Cuban team take field in Miami for World Baseball Classic amid political issues

MIAMI – The Cuban flags are out and Little Havana, the heart of the cuban exile community, is ready to receive the Cuban national baseball team.

It marks the first time the team advances to the semifinals of the World Baseball Classic since 2006.

But as controversy continues to grow ahead of Sunday’s game, many like 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.

Cuban exiles like Elpidiao Morejon told Local 10 News that the Cuban government notoriously uses sports to spread its propaganda and political influence.

“As great as they are as players, they’re representing the dictatorship. They are not representing the people of Cuba,” he said.

Despite the political issues, the game will go on and authorities say that a significant police presence is expected in order 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.”

Joe Madera, a fan of the World Baseball Classic, told Local 10 News that he just wants to enjoy the game and avoid the politics.

“Let them play. I don’t care about the politics,” he said. “It’s baseball--there should be no politics in that.”

About the Authors:

Terrell Forney joined Local 10 News in October 2005 as a general assignment reporter. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, but a desire to escape the harsh winters of the north brought him to South Florida.

Cody Weddle joined Local 10 News as a full-time reporter in South Florida in August of 2022. Before that, Cody worked regularly with Local 10 since January of 2017 as a foreign correspondent in Venezuela and Colombia.