Friday, March 20, 2009

Why do some Cuban Americans politicize sports?

Growing up as a Cuban American, I always had a profound appreciation of baseball. My dad and two of his uncles played professionally, and my brother is currently playing college baseball.

Baseball has always represented something uniquely special to me — something that most Cubans carry in their blood.

I am a proud American citizen with Cuban parents, and whenever I see the Cuban national baseball team I can’t help but pull for them. It's my ancestry — regardless of the political situation on the island. I am able to separate sports and politics and see these Cuban players as athletes, not as puppets of the Castro regime.

Whenever I hear extreme conservative Cubans say they wouldn’t want Cuba to win in the World Baseball Classic or the Olympics, I can’t help but question the politicization of sports. Why would you want someone who is oppressed to not succeed? A win would not be a victory
for Castro. Rather, we should look at it as a victory for all Cubans around the world — because face it: we know how good Cuba is at baseball.

I view these athletes playing on the Cuban baseball team as individuals trying to enhance their way of life and help their families, given the horrible living conditions under the Castro regime, coupled with the horrendous 50-year-old policy of the U.S. embargo, I can't help but support them.

The U.S. went to play in China in the Olympics (a country with human rights abuses and lack of freedom of speech). So what’s the big deal? I never heard any complaints from Cuban Americans in Miami.

Next time the Houston Rockets play in Miami, the Cuban American community should boycott those games because Yao Ming is playing for them!

Similarly, they should boycott the World Baseball Classic because Venezuela is playing. When is this going to stop?

I mean, who was not pulling for Dayron Robles the Cuban hurdler in the Olympics? I was! It is in our blood to support our fellow Cubans on the island. We should not adopt this us-versus-them mentality. Some Cuban Americans behave like fanatics.

Do not forget Liván Hernández, El Duque, Rey Ordoñez, Ariel Prieto, Alexei Ramírez, José Contreras, Yunel Escobar and Yuniel Betancourt. All of these individuals defected while on the Cuban national team and have played in the Major leagues. I am sure the Cuban American community in Miami is fully supportive of these players. Actions speak louder than words. Viva Cuba Libre!


Alex Burgos said...

This is an op-ed I wrote three years ago about the World Baseball Classic and Cuba's baseball team. It was published in The Miami Herald:

Wali Borges said...

I can't imagine wishing any Cuban to fail in something they love. I don't even understand what the purpose is of hoping the baseball team fails. Is it supposed to show everyone how much you hate Castro? Or is it supposed to make Castro feel like he has failed? Or is it supposed to make the baseball players themselves feel bad for working so hard to succeed in something as Cuban as baseball?

Should we wish that a farmer lose his crops? Should we wish that a beggar not find food? Should we wish that a hospital fails?

What's the point? Why so much hate? Please, give us a reason why we should not support the team of our parents, our grandparents, our ancestors. I for one, am genuinely curious.

Nick "El Periodista" Jiménez said...


As Alex said in his op-ed (although I come to different conclusion), everything in Cuba is political. In that environment, separating baseball from politics is no more grounded in reality than separating food, or music from politics. We at RDE should know from our support of underground musicians just how intertwined Cuban culture and government have become.

We EVEN did a baseball game in solidarity with those in Cuba who had their equipment confiscated because they DARED to play baseball independently of the government.

The notion that the two things are mutually exclusive is nice, but removed from actuality.

Do I hope that farmers lose their crops? Well, this happened in the 90s thanks — in large part — to the fall of the Soviet Union and the embargo before food and medicine exceptions. People went hungry. The system was failing miserably. And that was the whole goal of the policy. What happened as a result of the failure?

The government was forced to make concessions to the people. Paladares, Casas particulares, tourists, etc.

It was precisely because the government failed its people that it was forced to allow them to take on more independence.

My hope — and perhaps the hope of others who want to see the Cuban baseball team lose in the WBC — is that the people and the team will see themselves as better able to plan for success in baseball than the government and demand that they be allowed to play ball the way God intended:

For THEMSELVES... and not for the regime, as they're doing now.

