By Ronal Quiñones
HAVANA TIMES – Cuban baseball made a comeback about a month ago, with the kick-off of the 61st Cuban National Series, but the most important thing is that fans have returned to the stands, after over a year of not being able to root for their favorite teams.
Despite the end of the COVID-19 pandemic still nowhere in sight, more severe restrictions have been lifted around the world, and life has almost returned to normal, including sports.
Cuba is no exception, and the public are allowed back into stadiums, respecting social distancing measures in theory, but quite lax in reality. While a certain percentage of fans entering every sports facility is regulated, once inside, they only make sure that people are wearing their masks properly, and not that there is safe space between them.
The latter is also very hard to control because the majority of stands in our stadiums are made of cement, without individual seats.
Beyond baseball though, this crowd of people in stands inevitably sends me back to July 11th, and I feel that in any moment instead of shouting out “It’s going, going…!” you might hear “Patria y Vida!” (Homeland and Life) instead.
This would obviously be an ideal place to start a mass protest, but it’s hard to do so because stadiums are heavily militarized, and there’s a police officer every 3 meters. But take note, this isn’t because they’re afraid of social unrest, it’s always been like this because the passion of Cuban fans exceeds good behavior sometimes.
Let’s remember that in May last year, when the pre-Olympic Baseball Qualifier in Florida was taking place, a young woman entered the stadium carrying a sign that read “Free Cuba!” and the Cuban Federation immediately issued an official complaint to make sure this never happens again, although they couldn’t help people expressing the new slogan in the stands.
In 1999, when the national team went to pay back the visit to the Baltimore Orioles, or at the Pan American Games in Indianpolis in 1987, people also took to the field to demand respect for civil rights in Cuba, although nothing like this has happened here in the past 60 years.
There were two incidents in Cuba before 1959, when a group of young people jumped onto the grass at the Latin American stadium, in November 1951 and December 1955, with a huge sign to protest against the Fulgencio Batista dictatorship.
We also have to remember the honorable actions of umpire Amado Maestro at the latter event, when he didn’t let the police beat protestors, a gesture that I seriously doubt any umpire at our National Series today would do.
It’s also inconceivable that the hundreds of people being taken to trial or locked up after the July 11th protests are granted amnesty, recovering their freedom in less than two years, despite the fact they didn’t kill anyone, like those who, led by Fidel Castro, attacked the Moncada Barracks in Santiago de Cuba and Carlos Manuel de Cespedes in Bayamo did in 1953.
These are some of the contradictions of this allegedly more humane system, but merciless with anyone who tries to question it.
Getting back to the stadiums, a spontaneous protest from the stands, which could even happen in the middle of a live TV broadcast that is broadcast online for the whole world, would have a huge impact.
I imagine the cameras would stop rolling immediately, they would put the news hosts on or take us straight to the commercials so that nobody can see what is actually happening there.
Maybe police in uniform will repeat their actions last July when they didn’t put up too much of a fight (they withdrew when they felt they were outnumbered), to wait for “reinforcements” of special troops and quick-response brigades.
This is all speculation, and I don’t think any opposition group has thought about this, but it could happen.
Of course, repression in recent months and appalling trials and stiff sentencing have frightened the majority of the population, but there are always a handful of people who aren’t afraid to put their skin on the line, or they just can’t put up with this any longer.
As I’ve mentioned before, a significant number of discontent Cubans are fleeing via Nicaragua, and the opposition continues to lose figures via this channel, as well as many of its leaders in jail.
The climate of panic on the island makes us think that there aren’t enough opposition members to bring about change from here, and the world continues to have its sights set elsewhere, more now with the tense situation in Ukraine.
This is why the population continues to stand out for its despair and helplessness to push for real change, instead, allowing conformity and fear to express ones discontent make things worse.
The baseball stadium is the best stage for a popular uprising, even with cameras if they are present, but I don’t know if it’ll ever happen. I’ll just throw the idea out there.