- The Washington Times - Friday, March 10, 2006

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — While Cuba played the Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic, a spectator in the stands raised a sign saying: “Down with Fidel,” sparking an international incident that escalated yesterday with the velocity of a major league fastball.

The image of the man holding the sign behind home plate was beamed live Thursday night to millions of TV viewers — including those in Cuba. The top Cuban official at the game at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan rushed to confront the man.

Puerto Rican police quickly intervened and took the Cuban official — Angel Iglesias, vice president of Cuba’s National Institute of Sports — to a nearby police station where they lectured him about free speech.

“We explained to him that here the constitutional right to free expression exists and that it is not a crime,” police Col. Adalberto Mercado was quoted as saying in El Nuevo Dia, a San Juan daily.

The brouhaha gathered steam yesterday when Cuba’s Communist Party newspaper, Granma, called the sign-waving “a cowardly incident.” Cuba’s Revolutionary Sports Movement exhorted Cubans to demonstrate in Havana late yesterday, saying U.S. and Puerto Rican authorities were involved in “the cynical counterrevolutionary provocations.”

The Cuban Baseball Federation, in a statement released yesterday in San Juan, said authorities failed to provide security and preserve the spirit of the sporting event, and “evidently had no intention of doing so.”

The Cubans considered withdrawing from the tournament because of “the lack of security and respect” but decided to remain after Puerto Rican promoters made guarantees, the federation said in a statement without elaborating.

An anti-Castro Web site, therealcuba.com, identified the protester only as Enrique, and carried his account of the incident.

Enrique said that during the warm-up before the game, he flashed another sign denouncing Fidel Castro — this one saying “Baseball players yes, Tyrants no” — to the Cuban leader’s son, Tony Castro. Tony Castro is the Cuban team doctor.

“He looked down and kept walking, and I shouted ‘Eso es para tu papa’ [That is for your dad]. … I know he heard that,” Enrique said, according to the account on the Web site.

Col. Mercado said the spectator, and a second one who also waved signs, had tickets for the section behind home plate, but had moved out of their seats closer to the view of the TV cameras. Cuban state TV was showing the ESPN signal and the anti-Castro signs were briefly visible on television in Cuba.

Police later told the pair to return to their seats, Col. Mercado said, adding that Mr. Iglesias was never under arrest.

“The Cubans were upset with the incident that happened last night, and they want to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” said John Blundell, spokesman of Major League Baseball, which helped establish the tournament. “We are doing everything that we can to ensure the safety of fans and the delegations.”

Cuba downed the Netherlands 11-2. Cuba has also beat Panama in the first round of competition.

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide