Castro and Miami’s Cuban community and what the hell was Ozzie Guillen thinking?

Miami Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen recently lost his freakin’ mind. He told Time that

I love Fidel Castro…I respect 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.

Predictably, the world then stopped spinning on its axis.

Temporary insanity? You bet. I mean, Ozzie has always been a loose cannon (which I love about him) and this is hardly his first trip to the political hotseat (his comments on old buddy Hugo Chavez certainly stirred it up a few years back). But this, this was the next-best thing to a letter of resignation. Saying something nice about Fidel Castro in Miami? That’s like whizzing on an Irish flag in Southie. It’s like burning the American flag in Alabama. It’s like ripping up a picture of the Pope on Saturday Night Live. It’s like publishing a blasphemous cartoon of Muhammad in … well, anywhere in the world, I guess. Which is to say: It. Just. Isn’t. Done.

And I understand why so many Cuban-Americans have a problem with Castro. In their shoes, I would, too, I imagine. He’s been something of a tinpot through the years. He has been oppressive. He has fostered far more suffering than one despot should be able to. No question.

You just know there’s a “but” coming, though, don’t you?

Frankly, at a macro level, I’m a little sick of America being held hostage by what is ultimately a small-time, decades-old intramural grudge. Castro bad? Yup. But how many of the people we do business with around the world are worse on criteria like human rights? (Hint: lots.) Is Castro a thug? Maybe, but how many innocent civilians have died in the unjust invasions he has launched in the Middle East? Does he belong behind bars? Very likely, but without putting too fine a point on it, how does his record on torture stack up against, oh, I don’t know, those of the last couple US presidents?

America’s Cuban immigrants are hardly the only ones with grudges against folks back in the old country. Should we sever ties with England and boycott them economically? Google “potato famine” and ask yourself what would happen if all Irish-Americans descended from the millions and millions who fled Brit policy in the 19th century were one-issue, fuck England voters. How about one of our Most Favored Nations (MFN) trading partners, Vietnam. Should we let the Hmong dictate all Vietnam policy?

Just saying.

Those with grievances against the Castro administration are absolutely justified in pleading their cases to their representatives, but the problem I have with the result is that our electoral college system assures that not everyone’s vote is equal. We live in a country where you can get the most votes and see the other guy get the White House. It doesn’t necessarily have to be close, either. In theory, you could lose every single vote in 39 states and win the other 11 by one vote apiece and still be anointed the winner. One person, one vote my ass.

Which means that comparatively small groups of people whose interests have nothing to do with the public interest at large can dictate to the nation as surely as a petulant child emperor whose whim is law. Small groups like, say, the Cuban-American community in Florida. This cohort represents a little better than five percent of the state’s population (a third of a percent of the total US population), which means that in a close election where battleground states are key, it represents a powerful bloc that is not to be trifled with. There’s a reason that presidential candidates pay a lot of attention to this region and this constituency – alienate them and you’re going to have to find some creative means for making up the 29 electoral votes you just flushed.

Again, this is a community that is exercising its rights and leveraging its power in ways that are perfectly legal. So my argument isn’t with them, per se, but with the system that accords power all out of proportion to small, narrow interests.

I’ve been arguing for years, though, that America’s anti-Castro/boycott policy is the best friend that Castro has. It’s seemed that the best way to demonstrate the superiority of our system (there’s not much about modern Cuba that you’re really want to model a system on, is there?) is to open up the borders, open up the economy and wait for Castro to fall against the onslaught of prosperity. I mean, the fall of the Berlin Wall sure didn’t benefit the old-guard Communists to the east, did it? Same concept. Normalize relations, grant Cuba MFN status, open the borders, flood the country with opportunity and see how long the Castro dynasty lasts. I mean, at a minimum it can’t be any less effective than our current policy, right?

But what do I know? In any case, I appear to have wandered away from the whole Ozzie issue, which is this: He may pitch out of this jam, but he’s about to learn the hard way that if a one-in-three hundred minority can command obeisance from He Who Would Be King President, they can damn sure manage the politically incorrect loudmouth in the third-base dugout of their nice new baseball park.

Ought to be fun to watch…


  • Not much about modern Cuba you would want to model a system on..??where have you been? How about free health care, relatively organic nation wide agriculture system, the ability to send
    thousand of Cuban trained doctors around South America to care for folk outside of might be reading to much main street news an listening to too much Miami Cuban rants

    • John Doe: While I am absolutely not guilty of listening to Cuban rants, your comment in general is pretty apt. I’d begin by admitting that I know way less about the real Cuba than I’d like, and the reasons are probably obvious – mainly, just about anything you read is politicized in some respect. So guilty on that count. Also, I should note that, like most experienced writers, things are tuned for certain audiences. It’s fair to say that you’re more knowledgable on the subject than most.

