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Miami Herald
Miami Herald
Grethel Aguila and Jimena Tavel

Protesters slam Cuban national team hours before World Baseball Classic game in Miami

MIAMI — As fans arrived Sunday afternoon at loanDepot Park, they donned red, white and blue gear — the colors of the two nations facing off in a contentious matchup.

But for many, it’s more than a game.

The U.S. is now coming up against Cuba in a World Baseball Classic affair hosted in Miami, home to the largest Cuban American community in the country. This year’s meeting between the two teams has sparked a political battle — as well as protests — regarding the island nation’s appearance in the tournament.

The tension was palpable outside the ballpark as some carried protest signs, featuring expletive-heavy messages directed at Cuban leader Miguel Díaz Canel. One included a José Martí quote: “Cuando un pueblo emigra, sus gobernantes sobran,” which roughly translates to “When a country migrates, their rulers are leftover.”

Police stood around the area, directing traffic and monitoring crowds. Ramón Saúl Sánchez, the president of Democracy Movement, a nonprofit that advocates for democratic changes in Cuba, thanked them for protecting his freedom of expression.

Sánchez, 68, organized a protest on the intersection of Northwest 16th Avenue and Northwest 5th Street. He arrived to the area at about 6 a.m. to set up a wall of posters that read “Free the Cuban political prisoners,” among other messages. In front of the wall, he placed 10 white crosses with taped pictures of disappeared children.

It’s not the first protest centering on the Cuban national baseball team this weekend. Dozens of Cubans of all ages demonstrated against “Team Asere” Saturday in front of the emblematic Versailles restaurant in Little Havana.

“We’re condemning the Cuban dictatorship, not the Cuban baseball players,” said Sánchez, who migrated to Miami more than 50 years ago. “We’re here because this is a trap.”

For Sánchez, Cuban leader Miguel Díaz Canel and his government want to distract the world from what’s happening on the island. They’re focused on a baseball game instead of the need for free and fair elections.

“The oppression of our people is not a game,” he said.

By 6 p.m., about 300 people gathered in protest, calling out those with “Team Asere” signs and shirts.

That’s around when Silvio Moreira, 56, flashed a large white sheet he spray painted at home. It read, “Team Asere: Traitors to their people.”

“Everything is political in Cuba,” said Moreira, a truck driver from Miami Beach. “Those who support that Team Asere need to get that.”

Alex Otaola, one of Miami’s most popular influencers, also joined forces with protesters. Otaola, who has Youtube show with about 300,000 subscribers, carried a megaphone with him.

“This is the moment to demand liberty for Cuba,” he said, energizing the protesters.

As he was entering the stadium, Andy Gimenez said he was stopped by staff and asked to change his shirt, which had a derogatory remark aimed at Díaz Canel.

Gimenez, 41, had paid about $300 for his tickets so he opted to turn his shirt inside out.

“I felt like I was back in Cuba, not in a free country,” said Gimenez, who moved from Cuba to Hialeah about two years ago.

At the protest, Andrea Rodriguez, a 24-year-old first-generation Cuban American, was wearing a white T-shirt with a heart-shaped Cuban flag that read “Patria y Vida,” or “Homeland and Life,” a slogan associated with the island’s July 2021 protests. In the crowd of about 40, she held a sign that read “Bienvenidos a Miami. Aquí gritamos Patria y Vida,” or “Welcome to Miami. Here we chant Homeland and Life.”

Rodriguez, an avid baseball fan from Hialeah, said she plans to take her sign inside the ballpark in the hopes that thousands see it during the game.

“This is going to be a global event and if I have a chance to show the world how I feel I’m going to do it,” Rodriguez said. “I’m excited to show them we don’t stand for the regime.”

Jordano Cardenas Castro, who settled in Hialeah after moving from Cuba seven years ago, joined the protest because he felt a “civil duty” to do so.

“Two games will be played today,” he said. “One inside between the two baseball teams and one outside between the free Cubans and the dictatorship.”

The 33-year-old said he’s rooting for the U.S. because the Cuban players — regardless of their personal opinions — represent the regime.

“I have mixed feelings about it but ultimately, I want my adoptive nation to win today,” he said. “I’ll support the Cuban team when Cuba is free.”


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