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Cuban community voting for advocates of exiles

In the Cuban community, it's the talk of the town.

People are discussing it on Spanish radio. Spanish television. Restaurants. Just about everywhere.

The topic is the election scheduled today in the Tampa Bay area to select five people to represent the interests of Cuban exiles at the local and national level. But not just Cuban exiles can vote.

Anyone with a parent born in Cuba can cast a ballot, which translates into about 80,000 potential voters in Hillsborough and Pinellas, said Tampa lawyer Ralph Fernandez, who works closely with Cuban exiles.

While not everyone supports it, the election is causing quite a stir.

"People are talking about this constantly," Fernandez said Friday, "everywhere, pro and con."

Today's election is intended to accomplish several things, organizers say. People not used to voting get an exercise in democracy, and those elected have credibility because they have community support.

Organizers also think the election will unite the Cuban community.

Not everyone thinks that way.

Opponents say the elections will accomplish nothing, that the people who are running will have no power.

Antonio Riva, 86, who was born in Cuba, is typical of the opposition. He called the elections "stupid."

"It's not worth the embarrassment," said Riva, who prefers Miami's Jorge Mas Canosa, one of the founders of the Cuban American National Foundation, to act as his representative.

Like others in Tampa, Riva doesn't plan to go to the polls, which open at 9 a.m. and close at 6 p.m.

Fernandez, however, called the election "a beautiful concept."

Voters, who can vote for just one person, get to choose from seven candidates, four of whom represent different Cuban organizations. The other three are independents. The top vote-getter will be president of the five-member council.

Only one, Daniel Martinez, who represents Defensa Civica Cubana, is not a Cuban exile.

The other candidates are Roberto Pizano of the World Federation of Cuban Former Political Prisoners; Orlando Cardoso of La Casa Cuba, and Roberto Jorge of Club Civico Cubano.

The three independent candidates are Alberto Medina, Manuel Rasco and Vitalia Bequer.

Here are the polling places:

In Hillsborough:

Granada Meat Market, 8230 W Waters Ave.

La Casa Cuba, 2322 W Kentucky Ave.

Club Civico Cubano, 10905 Memorial Highway.

Bruner's Insurance, 3303 W Columbus Drive.

Cypress Market, 3255 Cypress St.

San Lazaro Market, 7748 W Hillsborough Ave.

Coco Loco Cafe, 3909 W Broad St.

Gilberto Perez (private residence), 2408 Corrine St.

Farmacia Diaz, 4431 W Hillsborough Ave.

Sociedad Union Marti Maceo, 1226 Seventh Ave.

Tamiami Grocery, Palm River Road and 78th Street, Riverview.

In Pinellas:

Havana Spanish Restaurant, 229 62nd Ave. N, St. Petersburg.

Treasures of the Caribbean, 8600 49th St. N, Pinellas Park.