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Protests at Cuba, Orioles Game

May 4, 1999

BALTIMORE (AP) _ A boisterous crowd of Cuban-Americans protested Monday’s game between the Cuban national team and the Baltimore Orioles, both in the streets and on the field.

One anti-Castro demonstrator carrying a sign that said, ``Freedom _ Strike Out Against Castro,″ ran onto the field in the middle of the game and was wrestled to the ground by a Cuban umpire.

As another protester who ran onto the field was led, shouting, past the Cuban dugout and the Cuban delegation, the Cubans booed and gave him the thumbs-down sign.

Dr. Rolando Suarez Cobian, director of Caritas Cubana, a Roman Catholic relief agency, said the Cuban delegation was not insulted by the protest.

``They are merely slowing the game down,″ he said. ``This is a joke.″

Cuban-Americans considered the game, which the Cuban team won 12-6, a diversion from Fidel Castro’s brutal dictatorship in the communist nation.

Protesters, some of whom had spent 18 hours on buses from Miami, met first at a statue of 19th century Cuban independence hero Jose Marti before gathering across the street from the main entrance to Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

The noisy crowd of chanting demonstrators was separated from the stadium by two rows of officers and mounted police. Police estimates put the number of protesters at 300, far less than the 1,500 anticipated. No protesters were arrested outside the stadium, according to a police spokesman.

Inside the stadium, three men from Miami, who ran onto the field, were given criminal citations for misdemeanor trespassing. If convicted, they face a maximum sentence of three months in jail and a $500 fine. A 13-year-old boy, the son of one of the men, also ran onto the field and was detained, but not charged.

Police identified the men as: Diego Tintorero, 42; Pablo Capote, 67; and Carlos Dolz, 50.

Maria E. Cosculluela, a member of Miami-based Mothers against Repression for Cuba, said she wouldn’t support either team.

``We are rooting for the Cuban people, the dissidents, the people in jail,″ she said. ``We are for the Cuban people and this game should never have happened.″

Protesters wore T-shirts with messages like ``Fidel murderer″ and ``Justice and human rights now! Baseball later,″ and held signs that read ``La Represion en Cuba no es cosa de juego″ (The repression in Cuba is not a game). They held a moment of silence for those martyred in the fight against the Cuban leader.

Buses ferried protesters from New York, New Jersey, Washington, D.C., and Florida. Rep. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., helped organize some of the bus trips and attended the rally along with Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, R-Fla.

Andy Fernandez, a banker from Newark, N.J., said the decision to allow Cuba to play a major league club in the United States for the first time was hypocritical.

``We’re trying to tell the government in Kosovo that we want human rights but 90 miles from (Miami) we allow repression to continue,″ he said.

Fernandez, 37, and his family were allowed to leave Cuba and join relatives in the United States in 1976 only after his father agreed to cut sugar cane for five years in a government labor camp in exchange for freedom.

About one block away from the anti-Castro protesters, a smaller group called for an end to the longstanding trade embargo against the Communist country.

``Our concern is the effect of the blockade on the Cuban people,″ said Jeff Bigelow of Baltimore.

``What has Cuba done to the U.S. to deserve this punishment for 40 years?″ said a Miami man, who declined to give his name fearing retribution from anti-Castro forces.

In March, the Orioles became the first major league team to play in Cuba in 40 years. They beat Cuba 3-2 in 11 innings, but have been struggling in the regular season.

Orioles owner Peter Angelos has said his goal is to improve relations through people-to-people contact between the two countries, which have been divided by a longstanding U.S. trade embargo against the communist nation.

In Washington, State Department spokesman James P. Rubin said, ``Regardless of the outcome, the Cuban people will win when they have a window to the outside world, even if it is only through the televised version of this game.″

But Sylvia Iriondo, head of Mothers against Repression for Cuba, said the game only fostered ``people-to-tyrant contact.″

``This baseball game hides the desire of many commercial enterprises that want to do business with Cuba’s bloody dictator,″ she said.

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