Exiles planning blocked traffic, other delay

Sunday, May 23, 1999 11:27

Herald Staff Writer

Protests likely to intensify

On Day 18 of Ramon Saul Sanchez's hunger strike demanding the return of his exile group's vessel from the U.S. government, members of the Movimiento Democracia and other supporters planned to step up the protest with a ``campaign of civil disobedience.''

Among the actions planned to start this week: slowing traffic, blocking the Port of Miami, flooding federal phone lines, and creating delays at post offices.

They will begin at 6 p.m. today with a prayer vigil at West Flagler Street and First Avenue, across from the Claude Pepper Federal Building -- site of the tent where Sanchez has been camped since he stopped taking everything except water May 5. Organizers are asking participants to ring a white rose and a candle.

``The purpose of the vigil is to begin this campaign with a spirit of respect toward the dignity and integrity, physical and moral, of the authorities and the people who might disagree with us,'' Sanchez said.

``What we are looking for is a call to the consciousness and not a riot.''

Sanchez said organizers understand that what they plan this week is not going to be popular with everyone, any more than a 1995 protest that stopped traffic on State Road 836.

Sanchez said the group is targeting federal buildings and agencies, but some of the planned

protests may cause other disruptions. They include:

   Slowing rush-hour traffic down on weekdays throughout the county, beginning Monday morning.

   Blocking the entrance at the Port of Miami with truck traffic from noon to 2 p.m. Tuesday and again on Friday evening when the cruise ships leave. Organizers also say some port employees will stop work at those times.

   Flooding phone lines at federal offices and the White House.

   Causing delays at federal agencies. An example already embraced by Cuban exile callers to radio shows Saturday was to stand in line at the post office and buy a 1-cent stamp with a $20 bill, then go to the back of the line and repeat that 
as many times as possible.

   Possibly blocking all traffic entering and leaving Miami International Airport.

``This is a last resort. We are going to leave that to the last minute,'' Democracia group spokesman Norman del Valle said Saturday afternoon on Radio Mambi, 710 AM.

He apologized in advance for anyone who might be annoyed by the tactics: 
``We're sorry, but we have no other choice but these methods to have returned to us our constitutional rights.''

Juan Mendieta, a spokesman for Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas, said that although the mayor has supported Sanchez from the beginning, he would not tolerate disruption of county roads or ports of entry.

``While we support Ramon's cause and his right to peacefully protest against the government, we do not condone any type of activities that disrupt the lives and well-being of the citizens of Miami-Dade.''

But they won't stop him either, he said. ``It's not really our responsibility to.''

Sanchez and his group -- as well as most Cuban exile groups that have united under his cause -- want the government to return the vessel, named Human Rights, seized under presidential decree Dec. 10 as Sanchez prepared to set sail for Cuba with 2,000 copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Sanchez has a message for those who may get mad at the movement this week:

``What I can say to anyone angry or bothered is to put it in balance. Would you prefer supporting a temporary inconvenience or to have to live without civil rights eternally?''

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