Demonstrators take the field

Three given citations

protests outside park are loud but nonviolent

Cubans At Camden Yards

May 04, 1999|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

Four anti-Castro demonstrators were arrested at Camden Yards last night as protesters began taking to the playing field in the fourth inning.

One of the demonstrators -- who rushed the field in the fifth inning with a Cuban flag -- was tackled and thrown to the ground by second base umpire Cesar Valdez, who traveled to Baltimore from Havana with the Cuban team.

"Above all I am a Cuban, and I don't have any reason for standing [for] a lack of respect," Valdez said about his fight with the protester. "I just thought that was the right way to do it."

At times, Camden Yards resembled an armed camp as hundreds of Baltimore police officers stood ready to contain protesters objecting to the visit of the Cuban national team. After the fourth- and fifth-inning incidents, in which three adults and a juvenile from Miami were arrested, police briefly ringed the field before the chaos subsided.

The game was disrupted for several minutes.

Before the game, two groups of demonstrators outside the park were loud but civil. Police arrested none of them last night, only a handful of scalpers. A rain delay was credited with quieting some of the protests and dispersing demonstrators outside the stadium.

Some, however, took their political frustrations onto the field during play.

In the fourth inning, three protesters were quickly arrested by 20 police officers, and play resumed about three minutes later. There was no reaction from the Cuban players on the field; however, the Cuban delegation stood and chanted: "Cuba, Cuba."

Also outside the stadium last night were federal immigration agents, banned by Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos, who wanted to ensure that no defections took place during the historic visit. No requests for asylum were reported last night.

Hours before the game, more than 300 angry protesters converged at the ballpark's main entrance on Camden Street and used bullhorns to urge a boycott.

Police formed two lines between the protesters and people heading into the game, and officers on horseback provided additional security. Speakers, while calling for Fidel Castro to be assassinated, urged calm in Baltimore.

"Listen to the police, they are doing a good job," shouted Jose Manuel Alvarez, an aide to a New Jersey congressman opposed to the game. Later, he said: "We wanted to do this Gandhi style -- noisy, but no violence."

A second, smaller group of demonstrators -- who support the game and want the U.S. embargo of Cuba to end -- remained more than two blocks away and dispersed before the first pitch. "It's gone fine," Baltimore Police Col. Bert Shirey said. "The demonstrators are part of the experience."

The city state's attorney's office had expressed concern last week that police might make mass arrests and clog the jail. They had urged police to avoid arrests and hold detainees at a temporary center and release them later.

Police said they never expected serious problems, but were ready for anything. Moments before the game began, city police spokesman Robert W. Weinhold Jr. characterized the protests as "spirited, but peaceful."

During the game, police said, 19 people were asked to leave the stadium for various reasons, and the three adult protesters who ran onto the field were given citations for criminal trespassing and released. The juvenile was released without a citation.

Perhaps the most contentious moments came on the political front, when Angelos, worried about possible defections embarrassing his historic outreach to Cuba, banned Immigration and Naturalization Service agents from the ballpark.

Angelos said the presence of INS agents was an invitation for defections by players and other members of the Cuban delegation, who for the most part have been shielded from the public.

"I don't know what [the INS] business is," Angelos said. "If they want to come and watch a ballgame, they are quite welcome. If their purpose is to entice Cuban ballplayers to defect, then we definitely don't want them here. The Cubans are our guests and we will treat them as such."

Baltimore's INS director, Ben Ferro, said his agents would adhere to the ban. "We will have to find other ways to do what we need to do."

Officially, the U.S. government does not encourage or discourage defection. But federal officials had said they would like to be inside the stadium so that anyone who wants to seek asylum can do so without fear of intimidation.

No defections have been reported since the Cubans arrived in Baltimore Sunday night, but Baltimore police said their officers were prepared to handle any such request by calling INS agents outside the ballpark.

Police had promised an increased presence, similar to that of a presidential visit. While they would not release numbers, officers appeared to be everywhere. Traffic was briefly interrupted downtown in the afternoon with mini-motorcades carrying Cuban delegation members between hotels and the stadium.

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