Oriole-Cuba game policy angers Latino leaders, some Baltimore officials

Team will uphold ban on flags and noisemakers Monday at the stadium

April 29, 1999|By Joe Mathews | Joe Mathews,SUN STAFF

Accusing Baltimore's baseball team of behaving like a dictatorship, Latino community leaders, including some city officials, are bitterly criticizing the Orioles' decision to ban flags, banners and noisemakers at Oriole Park at Camden Yards during Monday's game against the Cuban national team.

The Orioles say the ban, which is not new and applies to regular season games at the stadium, is necessary to ensure that all fans enjoy the game.

But Latino groups -- on both sides of the planned protests over the game and the U.S. embargo against the island nation -- said that to maintain such stringent rules for a game against a dictatorship's team sends the wrong message. And it could spark a clash in the stadium, officials said.

Thousands of Cuban-Americans from as far as Miami have purchased tickets to the game. The Orioles have given 1,000 tickets to Baltimore Latinos, many of them recent immigrants who have never attended a game at Camden Yards.

Community leaders said they worry that if Orioles' staff or security try to confiscate flags or stop spontaneous demonstrations in the park, the resulting confrontations could spiral out of control.

"This is America. This is not Cuba," said Angelo Solera, vice chairman of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's committee on Hispanic affairs. "But it's beginning to seem that inside the stadium, it will be like Cuba."

Solera, who opposes the embargo and supports the game, and other members of the mayor's committee have been urging the Orioles to loosen the restrictions. "People have strong emotions about this game, but the Orioles are making this like a prom where people can't dance," said Solera. "The Orioles are so paranoid about outbursts and offending anyone, that they may be walking into a disaster."

The dispute came to the surface this week during discussions of plans for the game among city police, Orioles officials and citizen groups. Security is expected to be heavy.

Orioles Chief Operating Officer Joe Foss said fans who chanted loudly to annoy other fans could be ejected from the game. Police warned that protesters outside the stadium could be in jeopardy if their noise disrupts the game.

"I think the game will be calm," said Col. Bert Shirey of the city police. But "if fans repeatedly refuse to cooperate, we'll show them Central Booking."

Added Foss: "While I am appreciative of the questions and concern, the fundamental here is that this game is for all to enjoy. We wouldn't consider modifying our policies, where it could disrupt the sightlines and enjoyment of games."

Yesterday, anti-Castro Cuban exiles, some of whom had planned to chant "Cuba Si, Castro No" from their seats, filled the Internet with anti-ban postings. Some compared the policy to the Cuban government's successful efforts to control the crowd during last month's game in Havana.

Rep. Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat who plans to protest outside the game, said he was contemplating legal action to reverse the Orioles policy.

During lunchtime in Baltimore, the game -- and the ban -- were the talk of the Latino community in Upper Fells Point.

Luis Solis, the Dominican-born manager of the Caribbean Carryout on Eastern Avenue, has a ticket to the game.

"This is oppression," he said.

Pub Date: 4/29/99

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