The Miami Herald
October 10, 1999
The band plays on as protest fails to deter Van Van's fans


 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
 don't discriminate.''

 The show of police force angered demonstrators and their supporters. ``Look
 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, the
 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.
 Roughly translated:

 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 Mario ``Mayito''
 Rivera said.

 Regardless, the arrival of the first concert-goers, about 6 p.m., quickly escalated

 One man wearing a Van Van T-shirt walked to the entrance of the arena and
 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
 a bitch!''

 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 concert-goers.
 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 who,
 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, gigolo
 and whore.''

 He shrugged.

 ``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
 music lovers.''

 Once the band took the stage about 8:30 p.m., fans danced, adrenaline pumped
 by the conflict and the music.


 ``It's absolutely beautiful music,'' said Joseph Adler, artistic director of
 GableStage at the Biltmore Hotel. ``It was wonderful, wonderful music.''

 As Adler and his companion were leaving about 9:50 p.m., the crowd was yelling
 ``Communist! Asassin!''

 ``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
 police escort.

 There were several other well-known concert-goers, among them Manolin ``El
 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 Cuban music.
 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 and Elaine
 DeValle contributed to this report.

                     Copyright 1999 Miami Herald