Vicente Morin Aguado
HAVANA TIMES — Cuba’s national baseball team lost three consecutive matches of the Caribbean Series and didn’t make it to the second phase of the tournament. This follows a series of performances on the field that are unanimously considered to be well below expectations by baseball experts and aficionados in my country.
Experts and laypeople in general feel that the country’s economy is stagnant, that the prices of most consumer products are skyrocketing and that the reform process, referred to as “updating”, is leading the nation downhill rather than bringing about the expected benefits.
Are these two phenomena unrelated? No. Our baseball performance reflects, in some manner, the country’s current situation. Let us look at a number of concrete episodes of our country’s history.
In Cuba baseball is a point of pride, elevated to the sublime heights by the triumphant revolution. A pitcher from Pinar del Rio by the name of Jose Ariel Contreras Camejo was once raised to the status of “national hero” and publicly compared to General Antonio Maceo, considered one of the most important of Cuba’s military leaders during the wars of independence.
Contreras had helped defeat a US baseball team. Later, he would immigrate to the United States and become a millionaire.
The proud, red uniform bearing Cuba’s four letters once held all the titles of international baseball. Today, it doesn’t hold a single title.
Around 1992, the East European socialist bloc and, most importantly, the Soviet Union, collapsed.
The Barcelona Olympics held around that time put an end to a historical gap that had been inherited from the times of the Pierre de Cubertain Baron: amateurism.
In keeping with his romanticism, this reformer of the Olympic Games considered all sporting activity a non-profit activity to be practiced during people’s free time, and that its aim was, in his words, the forging “healthy minds in healthy bodies.”
The socialist leadership had called for the preservation of amateur sports, arguing that sportspeople ought not to be part of the commercial networks surrounding high-demand athletic activities. Athletes in the Soviet Union, Cuba and other countries that had undertaken similar socio-economic and political projects, devoted the better part of their lives to sports with complete State support, receiving set salaries for their activities in these countries.
When the condition of amateur ceased to be recognized, most official sporting competitions around the world began to absorb the brightest luminaries of the sports world. As one would expect from their daily training, all high-performance athletes around the world were, in fact, professionals.
Cuba, however, wasn’t reached by the domino effect that toppled European socialist regimes in a short span of time. In addition, Cuba had earned a name for itself through astonishing sports victories, which were all the more impressive when we recall its limited territory, population and per-capita consumption levels.
The list of reasons explaining why Cuba has seen so many baseball defeats of late is as long as the list of opinions regarding what we should do to move towards a prosperous and sustainable economy.
One is overwhelmed by the number of criteria, potential solutions and more or less reasoned arguments that surround the issue. There are no definitive answers in terms of a solution to the problem in question. We have a lot of improvisation and bewilderment.
There are important similarities between baseball and our day to day reality: in baseball as much as in our thinking about the country, we tend to exaggerate our successes, without adequately assessing the reasons for such achievements, which we blow out of all proportion.
We had and continue to maintain an economy that is above our real productive capacities. The collapse of the Soviet Union forced us to become integrated into the world and sparked off the current economic crisis.
Our many successes in baseball, extolled by the Cuban press and revolutionary leaders, made us believe that we had actually reached the world’s highest levels in terms of performance. Gradually, as we have entered sporting contexts which our athletes and aficionados had no access to before, we begin to accept the reality of our abilities.
If we still find it difficult to attain the inner peace needed to overcome obstacles, this is because those who were and are better informed continue to make excuses which keep us from debating these crucial issues as we should.
That said, I bring to mind the great competitor Ernest Hemingway, a writer close to us, who said: “human beings weren’t made for defeat.” On the track, the ring or the field, we have fought with dignity and in defense of the loftiest causes. As the good athletes that we are, we deserve an authentic victory.
Vicente Morín Aguado: [email protected]