A performance by one of Cuba's hottest bands drew an estimated 4,000 to 7,500 anti-Castro protesters to Miami Arena tonight, with many waving flags, shouting slogans and denouncing the show.
After more than two hours of Afro-Cuban dance music by the popular group Los Van Van, the estimated 3,000 to 5,000 ticket holders were escorted past jeering, refuse-throwing protesters angered that musicians popular in the Communist nation were allowed to perform in the heart of the Cuban exile community.
Police in riot gear kept the two sides from each other, and no clashes were reported after the concert.
After being warmly welcomed elsewhere during a tour of the United States, Los Van Van got the cold shoulder in the heart of the Cuban exile community.
Demonstrators carried signs reading "Castro: 40 years of dictatorship and 40 years of slavery" and "Van: Get out of Miami."
"We have nothing against the music they play," said protester Luis Eseandal. "This is about the Cuban government and Fidel Castro."
Before the concert, a disturbance broke out between police and protesters that lasted just a few minutes when about a dozen demonstrators hopped steel barricades and tried to run to the arena's entrance.
Police used pepper spray to control the group, and several protesters were led away in handcuffs as supporters shouted.
"I'm here because I like the music," said one ticket-holder, Adriana Lopez, a native of Colombia who lives in Miami. "I don't see why we have to get into politics over this."
Some members of Miami's Cuban American community denounced Los Van Van as emissaries of Cuba's communist President Fidel Castro, and the concert was first canceled, then rescheduled.
"They're not telling the truth," said protester Mirta Oliva-Rios. "This group is a representative of Fidel Castro."
Miami Mayor Joe Carollo and city Commissioner Tomas Regalado, both Cuban-born, last month vented their objections to the concert on Spanish-language radio, and the dispute generated thousands of calls to city hall.
The American Civil Liberties Union threatened to sue after the show's cancellation at another city-owned venue.
Veterans of the failed 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba showed an anti-Castro film tonight a few blocks away, at the James L. Knight Center, the original site of the Los Van Van show, then made their way to the arena to protest.
The Cuban exile group Democracy Movement issued a statement objecting to the "insincerity" of allowing Los Van Van to perform.
Juan Formell, who founded Los Van Van 30 years ago, rejected the label applied by opponents who call the group the "official" band of the Cuban government.
"We don't do politics. We make music," Formell said.
Cultural exchange exemptions under the U.S. trade embargo allow Cuban bands to perform in the United States if they do not profit from the concerts.