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Miami Cuban Exiles Call For Strike

April 25, 2000

MIAMI (AP) _ Days after the Little Havana neighborhood erupted in violence after the seizure of Elian Gonzalez, protesters threatened a peaceful strike that would leave Miami a ``dead city.″

Dozens of businesses pledged to shut their doors today, and many workers said they would stay home. Protest organizers urged parents to keep children home from school.

But officials with the Miami airport, the Port of Miami, law enforcement, schools and several banks said operations would continue as normal, though they acknowledged nonessential workers may take personal days. Many non-Cuban businesses also said they expected no interruptions.

The threatened strike left Miami Mayor Joe Carollo and Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas walking a fine line. Both had vocally supported months of protests and criticized the federal government’s handling of the case. But they tiptoed around condoning a shutdown of the city, while ensuring all services will continue.

``People need to vent, people are very emotional, they feel very strongly about what happened and they want to express themselves,″ Penelas said, calling the strike a ``show of maturity″ because it would make a peaceful statement.

Penelas said he wanted to focus on healing. ``We have strong divisions over the subject of Elian, but it is important that despite these divisions the community continue to progress.″

Carollo did not return phone calls Monday.

Many businesses, especially in Little Havana, announced they would join the strike. Cuban-Americans are the largest ethnic group in Miami-Dade County, with 800,000 residents _ the nation’s largest Cuban population.

``This is in solidarity,″ said Rudy Quant, public relations director of Goya Foods. The Hispanic food distributor’s 150 employees and 40 trucks in Miami would stay put, he said.

Pharmacies, groceries and furniture stores were among the businesses that promised to close their doors. So did Estefan Enterprises Inc., which includes two restaurants and a recording studio owned by singer Gloria Estefan and her husband Emilio.

Four Florida Marlins baseball players and several coaches said they plan to miss tonight’s game in San Francisco to honor the protest. Marlins manager John Boles said they would be excused with pay for the day.

While many non-Cuban businesses said they expected no interruptions in service, several workers in Little Havana and demonstrators outside the Gonzalez house said that much of the city would not be spared from the effects of the protest.

``It’s going to look like a ghost town,″ said Antonio Pazos, 45, a warehouse clerk who said he would go to work.

The owner of the El Paisa Cafeteria, a few blocks from the Gonzalez home, said he felt pressured to go along with the strike but would stay open.

``I am Hispanic, but that doesn’t mean I have to agree,″ said the owner, who said he was Nicaraguan but would not give his full name. ``I have to pay my rent, I have to pay my bills.″


On the Net: Miami-Dade County: http://www.co.miami-dade.fl.us

The Cuban American National Foundation: http://www.canfnet.org