No Castro fans on bus from N.J.

These Cubans in America have definite opinions on politics back home

Cubans At Camden Yards

May 04, 1999|By Caitlin Francke | Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF

ON INTERSTATE 95 -- Next to a block of tidy rowhouses and a church that offers its Masses in Spanish, scores of native Cubans climbed aboard buses in Union City, N.J., yesterday for a trip to make a point.

They wore baseball caps and smiles, but they weren't coming to Baltimore to watch their national sport. They were coming to stir up trouble -- and they couldn't wait.

"We are going to kill Castro one of these days," said Ricardo Montero, once a political prisoner of Cuba's Communist leader Fidel Castro for 25 years and now a real estate salesman. "I almost killed Castro, but almost."

There is a certain delight in talking revolution -- like a rousing sports rally -- and that joy of battle was clear yesterday as Cubans young and old plastered signs of Castro dressed like the devil in the windows of their buses.

They talked excitedly about plans to sneak into Camden Yards so they could flash anti-Castro signs that their family members might see in Cuba. They gave fiery quotes to television reporters and proudly introduced their heroes -- one of whom could not join the Baltimore protest because he is being monitored electronically while he awaits trial on charges he tried to assassinate Castro.

On the seven buses from this part of eastern New Jersey, which is home of the second-largest Cuban population in the United States, it seemed everybody was eager to tell a story about trying to off Castro.

Second-best to eliminating Castro, it seemed, was trying to stick it to him whenever possible.

"Whatever we can do against Fidel we enjoy," said Higinio Martin, 61, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel who said he was ordered assassinated by Castro, "in this country or in any country."

And so the bus to Baltimore was as much party as politics.

"I'm firing up the masses," giggled Eneida Cardoso, who fled Cuba in 1972 by going to Spain, as she slapped bumper stickers on people's backs and handed out flags that read "No Castro, No Problem."

After hours of comradeship, a revolution almost broke out among these firebrands over whether or not to make a pit stop.

"There's a bathroom in the back," one man yelled out. Another shouted: "Hey, let's go, remember the Alamo."

The pit stop protesters won. And when they walked into the Chesapeake House on I-95, the sight of them with Cuban flags on their hats, jackets and in their hands mystified the staff.

A curious Helen Warzecha, an employee at the Chesapeake House, began chatting with one man. When he told her that they were not actually going to watch the the game but were going to stand outside and protest, she was floored.

"Then it scared me, right Carol?" she asked a co-worker. "I don't understand that. If they didn't come for the ballgame, what's the purpose?"

The way the Union City anti-Castro societies see it, the purpose is this: They think it is appalling that America would allow a team from a country with a despotic leader to play here.

Period.

"It's like parading the Nazis through a Jewish community," said Joseph Mendez, 29, who said he never met his father because Castro would not let him leave the country.

"It's like inviting Slobodan Milosevic to a football game and thinking it would resolve something," said Clara Nibot, co-chair of the Hispanic Advisory Council for New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman.

After the bus pulled into Baltimore, the protesters took to the streets. They ripped into chants -- "Cuba, Si; Castro, No" -- and implored the Cuban players inside the stadium to defect.

"Jump to freedom" they yelled over a loudspeaker.

Terry Mathers of Berwyn Heights in Prince Georges County studied the group as she walked by to go into the game.

"I don't know if they are mad at us because we are going to the game or if it's because we are Orioles fans," she said.

Peoples' confusion aside, Union City Mayor Raul Garcia said he was proud of his rabble-rousing constituents.

"It's not right to use this baseball diplomacy as they did with China and pingpong," Garcia said. "We're going out there to make sure the voice of the Cuban people is heard."

Pub Date: 5/04/99

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