Monday, April 9, 2012

Punishing Ozzie Guillen for Being Himself [Updated]

Cuban exiles in Miami have every right to be offended by the remarks of Ozzie Guillen, but not the right to punish him and the Miami Marlins for it. If they truly are believers of human rights (and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights), then Cuban exiles should understand that punishing Guillen would constitute a violation (as interference) of his "right to freedom of opinion" (Article 19). Also, as devout Christians, Cuban exiles should accept Guillen's public apology, forgive him and withdraw any threat of sanction. If Guillen is punished for his personal opinions the example of hypocrisy would have negative effects for the entire Miami community. Instead, the Miami Marlins should take advantage of the moment and make extraordinary gestures to resolve several problems it already has with the entire Miami community since the construction of their new stadium in Little Havana.


In a recent interview with Time Magazine (Sean Gregory), Miami Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen made these remarks: "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 (expletive) is still here."

In Miami, any positive comment about Fidel Castro marks you for ostracism. This is mainly due to current U.S. policy that still characterize the leaders of the Cuban government as official enemies, a large Cuban exile community that has made their suffering at the hands of the Cuban government a core part of their collective identity and a local media that regularly presents negative stories and views about Cuba.

In some sectors of Miami, some are still at war with the Cuban government. And that means Fidel Castro is the worst enemy of all (guilty of worse crimes than Hitler according to Armando Perez-Roura of Radio Mambi). Therefore, to speak positively about Fidel Castro is a virtual crime for some in Miami. And, being offended is only the beginning.


The controversial comments by Ozzie Guillen were quickly noticed by the local Spanish media on Friday, but only today did local leaders react. While Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado has accepted Guillen's apology, other Cuban exile leaders, like Miami-Dade County Chairman Joe Martinez [PDF] and Miami City Commissioner Francis Suarez [PDF] have written letters demanding Guillen's resignation or removal as manager. The county mayor, Carlos Jimenez, has called for some action, but did not demand a resignation.

Concerning public opinion, local Spanish news station Univision 23 conducted an online poll showing a 58% majority (from over 300 votes) favoring some form of company sanction against Guillen, but not specifying the kind. (By comparison, an online poll from Chicago, Guillen's former home, showed 58% favoring no punishment at all.) And, a Miami Herald online poll found a majority of readers (56% from over 1000 votes) disagreed that Guillen should resign.


There are some who are willing to give Ozzie Guillen a second chance. One of them is Cuban exile and Baseball Hall of Fame announcer Felo Ramirez. Ramirez is the official voice of the Miami Marlins games heard on Radio Mambi and greatly admired throughout the community for his radio work. Last year, he was awarded with a street-naming near the construction of the new Miami Marlins Stadium.

And, today Ramirez revealed on Spanish-language radio ("Prohibido Callarse" show on WQBA) that he had personally forgiven Ozzie Guillen for his controversial comments and hoped that everyone would give Guillen a chance to explain himself (Univision23 report). Guillen will have that opportunity on Tuesday morning in a Miami press conference.

From another personal perspective, local sports reporter Will Manso (WPLG) writes that he has known Ozzie Guillen for years and is confident that "Guillen wasn't trying to say he was pro-Castro," as many in Miami are interpreting it. Manso also says: " I think when people see his sincere apology, this issue will die down and Guillen and the team can go on with the season."

Every person deserves forgiveness. At its foundation it assumes that every free person can change for the better, and therefore the act provides freedom and hope for all. But, if one is threatened with punishment for being offensive, then it assumes that freedom is conditional and that some people don't have the capacity to freely improve themselves.


If our local leaders consider the principles of human rights, their own personal religious beliefs, and of course the opinions of the public, then I see a good outcome: Guillen will be forgiven, the Miami Marlins will be given a chance to make amends, and community relations will improve.

Its an ideal scenario, and it could serve as an example for the future when the U.S. attempts reconciliation with Cuba. From another angle, Guillen's comments did provoke something that has been totally missed by the media: the many failed assassination attempts against Fidel Castro, some which included assassination attempts by the U.S. government during the 60s and should be considered violations of "basic constitutional principles" and "traditional American beliefs" (Jones, 2008). Failed U.S. operations during the 60s to overthrow the Cuban government also helped Fidel Castro present himself as an effective and morally superior revolutionary leader for years to come.

