Much has been said already about the dozens of lasting images from the Elian Gonzalez episode, these now famous snapshots pregnant with meaning beyond their proverbial thousand words. Alan Diaz’s dramatic photograph of Elian at gunpoint is the most obvious, powerful enough to prompt unrest in both the streets of Little Havana and the halls of Congress. The staged photo of Juan Miguel Gonzalez with a smiling Elian and Elian’s step-family is another. The picture prompted all sorts of interesting questions, including whether the New York Times et al. should have so readily used a picture essentially intended for propaganda purposes. Nevertheless, the photo had the desired effect, moving public opinion solidly behind the assault on the Miami Gonzalez home.
But for my money, the most poignant image produced in the Elian saga appeared in yesterday’s sports pages. Sports fans awoke to an image of the Florida Marlins dugout drained of four of its players who elected to sit out the previous day’s game (two Giants players also sat out). Several Marlins players are Cuban by birth or are of Cuban descent. In striking for the day they joined other Cuban and Latino Americans in quiet protest of the federal raid on the Gonzalez house.
What a difference a year makes, in baseball if not in politics. Last year, at about this time, the Clinton administration helped orchestrate an exhibition game between the Baltimore Orioles and the Cuban national team in Havana. The teams played before two tin-pot dictators seated side-by-side, gleeful peas in a Caribbean pod: trial lawyer, Democratic money-man, and Orioles owner Peter Angelos sitting with Fidel Castro. Another lasting image, that.
Castro and the Clinton Administration were seeking two things in last year’s exhibition game. Castro was seeking legitimization of his regime by the American government, and the Clinton administration was seeking a thaw in its relations with Cuba. Castro got what he was after. But as Castro continues his mockery of American sovereignty, it is difficult to see what, if anything, the United States got in return.
Which brings us to the Florida Marlins of today — ostensibly Janet Reno’s “favorite” team. In escaping Castro’s Cuba, these Americans found fabulous wealth and security. However, as baseball players on Castro’s beloved national team, they and their families should likely have lived out their days in peace and comfort (and let’s not forget that vaunted Cuban health- care system). So why leave?
The experience of the Hernandez brothers provides one answer. Orlando and Livan Hernandez were both outstanding pitchers for the Cuban national team in the 1990s. Orlando, considered by many the greatest Cuban pitcher of all time, helped his brother Livan defect to the United States several years ago.
As a result, Orlando was permanently banned from baseball by Fidel Castro and spent his remaining days in Cuba making $10 a month as a physical therapist. Livan, meanwhile, went on to lead the Florida Marlins to a World Series championship.
His career and livelihood destroyed by Fidel, Orlando risked his life to leave Cuba on a 19-foot boat and washed ashore on the Bahamas. “El Duque,” as he is popularly known, has been instrumental in the newest of Yankee dynasties to dominate baseball over the last few seasons.
These men and Cubans like them flee Cuba for the purest of political reasons: the pursuit of happiness.
Many on the Left disparage Elian Gonzalez’s mother for coming to America “just to make money.” Well, making money is often a byproduct of the fundamental right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In Cuba and other Communist regimes, the pursuit of happiness is forbidden because it conflicts with the plans of a venal and murderous autocrat who spits upon the rights and liberties of his countrymen. He has a plan for collective happiness and nobody’s “selfish” agenda can be allowed to derail it. In escaping, these baseball players lived out the ultimate expression of the basic freedoms that are daily denied the Cuban people.
These Florida Marlins took a potentially unpopular stand in the face of disgusting cynicism. “Is this a PR ploy to get more Latino fans in the stands?” they were asked. In doing so, they reminded us of those precious freedoms we too often fail to hold dear. For that, they deserve our gratitude and admiration.
— Nick Schulz is editor of TCSDaily.com.