danger.
``It made us very uncomfortable, the atmosphere,'' said one man
accompanied by his girlfriend, decided to turn around after seeing the crowd. He
identified himself only as Davey from Plantation. ``They were $50 tickets. I was
very interested in seeing them. But I ate two $50 tickets.''
Others pressed on, despite the trouble, if only to prove a point.
As Mario Garcia arrived, the crowd yelled: ``Communist, male prostitute,
``I am not bothered by this because I have as much right to listen
to Los Van Van
as they have to demonstrate. We are not communist. We are not traitors. We are
Once the band took the stage about 8:30 p.m., fans danced, adrenaline
by the conflict and the music.
``It's absolutely beautiful music,'' said Joseph Adler, artistic
GableStage at the Biltmore Hotel. ``It was wonderful, wonderful music.''
As Adler and his companion were leaving about 9:50 p.m., the crowd
``I don't like Castro any more than they do, but I love great
music and I hope with
the open exchange like this it will lead to Castro's downfall, much like it happened
in Eastern Europe.''
As Adler left the arena, he ran into Miami Commissioner Regalado.
Adler shook his hand and said ``Open exchanges like this are important.''
Regalado replied, ``It's a one-way street. In Cuba you don't see
our performers like
Chirino and Gloria being able to play over there.''
As Adler and Regalado talked, protesters were yelling: ``Asassin! Communist!''
Alder and a friend then were pelted with rocks and eggs. They
left under heavy
There were several other well-known concert-goers, among them
Medico de La Salsa.'' He said the entire spectacle -- inside and outside Miami
Arena -- was part of the American experience.
``I wish there was this type of freedom in my country [referring
to Cuba]. There is
freedom here because people can say what they feel. Look at the demonstrators
-- look how beautiful it is.''
And then he waved his hands to the crowd of concert-goers.
``Look how beautiful they are. They are going to listen to beautiful
This is the way it should be. Respect each other. I understand the exiles' pain.
They have suffered a lot and they have a right to be here. But this is also America
and the Van Van can play here.''
Herald staff writers Jasmine Kripalani, Tyler Bridges, Jane Bussey
DeValle contributed to this report.
Copyright 1999 Miami Herald