Free speech and Fidel Castro in Florida


The First Amendment protects your right to say just about anything, but doesn't insulate you from the consequences. And there's a difference between the right to free speech and the responsibility to be held accountable for saying something truly offensive.

So it's no surprise that the manager of the Florida Miami Marlins, a team with a spankin' new publicly financed ballpark in Little Havana, would get himself in deep doo-doo by saying that Fidel Castro maybe wasn't such a horrible guy after all. As Dave Zirin, my favorite sportswriter, notes:

Short of a hurricane or an armed taxpayer revolt, this had to have been Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria’s worst nightmare. ... Casual kind words for Castro in Miami is akin to looking at a leaky bottle of kerosene and thinking it could use a match.

I get it -- Ozzie Guillen offended a sizable portion of the community in which he does business, and he's supposed to be a community leader and bring Cuban Americans into the ballpark, and whether he misspoke or was having trouble expressing a complex political thought in English, he can't really get out of this one without taking some hits.

Still, the AP story that ran in the Chron was a bit over the top:

The suspension recalled the punishment given to Marge Schott, the late owner of the Cincinnati Reds. Schott so embarrassed baseball in the 1990s with inflammatory racial remarks and fond recollections of Adolf Hitler that she was suspended from ownership duties for a season.

Wha-what? I'm not trying to defend ol' Commie Fidel here, and I know he was a dictator who has political prisoners and didn't tolerate dissent, but seriously? We're comparing an offhand comment about Castro to support for Adolf Hitler?

As far as I know, Castro was never guilty of mass genocide. He didn't systematically murder 6 million people. He didn't invade Europe and attempt to take over the world. Hell, he couldn't even "export the revolution" very far off his tiny island.

You don't have to support every policy of the Cuban government to acknowledge that Castro took an impoverished nation controlled by a savage U.S. puppet and turned it into a functioning country where everyone gets enough to eat and has free education and medical care -- and has done it up against a total boycott and for many years a secret war waged by the most powerful nation on Earth.

Hitler he ain't.

In fact, I think that (possibly outside of Miami) it's possible for sensitive, politically correct Americans to discuss Castro with a bit more nuance and subtlety than the ownership of the Marlins is willing to allow. You can respect the guy, as Guillen apparently did, for surviving for 65 years when the U.S. was doing just about everything, including planting an exploding cigar in his stash, to get rid of him. You can say that he was, and is, one of the most important Leftist leaders in the Western Hemisphere, and inspiration to revolutionaries from Nelson Mandela to Hugo Chavez. You can have a reasonable argument about whether he might have become more open to democracy and free speech if the U.S. wasn't constantly trying to overthrow him.

You can say things here -- because this is America -- that you can't say in Cuba. Except you apparently can't say them in Miami.



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