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Poor Ozzie Guillen. If only he were a Hollywood celebrity, he could be basking in the admiration of colleagues for publicly professing his affection for Cuban communist dictator Fidel Castro.
Instead, full of apologies and regret for what he describes as the worst episode of his life, the Marlins manager had to return to Miami yesterday with his tail between his legs ahead of the announcement today of his five-game suspension.
Clearly worried about their relationship with Miami’s nearly million-strong, baseball-loving Cuban-American community – which knows Castro all too well – the Marlins suspended Guillen for remarks he made to Time Magazine.
“I love Fidel Castro … I respect Fidel Castro” for surviving “when a lot of people have wanted to kill him,” said the Venezuelan-born Guillen, who became a U.S. citizen in 2006.
While Guillen faces a call to be fired from Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, some of America’s biggest names in entertainment seem to have suffered no ill effects professionally for praising Castro after being wined and dined in Havana.
Cuban-born writer Humberto Fontova, in his book “Fidel: Hollywood’s Favorite Tyrant,” ticks off a long list that includes Alan Alda, Johnny Depp, Chevy Chase, Madonna, Mike Farrell, Jack Nicholson, Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss, Francis Ford Coppola, Kevin Costner, Steven Spielberg, Woody Harrelson, Leonardo DiCaprio, Sean Penn and Robert Redford.
Nicholson, one of many Western celebrities who has attended Cuba’s annual International Festival of New Latin American Film, called Castro “a genius” and a “humanist.”
Director Oliver Stone, who made a favorable documentary on Castro called “Comandante,” said of the dictator: “We should look to him as one of the Earth’s wisest people, one of the people we should consult.”
Just last month, in a visit to Havana during oral arguments in the Supreme Court regarding the Democrat’s health care law, reporter and anchor Andrea Mitchell praised Cuba’s health care system in an MSNBC broadcast.
‘A brutal dictator’
Meanwhile, the Marlins issued a statement today amid Guillen’s somber apologies.
“There is nothing to respect about Fidel Castro,” the team said. “He is a brutal dictator who caused unthinkable pain for more than 50 years. We live in a community filled with victims of his dictatorship and the people in Cuba continue to suffer today.”
Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig offered support for the Marlins’ decision, saying in a statement that baseball as an institution has “important social responsibilities.”
Guillen’s news conference was broadcast on video screens outside the team’s new ballpark in the Little Havana section of Miami.
“I’m sorry that I hurt the community without any intention,” Guillen said in Spanish, according to a translation. “I’m here to say I’m sorry.”
Guillen reportedly met with members of the Cuban opposition group Ladies in White, comprised of women who have suffered the loss of loved ones at the hands of Castro’s regime.
Guillen said he learned things from the Cuban women that he had never known before, according to an ESPN broadcast report.
The chastened manager’s deepened humility about his knowledge of Castro’s Cuba was apparent at the press conference.
“They hired me to manage a ball club, not talk about politics,” he said.
‘Cuba’s own Elvis’
No doubt many movie lovers wish Hollywood would follow Guillen’s lead.
In his book, Fontova notes that the man former CBS News anchor Dan Rather called “Cuba’s own Elvis” has threatened the U.S. with nuclear war, worked with Islamic terrorists against the U.S. and imprisoned more people for political reasons as a percentage of population than Hitler or Stalin. Thousands have been killed by his firing squads, Fontova points out, and Americans are familiar with the many who have fled to Florida’s shores at the risk of death over Castro’s five decades of autocratic rule.
Human Rights Watch is one of many global groups that have documented Cuba’s systematic abuses, including politically motivated arbitrary imprisonment, torture, unfair trials and extrajudicial execution. Cuba limits freedom of expression, association, assembly, movement and the press. Human Rights Watch says that while Cuba changed its official status from atheist to secular in 1992, and has allowed greater religious expression, “the government still maintains tight control on religious institutions, affiliated groups, and individual believers.”
British supermodel Naomi Campbell apparently hasn’t attended any Human Rights Watch briefings. In a 1998 visit to Cuba, she concluded a press conference declaring Castro “a source of inspiration for me.”
“It is a great pleasure to be in Cuba. I’ve really enjoyed myself, and I plan to come back,” she said.
Singer Harry Belafonte and actor Danny Glover were in Havana in December 2002 for the 24th edition of the International Festival of New Latin American Film.
They were part of a group of more than 160 that issued a declaration critical of the United States and supportive of the Castro regime.
“A single power is inflicting grave damage to the norms of understanding, debate and mediation among countries,” said the declaration. “At this very moment, a strong campaign of destabilization against a Latin American nation has been unleashed. The harassment against Cuba could serve as a pretext for an invasion.”
Spielberg was invited by the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Arts and Industry to attend a film festival in his honor. At the dinner with Castro, the director called for an end to America’s hostile relations with Cuba and a lifting of the trade embargo.
Spielberg told the audience Cuba is “exploding with passion and talent and self-respect. I feel so much at home here. I hope to come back many times in the future.”
Praise from American churches
Many American church leaders, particularly from the historic mainline denominations, have praised Castro’s Cuba for purportedly creating a society that is more socially just than the U.S.
The Rev. Joan Brown Campbell, then head of the U.S. National Council of Churches, spoke to a crowd of 100,000 in Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution in 1999.
Apparently unaware of communism’s perfect track record of economic failure, she blamed Cuba’s plight on the U.S. and apologized for its policy of banning trade between the nations.
“We ask you to forgive the suffering that has come to you by the actions of the United States,” Campbell told the Cuban crowd. “It is on behalf of Jesus the liberator that we work against this embargo.”