When the Cuban team arrived in Miami to play the semifinal of the World Baseball Classic, it was immediately known that this was not going to be just any game. It was the official representation of the island, playing baseball in the home of the anti-Cuban mafia, no less. But when we found out that the game would be against the United States, the morbid curiosity reached the whole planet.
Yes, it is true, the team called by the fans as Team Asere (as they call their friends in the Cuban territory), lost by a wide margin against their rival. The mafia rejoiced because, for such a group, Cuba must lose in all areas and what better than to the country that keeps it under stalking.
As soon as coach Armando Johnson’s ninth team set foot in Miami, the hostile climate began. From the social networks, unpronounceable personalities, those who charge in dollars for their anti-Cuban activism, called to sabotage the presence of the “Castro baseball players” in Florida. They mobilized their followers with money, assuring that they would make the players’ stay in Florida a living hell.
On the city’s famous Eighth Street, propagandists lurked with horns and banners calling for hatred. But that was what was visible. Under the table, far from the press cameras, the mob mobilized. As best they could, they managed to approach some players or people close to them to promote defections. A lot of noise, in order to break the unity of the team and deconcentrate those who, with great pleasure, fulfilled their dream of representing their country, no matter if they lived inside or outside the island.
Sabotage, calls to desert, threats to the MLB…
Yes, because, for the first time, Major League Baseball (MLB) was on the right side of history and allowed Cuban players to go to the call of their national team to represent their country. They teamed up with athletes competing in other countries of the world such as Mexico, Japan and the Dominican Republic and, together with those called up from the local league, put together a solid team, not devoid of limitations.
This drove the Miami mafia crazy and they threatened the MLB for granting permission to players residing in the U.S. to join the representation of their country. How can anyone call himself a “patriot” who attacks the legitimate dreams of a baseball player? Of course, they took to the pages of their media to insult the organization of the World Baseball Classic.
Not satisfied, the so-called “exiles” announced that they would fill Miami’s LoanDepot Park with shouts, banners and noise denouncing the “dictatorship” in Cuba. Until it was known that the opponent would be the United States. Only then, the MLB, the organization of the World Baseball Classic and local authorities decided to avoid politicizing the sporting event.
Something happened, it is not yet known how or with whom the order was given, but the mafia lowered the volume of their threats. Undoubtedly, one of the reasons for the de-escalation was the show of support seen in various parts of the United States in favor of Team Asere. In some buildings in New York, for example, messages of encouragement, and nothing but encouragement for the Cuban ninth were projected. In addition, the sports press that broadcast the event live reported that the great majority of Cuban attendees at the stadium, dressed with the Cuban flag on their shoulders or on their jerseys, had been moved by the pleasure of supporting their own, without politics and without reasons to make a fool of themselves that the mobsters wanted to push.
Nevertheless, there was no shortage of obsessives who continued to hurl insults in the streets of Miami, outside the park and inside the stadium. But it was little, very little. Yes, it is true that Cuba lost 14-2 to its opponent. But the anti-Cuban mob had already been defeated before the game.
Complicity of Miami authorities?
The aggressions against the Cuban baseball team were not limited to them, but transcended to their relatives and fans. The worst thing is that this seemed to have the complicity of the Miami city authorities in charge of the Republican Francis X. Suarez.
According to an official communiqué from the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the aggressions against players, their families and relatives of the Cuban team were complicit with certain representatives and personnel of the stadium and local authorities, particularly those in charge of order and security.
Regarding the aggressions, the Cuban Ministry listed the following:
– During the match, objects were thrown against the ballplayers and their families, including women, children and the elderly, as well as against members of the delegation and representatives of the Cuban press, and also against spectators supporting the Cuban team.
Alleged spectators entered the field three times during the match and interrupted the game, endangering the safety and stability of the Cuban team’s players.
– Repeated offenses and threats were hurled at the athletes, in loud voices, when it was their turn to bat or when they were preparing to enter the game, as happened to Cuban pitcher Frank Abel Álvarez while he was warming up in the bullpen, which goes against the rules of Major League Baseball (MLB) and any notion of clean sport.
– Signs were constantly displayed with political slogans, obscene and vulgar language, disrespectful to athletes and the general public, which interfered with the enjoyment of the game. Likewise, clothing with offensive phrases and images of political content, not allowed by the rules of the sports facility, were used.
– The Guest Code of Conduct established for the stadium was repeatedly violated, starting with the irresponsible consumption of alcoholic beverages and the violation of assigned seating.
– On most occasions when representatives of the Cuban delegation or Major League Baseball approached police officers to denounce the transgressions described above, they failed to act on the offenders.
The Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs denounced that it had alerted, through diplomatic channels, the U.S. government about what could happen. But everything indicates that they did not pay much attention. Thus, the aggressions occurred with the complicity demonstrated by local authorities in Miami who “allowed and created the conditions for these acts to take place, openly and with impunity”. Likewise, it points out that local politicians and officials incited the indiscipline, aggression and harassment of the athletes.
And a reminder: it was these same sectors that in 2018 sabotaged the agreement between the Cuban Baseball Federation and Major League Baseball to end discrimination against Cuban baseball players playing in the United States who are prohibited from participating in calls and activities in their country.
A blockaded country
On March 20, the Cuban ninth team landed at Havana’s José Martí International Airport. They were received by the country’s president, Miguel Díaz Canel-Bermúdez. It was to be expected, since this team faced what no other team has faced.
There, defensive coach German Mesa spoke for the group. He said:
“It was a very difficult stage, from preparation to the championship. We made our way through. We did what we could. We showed courage even with the crowd against us. We kept fighting (…) We would have liked to beat the United States, to discuss the championship. But we are proud”.
Because, in addition, it should be remembered that this is the sports representation of a country that is economically and commercially blockaded. They fought against rich countries and without the siege of the United States. They also struggled to pay for uniforms and food, not to mention the one-way tickets to Taiwan and then to Miami. They are athletes who face every day the shortages of a poor and sanctioned country. A country that is not allowed to buy repairs for its industry, medicines, technology and even pencils for school children. A country that is also the target of non-stop media and terrorist attacks. To which Washington dedicates millions of dollars in sabotage campaigns.
And yet, they have the luxury of being a sports power; as they are in health, science and education. A blockaded and besieged country that, with sheer courage and pleasure, defeated rivals on and off the diamond, endorsing its baseball prestige by placing itself among the four best in the world.
Giovanni Efrain Reyes Ortiz, Ph.D. en Economía para el Desarrollo y Relaciones Internacionales, de la Universidad de Pittsburgh, con post-grados de la Escuela de Altos Estudios Comerciales -HEC- en París, Francia, y de la Universidad de Harvard. Ha sido Director de Integración Latinoamericana y del Caribe en el Sistema Económico Latinoamericano y Director de Informe en Naciones Unidas.