Political whispers hard to ignore as Cuban team arrives in Miami for World Baseball Classic

MIAMI – Members of the Cuban national baseball team arrived in South Florida overnight ahead of the next round of the World Baseball Classic.

After their big win in Australia, Team Cuba will now have to fight it out in the heart of the Cuban exile.

Orlando Gutierrez, of the Cuban Resistance Assembly, said Thursday that this isn’t just any game and to expect protests surrounding their visit.

“I expect to see really good Cuban baseball players, play a sport that Cubans adore,” Gutierrez said. “To put forth the voice of those people in Cuba who are in prison, who are persecuted.”

Gutierrez argues that for decades the Cuban government has used sports to spread propaganda and political influence.

“We have nothing against the players,” he said. “They’re athletes competing in a major athletic sport competition and we don’t reject them. We reject the regime which controls them, and the regime which is represented in this world event.”

As for the players, Gutierrez argues that being in Miami is probably highly stressful as they are under immense scrutiny from the Cuban government as Cuban athletes in the past have used similar events to defect.

“I have no doubt that if they were to defect, their families back at home would suffer significant consequences,” said retired University of Miami professor and Cuba expert Andy Gomez.

Police said they are preparing for protests at loanDepot Park ahead of the game, but their main priority is to make sure everyone is safe.

“We just ask everyone to please respect everyone’s opinion,” said Miami Police Capt. Freddie Cruz. “We live in a free country. We won’t tolerate violence.”

After decades of being rejected by the Cuban government, this will also mark the first time that Major League Baseball players will join the Cuban National Team. Four of them accepted the invitation while many others declined.

Cuba will now face off against the winner of the Venezuela-USA game.

About the Authors:

In January 2017, Hatzel Vela became the first local television journalist in the country to move to Cuba and cover the island from the inside. During his time living and working in Cuba, he covered some of the most significant stories in a post-Fidel Castro Cuba. 

Andrew Perez is a South Florida native who joined the Local 10 News team in May 2014.