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In Defense of Ozzie Guillen: Cuban-Americans Have Held US Policy Hostage Long Enough

| April 13, 2012

What's left of the dictator in his labyrinth.

I’m not sure which was more embarrassing for Florida or the Florida Marlins: hauling out the febrile Muhammad Ali for opening day’s first-pitch ceremony in baseball’s gaudiest new temple to tax-funded excess, or suspending Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen for five days without pay, when Guillen spoke admiringly of Fidel Castro.

pierre tristam column flaglerlive.com flaglerlive Outside their playpens, professional athletes these days are blander than quinoa. They don’t have opinions. They don’t take a stand, except to shill for shoes, shaving blades or engine oil. Social or political commitment to them is as frightening as market crashes. It hurts profits. Guillen is among the few exceptions. He’s spoken out courageously about the bigotry undocumented immigrants routinely endure in this country. He’s refused to play along with photo-ops at the White House. And he’s advertised his love affair with the United States since migrating here from Venezuela, becoming a naturalized citizen on his birthday in 2006. He’s also said dumb things, as we have all. His homophobia is standard-issue idiocy. And he’s venerated the wrong people, the dictatorial Castro and wishfully dictatorial Hugo Chavez among them.

But he wasn’t exactly suggesting that Castro’s regime is a model of a system in his unremarkable interview in the ever-unremarkable Time. He was admiring the guy’s endurance, especially in the face of 10 American presidents committed to his obliteration, some of them with assassination orders on their unofficial books. Too bad he apologized. Guillen’s contrition had the same ring of grovel as Salman Rushdie’s profession of faith (to Islam) after Ayatollah Khomeini put a bounty on his head for writing the hilarious Satanic Verses, which upset more than a few Muslim cricket fans.

The Marlins are no ayatollahs, and Castro is a dictator. But it was no less dictatorial of the Marlins to punish Guillen for speaking his mind. Not to mention hypocritical. The Marlins had no problem using Muhammad Ali, the most famous and politically outspoken athlete of his day (“I ain’t got no quarrel with the Vietcong,” he said in 1966, when he refused to be drafted, “no Vietcong ever called me nigger”), who in 1996 traveled to Cuba, handed over a $500,000 check to Castro for humanitarian needs, and had a famously playful encounter with the dictator as the pair pretended to punch each other and posed for video and camera crews. It was not his only visit with Castro. Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the Nobel prize winning writer and one of the greatest novelists of the last hundred years, has also spoken famously of his affection for Castro. Maybe he’s on the Marlins’ black list, the way he was on the State Department’s, which refused to grant him a visa for a 10-year stretch for the same reason, although the State Department came to its senses in 1971.

In Little Havana, home of the new Marlins stadium, it’s still 1959. The real scandal is the Marlins’ $600 million stadium, built mostly with taxpayer money at the behest of a bunch of investors who may end up selling the team and run as quickly as their predecessors, leaving Miami Dade holding the colossal bag and its retractable roof. The real scandal is a Marlins organization more interested in placating its Cuban-American ticket holders than honoring those American principles of free speech, which makes the singing of the national anthem at the beginning of games rather pointless.

The real scandal is the degree to which South Florida’s Castro-era Cuban community continues to hold American foreign policy toward that island hostage to seven decades of juvenile antagonism even as every president from John Kennedy onward has gladly worked hand in hand with regimes far more despicable than Castro’s, even as Barack Obama does today.

The United States has no problem trading or maintaining close alliances with Saudi Arabia, a regime more oppressive to all, more demeaning to women, more torture-ridden than Cuba ever was. It has no problem romancing Bahrain, where the United States headquarters the Navy’s 5th fleet, despite Bahrain’s murdering of dozens of democracy protesters last year, at times with American munitions, and imprisoning and torturing of thousands. It has no problem curtseying to China for that matter, our second-biggest trading partner after Canada and our biggest lender, but still one of the most repressive countries on the planet.

Ozzie.