In a 2008 BBC report, one young Cuban rapper expressed that "Fidel is an idol for me." The article reported that "many [young Cubans] still respect [Fidel Castro] as the leader of the revolution and the man who has defied the United States time and again."

Americans and Cuban-Americans will have to confront these opinions at some point in the future. They won't be able to condemn or punish all of them as easily as Ozzie Guillen. These are Cubans expressing and being themselves. So how will they reconcile with those opinions? The result of Tuesday's press conference should give us an indication.

--- [Update] ---

Ozzie Guillen was given a 5-game suspension by the Miami Marlins (supported by Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig) and apologized several times before a Miami press conference Tuesday morning. You can listen to most of the event here. Response to English questions begin at the 10:30 mark.

Guillen partly blamed translation errors for his published controversial comments. In response to one question Guillen clearly denied saying "I love Fidel Castro." Another reporter brought up a 2008 interview where Guillen said "I admire [Fidel Castro]." Guillen responded today by saying "I don't admire him. How can I admire him?"

Guillen also mentioned that he met with some Cuban exile members before the press conference (members of the Ladies in White and the Cuban American National Foundation according to this report) where during their discussion Guillen received "advice" and "learned a little bit more about the Cuban regime." Guillen described how during their conversation he felt shame in front of them, unable to look directly into their eyes.

Near the end of the press conference Guillen concluded: "What I [think] is that [Fidel Castro is] a person that the whole world hates. Including me. And I hate him for the harm he has done towards many Latinos and many people of his country."

--- [Update 2] ---

Angel de Fana, one of the founding members of the Cuban exile organization Plantados, today revealed that he was one of the invited guests that had a private meeting with Ozzie Guillen before this morning's press conference. Appearing on the MegaTV political talk show "Tres Caras de la Moneda" (Three Sides of the Coin), Angel de Fana described a group of about 7 to 8 guest that had been invited to personally receive Guillen's apology. De Fana said he though Guillen's apology was sincere and then the group suggested a way for Guillen to possibly repair his relationship with Cuban exiles: become active with "la causa." Speaking out publicly about the Ladies in White and Cuban political prisoners were two examples mentioned.

In a related report by Telemundo51, Marilys Llanos interviewed another Cuban exile that was invited to personally meet with Ozzie Guillen this morning: Ladies in White member Maria Elena Alpizar. She told Telemundo51 that she forgave Guillen for his sincere apology, and described how the invited guests had advised Guillen to become more involved with Cuban exile groups. Specifically, after describing Guillen as a wealthy man, Elena Alpizar said that if Guillen helps out these groups monetarily, they would be willing to help out Guillen make amends within the exile community.

--- [Update 3] ---

Some other interesting articles and video over the suspension of Ozzie Guillen:

- "Can Miami Speak Freely on Castro?" by Fernando Peinado (BBC Mundo)

- USA Today article by Paul White; includes an online poll with over 7000 votes, and a three-way split over whether Guillen's remarks were fairly dealt with.

- Excellent points made by sports writer David Zirin in a Current television interview.

- El Show de Fernando Hidalgo on local Miami station AmericaTeVe performs a song calling for the "total suspension" of Ozzie Guillen.

--- [Update 4] ---

According to three online polls and one telephone survey by ESPN, the majority opinion after Ozzie Guillen's suspension is that the suspension was either too harsh or fair (above 60%). The minority opinion believes Guillen should be fired or suspended much longer. It's a stark contrast to what Miami leaders, like Commissioners Joe Martinez and Francis Suarez, the Hialeah City Council and the Latin Builders Association have demanded: Guillen's resignation. But its not surprising to see our political leaders not representing the voice of the people.

Here's a screen shot of the three online polls together. The first on the left is from the L.A. Times, the next one is from The Miami Herald and the last on the right is from the Radio Mambi (Univision Radio) website.

The ESPN phone survey is the most specific and informative. It found that "nearly two-thirds of Miami residents, and 56 percent of Cuban-Americans, think Guillen should keep his job."


Finally, it seems that El Mundo reporter Rui Ferreira managed to upload some videos of the morning protest in front of the Marlins Stadium. In one video, you can see how a supporter of Guillen's right to freedom of expression is harassed by anti-Guillen demonstrators as she leaves the stadium.

[Photo by Getty Images]