"I love Fidel Castro," said Florida Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen to Time magazine. "A lot of people have wanted to kill Fidel Castro for the last 60 years, but that [expletive] is still here." Guillen "respects" the Cuban despot.
Guillen has since apologized profusely for his comments, which infuriated Florida's Cuban emigre community - and for good reason.
Fidel Castro is a tyrant. I could go through a litany of the man's crimes against humanity since he turned a beautiful country into a communist dictatorship over 50 years ago. Castro violated every form of basic human rights, from freedom of speech to press to assembly to religion. He jailed dissidents and never stood for election - a promise he made in 1959. Liberals might take note of Castro's locking up of homosexuals on the island.
And then there was that whole Cuban Missile Crisis thing, where Fidel and his pal Che Guevara - a hero at American universities - actually wanted to launch the nuclear missiles at the United States and unleash nuclear Armageddon. And don't forget about the 15,000-20,000 Cubans that Castro has executed, or the tens of thousands who have drowned trying to swim 100 miles to the shores of Florida.
Safely ensconced on those shores is Mr. Ozzie Guillen, who became rich playing baseball under America's free-enterprise system. Guillen currently basks in a four-year contract for $10-million managing the Marlins. He would never be able to make that kind of money in Cuba. In fact, to consider just how bad Cuba is under Castro, let's stick to baseball:
Fidel's favorite sport is baseball. He turned it into a national past-time in Cuba. Unfortunately, Cuban players are not permitted to score some badly needed dollars, or personal freedom. I recall a telling incident in the spring of 1999. The Cuban national team came to America; specifically, to Oriole Park at Camden Yards, where they played the Baltimore Orioles. They blew out the Orioles 12 to 6, giving Castro something to crow about. He framed the win as a victory for communism over capitalism.
Not heralded by Castro, however, was the plight of his players. The entire payroll for the Cuban national team was $2,400 - yes, for the entire team. Each man on the roster of 20 players was paid a paltry $120 per year, just like everyone else in Cuba, from doctors to teachers to maintenance workers. That's called equal distribution of wealth. By comparison, the Orioles payroll for that year was $80 million, with players like Albert Belle and Cal Ripken enjoying huge long-term contracts.
Alas, no one in Cuba has a payroll quite like Fidel Castro. At the time, Forbes magazine published its annual list of the world's wealthiest leaders. Placing eighth was Castro at $110 million - a conservative estimate that doesn't begin to account for the billions of dollars in land, industry, and resources he has personally confiscated.
"We fight not to create millionaires!" proclaimed Fidel. Well, that's not quite true. Cuba has its share of filthy rich; they are the "one percent" of Communist Party cronies and apparatchiks, from Fidel's brother Raul (Cuba's current leader) to other corrupt mansion Marxists. They are typical of any communist regime.
Of course, Cubans painfully realize their horrible situation. Testimony to that was the reaction of the Cuban national team immediately after they defeated the Baltimore Orioles. Rigoberto Herrera Betancourt defected. And while a bragging Fidel chomped on a hundred-dollar cigar, six other members of the Cuban delegation "overslept" and missed the airplane home. All did this at great personal risk to themselves and the families they left behind. They don't love Castro.
Ozzie Guillen, however, expressed a markedly different sentiment. Needless to say, if Guillen lived in Cuba, he would never have gotten the opportunities he has in America. He'd be poor or in prison.
Guillen is now in hot water in Florida, dealing with a five-game suspension because of his comments. Fans are still furious.
Well, if it gets worse, maybe he could consider managing the Cuban national team. I hear they're paying $120 a year.
Dr. Paul Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College and executive director of The Center for Vision & Values . His books include "The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism" and "Dupes: How America's Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century."