Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Speak Carefully in Banana Republics!

         Ozzie Guillen stepped into a whole new world when he left as manager of the Chicago White Sox to become manager of the Florida Marlins in Miami. But he didn't quite make it unscathed through the first week of the season, although the new job was not his first rodeo. An all-star shortstop, heralded coach, manager of the World Series-winning White Sox, the crudely outspoken Ozzie has survived many verbal skirmishes and gaffes. But in an interview with Time Magazine, he praised Fidel Castro with quotes such as, "I love Fidel Castro."  This time, Ozzie's assumption that in the United States the cherished First Amendment gave him the right to express admiration for someone was quite naive, ignoring the nuances of South Florida since January of 1959 when Fidel Castro overthrew the Batista-Mafia dictatorship, which quickly became reconstituted in South Florida. On the road in Philadelphia when the tsunami hit the fan, Ozzie was forced to leave his team in the middle of a six-game road trip and fly home to Miami for a Tuesday morning (April 10th) news conference where he hoped tears and apologies would allow him to keep his job. (His Marlins have a new, sumptuous, tax-paid stadium in the heart of Miami's Little Havana). But Ozzie, known for his intelligence and toughness, is neither smart enough nor strong enough to weather this particular hurricane, not in Miami where Fidel Castro long ago, and quite unintentionally, created the first and only Banana Republic on U. S. soil.
        Ozzie Guillen began his Major League career as the shortstop for the Chicago White Sox  and was named American League Rookie of the Year. Along with Chico Carrasquel, Luis Aparicio, Dave Concepcion, Omar Vizquel, etc., Ozzie joined the pantheon of truly great Venezuelan-born shortstops who have graced the American Major Leagues. He is the only Latino to manage a World Series winner and he is a millionaire many times over. But...as the new manager of the Florida Marlins in Miami he told Time Magazine that he "loved" and "admired" Fidel Castro. Thus, even before that particular magazine article was published, Ozzie has met his Waterloo for misjudging Miami as seriously as Napoleon misjudged Russia. But, Ozzie, it was nice knowing you and, as a baseball diehard, I'll always keep your initial bubblegum card.
         Andy Gomez, the assistant provost and senior fellow at the Institute of Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami, said, "He (Guillen) is a great manager, but he should stick to something he knows." Then Mr. Gomez volunteered to give Ozzie Guillen "a private tutorial" on Fidel Castro. It is assumed, of course, that such instruction would be unbiased, totally accurate, and eminently truthful. But it causes one to wonder if Mr. Gomez would venture from the friendly confines of Miami to travel around the world to provide private tutorials to far more famous and more important people who have praised Fidel Castro much more lavishly than Ozzie Guillen ever did -- people such as Dilma Rousseff, the President of Latin American superpower Brazil; Manmohan Singh, the highly respected Prime Minister of India; Nelson Mandela, the South African political and civil rights icon; etc.  
         Joe Martinez, Chairman of the Miami-Dade County Commission, led the parade of leading anti-Castro zealots and benefactors in South Florida demanding that Ozzie Guillen resign as the manager of the Florida Marlins in the heart of Miami's Little Havana. The Guillen "I love Fidel" comment is somewhat of a windfall for Mr. Martinez, who only last Wednesday submitted his paperwork to run for mayor of Miami. He will challenge incumbent Miami mayor Carlos Gimenez in the August election when, it appears, Martinez and Gimenez will vie to win the most anti-Castro votes.
          Meanwhile, the old revolutionary -- himself a huge baseball fan -- ponders in Havana, wondering who will succeed Ozzie Guillen as manager of the Florida Marlins in Little Havana and musing to himself how much he influences such things. For sure, Guillen's successor, like the local and national politicos, will have to divulge how much he hates Fidel even before he presents his baseball credentials. On August 13th, as the Martinez-Gimenez battle to become Miami's mayor ends, the old man hopes to be quietly celebrating his 86th birthday. At his age, the machinations of Miami's Fidel-obsessed world is of little concern to the man himself. 
Photo courtesy: Joe Cavaretta/South Florida Sun Sentinel
         A contrite, torpid Ozzie Guillen, manager of the Miami Marlins, was forced to leave his team on its six-day road trip to fly back to Miami today (April 10th) to not only palliate but to totally recant his "love" and "respect" for Fidel Castro, as expressed in an interview with Time Magazine. He temporarily saved his job for which he was guaranteed $10 million in the next four years. The club, seeking to pacify Little Havana in the heart of Miami, handed him a five-game suspension five games into his first season as manager in Miami, where the Venezuelan-born Guillen has lived for the past twelve years. The Marlins last week inaugurated their new $515 million stadium in Little Havana where the byzantine Cuban-exile hatred of Fidel Castro has ruled supreme since January-1959.
