MIAMI – The Cuban flags are out and Little Havana, the heart of the Cuban exile community, is ready to receive its Cuban National baseball team.
It marks the first time since 2006 that the team has reached the semifinals of the World Baseball Classic.
But, as controversy continues to grow ahead of Sunday’s game, Orlando Gutierrez, of the Cuban Resistance Assembly, told Local 10 News 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.
Many Cuban exiles like like Elpidiao Morejon argue the Cuban government has used sports for decades as an international propaganda tool.
“As great as they are as players, they’re representing the dictatorship. They are not representing the people of Cuba,” he said.
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. The World Baseball Classic Semifinals will begin Sunday at 7:00 p.m.