'Baseball diplomacy' reaches Cuba

IT WAS an American invasion of Cuba but not the one Fidel Castro had always warned of; the weapons were guitars, drums and baseball bats.

Whether you were into Bonnie Raitt or Burt Bacharach, Jimmy Buffett or James Taylor, or if you loved top-flight baseball, the place to be yesterday was Havana, Cuba. That's if you could get a visa from one of the world's most restrictive countries and if you were careful not to criticise Fidel Castro.

Under the latest anti-dissidence law, even criticising the Cuban leader's beard could win you a free 20-year stay in a stone-floored room with a hole in the floor for a lavatory. And, of course, neither foreign tourists nor Cubans had a chance to attend yesterday's big baseball game between the US major league's Baltimore Orioles and a Cuban national selection, or a joint concert by Cuban and American stars in the evening. Both events were invitation-only, with the tickets going to members of the Communist Party and related organisations.

Still, it was pop music diplomacy mixed with baseball diplomacy as American musicians and ball players sought to bridge the ideological gap between the US and the Communist Caribbean island only 90 miles from Key West, Florida.

But not everyone was in a party mood. The American invasion split Cuba-lovers down the middle over the old dilemma: is Mr Castro's regime more likely to end through economic blockade or through democratic penetration?

Miami-based Cuban exiles who fled Castro's regime were up in arms over the weekend festivities, calling the American musicians and sportsmen "traitors" and saying their visit would provide more oxygen to sustain the Communist leader's struggling regime. The exiles are also angry with the Washington administration for allowing the musicians and the Baltimore Orioles to visit Cuba despite a general US ban on Americans travelling to the island.

"It's wrong for the same reasons Jews would think it wrong to send the Baltimore Orioles over to Germany to entertain Hitler," wrote the Miami Herald sports columnist Dan Le Batard. "Castro doesn't use gas ovens. He has used firing squads and political prisons and Communist evil, strangling the land of my parents for four decades."

A US embargo has been imposed on Cuba since the days of the Kennedy-Kruschev missile crisis in the early Sixties. It was tightened in 1996 after Cuban Mig fighter planes shot down two American light aircraft, killing four Americans of Cuban origin, over the Florida straits.

This year, however, President Bill Clinton has decided to encourage more human contact with the island in the hope that this will familiarise the people of Cuba with the idea of democracy and thereby isolate Castro.

That is why 700 American students were given permission to visit the island last month and had a ball with their local counterparts, and it was also the thinking behind yesterday's concert and baseball game.

But anti-Castro critics saw the whole thing as sick. While Alan Roy Scott, founder of the Music Bridge Around The World programme, which organised the musicians' trips, said: "I'm just here to make music," the critics noted that four Cuban dissidents who said publicly that they just wanted to make democracy, had been jailed this month for up to five years. Earlier this year Mr Castro announced a tough anti-dissidence law with sentences of up to 20 years, which apparently included foreigners.

The four dissidents were charged with sedition. Their crime? Holding a press conference to suggest that Castro might at least consider doubling the current number of parties in Cuba to two.

And several baseball fans and US major league teams were critical of the Orioles' visit. Sceptics said that the Orioles' owner, Peter Angelos, wanted to sign up Cuban players - who are generally considered to be of above-average ability in the US.

The Cuban national side is to travel to Baltimore in May. The question being asked in Havana yesterday was: "How many of them will come back?"

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
REX/Eye Candy
science
News
A photo of Charles Belk being detained by police on Friday 22 August
news
News
i100
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates after scoring his first goal for Arsenal in the Champions League qualifier against Besiktas
sportChilean's first goal for the club secures place in draw for Champions League group stages
Arts and Entertainment
Amis: 'The racial situation in the US is as bad as it’s been since the Civil War'
booksAuthor says he might come back across Atlantic after all
Extras
indybest
Life and Style
Google Doodle celebrates the 200th birthday of Irish writer Sheridan Le Fanu
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
News
i100
News
In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Jim Carrey and Kate Winslett medically erase each other from their memories
scienceTechnique successfully used to ‘reverse’ bad memories in rodents could be used on trauma victims
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Pixie Lott will take part in Strictly Come Dancing 2014, the BBC has confirmed
tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# Developer (C#, ASP.NET Developer, SQL, MVC, WPF, Real-Time F

£40000 - £48000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: C# Devel...

C# Swift Payment Developer (C#, ASP.NET, .NET, MVC, Authorize.N

£45000 - £60000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: C# Swift...

Front-End Developer (JavaScript, HTML5, CSS3, C#, GUI)

£55000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Front-End Deve...

Graduate C# Developer (.NET, WPF, SQL, Agile, C++) - London

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Graduate C# De...

Day In a Page

Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

What is the appeal of Twitch?

Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

How bosses are making us work harder

As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

A tale of two writers

Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

Should pupils get a lie in?

Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

Prepare for Jewish jokes...

... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

A dream come true for SJ Watson

Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
10 best cycling bags for commuters

10 best cycling bags for commuters

Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

Paul Scholes column

Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?