Fabiola Santiago

Fabiola Santiago: Bullets and cranes aimed at East Little Havana

People walk in front of Riverside Park located on SW 7th Ave between 3rd and 4th streets in Little Havana on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2015.
People walk in front of Riverside Park located on SW 7th Ave between 3rd and 4th streets in Little Havana on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2015. jiglesias@elnuevoherald.com

Is East Little Havana’s dreaded “Little Vietnam” facade making a comeback amid a posh, multimillion-dollar redevelopment push in the riverfront area?

It’s hard to tell.

The Miami police “incident” report is devoid of telling detail, as if the officers who showed up to investigate the drive-by shooting Monday evening in the Riverside Park area were suffering from a bout of collective anemia.

But something’s afoot in the historic neighborhood that earned its Vietnam nickname during the drug wars of 1980s and became, in the mid-90s, the turf of the Latin Kings gang, who fought rivals with deadly fire that took the lives of innocents.

Who can forget the 1995 case of a 3-year-old boy playing at Riverside Park who lost his life in a gang battle when a bullet pierced his chest?

The community was moved and a memorial to little Bernabe Martinez was erected — before it was destroyed by a drunken woman on a rampage. A donor, civic leaders and firefighters worked together to replace it with a sculpture of a bronze cherub weeping in despair on a marble podium. It had to be secured by a foot-tall chain-link fence, but neighbors tell me it was quietly taken away when nearby Ada Merritt became a K-12 magnet school and began using Riverside Park for physical education.

Then last December, violence again erupted on a street near the park. Three men were gunned down during a bloody week that included a Christmas Day shooting.

And now this: Some 20 bullets sprayed into the air at a park full of children and parents by “males” in a black Chevrolet Trailblazer and a white Hyundai.

“Multiple males were shooting at each other and fled the scene in an unknown direction,” says the one-paragraph summary in the police report. Not much of a description, but a neighbor tells me a witness called the shooters niños. Children.

It’s a miracle no one was hurt, only a black Camaro left with a shot-up radiator — and the nerves of hardworking people rattled.

Little Havana residents and activists are horrified. Organized to battle the voracious appetite to redevelop the historic area with proposals that will increase density and change the old Miami character of the 1910s and ’20s bungalows, Mission-style, Mediterranian and post-World War I and II homes and apartment buildings, they wonder why the violence now.

Does the drive-by signal an uptick in the gang violence that has plagued the area for decades? If so, why aren’t police and the city involved more vigorously and taking action in Riverside?

“The faces of our victims have names and families that need to be burned into the consciousness of our politicians,” activist Marta Laura Zayas says. “We need to stop investing in building and start investing in people.”

Call it Little Vietnam or Little Iraq, as a millennial dubbed the area on social media, this is a highly coveted area of hard-working immigrants who would be displaced by development — if they’re not run out by crime first.

With bullets and cranes aimed at East Little Havana, it’s tough to figure out who truly is the bad guy.