APRIL 30, 1999
By Alex Dominguez, .c The Associated Press
BALTIMORE (AP) -- A congressman is warning that lawsuits are possible if peaceful demonstrators are arrested at the Baltimore Orioles' exhibition game Monday against the Cuban national team.
Hundreds of anti-Casto protesters are expected from the New York area and Florida. But the Orioles have a strict policy against banners and political demonstrations inside the park.
``I don't think we have the time to try to challenge them in court, although there may be those who will seek to express themselves peacefully,'' Rep. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., said Thursday.
``If they are arrested, they may have a lawsuit on their hands since I understand the stadium was built with public funds. So I'm not sure they have an absolute right to control free speech in the manner in which they are trying to control it.''
The Orioles have announced strict guidelines for fan conduct will be enforced, and fans might be asked to leave, even for chanting, if it disturbs other fans.
Banners will not be allowed to be displayed during play, and political and commercial messages will not be not allowed. Fans will be warned once and will be escorted out of the stadium if they persist, the team has said.
``Banners and flags are prohibited,'' said John Maroon, a team spokesman. ``It's a longstanding club policy that anything political in nature is inappropriate and, at the discretion of the Orioles, shall not be displayed at the ball park.
``Americans have a constitutional right to conduct a peaceful protest and will be given an appropriate and visible place to do that outside the gates of the ball park,'' Maroon added.
The Orioles have sold tickets in pairs, making it difficult for larger groups to sit together, Cuban exile groups have complained.
Ana Gamonal, a spokeswoman for Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., said she believes the team might be within its rights to ban political protests inside the stadium. But she expected members of Cuban exile groups would take advantage of the warning policy to display banners once.
``If they do it once, then it's OK,'' Gamonal said.
She also questioned whether the Orioles were legally able to ban political protests in the stadium's parking lots. Groups seeking to either protest Fidel Castro's regime, or call for an end to the U.S. embargo of Cuba, will be allowed to protest in designated areas, the team has said.
Menendez said he expects up to a thousand anti-Castro protesters from the New York-New Jersey metropolitan area to board buses for Baltimore on Monday. More are expected from Florida.
Menendez has been an outspoken critic of the Orioles' exhibition games with Cuban teams, saying human rights abuses by the Castro regime are being overlooked.
``I think it would be incredible if people are arrested for displaying a sign, chanting a phrase, or displaying the American flag,'' Menendez said.
Copyright 1999 The Associated Press
[ BACK TO THE NEWS ]