Cuba in comparison is a cold war relic as decrepit as Castro himself, a Pennsylvania-size museum to a stillborn ideology that would have never endured this long without its enabling fear-mongers and Bay-of-Pigs re-enactors in El Norte. With some exceptions, American travel and investment in Cuba is still officially forbidden, while Europe, Latin America and China position themselves to make a killing once the Castro days are over. (I’m fully aware that doing business in Cuba is still done at the risk of midnight knocks on the door and arbitrary imprisonment, but hundreds of companies go for it, and it’s a hell of a lot safer and smarter in the long term than American companies’ attempt to quick-buck profit from destruction and mayhem in Iraq and Afghanistan.)

Florida should be leading the charge to end the stranglehold of old-guard Cuban-Americans on relations with the island, if only because this state would be first in line to benefit from broader economic ties with the Caribbean or take advantage of Raúl Castro’s incremental openings. Absent the bugaboo of American hostility as a foil, it would also most likely hasten the regime’s fall. Instead, Florida’s politicians from Marco Rubio to Rick Scott have adopted the same, stale pandering as their predecessors.

But Castrophobia is an industry—rusty, outdated and often absurd, as the Guillen spectacle showed, but an entrenched industry nonetheless. Big Sugar would panic if relations were normalized with the island and Cuban sugar suddenly flooded American shores, crashing the Florida sugar industry. Rubio, who wants to be America’s Hispanic Obama, would panic if Cuba suddenly had its version of an Arab spring and liberalized. He’d lose what’s left of his already bogus narrative of the beleaguered son of Cuban exile escaping Castro. Two generations of Cuban exiles who’ve defined a disproportionate share of their identity by the grizzles of Castro’s beard would suddenly face enmity withdrawal.

So the follies endure. Ozzie Guillen isn’t the problem. He’s merely the latest victim the captivity of South Florida to a degenerate obsession about five decades past its expiration date.

Pierre Tristam is FlaglerLive’s editor. Reach him by email here.

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13 Responses for “In Defense of Ozzie Guillen: Cuban-Americans Have Held US Policy Hostage Long Enough”

  1. Sherry Epley says:

    Excellent article Pierre! Thanks for jogging our memories about Ali, and for pointing out the hypocritical nature of the “political correctness” that unfolded in this story.

  2. jc says:

    Once again a well written accounting of what is in reality a ridiculous US policy towards Cuba, come on its over 50 years already!

  3. ric says:

    Kudos, Sherry and jc. People are becoming so ready to call everything racist.. Obama said he would unite all of us wnen he was running for office.. I see us being driven furthure apart. Let’s see how Romney will do..

  4. palmcoaster says:

    Totally agree with Flagler Live. We have forgiven China, Russia and others, but we hold our small island country neighbor, to a different standard, as if Cuban citizens are children of a lesser God. About more or less the same as we treat all our neighbors from South of our border all the way to Antarctica …just with very few exceptions.

  5. Mike Craig says:

    Great column! What’s really interesting to me is that Ozzie was not speaking on behalf of the Florida Marlins, or wearing a Florida Marlins uniform when he made these comments. He made his “pro Castro” comments to Time magazine speaking for himself; not the Florida Marlins, the National League or Major League Baseball. So, it certainly strikes me funny that in America, the land of freedom of speech, he has been reprimanded for using his right. In fact, isn’t that once of the things the American establishment would accuse the Castro of doing?

    Was it a bad move for Guillen to make these comments while being the coach of Miami? Sure it was, especially considering the enormous anti-Castro Cuban population in Miami. However, the man is entitled to his opinion and should be able to express it. I can understand an organization, such as the Marlins, not wanting their players or management to make political statements while in uniform or while representing the team. However, what one believes and speaks in his or her own time is their business….and their right.

    I, for one, am also an admirer of Fidel Castro. Castro is a polarizing figure; there can be little debate on that. Those who were Pro-American, Pro- Batista Cubans, surely will not ever appreciate anyone being Pro- Fidel, or complementary to Castro in any way. However, it must be pointed out that Fidel Castro is NOT like Hitler and Mussolini, which every news paper article I have read has compared him to. Fidel Castro has certainly killed dissenters of the Revolution and has imprisoned political opponents. Castro is also upfront about the truth of this. Read his 1967 interview with Playboy magazine where he freely admits these facts.