So that's the reason. It's not hate. I love Cuba. But this is not the Cuban people's team any more than the National Assembly is the Cuban people's legislature. This is not my ancestors' team. It's not even the players' team, for goodness' sake! It's been taken from everyone. And if it turns out that the people who manage it can't do it right, the people have that much more leverage when they demand to have it (and everything else) returned to them.

Gladisley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Laura "Cubanita in DC" Rodriguez said...

Hello great points be honest, wanting Cuba to lose is not consistent with our tone as an organization..if we claim to be about the people on the island. Why would we want them to suffer more than they already have? Democracy can't be achieved if we don't work together....wanting Cuba to lose is just a very old school mentality is part of the past! its 2009.

Nick "El Periodista" Jiménez said...


Your comment of, "But that's not even it. Here, again, we come upon the notion that we must make every Cuban's life so miserable by any means possible, que tenemos que sacarles todo el zumo posible, to get them to rebel," missed the point completely.

I never suggested "making their lives miserable". My wanting to see the Cuban baseball team lose doesn't make them fail. I don't have telekinetic baseball fan powers that push home runs to the other side of the foul line.

If they lose (which they did) it is because the Cuban system isn't doing the best job possible. Not because I wanted the outcome of a game to go one way or the other.

Yo no le estoy quitando ningún zumo al pueblo. El gobierno/el sistema se lo quita al pueblo.

My hope is that when (not if, but when, because Cuba's international baseball has been consistently subpar in major competition for some time now) they fail, the people abandon the "auto-engaño" of not connecting the dots and seeing that if the baseball program wasn't something players felt a need to escape from, if it wasn't something politicized (by the regime... because the notion that I am politicizing Cuban baseball by wanting them to lose when there are billboards in Havana crediting Fiel with the "revolución deportiva" is entirely fallacious), then the baseball program would be much more successful.

I already pointed out examples of modern-day Cuban life and economic liberalization that only exist because the people demanded it out of a sense of need and a clear observation of the regime's utter failure.

"And now we want to demand rebellion and uprising from them, who are still in that prison, while we enjoy the mojitos on the other side." — I'm not demanding anything? Who am I to demand anything of anyone?

What I'm doing is hoping. And if you're going to suggest that only people who live in misery all their lives are entitled to an opinion, then I think that stance is far more counter-productive to the discussion.

I highly doubt you would suggest I move to Africa and go to war before I form an opinion on Darfur... or become a monk and get beaten up before I express myself on Burma. Or get caught in some Iraqi crossfire before I decide what my stance on the war is.

And I'm sure you have your own perfectly valid opinions on all of the above and ave not lived under those conditions. I don't think that tactic is any more fair in this discussion.

Nick "El Periodista" Jiménez said...


Re: your assertion that my views are not consistent with the tone of the organization...

I wholeheartedly disagree. I expressed — with far more clarity than I thought would be necessary — that I think what I think because I want the players on the Cuban baseball team and the Cuban people to feel true ownership... and because I think it is in their interest for anyone who steals that from to fail.

Seems to me that's consistent with "authors of their own futures" — how much self-actualization would you say Cuban baseball players are getting on that team given the list of baseball team defectors you yourself posted?

You and Laura want the people to have some sense of happiness. I don't feel angry or resent their joy at seeing the team win either. So that's cool.

Raíces is about bringing people together... of all different views. And having an open dialogue. So our disagreement, on both sides, is entirely consistent with the organization's tone.

What we should be wary of (and what isn't consistent with the group's tone) is invalidating each other's opinions as not consistent with the tone of a group that encourages people with all different views to exchange ideas... by calling my views too antiquated.

If you ask me, that's a helluva paradox.

They're not part of the past. I'm 22, and I'm expressing them now. These views are as much a part of 2009 as yours are.

Speaking of exchanges...
I look forward to seeing you all in Miami for UMCC!
Hope you'll forgive me if I have one or two of those mojitos, Gladisley ;)