Cuban Baseball in Perspective
N.J. Cubans happy for baseball team, not for Castro
Saturday, January 21, 2006 By MIGUEL PEREZSTAFF WRITER
News that Cuba will be allowed to play in the World Baseball Classic was received with mixed feelings among North Jersey's Cuban-Americans on Friday. Some welcomed the reports with nationalistic pride, yet others vowed to root for the American team.
"These things always create mixed feelings," said Remberto Perez of Tenafly. "I'm a big baseball fan, and I always want to see good baseball. But this will remind us of how these players are used by Cuba."
Perez said he doesn't expect his American friends to understand.
"In the Anglo community, they can't really see why we are not ecstatic about this, because they take the simplistic approach that it is only a baseball game," he said. "But [Cuban leader Fidel] Castro has always made politics out of sports, especially the baseball teams. He uses them for propaganda. So that is the part that is hurtful to us."
In Paterson, Cuban-American Marcia Sotorrio saw it a little differently.
"It's good that they will be allowed to play, because the more exposure they get to what's happening outside of Cuba, the more they see what freedom is like, the more motivated they will be to seek change in Cuba," she said. "It could start a psychological revolution once they return to the miserable lives they have to live there."
Cuba's application to participate in the 16-nation tournament, which begins in Puerto Rico, had been denied in mid-December, when the U.S. Treasury Department determined that allowing the Cubans to play for money would violate the U.S. embargo against the communist-ruled island.
But after Cuba vowed to donate its profits to the victims of Hurricane Katrina, a Treasury spokeswoman announced Friday that a license had been granted for the Cuban team to participate under an agreement that "ensures that no funding will make its way into the hands of the Castro regime."
At the coffee stands (this would be Las Ventanitas) of Hudson County, where Cuban baseball and politics are the main topics of discussion on any given day, Friday was especially intense. The news led to heated, arm-waving discussions. (can't you completely picture this?)
"I don't think the Cubans should be allowed to play," said Alberto Diaz, 81, of West New York.
"They don't represent Cuba. They represent repression."
Hiroland Garcia, 72, of Union City agreed. "If Cuba wins, it will not be treated as a baseball victory," he said. "Castro will say it was a victory over Yankee imperialism."
Garcia said he will root for the American team when the tournament begins in March "because I'm not for anything that would give Fidel a victory." His friend, Ruben Alvarez, 78, of Union City, said he will support any team playing against his countrymen "because I did that even when I still lived in Cuba."
Yet other Cuban-Americans on Hudson County's Bergenline Avenue said they welcomed the inclusion of the Cuban team in the baseball series. "[The United States] had to let them play because Cuba has the best players," said Angela Lopez, a waitress at El Artesano Restaurant in Union City, where the menu is as Cuban as the political discussions.
"If the Cubans didn't play it would not be a legitimate series. How could the winners call themselves champions without beating the Cubans?"
Another waiter, Ignacio Alfonso, 42, said: "We should not mix sports with politics. Let's leave that to Castro."
The Cubans should be allowed to play, said customer Felipe Gomez, "as long as they are not violating the embargo."
"Some of them will find a way to defect," Gomez added. "And once they do they will show the world that they are against that regime and that in Cuba there is a lot of talent that is suppressed."
Because this tournament will allow the immigrant stars of American baseball to play for their respective home countries, Cuban-Americans say their own players - including some who have defected from the communist island - should also be allowed to play on the Cuban team. They don't think Castro would allow defectors on his team, but they say that should be a condition for letting Cuba participate in the tournament.(I could not agree with this statement more)
"If you want to see real Cuban baseball, without politics, let them all play together," said Perez, the New Jersey representative of the anti-Castro Cuban-American National Foundation. "I think that way a lot of us would be watching without remorse." (this is so TRUE).