    Hitler and Mussolini were madmen who had millions of people murdered due to political beliefs AND THEIR ETHNIC BACKGROUNDS. Castro has never persecuted anyone due to their ethnicity or religious beliefs (in fact, there are churches, mostly Catholic, on every Cuban street). The Cuban government just does not endorse a religion (certainly, the Cuban government and Castro are atheistic in tendency).

    Under Castro, there were sweeping agrarian reform where the poor and peasants who were exploited for years by Batista, the United Fruit Company (supported by Allen Dulles and his brother), and the United States, became land owners. These agrarian reforms gave life, freedom and an escape from poverty and death to those Cuban’s who had been exploited for decades by the United States.

    Under Castro, all Cuban citizens (and those not Cuban citizens) have access to free health care. Castro also took his country from one where few citizens could read or write into a nation which now has a 99% literacy level. Not the actions of a dictator on the level of Hitler or Mussolini. A dictator looking to exploit his people would certainly not want them to be able to read and educate themselves! Castro also supported revolutions in Africa and throughout Latin America. The colonial shackles of the United States have always been an enemy to Cuba, and many other countries throughout the world.

    Is there poverty in Cuba? Yes. Is Cuba a perfect nation? No, what nation is? However, taking the peasant population out of poverty and making them land owners, giving free healthcare his people, and making all Cuban citizens literate is also on Fidel Castro’s resume. He is not, in most cases, the cruel and hateful dictator the American propaganda machine would make one believe.

    Castro’s greatest sin is not the political opponents he has killed or imprisoned. All nations (including the United States) kill and imprison enemies of the state! It is a sad fact in the world which we live. One must remember the Godfather where Michael is told by his wife, Kay, that he is being naive. Kay says “You Know how naive you sound? Senators and presidents don’t have people killed Michael”. Michael retorts, “Oh. Who’s being naive, Kay”?

    Castro’s real sin was taking US corporations out of Cuba and nationalizing them. Castro’s actions were a gigantic monetary blow to the United States and to the extensive illegal activity supported by the US (the CIA let the American mob run rampant in Cuba). Cubans against Castro may have reasons to hate Fidel. However, the United State’s Governments reason for hatred towards Castro is monetary and prideful. Not only could the United States never succeed in quelling Castro, Castro continuously thumbed his nose at the US while staying in power for 60 years. Cuba: A tiny island nation, now being run by Raul Castro, has taken every bit of sabotage and imperial embargo the United States and her allies have thrown at them and are still alive and well.

    • Liana G says:

      Great information and very true! Same reasons why Chavez is disliked and subject to the same US propaganda. Ozzie most likely left Venezuela for the same reasons others did. I lived in Weston, FL for several years. The town was nicknamed Westonuela because of its large and wealthy Venezuelian population that flee when Chavez took power. Many were able to enjoy this lifestyle by still being able to access their Venezuelian bank accounts without being able to fully close them and take all the money out the country. When Chavez made the decision to stop this practice, many returned. As long as they remained in Venezuela, they were allowed to access their money, but he did exactly what Castro did. He seized and redistributed land and wealth to the oppresed poor. Before Chavez, Venezuela was very much like Cuba, same situation different country.

      The poster below wants to know why people leave. When your country is forever stuck in a weak cycle of harsh economic conditions because of the continuing raping and pillaging of its resources by powerful nations and their subsequent puppet gov’ts, there is no other option but to follow the wealth. Many would return if these big powerful nations would stop this practice and let these small countries self govern, utilize, and fairly trade their own resources. Want these immigrants to leave voluntarily? Vote Ron Paul in 2012!

      By the way Pierre, do you know that almost 2% of Americans between the age of 24 – 34 are working and living in Asia, mostly China? So much for China’s oppressive policies. But they do face the same anti immigrant rethoric from the masses. At least it’s better than being umemployed at home and with no social safety nets. There were actually more Americans working in Japan but after the recent nuclear disaster many left out of environmental concerns.