          Meanwhile, on the nearby island itself the pertinacious eastern town of Holguin dusted off its "Battling Forever" billboard that honors the revolutionary Fidel Castro while also saluting the tenaciousness that has vexed Little Havana on a daily basis since January of 1959. Considering who his most determined long-time enemies are -- the Cuban exiles, the Mafia, and the CIA -- Castro's tenacity and longevity is not only unique but understandably perplexing to some.
          The images today (April 10) of a devastated Ozzie Guillen at his mea culpa news conference in Miami flashed across the world, dominating the printed, electronic, and online news and sports worlds. America's #1 newspaper, USA Today, featured Guillen's Castro comments as its "Cover Story," with the major article written by Paul White pointing out that long before he took the managerial job in Miami Guillen had openly expressed his admiration of Fidel Castro. For example, in a 2008 article for Men's Journal Guillen, a renowned tough man,  was asked, "Who is the toughest man you know."  He readily replied, "Fidel Castro! He's a bull...everybody's against him and he still survives. I admire him." Of course, outside of Little Havana, Ozzie Guillen is not exactly a lone wolf.
        The new (2012) edition of The Guinness Book of World Records recognizes Fidel Castro for having survived more (uh, many, many more!) assassination attempts than anyone in history -- a whopping 638! That's not the only reason, of course, that both the old (now 85-year-old) revolutionary and Ozzie Guillen are now hated in Little Havana. But it is one reason.
Photo courtesy: Susan Knowles/UPI/Landov
          Hey, what's new? On April 10, 2012 Fidel Castro continued to stir vitriol in Miami and create headlines around the world, as he has done since the 1950s. The pertinent question now is...what will be more significant -- his 85-plus years on earth or his looming legacy? The answer to that question will also predicate the post-Castro rulers of Cuba, namely foreign dominance or domestic control. And that issue is far more interesting than a Latino baseball manager in the U. S. being legally mugged for the crime of admiring, like The Guinness Book of World Records and more than a few others, the old revolutionary's longevity. So, nothing is new but, I guess, April 10-2012 was a slow news day, much to the delight of Fidel watchers around the world.
          Christine Armario (above), for her reporting on the Ozzie Guillen-Fidel Castro brouhaha in Miami, should receive both the Nobel Peace Prize and the Pulitzer Literary Prize for her Associated Press article today (April 11) entitled "Ozzie Guillen's Fidel Castro Comments Open Old Wounds in Miami." It is that good, that brave, and that unique. Ms. Armario's first sentence was: "Marlins manager Ozzie Gullen's comments professing admiration for Fidel Castro caused a bigger uproar than if the Miami baseball team had spent the entire season in last place." Then -- after explaining the whos, wheres, whens, and whats -- she added this courageous paragraph: "The exile community's demographics have changed in important ways -- there is less support for the U. S. embargo against Cuba, for instance. More Cubans who come to South Florida these days are doing so for economic reasons. And younger Cuban-Americans tend to have less animosity than their parents do toward Castro and his brother Raul."
           Then the perspicacious and startlingly courageous Christine Armario wrote: "For all those softer sentiments, however, the Guillen episode this week proves that when it comes to Cuba, the rhetoric and discourse remain largely in the hands of those with the most hardline positions." Merely writing such a sentence separates Ms. Armario from the plethora of pusillanimous right-wing, left-wing, and politically/socially correct cowards and clowns that claim to be journalists. For someone in the U. S. media to have both the intelligence and the guts to state the facts regarding the Cuba-U. S. conundrum -- and do it from her base in Miami, no less -- is a truly remarkable enterprise, surely worthy of consideration from the Nobel and Pulitzer committees. "The Guillen episode this week proves that when it comes to Cuba, the rhetoric and discourse remain largely in the hands of those with the most hardline positions." Working for the world's largest wire-service (Associated Press) in America's ubiquitous plutocracy (MIAMI), Christine Armario got to the truth and the crux of what she termed "the Guillen episode." Amazing. Absolutely amazing! At the least, it represents one of the very few times since 1959 that the mainstream U. S. media has rendered a truthful sentence or an honest paragraph regarding Cuba. At the most, it should earn her Nobel and Pulitzer honors!
  This is the Cuban flag waving in Havana today.
This is the Cuban flag being waved in Little Havana today.
This is the American flag waving over Guantanamo Bay
This is two nations at war to appease a few old revengeful exiles
This is a little island with a huge (unwanted) relevance
This is a beautiful and peaceful little bird

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