      I’m certainly aware that there are things to be said in Castro’s defense, but my policy prescription – open the gates – probably works either way, huh?

      Good comment. Thanks for stopping by and I hope you’ll come back.

  • Only in Miami….a great post.

    The reality is that for much of the world Fidel Castro is a hero for having stood up to the US and for creating a society that for all its imperfections provides the basics better than many to all of its people. Cuba has also provided medical assistance and training that often overshadows aid programs from the US and Europe. Ask the Haitians.

    Excessive violence in a revolutionary struggle is hardly unique to Cuba, e.g. Russia and China with which the US has quite normal relations. Subsequent Cuban authoritarianism is in part reactive to the effort by the US to force the country to change its political and economic system through invasion, terrorism, covert action and economic warfare/embargo.

    Even in Miami opinion is divided among exiles and later migrants, but the exiles control the political dialog.

    Mr. Guillen probably has no choice but to do penance, but it is another symptom of the dead end of US policy on Cuba.

    John McAuliff
    Fund for Reconciliation and Development

    • John Mc: I keep waiting for us to hit the tipping point with that community. I can’t help thinking that once we do life gets better for all of us.

  • I agree, opening is the only step forward and history will take its course. Opening of any kind is most bitterly opposed because the Miami exiles are terrified that Cuba will evolve with them remaining on the outside. Hopefully they will have alienated so much of their community that it will motivate them to become citizens and vote. We win in the opinion polls but lose in the ballot.

  • There are 2 conversations you cannot have in the US without raising ire: Cuba and Israel.

    Case in point: I had a friend whose mother emigrated from Cuba in ’57 to work in a sweat shop in New York before Castro, when Batista was still in power. I asked him why he and his family hate Castro so much since they left before Castro came to power. Wrong question. Wrong conversation.

    That being said, I agree with the comments about US policy needing to shift to an open relationship. The Cuban embargo is the longest-lived failed policy of the US government since the WWII. We fought a war with Japan and Germany, reconciled, and rebuilt. We fought a war with Korea (and China), assisted some of them in recovery and consider most of them valuable trading partners (NK excepted, of course). Vietnam? We lost 56K+ Americans, now they make underwear for Victoria’s Secret and I could travel there without too many hoops.

    But Cuba? No full scale war. No tens of thousands of American dead. But we can’t cross 90 miles of ocean. You can’t convince me that change would NOT come to Cuba faster if their exposure to the outside world were greater.

    Granted, maybe no American tourists would want to go there (the tongue is firmly in my cheek now). We’ve got Vegas now for domestic debauchery. Actually, Cuba is on our bucket list and we’ll buy tickets as soon as it’s legal.

    The biggest losers in the end of the embargo would be the Cuban Americans who wield that stick over the heads of US politicians in general and those from Florida in particular.

  • Not to mention that the Cuban American community in Miami is not the most admirable of our many immigrant groups. The government before Castro was not exemplary either, cronyism, corruption, torture, class discrimination, etc, etc, and many of the folks that came here were part of it. Now they are burning up the Everglades to plant sugarcane.

    In general, I think once you emigrate, you should lose a certain amount of your rights to talk. If you want to participate, stay and vote. Or fight. Or whatever.

  • It is completely legal to go to Cuba now, but you have to do it in a people to people group trip.

    We are leaving on Saturday for a one week program that focuses on the Irish heritage of Cuba and

    The Center for Cuban Studies, Insight Cuba and many other organizations offer a variety of open enrollment trips. More listed here

    President Obama has the power to make it possible for independent travelers, families and backpackers to go on their own at much less cost, but he is afraid of alienating mythical voters in Miami. Those who will be against such a liberalization are deep in the Romney camp. Romney has pledged to return travel to the restrictive Bush policies.

  • @ John: I’m glad the People to People and academic visits are back (knew about those). Looking forward to “individuals to Cuba.”

  • Matthew Record

    I’m surprised this is as much of a fire-storm as it is and I wonder if it’s media-created based on the American narrative for how it is we’re supposed to see Fidel Castro.

    With two caveats 1) I think a strong distaste and even antipathy for Castro is wholly merited and 2) I don’t claim to be any kind of Studs Turkel scion or demographer but I have worked with dozens of people of Caribbean/Latin immigration or descent and as far as I can tell (and granted its not like this came up ALL THE TIME, but we did often watch the news together) the sentiment conveyed by Guillen is near-universally shared in Latin America and the Caribbean outside of the exiled-in-1959 Cuban population.

    Why do they get to have their say so much louder than everyone else?

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