  6. Sherry Epley says:

    @ Ric, et al. Please do not paint me as a Republican. I am an open minded, progressive, open hearted, inclusive, positive, compassionate liberated woman. . . quite the opposite.

    In my mind, being overly “politically correct” isn’t the exclusive purview of the Democrats. Rush Limbaugh’s tirades can also be seen as “politically correct” . . . appealing to hate mongers of the far “right”.

    How is it that our President (no matter who that is) is to blame for every little thing that happens, not only in our country, but in the entire world? Enough already. . . it is not within Obama’s power to bring us all together, and he is not to blame for the devisiveness in this country.

  7. Big Fish says:

    I wonder why so many Cubans want to come to America, they will even risk their lives to get here??

  8. rickg says:

    Simple answer Big Fish… Money. If other Latin American Countries enjoyed the same immigration policy that the US has towards the fleeing Cubans then there would be a ton of people heading this way. Most get here by the way through smugglers not on inner tube rafts.

  9. jespo says:

    Great article Pierre…well written and truly it encapsulates the ridiculous attitude and policy America has towards this country. Shame on the Marlins organization for whoring themselves like this.

  10. Geezer says:

    Fidel Castro is not a person to be admired.
    While he’s no Hitler, Stalin, or Mussolini – he’s still the embodiment of evil.

    Ever since he took power, he’s whittled away at the human rights and personal freedoms of the Cuban people. He has completely raped that island nation and stopped time in its tracks.

    Big deal that he increased literacy. The government censors all reading material.
    Great medicine? How about filthy conditions and chronic shortages of medicines?

    Most of the cash crops are exported leaving the average family there with rationed quantities
    of daily staples such as rice, coffee, sugar. Each Cuban household gets 6 ounces of coffee per month.
    And that coffee is a blend of roasted garbanzo beans!

    You cannot own livestock in Cuba. It is your duty to report felled animals to the neighborhood “comite”
    so that nobody gets to butcher the animal for consumption. And if they do – they go to jail!
    No HBO at that jail either. Just big cockroaches and abusive guards.

    Cuban citizens can’t even fish without the prospect of arrest. Every detail of your life is controlled.
    Say you move from one dwelling to another, you’d better be certain that not even a fork is missing from the drawer. All implements convey to the next resident.

    No religious persecution? Just ask any Sephardic Jew from Cuba!
    Cuba does get along well with the Vatican, however. Seems fitting if you think about it.

    Do you like fresh water to drink? You’d better catch some rain and boil it!
    Like electricity? It’s down more that it’s up.

    Big effing deal that Nelson Mandela, George Galloway, Sean Penn and Oscar Stone love Fidel and company. Those people need to spend some time living with ordinary Cubans.

    As far as the US policy towards Cuba, all of you are 100% correct. The more the US squeezes Cuba the more the people there suffer, but not Raul or Fidel. They live in a palace wanting for nothing.

    As far as “most Cubans are smuggled,” the “coyotes” (smugglers) haven’t installed flotation devices on their trucks and converted them to ships. Most are immigrating via humanitarian visas. They come in legally through Miami, Kentucky, and Albuquerque NM. They are political dissidents and victims of religious persecution. And yes, quite a few arrive in improvised rafts or inner tubes.

    Do you really think that people would get on an inner tube, and try to ride the currents in shark-infested waters to just “earn more money”?

    It’s easy to praise Fidel from our great country, on a full stomach, with your very own computer!

  11. Geezer says:

    Correction: (I guess that I really am a geezer)

    I meant to reference Oliver Stone in my preceding comment.
    I erroneously wrote “Oscar Stone.” (I’m sure he’s a nice fella, though)

    With regard to Ozzie Guillen, he can certainly say whatever he wants.
    His suspension sets a bad precedent.

    Ozzie Guillen isn’t really noted for being a class-act anyway, and his “love”
    declaration of Fidel might have been to cozy up to his countryman, Hugo Chavez.
    He is a student of Castro’s model of governing (ruling) and he adores Fidel.
    He’s busy turning back the clock on Venezuela and fomenting hatred towards the USA.

    Another guy to admire?

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