What Guillen Means for the Summit of the Americas

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In case you hadn’t noticed, it seems that Cuba has been popping up in mainstream news headlines a lot in the past week. From Ozzie Guillen’s comments about Fidel Castro to this weekend’s Summit of the Americas, Cuba is a hot topic these days. The strange thing is—Cuba isn’t in the news for what its people or government have done—it’s in the news because U.S. citizens and politicians are putting in their two cents about the country (as is so often the case).

While the Summit of the Americas situation has been on our radar for a while now, the Ozzie Guillen story has recently been on every media outlet across the country. It can’t be avoided. It’s unfortunate that the dialogue about U.S.-Cuba relations was sparked by what a baseball manager (of all people) said; but it’s great that the conversation has expanded. If you haven’t yet heard about the Guillen “controversy”, we can fill you in. Venezuelan-born Ozzie Guillen, manager of the Miami Marlins Major League Baseball team, was quoted in an interview with Time Magazine saying that he “respected” Fidel Castro for surviving for so long despite multiple attempts to get rid of him. 

The backlash that ensued from a small but extremely vocal group of Miami’s Cuban-American exile community was absurd. They protested, they claimed they would boycott the Marlins, they demanded that Guillen be fired. Cuban-American city officials made public statements calling on Guillen to resign. All because the man said he respected a claimed “enemy” of the United States, the land of free speech. This is an interesting approach, considering that the platform of the Cuban-American exiles in Miami is that of “freedom” and “civil liberties”. This of course only applies until such free speech opposes their worn-out, tired, and counterproductive disdain for all things Castro, the same disdain that has prevented any real dialogue between the United States and Cuba for the last fifty years.

Unsurprisingly, the majority of individuals in the United States—and even in South Florida—believe that Guillen should not be punished because he has a right to say and believe what he wants (see the CBS poll here and take it yourself). Yet, the loud voices in Miami as per usual are overshadowing general attitudes of the rest of the United States towards Cuba. Despite the fact that Fidel is, in fact, not the president of Cuba any more, and that substantial economic reforms have been made since little brother Raul (80) took over the reins in 2008, the same hard-line approach by Cuban exiles since 1959 has been used to put U.S.-Cuba relations in a stalemate.

Perhaps the Guillen scandal is a blessing in disguise. The Summit of the Americas will be held this weekend in Cartagena, Colombia, and one topic on which Latin American leaders are sure to challenge the United States is its relationship (or lack thereof) with Cuba. It is clear that the majority of Latin American leaders are irritated with the exclusion of Cuba from the “democratic” Summit. Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa has even announced his boycott of the Summit on these grounds. The U.S. response to criticism regarding its Cuba policy may have gone under the radar had not Guillen opened his mouth. Maybe this time the Cuba conversation at the Summit will fall on no-longer-deaf ears. Dare we to hope?