TV Crews Outnumber Protesters at Versailles as Obama and Castro Normalize Relations
photo by Trevor Bach
As President Obama preps for a noon announcement about a new era of U.S. and Cuba relations, TV crews from around the nation did the predictable: They descended on Versailles Restaurant, long the hotbed of anti-Castro protests in Miami.
So far, at least, they haven't had much to broadcast home. As of 11:30, just a handful of sign-waving protesters were surrounded by dozens of TV crews and reporters.
The only real action to film so far came from a lone trio waving anti-Obama signs and chanting, "Coward, coward, coward, Obama, coward!" Periodically, the chants stopped so the demonstrators could give a Spanish-language interview to a TV crew.
A larger crowd of bystanders -- some viejos sipping cafecitos, some tourists wandering through with cameras -- stood on the periphery, watching the scene.
Photo by Trevor Bach
A few neighborhood Cuban-Americans even offered a positive point of view. Santiago Portal, who was born in Havana and has spent 45 years in Miami, said he's glad to hear the embargo might be on its way out.
"The Cubans are tired about the tyranny. The only way to get freedom for Cuba is the negotiations," the 71-year-old said. "The freedom for Cuba is coming now."
After Obama's noon address, Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado arrived at Versailles and was promptly mobbed by reporters. Speaking in Spanish and English, the mayor, who said he was briefed earlier in the morning by an Obama official, railed against the announced diplomatic relations.
Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado addresses media.
Photo by Trevor Bach
"I think that the United States has broken the policy of not talking to terrorists," Regalado said. "Cuba is still, by law, a terrorist country, and I think that the United States is not getting anything in return except Alan Gross... There's no request for free speech. There's no request for freedom of political prisoners. There's no request for a democratic election... So I don't know why the United States is giving everything and not demanding anything."
Regalado also said he had spoken with the police department, which "will be ready to give space to those who want to protest peacefully."
For hours after Obama's announcement, the atmosphere around the iconic Cuban restaurant remained somewhat surreal, as waitresses poured coffee and dozens of journalists -- from everywhere from the BBC to Fox News -- lingered and grappled for live shots with the few Cuban-Americans who were reacting to the news. At one point, Regalado himself also had to wait to be heard: Coincidentally, a promotional event, complete with a full-size boxing ring, had been set up in front of the restaurant for Cuban Olympic boxing champion Guillermo Rigondeaux, who has an upcoming bout against a Japanese boxer, and the promoter's loudspeaker made it impossible to hear the mayor.
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