• ‘None of our athletes will ever lack for anything for a decent life’
• Cuban leader honours Cuban baseball players and coaching team
• Describes their performance as a “colossal feat”
By MIGUEL HERNANDEZ, Granma daily staff writer
CUBA is to donate its earnings as runner-up in the 1st World Baseball Classic to victims of Hurricane Katrina in the southern United States, reaffirmed President Fidel Castro at the end of his welcoming speech to the brilliant Cuban team.
According to the regulations of the event’s organizers, of the economic benefits allocated to the teams, 9 per cent goes to the winner and 7 per cent to the runner-up.
“Whatever we receive we will deliver to the martyrs of Katrina, whatever it is, whether it is half a million, or one, two, three or four million, without the slightest hesitation and with great satisfaction.
“That multiplies the moral authority of our athletes,” affirmed the revolutionary leader, to the applause of more than 15,000 young people, including thousands of Latin American scholarship students, who filled the Sports City Coliseum on March 21 for a colourful, emotional ceremony capping the historic day of popular tribute to the valiant ballplayers.
Fidel affirmed that the Cuban government is to invest an amount similar to the donation to those poor U.S. citizens to boost the development of baseball on the island. At the same time, he specified that no other sport under INDER’s high-performance program would be neglected and that the country would continue with its project of remodeling its sports schools.
He commented on “the great value to the world” that this gesture to the U.S. people comes at the same time that Cuba is allocating a similar amount of its resources to this sport, “which has just completed a brilliant chapter.”
“That is not squandering; what is invested to the benefit of humanity is not money that is being squandered, and our country is creating the conditions to progressively improve in every field, independently of how we have advanced so much in the social programs,” he noted, briefly referring to vital programs currently being concretized in Cuban society.
He guaranteed the athletes, “all those who have brought glory to the country,” that “none of them will ever lack for anything in terms of enjoying a decent and dignified life, like that of all our compatriots.” He added that Cuba’s prestige and standing “is soaring, not for being squandered, but for being invested in the best possible way.”
He commented that it was not a matter of criticizing the professional teams that our team competed against, “because those nations do not have the same conditions as Cuba,” and explained that the Revolution has placed sports within the reach of all citizens. “That is why we have not promoted professional (sports), but what option do they have in those countries…?”
Before his speech, the Cuban president received from the hands of Villa Clara native Eduardo Paret, captain of a team that is three-time Olympic champion, multiple world champion and runner-up of the First Classic, the Cuban flag that presided over days of glory at the competition sites in San Juan, Puerto Rico and San Diego, California.
Matanzas native Yoandy Garlobo, top Cuban batter, presented Fidel with two baseballs signed by all 30 players.
Fidel, in his turn, handed each of the players a token “for their feat:” a specially-designed bat, and to team manager Higinio Vélez, a framed certificate with the inscription “Congratulations, champions of dignity,” personally greeting each of the coaches.
This was preceded by a colourful show of typical Cuban dance and song under the fluttering of thousands of small Cuban flags in the stands, which reached its climax with the entry into the coliseum of the courageous athletes. They were coming from a motorcade that paraded down local city streets to be greeted by tens of thousands of Havana residents after being received at the airport.
Accompanied by José Ramón Fernández, president of the Cuban Olympic Committee; Christian Jiménez, head of INDER; other government and Party leaders; and Adán Chávez, Venezuelan ambassador, Fidel began his speech by describing the Cuban players as the “glorious baseball team.”
YOU DID NOT PERFORM THIS FEAT WITH MONEY
The president said jokingly that the country was on the brink of an electric power crisis, with so many televisions turned on at all hours throughout the island. “Luckily, certain little motors have been installed.”
He emphasized the transcendence of the sports event that had just concluded in the United States and the Cuban team’s performance, which had an unimaginable repercussion in the most diverse U.S. media, in the baseball-loving Caribbean, and in Latin America in general. He read excerpts from various news articles to prove his point.
“It would be undignified to invent things to boast about ourselves,” he said, adding, “We have been celebrating victories for many years, not just in baseball.”
He recalled the events leading up to our team’s participation in the World Classic; the interest of the Major Leagues; the initial refusal by the Bush administration to permit Cuba’s participation based on clauses of the blockade; the condemnation of that move by baseball federations, prominent individuals and even international sports, including pressure brought to bear that, together with public opinion, forced them to accept the request by the Classic organizers on the condition that Cuba would refuse any earnings from its participation. This prompted the Cuban federation to donate that money to victims of Hurricane Katrina as a way of saving the invitation.
He commented on the people’s spontaneous mobilization as a reflection of their feelings of satisfaction and pride for their athletes, criticized the decision to exclude baseball from the Olympics beginning in 2012, and called attention to the fact – among other aspects – that our team, compared with national teams in previous years, was not characterized by prominent homerun-hitters or acclaimed pitching. Our team had to face unusual and diverse playing rules, and was in fact a renovated selection; nevertheless, it performed a “colossal feat” in competing against Major League players, whose contracts are worth a total of more than $470 million.
“You did not perform this feat with money,” he affirmed, adding that his intention was not to criticize professional players or the Major Leagues, or to convert the event into an ideological situation “in any way… that does not help our approach,” he said, in reference to the world of baseball. He revealed that when a counterrevolutionary placard appeared, “it really made me laugh… they were trying to distract us, but they (the players) did not allow themselves to be provoked,” and added that a high level of security was maintained by authorities at the competition venues.
“They cannot defeat Cuba on any terrain. Occupying this country is impossible. Take it like a homerun. Seriously. The Cuban people have earned a gold medal in their ability to resist… We’ll be smiling at their blockade… We don’t need them (the United States) for absolutely anything,” the Cuban president affirmed. He noted the presence at the ceremony of relatives of the five Cuban heroes imprisoned by the empire, whose messages from their cells in the United States provided important encouragement to our ballplayers, as was affirmed minutes earlier by Angel Iglesias, the delegation’s leader.
Iglesias, who spoke previously, called the mass reception “incredible,” and said that competing in such a complex situation was a challenge via which, through their performance, they had to ratify the titles attained by Cuban baseball, which some had questioned because of the absence of Major League stars.
Notwithstanding the confirmation of our abilities in the most difficult tournament that the island has ever taken part in, Iglesias referred to the need to evaluate shortcomings and improve strategies.