Ozzie Guillen is the baseball manager of the Miami Marlins. He is an outspoken guy. Ozzie is anything but politically correct. When he managed in Chicago, he made candid comments about everything from getting drunk after games on the road to his wife’s lousy perfume. There are lots of characters in public life in Chicago and when you have won a World Series, your outrageous quotes are greeted with a shrug of the shoulders rather than shock.
Ozzie was signed to manage in Miami, in no small part, because ownership is hoping to get the local Cuban community to buy tickets. The Marlins historically have drawn miniscule gatherings that could only be called “crowds” in the loosest sense. But this season, ownership hopes things will be different. The Marlins are now named for Miami instead of Florida and have a flashy, new stadium with a retractable dome to protect its fans from the summer weather that makes life in South Florida a delight only for gators and mosquitoes. The owners paid big bucks for new players in hopes Miami could soon contend for a championship. And then Guillen and his “love” for Fidel Castro intervened.
Actually Ozzie didn’t say he loved the policies of Castro. What he said was he loved Castro’s resilience. Here’s the quote that got the older Miami Cuban community so upset: “I love Fidel Castro. You know why? A lot of people have wanted to kill Fidel Castro for the last 60 years, but that SOB is still there.” Ozzie called Castro an SOB, but who noticed? Unfortunately, no one, especially not the Cuban refugee community in South Florida. It is enough that he used the word “love” to describe any feelings he has about the Cuban dictator. In Chicago, folks know Ozzie has made many more outrageous statements in his life, but you’re not in Chicago anymore, Ozzie.
The outrage that greeted Ozzie’s comments would have made one think he was the one that failed to provide air cover for the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion 50 years ago. The predictable American ritual followed. At first, Ozzie tried to blame his poor English for the distortion of his quotes about Castro. The Marlins ownership was aghast as they envisioned the local Cuban community turning from paying fans into protesters. Ozzie was forced into one of those painful public apologies, so common these days that they might soon have a cable channel entirely devoted to the public apologies of public figures (call it Contrite TV). The Marlins suspended Ozzie for five games in hopes the furor would be quieted. A five-game suspension hasn’t satisfied the angry local Cuban community, who wants Ozzie fired because, if there is an axiom in this country, it is that all of us have a constitutional right not to be offended at any time.
I am not here to defend Guillen’s comments about Castro, although admiring Castro’s ability to survive the poisonous cigars of the CIA is quite different than supporting the dictator’s political principles. Uncle Nunzi even once admitted to me he admired Mussolini’s ability to make the trains run on time. I am bothered by our easy acceptance of an employer’s right to stifle an employee’s right to voice his or her opinions.
The Marlins’ organization knew what it was getting in Ozzie so it should not escape blame if there is blame to mete out. Ozzie’s statement is essentially innocuous as well as stupid. The Cuban refugee community outrage is over-the-top even by its standards. Here’s why.
Because of the political importance of Florida in electing presidents, politicians have long catered to the whims of the Cuban refugee community. The embargo on Cuba continues even after it has proved a failure in getting rid of Castro (brother Raul is now in charge). We trade with Vietnam, China and Russia, but hold our nose when it comes to Cuba. Meanwhile it is the people in Cuba who are really the ones suffering from the embargo. The only thing standing in the way of diplomatic relations with Cuba is the fear of political reprisal in Florida. Then there’s the other hypocrisy.
We supported the Batista regime in Cuba because it allowed American investment (if that’s what you call the mob-run casinos and brothels). The Batista dictatorship’s ruthlessness didn’t outrage us because we got a cut of the profits. There was a time when Fidel’s revolution was cheered in the United States until we found out he wasn’t a believer in democratic capitalism. Our attempts at killing Castro only served to drive him into the arms of the Soviets. President John F. Kennedy used the mob to try to get rid of Castro, and it does not take a farfetched imagination to wonder if this action played a role in him being assassinated in retaliation.
If we could use the Guillen incident to rethink the hypocrisy of our own policies toward Cuba, maybe some good will come out of all of this nonsense. In the meantime, the Marlins better get on a long winning streak soon or they’ll throw Ozzie under the bus faster than a drunk’s wallet disappears in a South Beach bar.
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