Kulchur

Libertad! Libertad!

Ever the diplomat, band leader Juan Formell advocated détente between Cuba and the United States, and refused to speak out against his detractors. He left it to upstart singer Mayito Rivera to crack jokes about Miami and giddily improvise lines like "And the police arrived, yes sir, the police arrived" and "The people who are outside missed the boat!" before leading the crowd in a poignant chorus of "Mercy, for God's sake, mercy."

Outside the protesters stood fast. Groups of exile musicians played rousing renditions of classic Cuban songs from atop a flatbed truck, proving they deserved a better gig than this.

When the two-and-a-half-hour concert ended, a sea of people suddenly began to flow down the arena steps. For a second there was stunned silence. Then the protesters resumed their screams and drum-beating. Pumped up by the concert, the Van Van fans shouted back. Journalists close to the barricades were caught in the melee, hit with eggs, rocks, soda cans and, one cameraman reported, baggies full of shit. At 11:00 p.m. police in riot gear dispersed the demonstrators.

Groups of elderly white people in sensible shoes began walking toward designated bus stops for the trip back to Hialeah. Mulatto couples in glitzy evening wear passed them, headed for their rented limo. No one said a word. A die-hard family wearing "Cuba si, Castro no" T-shirts sat on their car, yelling insults at departing concertgoers as they drove past. One group of Van Van fans stopped to ask the family for directions. The foes were soon engaged in a friendly debate over whether it was better to take I-95 or the Palmetto. As they talked on, a bare-chested homeless man strolled up behind them with a shopping cart, looking for empty cans. The pickings were plentiful, and he smiled as he tossed them into his cart.

By Judy Cantor

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