Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Santeros have neighbor problems

Posted on Tue, Aug. 14, 2007
Santeros have neighbor problems
The clash between Santeria practitioners and their suburban neighbors in Coral Gables is not an isolated incident.


• Last year, a veteran Miami-Dade firefighter was arrested on felony trespassing and animal cruelty charges after a confrontation with a Redland neighbor who caught him dumping a goat on his property.

The firefighter, Adolfo Perez, said he removed the animal carcass -- as well as other animal remains -- from the man's property after he realized it was private property, and provided him a business card identifying himself as a priest.

The neighbor, Art Valencia, a retired schoolteacher, turned the business card over to police. ''I don't care what they do, but I shouldn't have to smell dead animals at my home,'' he said.

The animal cruelty charges eventually were dropped, and Perez pleaded guilty to the felony trespass charge -- a conviction that also got him a formal reprimand from the fire department last month, said spokeswoman Elizabeth Calzadilla-Fiallo.

''I thought I was going to lose my job,'' said Perez, who is two years from retirement.

• In December, Juan Cabrisas hosted a gathering for fellow practitioners at his home at 6025 SW 35th St. He hired two off-duty Miami-Dade police officers to help handle traffic and ensure they were in compliance with local codes.

Another county officer, however, arrived at the home to investigate noise complaints and vehicles parked along the sidewalk. The homeowner was not cited; the incident report notes only that Cabrisas was asked to turn down the music.

But the ceremony was disrupted, the priests' ritual space invaded and worshipers were put on the defensive, said Santeria priest Ernesto Pichardo. ''It was overkill,'' he said.

• In an August 2006 ordination, three practitioners, including the newly ordained priest, were arrested during a Santeria celebration in the block of 17000 SW 182nd Ave and charged with animal cruelty. Those charges were later dropped, according to the state attorney's office.

• Residents living off Bird Road and Southwest 129th Avenue, where home prices have recently soared above $1.5 million, have complained of a neighboring home purchased by a Santeria church -- claiming the sounds of livestock, crowds of worshipers and parked cars blocking the street are a nuisance. The county's Team Metro, which handles such complaints, has visited the home several times since 2001. The cases were closed after the owner provided permits for the gatherings.

• Complaints about an area off of Miller Drive and Southwest 82nd Avenue Road -- a favorite dumping ground for sacrificed animals thanks to its proximity to a rail line that has religious significance to santero practitioners -- prompted the county to install cameras to catch illegal dumping and strike a special deal with railway executives to help clean up the piles of dead animals.

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