- - Sunday, November 27, 2016


I wonder if former baseball commissioner Bud Selig and Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos will be attending any memorials for Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.

After all, they seemed to be best buds in 1999, the three of them sitting side by side, like a Pizza Hut advertisement, behind home plate when the Orioles played the Cuban Nationals team in Havana.

I hope they felt uncomfortable sitting there (maybe Castro’s gun was digging into Angelos ribs), because it was an uncomfortable scene, the three of them sitting together. In fact, after spending five days in Cuba, the whole game was uncomfortable.

It had the air of respectability and decency – like some of the reviews of the Cuban dictator’s life upon his death Friday at the age of 90 – and, like some of those retrospectives, it was a crime of sorts against those who were in the Cuban jails on that March 1999 day because they believed Castro was neither respectable or decent.

That was their crime. They didn’t agree with Fidel Castro.

I could never get that out of my mind while watching the game that day. I had the pleasure of meeting many Cuban people in the five days I was there, and, although I was under watch for much of that time, the fear and pain that people lived with on the island was too overwhelming to hide.

I met an out-of-work printer one day while walking through Parque Central in Havana, where people gathered to debate baseball (perhaps the only safe haven for debate) in discussions known as tertulias. He spoke English, and volunteered to serve as my interpreter that day.

Before we parted ways, I gave him $20, and he broke down in tears, speaking of the food and goods such a large amount would bring him and his family.

“He had both admirers and detractors in Cuba and around the world,” read the New York Times obituary about Fidel Castro. “Some saw him as a ruthless despot who trampled rights and freedoms; many others hailed him as the crowds did that first night, as a revolutionary hero for the ages.”

This is ‘The Godfather’ defense, the mob boss who built a hospital wing in his community, the “Corleone Foundation.” Look at all the good he has done. Ignore those who paid the price for his “decency.”

In Cuba, there are no T-shirts for those who suffer under the dictator’s regime, no media campaigns on the island on behalf of dissenters and critics who, according to the Human Rights Watch organization, face jail and beatings for their words and thoughts.

“The government continues to rely on arbitrary detention to harass and intimidate individuals who exercise their fundamental rights,” the organization wrote in its 2014 report of Cuba. “The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) — an independent human rights group the government views as illegal — received over 7,188 reports of arbitrary detentions from January through August 2014, a sharp increase from approximately 2,900 in 2013 and 1,100 in 2010 during the same time period.”

In other words, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, could not have worn a T-shirt in Cuba that featured an enemy of the state, as he has here in America — his Castro T-shirt with Malcolm X. Like most times when Kaepernick has opened his mouth (see 2016 presidential election), he sounded like a clueless fool when defended Castro in an argument with a Miami Herald reporter last week about wearing the shirt.

“One thing Fidel Castro did do is they have the highest literacy rate because they invest more in their education system than they do in their prison system, which we do not do here even though we’re fully capable of doing that,” Kaepernick said.

I doubt, though, they have many books for those Cuban citizens who, like Kaepernick, speak out on political issues, in the jails of the country where those people often wind up. This is misdirection, the method used by those who are faced with defending the indefensible — as if the crimes of someone else legitimizes the crimes you are having to defend.

So as we say goodbye to the Cuban strongman, let us honor him for having the healthiest and best-read political prisoners in the world. It is safe to assume that none of them were in the ballpark in Havana, Estadio Latinoamericano, that day with Castro, Peter Angelos and Bud Selig, watching a baseball game along with 50,000 other friends of Fidel.

Thom Loverro hosts his weekly podcast “Cigars & Curveballs” Wednesdays available on iTunes and Google Play.

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