Muffled in Miami


My expectations fof the sports world when it comes to politics are pretty low.  So I wasn’t surprised when a sports radio station I tuned into spent nearly the whole day bashing Ozzie Guillen over the comments he made about his “love” for Fidel Castro.  I am not a Communist or a Castro supporter.  But I do not believe that a baseball manager should have to apologize for expressing a political view that departs from that taken by the world view of mainstream US culture.  I was trying to see what was going on with the new Red Sox season – while singing Dirty Laundry by Don Henley – so I kept checking in throughout the day to see if the barrage against Ozzie Guillen had let up.  But no.  Over and over again, livid denunciations.

So I was intrigued when I logged on to ESPN this evening – looking for news of another Red Sox loss – and saw a link to a story about Ozzie Guillen that took a different angle.  The author was Charlie Pierce, who I know as a writer for the Boston Globe and as a guest on NPR’s “It’s Only A Game” with Bill Littlefield.  The tagline read, “What Ozzie Guillen said about Fidel Castro was bad, but what happened after was worse.”. Column »“. Castrogate Follies

I thought, wow, ESPN going out on a limb against the grain of US nationalistic jingo?  But then I clicked on the link and it took me off-site, so they’re only really half-owning up to presenting it.

Pierce takes a closer look at what Ozzie actually said:. “I respect Fidel Castro. You know why? A lot of people have wanted to kill Fidel Castro for the last sixty years, but that (expletive) is still here.”  Pierce notes this is absolutely true:  “People have been trying to kill Castro for 60 years, and most of those people were Americans.”

So when Bud Selig, the commissioner of baseball, releases a public statement saying that “Mr. Guillen’s remarks, which were offensive to an important part of the Miami community and others throughout the world, have no place in our game,” he is essentially saying that comments that oppose the targeted assassination of leaders of foreign countries undermine the role baseball plays as a “social institution with important social responsibilities.”  Apparently, supporting CIA violence is one of those responsibilities.  You can see as much in the increasing frequency of fighter jet fly overs and other imperial propaganda during MLB games, a phenomenon my father complained about after attending a Red Sox game last year.  Selig even manages to couch this particular expression of this endorsement of empire in multicultualism:  ” All of our 30 clubs play significant roles within their local communities, and I expect those who represent Major League Baseball to act with the kind of respect and sensitivity that the game’s many cultures deserve.”  Especially right wing Cuban exiles.  Democratic fans? Not so much.  Pierce notes that Luke Scott of the Orioles faced no disciplinary action from Selig’s office when he publicly supported the Birther movement by saying “”Obama does not represent America. Nor does he represent anything what our forefathers stood for … He was not born here,”

Even if you are a right-wing Republican, you might want to think twice as a baseball owner before catering to this audience.  Pierce writes that “For going on 60 years now, the foreign policy of my country — and a good bit of its domestic politics as well — has been held hostage by a band of noisy irreconcilables in South Florida. The embargo is a joke to the rest of the world, the Helms-Burton Act a modern farce, ignored by such radical Marxist nations as Canada, Mexico, and Germany. The success of the exile community in Florida is a remarkable story, but, Lord knows, it’s not without its darker side. With the inexcusable aid of several U.S. presidents, and according to documents gathered by the National Security Archive at George Washington University, that community has harbored outright terrorists, including the men allegedly behind the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner that killed 78 passengers (including the Cuban national fencing team). By way of comparison, many Irish-Americans who conspired to arm the IRA during the Troubles wound up in prison. Here, though, President George H.W. Bush went out of his way to pardon one of the men alleged to have helped arrange the bombing of the airliner. The rules always have been different, because of the investment — covert and otherwise — that the U.S. has made in destabilizing Castro, and the centrality of Florida to just about every presidential election of the past 40 years.  Operatives from Miami were hip-deep in the Iran-Contra mess. The Cuban community in Miami went mad over the Elian Gonzalez affair, and the outrage over that controversy was central to some of the hooliganism surrounding the recount in Miami-Dade County in the aftermath of the 2000 presidential election.”  Sounds like the kind of people I want to sit next to at the ballpark!

I’m not an expert on Cuba, but I have read quite a few posts on the blog Generacion Y ( that present moving testaments to the injustices of the Communist government in Cuba.  Here’s just one example:

The Trade in Silence

Teenagers executed in Iran in 2005 for homosexuality. Image from

I still can’t believe that the Cuban delegation at the United Nations added its vote to a group of “countries that include homosexuality as a crime under the law, including the application of capital punishment for that reason, in five of them.” I didn’t invent the quoted phrase, it comes from a statement published by CENESEX (The National Center of Sex Education) to try to explain this absurdity, to justify the abominable. On a peculiar list, where some of the great suppressors of individual liberties appear, this Island also appears, despite the official discourse that has assured us for some time that abuse of homosexuals is chapter from the past.

It goes without saying that no one consulted Cubans before ratifying — in our name — a resolution that gives carte blanche to the death penalty for reasons of the victims’ sexual orientation. Not a single word is said by the official press, no transvestites have been able to go out and protest in the Plaza of the Revolution or in front of the Foreign Ministry to demonstrate their displeasure with this act of political expediency. Initially, it was the Benin delegation that pushed for a change in the resolution about extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions in the world, a change that as a result of which — as of two weeks ago — the UN resolution will no longer apply if the accused is subject to execution for loving a person of their own gender. Frightened, we witness the circle joined by the intolerant, the complicity established between the doctrinaire, the silence before violations committed by others, to buy silence for when they themselves will have need of it.

It is sad that an institution like CENESEX, that has worked to promote respect for diversity, engages in verbal acrobatics so as not to call things by their name. Mariela Castro cannot take cover behind the terse words of a statement where one finds no condemnation proportional to the mistake committed by our delegation to the UN. This coming Sunday she will appear on a national television show, Journeys to the Unknown, to present a documentary that touches on the theme of tolerance towards gays and lesbians. I think that would be a good time to explain to us why her response has not been stronger, why her silence has the ring of an accomplice.

Diciembre 2nd, 2010 | Category: Generation Y
However, on the other side of the coin, I have often heard that Cuba’s life expectancy far outstrips that of any other country in Latin America.  No doubt, if the destructive effects the US embargo Pierce rightly deplores had not taken place, it would be higher.  Haiti was run by a (brutal) US backed government during the Castro years and had a life expectancy some 20 years lower than Cuba’s to show for it.  There’s a powerful chapter in the book Mountains Beyond Mountains by Trace Kidder in which the author visits Cuba with the subject of his book, the physician/activist Paul Farmer.  Kidder tries to understand Farmer’s fondness for Cuba and ties to its medical establishment, playing a bit of the straight man role in dialogue with an iconoclast.  Famer’s not a Communist Party member, but he greatly admires the achievements of the Cuban health system compared to those of other countries facing similar economic situations.  You can check the chapter out in Mtns Beyond Mtns starting on about page 193.  For all the bad things that socialism has done, it has some remarkable achievements as well.
I find it sad that the process of putting Ozzie Guillen in the stocks (“the biggest mistake I’ve made in my life so far.”!?!)  – not only for his comments on Castro, but for meeting in the past with Hugo Chavez, who is the President of his native Venezuela – presents the US and Cuba (or Venezuela) in oversimplified terms of good guy bad guy.  Are they really so different?  Grave injustices and real achievements on both sides.  I’m glad I’m here rather than there because there’s a greater degree (and I do mean degree) of free speech here.  But I think recognizing the achievements of our “enemies” with respect to public health can benefit this country.   Below is a selection from an academic paper Farmer and Arachu Castro wrote on health care in Haiti and Cuba. You can find the full text online at
  • “As nation states have come into being in Latin America, they have defined national public-health agendas, increasingly with the assistance of experts from international institutions. The “welfare state” that we think of as having been progressively built up, from the 1930s to the beginning of its decay in the 1980s, barely got a start in Latin America before debt, the cupidity of local strongmen, and the agenda-setting of First World economic advisers attempted to terminate it as a public responsibility.”
  • “Those struggling to promote the health of the poor are now in the defensive position of having to show that proposed interventions are both effective and inexpensive, regardless of gravity of the health problem in question. Aside local ministries of health, the largest financiers of public health in Latin America, except for Cuba, include the international financial institutions, such as the World Bank and, less directly, the International Monetary Fund”

“But even a cursory review of the World Health Report 2002 reveals the wide gaps in health between countries in the region. Consider life expectancy, a standard assessment of a country’s health and overall attainment: in 2001, Cuba boasted a life expectancy of 76.9 years; Haiti’s populace, meanwhile, can expect to live only to age 50, down from 53 just one year earlier (WHO 2002:178-180). But in most of Latin America, we see that a shrinking commitment to public financing of health care and a push for its privatization have led to a widening gap in access to quality health care/”

Hm…widening gap in access to health care — sound familiar?

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