Monday, April 16, 2012

Miami Libre?

Miami Marlins manger Ozzie Guillen is set to return to his baseball team Tuesday for a matchup with the Chicago Cubs, following a five-game suspension for sort-of, kinda praising Cuba's maximum leader, Fidel Castro, in Time magazine.

Feelings about the Castros - Fidel and brother Raul - run high in Miami, as I was reminded recently on a trip to northern Spain with a group of journalists that included two Cuban exiles. Their families originally came from northern Spain, so it was a sentimental journey for these two ladies. They were not, however, one bit sentimental about the Castros, whom they blame for forcing their families to flee communist Cuba. Exiled as teenagers, they now live in Miami.

I have long had mixed feelings about the Cuban Revolution and the exiles that oppose it. The Castros are repressive and dictatorial.Their predecessor, Batista, was a dictator, too, however, and the fierce, fixed positions of the Cuban exile community of South Florida are not always attractive. On the other hand, I haven't had their experiences, and if I was forced to leave my homeland, I imagine I'd be angry, too, perhaps for a very long time.

The Marlins have built a brand-new baseball stadium in Miami's Little Havana, and Cuban American fan support is important to the team, so Guillen's comments were inflamatory and ill-considered, to say the least. A long-time manager of the Chicago White Sox and a fine shortstop as a player, the Venezuela-born Guillen has a long history of crude, off the-cuff remarks. This latest transgression, coming at the beginning of his first season with the Marlins, is no real surprise.

Many people who follow major league baseball more closely than I do think the guy is a jerk. Maybe, but jerk or not, he was suspended by the team solely for voicing an unpopular, tactless political opinion, not for anything he did in the clubhouse or the dugout. Political speech in the United States is supposed to be protected speech under the First Amendment to the Constitution. Freedom of speech means nothing if it does not apply to unpopular speech, too.

Guillen's suspension leaves a sour taste. Over the years, people have rallied to cries of "Cuba Libre!'' Fair enough. What about "Miami Libre''? It might be a good idea to opppose repression in Cuba by also supporting freedom outside it.

Oh, and it might be a good idea for Washington to lift its ineffective and unfair ban on leisure travel to Cuba by U.S. citizens, too.

In the meantime: Play ball!

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