The Sacrificial Birds

With Castro’s Cuba, everything is politics. There is no way around it. It has been that way since 1959 and it will continue until his death. His motto "Socialism or Death!" makes it as clear as water.

The recent baseball game in Baltimore’s Camden Yards is a sample of "cultural exchange" a-la-Castro. The Cuban team was carefully selected, but the determining factor was not just playing ability. Those Castro suspected as could-be-defectors (e.g. shortstop German Mesa and second baseman Yobal Dueñas) were left behind. The "politically reliable" team members he sent have their families held as "hostage" in Cuba.

But just in case, Castro sent at least two security agents per player to keep an eye on them. They were transported in buses after their late arrival at BWI airport and sequestered under very tight security at the hotel. The security agents did not allow them to see the city of Baltimore or participate in the activity that was touted by both teams as the real purpose of the event: people-to-people contact.

From the isolation at their hotel, they were transported under heavy security to the stadium shortly before the game. The game was played in an almost police-state atmosphere that I never thought that I would witness in the US, apparently in order to prevent any contact with the Cuban team: contact with the Oriole team members, the press, Cuban Americans or anyone else. The only contact was at publicity opportunities in front of cameras and with Castro cronies strategically placed in the stadium. It was a sad day for freedom on US soil.

After the game, the players and the others in the delegation (over 300) were escorted from the stadium under heavy security to the buses to go to the hotel when a melee broke out in front of the TV cameras of Univision. A small group of pro-democracy Cubans chanting anti-Castro slogans received aggressive vulgarities and obscenities from members of the delegation and were threatened by one of the players with a baseball bat. The presence of the Baltimore police prevented the delegation of Cubans from attacking the much smaller group of pro-democracy demonstrators. The delegation’s technique was familiar – just like Castro’s infamous paramilitary Rapid Action Brigades in Cuba. This melee is a sample of Castro-style people-to-people contact.

Previously, during the game, a Cuban umpire gave a demonstration of violence by attacking one demonstrator on the field.

At 3 AM, after just a few hours at the hotel, again under tight security, the Cuban delegation left the hotel in eight buses for the trip to the airport, uncharacteristically leaving behind at least seven people. One of them, the retired 54 year old pitcher (now a coach), Rigoberto Herrera Betancourt, requested asylum at a Baltimore police station about seven hours later. Six other members of the delegation missed the buses because they "overslept", according to Baltimore police and the Cuban Interest Section in Washington. They were taken to the Interests Section where a spokesman said they gave them a "tour of Washington." It was reported that they returned to Cuba on May 5.

Castro’s baseball team received a hero’s welcome in Havana where third baseman Omar Linares told his boss, "Dear Commander in Chief, the mission you gave us has been completed." Was this a baseball game or a political opportunity? I hope naive Americans have learned their lesson about cultural exchanges with Castro.

Major League Baseball, the Orioles and the city of Baltimore cooperated with Castro to produce the type of people-to-people contact that would protect Castro’s interests. Days before the event they announced the ban of political banners, flags and musical instruments as well as flights over Camden Yards. According to a press release from the United Cuban Organizations, Castro’s supporters were provided with a block of 1,000 tickets and officials of Cuba’s government were assigned a block of over 300 tickets. Another 8,000 tickets were given to local community and civic groups. The Maryland Coalition to End the Embargo of Cuba distributed 500 among their supporters.

Groups of pro-democracy Cuban Americans had to purchase their tickets offered only in pairs, making it impossible for them to sit together while the pro-Castro groups were all seated together. That appears to be political discrimination.

Why did Major League Baseball, the Orioles’ owner and the Mayor of Baltimore agree to all of these unique arrangements? Could it result from the owner’s and the Mayor’s frequent visits to Cuba?

Let’s not forget that Castro converted the Orioles game in Havana into a private party for himself and his political cronies, violating again the naive notion of people-to-people contact. That is understandable for anyone who is acquainted with the nature of Castro’s regime. But the US is supposedly a free country. And bowing to Castro’s political considerations curtailed the freedom of expression of pro-democracy Cuban Americans at Camden Yards.

The massive presence of police at the stadium was overkill for the pacific groups of Cuban Americans that came from various states to express their outrage at such a deluded baseball game while Castro increases repression in Cuba. These groups have not engaged in violent protests in 40 years of exile in the US. The majority of them were senior citizen victims of Castro’s regime. They were allowed to protest only in two assigned areas outside Camden Yards.

At the last minute, the organizers of the protesters were told that political banners would be allowed in the stadium. But when Jay Fernandez of Fairfax, Virginia and Israel Moya of Laurel, Maryland and others, were about to enter with the tickets they had purchased, their banners were not allowed. The police moved throughout the stadium removing the few banners that I observed scattered about the stadium. I saw the police detaining many people and escorting them out of the stadium. The five demonstrators who jumped onto the field between the fourth and fifth innings and almost at the end of the fifth were detained by the police and released after the game was over.

Meanwhile, the giant television screen was being used to show video designed to encourage Americans to vacation in Cuba to enjoy the facilities there that Castro’s tourist apartheid does not allow ordinary Cuban citizens to enjoy. At the same time, conspicuously absent from the giant screen were the images of the 5 demonstrators who jumped into the field and the few signs asking for freedom and human rights for Cuba. They kept showing the pro-Castro Cubans smiling and waving their flags.

Although the Orioles had been in a slump, from the beginning of the game they seemed to be playing with a lack of resolve to win. Perhaps they finally realized that they were being used and that this was a political event. They seemed to be aware that they were the sacrificial birds in this contrived charade.

The true fans of the Orioles who really went for the game and not for political reasons, began leaving the stadium in droves long before the game was over. In the end, it was mostly the pro-Castro and the pro-democracy groups that remained in the stadium.

This event was a sad display of why politics should not be mixed with sports. And that when dealing with Castro, politics is unavoidable.

This ill advised event, conducted against the better judgement of the majority of Cuban Americans and not too far from the end of Castro’s regime, is going to remain fresh in the memory of Cubans. They will not forget the ones who collaborated with the tyrant keeping him in power to the detriment of the Cuban people. They will remember that the Clinton-Gore Administration was behind this sham.

I do not think Cuban Americans with principles are going to support or give their votes to Gore in the next presidential election as many mistakenly did for Bill Clinton.


Agustín Blázquez, Producer/Director of the documentary
with the collaboration of Jaums Sutton
ABIP 1999

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